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Signs of His return
Devotional Message Presented Friday Morning, July 3, 2015
“Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?” (2 Peter 3:11, 12).1
Waiting for my tenth birthday felt like an eternity!
My older brother and sister were already part of the Pathfinder Club and I wanted in so badly. But I had to wait until I turned 10. Three years, to a 7-year-old, seem like a lifetime! Three years represented almost half my lifetime at that point and the entirety of the life I remembered. I could hardly wait to turn 10.
It had been 400 years since God last spoke to His people, Israel, through a living prophet, and the last time He had spoken, He promised to send Elijah. Daniel’s prophecies placed the coming of Messiah around that time, and though most of the world was unaware, there were those who waited. On that fateful day, when Mary and Joseph brought the prescribed sacrifice for their firstborn, Jesus (Luke 2:22, 24), there was Simeon, and he was waiting. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die before he had seen Messiah (verse 26), so he knew that every year would bring him closer to the Christ.
What the just man Simeon and my 7-year-old self had in common illustrates the nature of anticipation. There are three key elements: knowledge, belief, and desire.
We both had knowledge of something promised in the future. I was told that I would be accepted into the Pathfinder Club when I turned 10; Simeon had been promised that Messiah would come in his lifetime. We both believed the promises. And last, we really wanted those promises to be fulfilled. There was a deep desire to see them realized. All three elements are crucial when we wait.
Anticipation believes, and that belief leads to action.
Desire and Anticipation
Most readily apparent is the element of desire. When we anticipate something, we want it to happen soon! Think about the young couple in love anticipating their marriage—the day cannot come soon enough. Waiting gets harder and harder. But to honor God and respect their families, they must wait for that date they have set to experience ultimate intimacy. If they get impatient and let their desire to be together overpower their regard for God’s requirements, their relationship becomes an idol.
Adam faced a similar challenge. His beloved Eve, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, the one taken out of him and thus so much a part of him; his helpmeet—Eve, the one whose name you can hardly utter without thinking of her Adam, brought to her husband a fruit God had forbidden them to eat. Disobedience means death. But Eve had already disobeyed. So Adam reasoned “that Eve was a part of himself, and if she must die, he would die with her, for he could not bear the thought of separation from her.”2
It was God who brought Eve to Adam at Creation. It was God who formed her perfectly suited for Adam. There was nothing evil about Adam’s love for Eve until he loved her more than he loved God and turned that perfect gift from God into an idol. Adam’s desire to be with Eve was perfectly sanctioned by God, but not at the cost of obedience to God’s will.
The element of anticipation, when it grows impatient, turns that which is desired into an idol. And the source of that impatience is removing one’s focus from pleasing God to securing His gifts. It is a subtle difference, yet fundamental to the shift from righteousness to sin, and thus a significant difference.
Is it possible to be so desirous of Christ’s second coming that we lose sight of Christ Himself, thus turning the glorious appearing of our great God into an idol of sorts?
Belief and Anticipation
Simeon desired to see the Messiah because he believed God’s promise to send Messiah was near its fulfillment. He had studied the prophecies and believed Messiah could come in his day. The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would indeed see the Christ before he would see death, and he believed all of it.
The type of belief that is part of the experience of anticipation is that life-altering kind. The kind that reorients your life and shapes your goals and vision. It’s the type of belief you have when you realize you’re standing in the middle of a railway track and there’s a 200-ton locomotive headed your way. It’s a belief that moves you.
Somehow, ever since the sin problem entered our world, we have struggled with the problem of the “disconnect”: It is possible for us to possess knowledge that does not transform us—like the smoking respiratory medical specialist, for instance. Were knowledge alone a sufficient criterion for transformation, no respiratory specialist would smoke. But we are capable of possessing knowledge that does not alter our behavior.
“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” writes James (2:19). It’s nice that we agree intellectually about the existence of a deity, but what is to distinguish our rational acquiescence from a demon’s? In fact, the demons’ belief leads them to tremble in fear, because they realize that their lives are not in harmony with the will of this God they believe to exist. We can believe that God exists, believe Him to be good, yet not trust Him. We can believe that God is powerful, that His arm is not shortened, yet worry about the future. We can believe that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, yet have no assurance of salvation. We can believe that this is God’s church, the apple of His eye, yet wonder if He will bring it safely to heaven’s shore.
Knowledge and Anticipation
We are back in the Temple with Simeon. He desired Messiah to come because he believed the prophecies. In the years leading up to October 22, 1844, the Millerites came to understand that Scripture’s longest time prophecy was drawing to a close. Making a false assumption about the meaning of the word “sanctuary” in Daniel 8:14, they concluded that the end of the 2300 days meant the end of the world: Jesus would come back.
What fanatics those early Advent believers must have looked like on October 23. Some had sold everything in anticipation of Christ’s return; they had left fields unplowed; and had closed businesses. Beyond believing that Jesus would come soon, they anticipated that it would be in their lifetime! And that anticipation led to decided action. Theirs was a living faith with works to testify.
Anticipation believes, and that belief leads to action. But as the Millerites’ tale illustrates, it is important what we believe. And that leads to the third and final aspect of anticipation: knowledge.
Matthew 24 clearly tells us the signs of the second coming of Christ. There is a world out there, Christian and non-, that does not know that Jesus predicted the state of the world before His return. Yet in spite of their ignorance, Scripture remains true. We have nothing to be ashamed of. The question, however, is How do we relate to the signs that Jesus spoke about? We can choose to ignore them. We can bury our heads in the sands of orthodoxy, completely oblivious to, and not interacting with, the very real world around us; or we may discount the validity of the signs with such statements as “These signs have been around for centuries, so it could be a few more centuries until Jesus comes” (cf. 2 Peter 3:4).
The other extreme is to extol the signs to where our Christianity is wholly comprised of our view of the signs. If we take our eyes off Jesus and place them squarely on the pope in the name of watching the signs, every Facebook post, every tweet, every e-mail forwarded, every hashtag, focuses upon the pope’s next move, and how his latest initiative or statement fulfills some obscure prophetic detail in the writings of Ellen White. Furthermore, instead of looking at Jesus, we begin to look at others’ positions in judgment with pointed fingers.
The real problem, however, is that we take our eyes off Jesus. Luke tells us that when we see the signs fulfilled, we need to look up—to Jesus (Luke 21:28). Unfortunately, we often place the eMPHAsis on the wrong syLLAble. These are not the signs of Christ’s return, but the signs of Christ’s return! We get so event-focused that we forget the person that the event is all about. Clearly, ignorance altogether is not an option. But the question is whether we will focus on the person of Christ or on the things He has promised us.
Learning From the Past
When Jesus did not return in 1844, His followers had to make a choice. They had studied the Bible diligently and loved His appearing. But were they in love with Christ’s appearing or with Christ appearing? As the events unfolded and God opened up the hermeneutical key of the sanctuary doctrine, would they follow Jesus into the sanctuary, or had the Second Advent become, to them, an idol?
In The Desire of Ages Ellen White comments on the experience of Simeon in the Temple: “These humble worshipers had not studied the prophecies in vain. But those who held positions as rulers and priests in Israel, though they too had before them the precious utterances of prophecy, were not walking in the way of the Lord, and their eyes were not open to behold the Light of life.
“So it is still. Events upon which the attention of all heaven is centered are undiscerned, their very occurrence is unnoticed, by religious leaders, and worshipers in the house of God. Men acknowledge Christ in history, while they turn away from the living Christ. Christ in His Word calling to self-sacrifice, in the poor and suffering who plead for relief, in the righteous cause that involves poverty and toil and reproach, is no more readily received today than He was eighteen hundred years ago.”3
Hachikō was a brown Akita dog. He had been adopted by Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor of agriculture at Tokyo University, in 1924. Professor Ueno would return from work at the same time every day and at the same time every day Hachikō was there to meet him at the Shibuya train station. This was their daily routine until Professor Ueno suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in May 1925 and died as a result. He did not come home that day, but Hachikō was there waiting. Hachikō came to the Shibuya Station to wait for his master every single day for the next nine years, nine months, and 15 days, until he died on March 8, 1935. Will Jesus find us waiting for Him?
- Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations have been taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- Ellen G. White, The Story of Redemption (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1947), p. 36.
- Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), pp. 55, 56.