As quite often happens, this morning’s message didn’t go the way I originally intended. Thursday, as I sat down to prepare, I had a plan in mind, but the Holy Spirit had another. And as is usually the case, the Lord won the day, and my message ended up different than I expected. But God has permitted me to continue my original thought in this afternoon’s message.
Joseph was born to Jacob and Rachel relatively late in their lives. He was born with a divine purpose, which was unknown for many years by his parents or the family. As Joseph later explained to his brothers while in the dinning room of the Egyptian Prime Minister – “God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.”
The question is moot, but I’ll ask it anyway – “What if Joseph had not gone to Egypt and arisen to his high position under Pharaoh?” Whatever plans men might have had, it was the intention of God to place Joseph on the Egyptian throne. It was decreed by Jehovah and even prophesied early in Joseph’s life. What if the family had studied Joseph’s dreams about stars and wheat and properly interpreted them? Would it have mattered? The truth is – the family misinterpreted God’s revelation, but the prophesy was fulfilled anyway. What if they had gotten it right and understood the importance of their brother? It is always a blessing to understand the revelation of God.
Now moving to the anti-type – the Person whom Joseph pictured and prophesied. Christ Jesus, on many occasions, told His disciples that He was going to die and then spend time away. But over and over again, He told us all that He will return. “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” My question to you this afternoon is this: “Is there any point in trying to understand this statement?” Is it a waste of time trying to find what the Bible says about when and how, Christ will “come again and receive us unto Himself”? Remember, related to Christ’s return are a dozen other very important issues. Does it matter whether or not this divine Joseph sits upon an earthly throne for a thousand years? Does it matter if that throne and that reign is literal or only figurative? Should people argue about Biblical terminology and the interpretation of sheaves of wheat or the meaning of stars? Does it matter if Christ returns tonight or after God’s judgment on Israel?
Does it matter that Christ has said, “I will come again, and receive you unto myself”?
Obviously it does matter, and it is important for a number of reasons. If Christ doesn’t come at all, then it means that He lied to His disciples. If Christ lied, then we don’t need to spend another moment considering anything He has ever said. If Christ intended to deceive His disciples, then He is just another sinner like us and has nothing to offer. Of course He intends to return to earth and He will do so.
But, isn’t it true that different people interpret Jesus’ words differently? For example, there are many who suggest that His coming for us is at our death or some other way. Are the different interpretations of Christ’s statement important; does a right understanding matter? I am here to tell you that it does matter
If you tell a 6-year-old that you will come to visit his house tomorrow, how will he understand your words? In the simplicity of a child, he will understand you literally, and he will expect to see you tomorrow. He will not look for your representative, and he will be disappointed if you come a week later. That is the primary way the children of God are to understand the Words of God – literally. Christ’s disciples, understood their Master to say that He would personally return to receive them to Himself. Not only do the Apostles own words express that understanding, so do other inter-related scriptures.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, He spent 40 days among His disciples before ascending to Heaven. Acts 1 describes His last moments with those 11 men. And then “while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” Doesn’t this angel tell us that Christ would return in the same fashion as they had just seen Him leave? The Bible teaches, and we must understand, that Christ will return personally and literally.
If someone wants to deny those clear and distinct words, an infinite number of doors are opened. And every one of those doors leads down a hallway into darkness and oblivion. If Christ and His angel were not telling us the literal truth, then the mind of the disbeliever can come up with any interpretation he wants. He may say that Jesus returned at Pentecost, or Christ comes at the death of each saint. He might say Christ returned with the installation of Pope Pius or with John Calvin or Donald Trump. Because he has rejected the literal and obvious, the door is opened to absolutely any interpretation no matter how ridiculous.
The Bible teaches that there are two general reasons for Christ’s return.
The most prominent, at least in the Old Testament is the establishment of a new Kingdom – a new kind of Kingdom, with the son of King David upon the throne. There are dozens of scriptures, but to prove that point is not my point, so I’ll read just one. Isaiah 11:1 – “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” There is only one Jesse in the Bible famous enough to be referenced without identification. Jesse was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth, the father of King David. And to David was promised a son to whom would be given an eternal kingdom. “And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.” Christ Jesus read these words to groups of Jews, declaring that they were speaking of Him. “And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.”
Now things begin to get really interesting and exciting. In this coming kingdom, “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.”
Again, if you ask that 6-year-old what those words about wolves, lions, calves and children mean, what will he tell you? They mean exactly what they appear to mean. Isaiah says that Christ is coming again to judge the wicked and to establish a kingdom. None of these things have yet taken place, so I must assume they WILL take place. Is that important?
Jumping ahead to the Book of Revelation – chapter 20 appears to speak of this kingdom, declaring six times that it will last a thousand years. In the Latin language the reference is to a “millennium,” but in Greek it is “chilioi” (khil’-ee-oy) or (chil-ee-oy). Now, does the Bible mean one thousand years, or ten thousand years? A million years? Ten years? Does it matter? Of course it matters. And because it matters, I affirm that I am an “chilaist” – a “millenarian.” I believe there will be a thousand year kingdom on earth, presided over by the returned Christ. That is my belief because that is what a literal interpretation of the Bible statements demands. I am not an “amillennialist;” I am a “chilaist” – a “millenarian.” I believe the Bible demands that interpretation. It is not an option.
The second general reason for Christ’s literal return takes us back to John 14.
“I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” In this verse, Christ doesn’t try to comfort His disciples with promises of toothless wolves, venomless asps, and stingless scorpions – although He certain could have. At this point He doesn’t talk about the punishment of the Romans or of the corrupt Jewish Sanhedrin. It is the simple thought of collecting the saints so that they might enjoy their Redeemer.
Those disciples picked up on this immediately and began to share that thought with other Christians. It was passed on to Paul the final Apostle, who carried it into the mission field, sharing it with Gentile believers on Christ. This became a watchword among the Christians. I mean the word “watch” became a watchword – “Keep an eye open for the return of the Lord.” From the very beginning those Christians were expecting the return of Christ. They were not looking for the Anti-Christ, the Tribulation, or anything less than the actual presence of Jesus Christ.
When Paul was teaching the brethren in Thessalonica, he made appeals to the promise of Christ’s return. In fact, in II Thessalonians, where some people had been deceived into thinking that the Tribulation had already begun, Paul said – “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” What argument did Paul use to empower his exhortation? “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him.”
I won’t greatly multiply this kind of reference, but to show there are others – I’ll point to I John 3 – “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” Clearly, John was thinking about the moment we see Christ at His return. Is the return of Christ for His saints important? John and Paul seemed to think so. And so did all the other Apostles, including Peter as we see in II Peter 2 and 3.
In the light of scriptures like these is the TIMING of the Lord’s return important? By that I mean, is it important or unimportant to be waiting for Christ, expecting Him to return right now? If we refuse to interpret I Corinthians 15:51-53 literally, does it do us any harm ? “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” Who are the “we” to whom Paul refers? A literal interpretation demands that it be your and me. “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”
Who were the people in Paul’s mind as he wrote to the Macedonian believers in I Thessalonians 4:15-17? “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” What comfort is there in these words, if we cannot take them and apply them to ourselves at this moment? What comfort is there for the saint, if he must pass through all or part of the terrible Tribulation which is so clearly described in the Old Testament and Revelation?
Does it matter whether or not we have concise doctrinal opinions about Christ’s return? I believe that it is very important, because how someone interprets scripture on these subjects, determines how he will interpret other scriptures. I agree with a statement made by M.L. Moser – after years of studying these doctrines and the people behind all the different interpretations. Moser pointed out that a denial of a literal millennium, as taught by Christ and His prophets, is the first step down the road to liberalism and modernism – a denial of every Biblical doctrine. He said that he had met some conservative Christians who were Amillennialists and Postmillennialists. But he never met a liberal, someone who denied the Bible, who did not deny the literal, imminent return of Christ to this earth to fulfill the prophesies given to David and others in the Old Testament. If Christ cannot be believed in these things, then is there anything in which He can be trusted? The obvious answer is “no.”