I spent a considerable amount of my study time in 2018 reading, thinking and praying about eschatology, about the essential teaching of Scripture on the Saviour’s second advent and its pastoral relevance to our lives in the here and now. This was not an exercise in idle curiosity, but one of the blessed implications of preaching expository sermons on 1&2Thessalonians. The rich references and the practical dynamics of the Saviour’s appearing required me to reread the relevant New Testament texts in depth, and to refigure some of my thinking on that theme. I have had to repent of an unstudied neglect of a crucial gospel truth, and of downplaying the living impact that it ought to have on my view of life, suffering and hope.
Recently I have been thinking about the cultural disruption which the parousia will represent, how counter intuitive it is to our time-bound view of the world, of our now-centred way of making our way through life, and how Christ’s return would look in our media saturated, hyper connected society. Here are a few of my thoughts on this theme, offered in the hope that they might stimulate the minds and the motives of those reading along.
The coming of Christ will be seen by all, but will interpret itself: the concept of a global audience is a decidedly modern phenomenon. Our great great grandparents’ generation would have had no categories for seeing anything beyond their immediate environment, their own community or nation – and the idea of being able to see something ‘live’ from another place entirely would have carried the flavour of time travel. Even in my lifetime it has been fascinating to watch the development of technology so that we no longer have the halting, time-lagged satellite connections which newsreaders (and viewers) once had to endure, but now enjoy instant relays of people and places in ‘real time’ (which is decidedly unreal in a non-technological sense).
Long prior to mankind’s slow grind towards creating this kind of communication technology, John records that at the coming of Christ ‘every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him’ (Revelation 1:7). What is spellbinding about this is not only the unthinkable idea that everyone, everywhere, at once will see him, but also that Christ’s coming will be moment and meaning simultaneously. When the tribes of the earth see the coming Christ there will be no confusion about his identity, no doubt about his authority, nor any dissenting from the reality of his judgement – what a stunning image of the sovereign Saviour.
The coming of Christ will resist all analysis, but will compel every tongue: related to this universal and inescapable appearance is the sustained response which it will elicit from a watching world. Ours is a day of hyper communication, and fragmented analysis. A bomb explodes, a knifeman attacks, a political policy is unveiled and all of the world becomes a medium through which discussion, debate and denial flows. News no longer merely breaks but trends, is tagged, and is then assimilated into a wider cultural narrative with astonishing speed.
When Christ appears there will be no debate, there will be no trolling, there will be no whataboutery. If every eye will see him, likewise every mouth will be stopped (Romans 3:19); all gainsaying, all spin will finally be spent. Nothing about the parousia will be up for grabs or subject to individual interpretation. While human beings are marrying and being given in marriage, while it is business as usual in the rumour factory, while the world may chatter and twitter and fight, Christ’s appearing will throw all of this activity and expression into silence.
Those stilled tongues will then find voice with words which will pierce to the heart with chilling reality. There will be disquiet at this truth, but no dissenting from it – the compelled words, the reflexive falling to the knees will articulate the truth that the gospel has always proclaimed, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’.
When John wrote Revelation he depicted the humbling of global regimes and the appearing of Christ’s power with reference to Babylon and her commercial prowess. The coming of Christ will with finality interrupt everything in human history, it will consummate everything in God’s purpose, and it will thwart every hand and voice raised against him. To imagine this through the lens of our own cultural largesse being brought to heel, our own political and technological structures being brought to silence should give us a renewed sense of how decisive and disruptive Jesus’ return will be, and how we ought to be humbling ourselves before him now, and preparing our hearts to see him in his glory.