WHAT PRESBYTERIANS BELIEVE
Anticipation of Christ’s return inspires faithful service
By Charles Wiley
The refrain of Advent is Come, Lord Jesus. And so, during the season, we stand in the place of those who awaited the advent of the Lord for centuries before the birth of Christ. We cry out for the Lord to come. But just as importantly, we also stand looking forward to Christ’s second advent, when we, who see through a glass darkly, will see our Savior face to face.
I’ve found that Presbyterians have an easier time putting themselves back in history to say Come, Lord Jesus than they do anticipating the future. Like relationships on Facebook, sometimes our relationship to the second coming of Christ is…well, complicated.
Part of the reason we struggle with a full-throated affirmation of Christ’s return is that we fear association with those Christians for whom the second coming is the most prominent aspect of their faith. In the past couple of decades, the Left Behind books have sold roughly 80 million copies. Many Presbyterians have read such descriptions of the second coming and the horror of being left behind and have been at a loss as to how to deal with the subject. But in distancing ourselves from the excesses of this collection of beliefs, we can miss the vital importance of affirming Christ’s return.
Scripture speaks of the return of Christ in striking terms. In the words of institution during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper we hear, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (2 Cor. 11:2). The book of Revelation tells us that our hope rests in that One who is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. We wait with eager expectancy for that time when God will dwell with us and “wipe away every tear. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (Rev. 21:3–4).
We affirm that the reality of God’s kingdom is present with us now. We affirm that it will be fully manifested at Christ’s return. We affirm that God has not revealed to human beings the time when all things will be fulfilled; this preserves in us a sense of urgent watchfulness. Thus, Presbyterians refuse to speculate on the time of the return of Christ.
We fully believe in God’s sovereignty in these matters and do not look to our actions as causing or making more imminent the return of Christ. When Presbyterians discuss matters surrounding the second coming of Christ, we practice a restraint that we believe is consistent with the teaching of the Scriptures: “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matt. 24:36)
A healthy appreciation for Christ’s return in glory is a powerful call to a life of trust and obedience. This hope can encourage us with confidence that God’s redemptive purpose will not be thwarted.
Jesus’ own life is set before us as the example of one who participates in God’s coming reign. Jesus’ life reveals that anticipatory living involves active work at unmasking and overcoming evil, being on the side of those in need, working in the ministry of healing, and proclaiming the gospel of reconciliation to all.
Anticipation of Christ’s return enables us to enter this struggle as vigorously as if it were the eve of the last day. It excites in us an expectation that God continues to redeem the world.
Let us join in the Advent refrain together: Come, Lord Jesus.
Charles Wiley is the director of major gifts for Columbia Theological Seminary. He was the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s associate director of the Office of Theology and Worship for 21 years. This article originally appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of Presbyterians Today.
You may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.