When I was growing up in church, we often heard messages about the second coming of Christ. Books like Hal Lindsey’s “Late Great Planet Earth” and the “Left Behind” series kept people looking to the horizon, expecting Christ’s return any day. We were told that the signs of the times have aligned and we could expect the church to be raptured soon. That was over 40 years ago. There are still prophecy conferences, and books foretelling when Christ will return, but main stream Evangelicalism has turned its attention more to the here and now instead of the sweet by and by.
Whenever we consider the topic of the return of Christ, we need to be careful that we stay anchored in what the Bible teaches us and not get caught up in idle speculation. Back in 1988, I received an unsolicited book with the intriguing title, “88 Reasons Why Christ will Return in 1988”. When the calendar rolled over to 1989, the book was republished as “89 Reasons Why Christ will Return in 1989.” Needless to say, Christ has yet to return. It is books and seminars like these that have dulled people’s interest in seriously considering Jesus’ promised return. The church can cry wolf only so many times before people stop listening. Even the secular world got all excited about Y2K and the Mayan Calendar, which supposedly predicted the end of the world. It is now 2018 and the world continues to turn.
Peter predicted this skepticism about the return of Christ long ago. It is recorded for us in 2 Peter 3:3-13.
First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.  They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation."  But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water.  By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.  By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives  as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.  But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
Peter’s words fit our times like a glove. Many unbelievers and even some so-called believers scoff at the idea that Jesus will return to claim his rightful throne. They would rather believe in the destruction of the world as a result of global warning or over population or a massive asteroid hitting the earth.
Peter gives us a good outline for how we should approach the promise of Christ’s return.
First, we need to keep God at the center of our thinking. When God is removed from the equation, the idea of the bodily return of Christ becomes laughable. In an increasingly secular and pluralistic world, many people think the Church’s teaching on the return of Christ is at best a quaint myth and at worst an idealistic delusion. As followers of Christ, we know that God has a plan for this world. He is the creator and sustainer of it. It will continue to exist until that time when His plan is fulfilled. We can rest in the knowledge that God is in control of human history. Nothing has happened or will happen that is outside of His plan. We need to always remember what Jesus said about the church in Matthew 16:18. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
The second thing that Peter reminds us of is that God is not in a hurry to bring things to an end. God created this world and humans in particular to be in relationship. His desire is that as many people as possible will come to faith in Him through Jesus Christ. But He will not force anyone to take that step of faith. Out of His great love for us, He gives us to freedom to choose; to choose to follow or not to follow. It takes time for people to become aware of their true spiritual state and to come to grips with what they need to do about it. God does not have a limited number of people that He will accept in heaven, as some think. In fact, the book of Revelation makes it clear that God has opened the doors to all who will come.
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. Rev. 7:9
The third thing that Peter tells us about Jesus second coming is that we cannot figure out when it will happen. Too much time and effort has been spent on trying to figure out when Christ will return. I don’t believe that He is honored by this. In fact, Jesus made it very clear that His return will take everyone by surprise. Consider some of what Jesus taught about his return.
"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;  and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
 "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
Paul reinforced what Jesus taught in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2. Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you,  for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
Finally, Peter gets to the real heart of the matter. In light of Jesus return, how should we live our lives now? Peter gives a very general answer with two distinct aspects. We are to live holy and godly lives. We are also to live in anticipation of Jesus return.
Jesus specifically addressed this in Matthew 24:45-51.
"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?  It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.  I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.  But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, 'My master is staying away a long time,'  and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards.  The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of.  He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Jesus tells us that the best way to be ready for His return is to stay focused on the task He has given us to be light and salt in our world. Always live with the reality that Jesus could return at any time. Don’t become complacent and abuse the privileges that He has given to us.
Jesus expanded what it means to be ready for His return with three other parables; the parable of the ten virgins, the parable of the talents, and the parable of the sheep and the goats. Each parable has a specific message for us.
In the parable of the ten virgins the message is always be prepared because we do not know when he will return. Five of the virgins managed their resources well. Five of the virgins failed to prepare. When the time came, only the five that were prepared were allowed to enter the banquet.
In the parable of the talents, the message is that we will be held accountable for what we have done with what God has given to us. Jesus says that each of the servants was given a certain amount of money to manage on behalf of the master, according to their abilities. Two of those servants managed the money well and were rewarded by the master. The third hid what had been given to him and returned it unused to the master. He was severely reprimanded for his lack of faithful service. Christ will judge each of us by what he has entrusted to us, not compared to anyone else. God expects us to be good stewards of His resources in order to bring glory to him. If we fail to honor Him in this way, he will judge us accordingly.
The parable of the sheep and the goats is the most chilling to me. For many years I lived in fear of this parable because I could not honestly say that I did all of the things mentioned here: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, welcoming the stranger. Out of fear, I did things that I was not equipped to do or maybe even called to do. Then one day God spoke clearly to me that He expected me to do my part to accomplish all of these things, but that he doesn’t expect me to do them all on my own. It was as we work together as the body of Christ that we fulfill this parable. On the other hand, those who neglect the things God has commanded us to do will again face his judgement.
At this point I need to address the issue of if we can lose our salvation. I want to affirm that, as I understand the Bible, we cannot. In 2 Cor. 5:17 it states that, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! As new creations formed by Christ we cannot go back to being what we used to be. What we can lose is our rewards from Christ. Paul makes that clear in 1 Cor. 3:10-15.
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,  his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work.  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
I know this has been a heavier talk than I normally give, so let me summarize what the Bible teaches about the second coming of Christ.
1. We can be confident that Christ will return. 1 Thes. 4:16-18
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore encourage each other with these words.
2. We cannot figure out when Christ will return. "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
3. We should live in anticipation of His imminent return; that He may return at any time. Matthew 24:42
"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
4. As we look forward to His return, we should be busy about His business. Jesus does not want us to sit idly by waiting for the last day, but He wants us to bear fruit for His kingdom. John 15:8
This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
5. We can trust God with the timing. We should pay attention to what is going on around us, but we don’t need to worry or be consumed by them. We know that the ultimate victory has already been won by Christ. We know that no matter how dark things may look to us the light will dawn. 1 Cor. 15:56-58
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
6. We can celebrate that God is doing some amazing things in our world. In different parts of the world people are coming to faith in Christ in unprecedented numbers. Even in Europe and North America there are new fires of faith beginning to burn.
We are closer to the bodily return of Christ than we have ever been. It could be tomorrow or it could be another 1000 years. Whenever that time is, we need to be alert and ready.
Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.