Great Expectations in His Glory
Preached by Jason Abbott
I remember thinking when I was in middle and high school that I would someday very likely be a college athlete, perhaps even a professional athlete. These dreams weren’t even tied to a specific sport but transferred with the season. If it were soccer season, I would set my hopes on college and professional soccer. If it were track season, I would set my hopes on college and professional track. Even basketball season (and I’m barely 6 feet tall, have a thoroughly average vertical leap, and didn’t even play high school basketball) brought to mind hopes of future basketball successes and glories!
Such dreams regularly die slow, painful deaths for those who dream them. Even during the summer before my freshman year of college, I was still trying to run each day (8 miles!!!) in order to walk-onto MIZZOU’s track and field team. And even now, as I watch professional athletics, I’m wounded by the fact that most of the athletes being referred to as “in the twilights of their careers” are at the very least a couple years younger than I am!
This is my pathetic story. It’s hard for me to tell but easy for you to hear. However, let me triumphantly remind you that you have your own pathetic stories. Everyone has stories of their own quickly fading or already faded dreams of glory! We have faded dreams of academic success and faded dreams of career success; we have faded dreams of relational success and faded dreams of our kids’ success. Our hopes for success and our dreams of glory fade all too fast in the fallen world in which we live!
However, in the Bible, we are told there is a hope capable of satisfying us. There is one coming dream that, when finally realized, will never disappoint us! There is truly one glory that will never tarnish or fade. It’s the coming of this perfect, blessed hope which we’ll consider today—the 2nd advent of Jesus!
29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
These three little verses are simply loaded with meaning. However, for the purposes of our study, we will ask two questions of this passage concerning the second advent (or coming) of Jesus Christ: (1) What does this passage say to us? (2) What does this passage mean for us?
1. What does this passage say to us?
Before we dive into the implications of the future coming of Jesus for our lives today, we should establish, as clearly as possible, what Jesus is sharing here. What was Jesus teaching his disciples then, and what is he teaching us now?
First, he is teaching that:
a. There is no power, no force, above God (v. 29).
Our very first verse is mainly meant to establish this fact for Jesus’ disciples. God is in ultimate control of all things. There is no sphere outside of his power. There is no entity above him. Look again at the first verse with me:
Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken (v. 29).
You might wonder: How does this say there’s no force, no power, outside of God’s control? This is a good question for it’s not the first thing we notice here. Yet, this is precisely what is being indicated. This is something Jesus’ original audience would have grasped, from his statement, very quickly.
In first century Palestine, “it was widely accepted that there were many heavenly beings and that on occasion they might make their presence felt….”1 Consequently, Jesus’ statement tells his listeners, no matter what those powers may be (e.g. Greek or Roman Pantheons), not one is outside of God’s sovereign control. If such a god gives light to the sun or to the moon then those will be made dark! Maybe such a god holds the stars in place; if so then those stars will fall!
Often we scoff at such ideas as if we have advanced beyond such primitive thinking today. However, we should be careful when we are tempted to do so. Later, when we return to ask—What does this passage mean for us?—I hope to show that we have our own pantheons.
Second, Jesus is teaching us that:
b. There will be mourning at this coming (v. 30).
He explains this in the second verse of today’s passage. Please look at that verse with me again:
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (v. 30).
Some have concluded that this mourning must be a mourning of repentance.2 Some have concluded that this mourning is mourning over the coming judgment.3 Some believe that those who are wailing are the tribes of Israel.4 Some believe that those who are wailing are the unbelieving gentile nations of the world.5
Perhaps, there’s a bit of both going on here.
In Jesus’ statement, the Old Testament book of Zechariah is being quoted. The context of the passage (Zechariah 13:1-2) is that God has enabled his people to win victory over their enemies and, because of God’s merciful act of salvation, Israel weeps, in apparent repentance, for its past acts of sinful rebellion.
When Jesus comes again, he will bring victory over our two great enemies: sin and death. However, this victory is experienced only through faith in his victory over sin and death for us. Moreover, the invitation to such victorious faith is not exclusive to only Jews or to only Gentiles but is for all who will come in such faith!
For this reason, it seems to me, there will be weeping among all the nations. (1) Some will weep because they have not turned in faith to Jesus Christ and now face the judgment of God. (It is a terrible thing to stand guilty before a holy God.) (2) Others will weep because, despite having faith in Jesus Christ, the revelation of him in glory will give them a keen sense of their sinfulness and an even more profound sense of what it cost God to secure their salvation.
The first group will cry over their sins in light of God’s righteous judgment! The second group will cry over their sins in light of God’s gracious salvation! Thus, it is (I believe) that there will be mourning on the earth when Christ comes again in his glory.
Third and finally, Jesus is teaching us, in this passage, that:
c. Not one who has turned to Christ will be forgotten (v. 31).
If some of those listening were unsettled (because of this picture of mourning and weeping) then Jesus comforts their hearts with his next statement. Look at what he says:
And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (v. 31).
In effect, Jesus is saying to his followers: Don’t be afraid you’ll be forgotten. There isn’t a place on this earth to which I will not come and save you! As one biblical scholar explains, “Although all nations of the earth will mourn, nevertheless the elect are drawn from them [all].”6
This is the picture given in Revelation—the book which describes the second advent of Jesus Christ. Through his vision of these climactic future events, the Apostle John sees and describes the fullness of God’s salvation. He writes:
I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9-10).
What these biblical pictures (along with innumerable others in the Bible) quite clearly indicate is that none, who have turned to God for mercy in Jesus’ name, will be forgotten or lost at his glorious return—at his visible second advent. There’s most certainly room in God’s kingdom for all those who trust in Jesus’ all sufficient sacrifice for their sins.
Rather than being a picture of judgmental exclusivity, the biblical images of God’s eternal kingdom is pictured as an incredibly inclusive community formed through a humble faith in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, if you are part of Christ’s Church then at his return you will be ushered graciously into his joyous kingdom forever and ever. In Christ Jesus, you will not be forgotten.
Let’s finally turn to our second question:
2. What does this passage mean for us?
Maybe a better way of asking this is: What does Jesus’ second advent (or second coming) mean for us? Or, what are its implications for our everyday lives? This is where we explore the practical aspects of belief in Jesus’ return in glory.
There are many important implications for us:
First, we must recognize that nothing in the universe stands above God. Despite how it may appear to us, nothing will ever dethrone our Triune God; nothing will ever rule over him!
Thomas Jefferson, in his later years, famously read through the Bible and, as he did, edited out most every supernatural or miraculous event he found there.7 Jefferson couldn’t accept such irrational happenings as historic happenings. Basically, he would not allow his god to be God. Instead, the laws of nature ruled over Jefferson’s conception of god. His god was not all powerful.
Yet, if we believe in the God of Scripture, why shouldn’t he be all powerful? Why shouldn’t he rule over the laws of nature and be capable of working miracles as he chooses? Indeed, he should!
Jesus in this passage tells us that God is the Ruler of all created things. Furthermore, in this passage, Jesus tells us that he is coming back as the Judge. God will one day—Jesus explains—finally demonstrate his power and visibly reign over his creation in perfect justice.
This should encourage and transform those who follow Jesus Christ. Whenever we feel like God is not near but is far, whenever we are in a dark place, we must be encouraged that Jesus is coming and that such darkness will not last. Whenever we experience injustice in this world or whenever others experience it, we must be encouraged and empowered to fight against such evil, even sacrificially, since this is how God fought for us (in Jesus’ first advent) and since we know that perfect justice will prevail (at Jesus’ second advent)!
Second, the doctrine of Jesus’ second coming in glory should humble us. Nothing will provide a more accurate view of who we are than a glimpse of God. Time and time again in the Bible, whenever people are confronted with the glory of God, they get an immediate sense of their inadequacies—sins, uncleanness, etc. Therefore, when the Bible pictures the approaching glory of God at Jesus’ return, we would do well to allow that picture of divine glory gently humble us!
We should think of the mourning and the weeping—not viewing it as a speck of judgment coming to others but viewing it as the plank of judgment Christ Jesus suffered for us!
In other words, we should be rightly humbled by the picture of mourning in this passage and, in response, be compassionately moved to preach good news! Because now is not the time of judgment but the time of repentance and grace! Now is not the time of condemnation for sin and rebellion but for love and mercy!
We, in the Church, have done nothing to deserve or to earn the love of God. At Christ’s second advent, nothing will be more obvious to us than that will be; nothing will be more visible on that day than the mercy and grace of God for us. Thus, we must be compelled (by Jesus’ 2nd coming) to share God’s salvation!