Day 9: Jesus’ Return

Stained Glass Depicting Jesus Christ

With the Ten Days of Awe drawing to a close, we turn our attention to the future. We look to a time when everything that went wrong in Genesis 3 will be made right to Revelation 21. The fall’s effects will no longer hold its influence over us. God’s plan of salvation will finally see it’s full realization. The current heavens and earth will give way to complete and permanent restoration. We will participate in the greatest party this universe has ever seen – the wedding supper of the Lamb!

But first, something has to happen. An event must occur that has been anticipated for hundreds and hundreds of years. Jesus must return.

The details of this event have been fiercely debated throughout church history. What has not been debated, however, are three basic facts surrounding Jesus’ return.

  1. Jesus will return suddenly
  2. His sudden return should be eagerly anticipated
  3. We do not know when his return will be

Today, we’ll examine each of these points to build a small picture of what it means to live in an age between Jesus’ first and second coming.

SUDDEN RETURN

Jesus spoke frequently about his return. “You also must be ready,” he warned his disciples, “for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Mt 24:44).” In Acts 1:11, we are told that Jesus will return in the same way that he ascended – in a spectacular event that will be obvious to all who witness it.

It will be, as Paul describes, “like a thief in the night (1Th 5:2).” This is not to say that Jesus will sneak to earth through a cosmic window and quietly steal people away; rather, Jesus’ return will be sudden and when we least expect it like a thief who comes after midnight. Also, like a thief who physically appears, so will Jesus’ return be personal and bodily in the same way that the disciples saw him go to heaven.

His sudden return will mark the beginning of the end of sin’s power. Jesus is coming a second time with a different mission. The first was to deal with sin, but the second is “to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (Hb 9:28).” For this reason, we should eagerly ancitipate his return!

EAGER ANTICIPATION

James wrote, “the coming of the Lord is at hand (Jm 5:8).” We should always be anticipating that day. In fact, as we are living lives that are striving to become more and more Christ-like, we should also be “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Ts 2:12–13).”

In a part of the world where we enjoy great securities, health, and wealth, awaiting his return can sometime fade into the background. The more we are engaged in enjoying this life, we often forget about the life to come. Of course, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the gifts God gives us in this life, but they pale in comparison to the gifts we will receive in the next life.

Perhaps it is actually easier for Christians who experience suffering and persecution to eagerly anticipate his return. To them this life is filled with troubles, worries, and evil. They cry aloud with suffering brothers and sisters,  “Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!”

In some way, then, the degree to which we anticipate his return may help us gauge our attachment to this world. We are sojourners and aliens in a foreign land, but do we view ourselves as such? Do we look forward to the day when we will go home to where we really belong? Or do we see this world and this life as our home?

NO MAN KNOWS THE DAY OR THE HOUR

So, when will his sudden return occur? Well, no one knows. In fact, Jesus tells us that the “day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only (Mt 24:36).” So, not even the Son is privy to the hour of his own return!

What this tells us is that anyone who claims to know specifically when Jesus will return should automatically be considered wrong. Time and time again, people come forward to claim they have unique insight into Jesus’ return, insight that Jesus himself is not aware of according to Mt 24:36. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, have officially predicted Jesus’ return five times only to be disappointed over and again.

The most recent famous example is Harold Camping, a Christian radio broadcaster, who claimed Jesus would return on May 21, 2011. When this failed to pan out, Camping pushed the date to October 21, 2011. He later apologized for his false teaching. Regardless of false prophecies, Jesus will return at any moment.

This fact leads some people to ask whether or not it is wise to invest in any long-term projects, plans, or careers. After all, Jesus could arrive at any moment and we don’t know when! This misses the point of precisely why God has opted not to tell us Jesus’ actual time of return. If we knew when Jesus would return, we’d disengage from imaging him to the world through relationships and community. Jesus wants us engaged in following him, no matter where we are in the grand timeline, right up until he returns.

REFLECTION

Take time to reflect on the coming event of Jesus’ second coming. Since Jesus could return at any hour, how does that affect your life? Do you now eagerly anticipate Jesus’ return? Are you ready for his return today?

Closing out the Ten Days of Awe with today’s celebration of Yom Kippur, we say with John in Revelation 22:20, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

Day 8: What Does Jesus Do Now?

Stained Glass Depicting Jesus Christ

 

Have you every wondered what Jesus is doing? Literally, right now? What is he doing?

Many will jump immediately to his return. We would say, “Jesus is currently awaiting his second coming.” While that’s true (and we’ll explore that very topic tomorrow), I think we sometimes let his second coming overshadow his present ministry. We imagine Jesus waiting around in heaven until he receives the command from the Father to return. Until then, he sits… waits… daydreams…

But that’s not true at all! Today, even as you read this article, Jesus is acting on our behalf as our great high priest. He brings us near to God and continually prays for us.

He does this out of love for us and obedience to the Father. When you think about it, he’s the only one that could bring us near to God and continually pray for us.

Why? Because he is uniquely qualified to do so. Better yet, Jesus is the only person in the entire universe for all eternity who can be our great high priest because only he is truly God and truly man, exalted forever above the heavens.

Think about it – God could simply care for all of our needs through his powerful observation, but he chose instead to relate to us through experience in the man Jesus. Yet, human nature alone does not allow for the high priest Jesus to relate to us all. How could he hear all of our petitions, our needs, or our requests? Thus, the perfect high priest must also be God as well as man.

This makes Jesus uniquely qualified to bring us near to God and continually intercede on our behalf. But it hasn’t always been this way. Jesus’ role as our great high priest was actually foreshadowed in the Old Testament.

NEAR TO GOD & CONTINUAL PRAYER

If you lived during the Old Testament period, you would be very familiar with the temple sacrificial system. It was the vehicle by which your sins would be atoned for. It also drew you nearer to God through a representative priest.

Once a year, the priest would enter the holy of holies, an inner chamber within the temple, to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat and make an atonement for the sins of the people.

Today, there is no longer any need for the temple sacrificial system. The cross and resurrection made the whole process obsolete as Jesus perfectly and finally fulfilled its meaning and purpose. As our perfect high priest, Jesus continually leads us into God’s presence. This means that we no longer need a temple or a special priesthood to mediate between us and God. Instead, Jesus is our one mediator (1Ti 2:5)!

Likewise, Jesus does not go into the holy of holies of the earthly temple in Jerusalem, but he has entered into the heavenly equivalent to the holy of holies, the very presence of God himself in heaven. Hebrews 9:24 declares, “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.”

This means that Jesus has made available the way of access to God so that we can continually “draw near” into God’s very presence without fear but with “confidence” and in “full assurance of faith (Hb 10:19–22).”

Not only this, but Jesus acts as our great high priest by continually praying for us. “Who is to condemn?” Paul rhetorically asks in Romans. “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us (Rm 8:34).”

What an amazing thought! Jesus is praying for us, even when we ourselves neglect prayer. He is constantly interceding on our behalf to the Father. With the Holy Spirit, he brings our spiritual needs before the Father, some of which we may not even know we have. He prays for our own protection against unseen dangers we may not even be aware of. He prays against the enemy’s work in our life, even if we do not notice it. He prays that our faith would not cease, so we would one day see his glorious final victory over Satan, sin and death.

REFLECTION

Consider what it means that Jesus is our perfect and great high priest. He continually intercedes on our behalf. How does Jesus’ role of high priest affect your life? How could your awareness of this unique and important role be developed in your life?

Day 7: Bad Views of Jesus’ Divinity

Stained Glass Depicting Jesus Christ

Yesterday, we examined how Jesus was fully divine. He is, as Isaiah prophesied, Mighty God (Is 9:6). Yet, as we saw earlier, Jesus is also fully human. Trying to wrap our minds around the very essence of Jesus as both Jesus and God quickly seems like an impossible task, yet God calls us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength!

As difficult as it may seem to comprehend the person of Jesus, there are times when certain ideas about him can lead us astray. There are bad views of Jesus’ divinity. Today, we’ll theologically nerd out to see how influential Christians have tried to reconcile Jesus’ humanity and divinity in ways that just don’t quite get it right. In doing so, we’ll receive a guide to keep us closer to who Jesus really is.

Apollinarianism

Apollinaris (315–390) taught that Jesus had a human body but not a human mind or spirit. Instead, Jesus’ mind and spirit were the divine nature of the Son of God while his body remained human. So, Jesus’ body was human but his mind was divine.

The problem with this view is that Apollinaris believed only our human body needs salvation, not our minds. Christ’s redemptive work is not only for our bodies but also for our minds. Hebrews tells us that Jesus, “had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people (Hb 2:17, emphasis added).”

Jesus needed to be truly and fully human in every respect to save us, which includes his mind!

Nestorianism

Nestorius (386–450) taught that Jesus was two separate people, a human person and a divine person, in one body. In a way, the physical Jesus was possessed by the divine Jesus.

The problem with this view is that scripture never refers to Jesus as anyone more than a single person. It speaks of him, not they. We never see dialogue, interaction, conflict, or agreement with the “two persons” of Jesus anywhere in the Bible. Never do we see the Gospel writers telling us that Jesus did one action in his human nature and another action in his divine nature as though they were to separate identities.

Even though Jesus has two natures, he is still one person.

Monophysitism

Eutyches (378–454) taught that Jesus only had one nature, which was a mixture of his human and divine natures. God placed Jesus’ two natures into a cosmic blender and the result was Jesus’ “new” nature. An example he used was placing a drop of ink in a bowl of water. The result is not fully ink nor fully water, but a new mixture of the two.

The problem with this view is that Jesus is neither fully human nor fully God. If Jesus is neither fully human nor fully God, then (as with Apollinarianism) he could not truly represent humanity as a man nor could he earn salvation for us as God.

REFLECTION

At the end of the day, when it comes to the dual natures of Jesus it may simply be something we’ll never fully grasp! Christians have pondered what if means for Jesus to be fully human and fully divine for ages. Each time a new idea arises, we always come back to the mystery that is uniqueness of Jesus – the fully God, fully human savior of humanity.

Now, if Christians throughout the ages have been thinking about Jesus’ person, what must the disciples must have felt as they came to the slow, growing realization of who Jesus truly is. We’re discussing him hundreds of years removed, but they had access to him face-to-face! Yet, in the end, each one yielded to the paradox of Jesus’ humble majesty in worship.

As reflection, think about each devotion we have gone through so far. How does studying the person and work of Jesus sharpen your understanding of him and enhance your worship of him?

Day 6: Jesus is fully God

Stained Glass Depicting Jesus Christ

 

A couple of days ago we looked at the necessity of Jesus being fully man.  Now we look at the necessity of Jesus being fully God.  Why is this important for our salvation and our understanding of who Jesus is?

Throughout the New Testament there are hundreds of passages that point to Jesus being God, “the LORD”, and the Messiah.  There are at least seven passages that are undeniably pointing to Jesus as the one true God.  These passages include John 1:1; 1:18; 20:28; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8 (quotes Psalm 45:6); and 2 Peter 1:1.

Old Testament passages refer to Christ as being God as well.  Isaiah 9:6 is a familiar one: “For to us a child is born, to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God…'”.

John the Baptist quotes an Old Testament passage (Isaiah 40:3) when he says of Jesus, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Matthew 3:3).

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR US?
Why is it necessary for us to understand Jesus’ deity? 

If Jesus was not fully God then our salvation would not be attainable.  Jonah 2:9 says that salvation comes from God alone.  No human being, no earthly creature could have carried the weight of the world’s sin.  This was a weight that only God could bear.  No human effort was capable of redeeming humanity.  Only God could pay the ransom necessary for our salvation.  Only one who was fully God could be the mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5), and only one who was fully God could reveal God most fully to his creation (John 14:9).

If Jesus was not fully God then salvation for us would be hopeless.  There would be no Christianity, no church, and no hope for the human race.  But because of God’s great love for us, because of his grace, he took it upon himself to do what only he was capable of doing.  And thus we have hope for freedom, through the works of Christ alone.

REFLECTION:

Spend some time reflecting on God’s great love for you.  He knows you by name.  He has counted your days.  He knows your every thought, why you shed every tear, and what brings you the most joy.

Imagine you were one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples.  Think of what your reaction would have been as you understood more each day of who Jesus actually is.  That you are walking, talking, and interacting with the Creator of the Universe.  What would that have been like?  Would you find it intimidating?  Would you have been scared?  Would there have been things you wanted to hide?  What questions would you have asked him?

Now spend some time talking to the Creator of the Universe.  He hears you.  He wants to speak to you.  Will you let him now?

Day 5: The Cross and Empty Tomb

Stained Glass Depicting Jesus Christ

 

Why did Jesus come to earth in the first place? Jesus himself gives a simple explanation in Luke 19:10 – “to seek and save the lost.” In the Garden, humanity rebelled against God. Ever since, we’ve been separated from him. We’ve existed outside of God’s original design for us – in sin, rebellion, and depravity. There was no way we could fix what we broke. We were trapped in our own sin forever.

But God had other plans.

God loved the world so much that he sent Jesus into it for the expressed purpose of redeeming what was lost in the Fall (Jn 3:16). Saving the lost would prove to be the most difficult aspect of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Saving the lost – you and me – involved an execution on the cross.

But why?

THE CROSS

The importance of the cross cannot be overstated. The justice of God demands a penalty for sin just like our legal system demands punishment for breaking laws. Paul tells us that Jesus paid this divine penalty for us as our “propitiation” (Rm 3:25), a sacrifice that bore God’s wrath in order for us to be view favorably by God.

Paul goes on to explain how God had forgiven sins in the Old Testament without a penalty being paid. This begs the question — how can a just God forgive sin without a penalty? The answer is found in Jesus who came to die and pay the penalty for our sins “to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rm 3:26).”

The cross is where God’s abundant love and perfect justice meet. His love is demonstrated by the fact that he sent his son as a sacrifice, which demonstrates his perfect justice. Without the cross, God is not just. Without the cross, we are not justified.

Isaac Watts captured this thought beautifully in his famous hymn The Wondrous Cross

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down:
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

But the cross is not the end of the story…

EMPTY TOMB

I was blessed to live in Europe for many years. I loved walking around cities and finding beautiful churches and cathedrals to sit and think in. Over time, you being to notice similarities – the stations of the cross, the pews, the baptismal font, etc. But one thing I noticed has stuck with me. Most of the crosses displayed Jesus during his crucifixion.

The purpose behind it is obvious to me, it is a reminder that Christ died for us. But, that’s only half the story. It’s true  – Jesus was on the cross. But that’s past tense, he was on the cross. He isn’t anymore.

After being placed in the grave, he rose three days later to conquer Satan, sin, and death. Jesus died for us, but he also raised! Without the resurrection, Paul tells us, there’s no point to Christianity. “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain (1Co 15:13–14).”

This is because the resurrection is God’s declaration of approval of Christ’s work of redemption. Without the resurrection, the cross wouldn’t work. Without the work of the cross, as Paul says, then our faith is in vain!

The resurrection wasn’t simply Jesus returning from the dead. Rather, when Jesus left the tomb he inaugurated a radical aspect of God’s plan for salvation. Jesus was the “first fruits” (1Co 15:20, 23) of a new type of human experience and life, a life in which the literal and physical body will be made perfect, no longer subject to weakness, aging, or death. Not only this, but the body is able to live eternally.

Because of the cross, we are reconnected with God through our justification. Because of the resurrection, we are ensured of our reconnection and look forward to the day where we too will be resurrected to exist the way we were created to be – in eternally perfect community with God.

MEDITATION

Think about the lengths to which God went to rescue us. Think about how Jesus has earned for us a new experience of life through his resurrection.

Day 3: Human Emotions

Stained Glass Depicting Jesus Christ

Today, people have little doubts that Jesus was an actual person. Even ardent critics of Christianity believe that a man by the name of Jesus lived in first century Palestine and altered the course of human history forever. It is Jesus divinity, his godhood, that modern critics find so unbelievable.

Oddly enough, that hasn’t always been the case. In fact, historically speaking, just the opposite has been true. Critics long ago would argue that the physical man Jesus never existed, but instead the divine Jesus walked the earth. He was like a ghost, never leaving footprints in the sand as his disciples followed him.

While people today struggle to grasp Jesus’ divinity, long ago people struggled to grasp Jesus’ humanity.

These individuals, the Gnostics, found it inconceivable that God would have anything to do with the physical since they viewed all material as fundamentally flawed.

However, as we see throughout the New Testament, there is no room for a Jesus who is simply spirit. Jesus was a man whose total human experience led him to sympathize with us as our high priest.

JESUS WEPT

The shortest verse in the whole Bible is just two words – Jesus  wept. These two words, found in John 11:35, point out a simple and often overlooked fact about the person of the messiah. Jesus was a man, in a human body, with real human emotions.

As we reflected yesterday, we saw that Jesus was born just like anyone of us. He put his mother through the same nine months of pregnancy that you put your mother through! Not only that, but Jesus also “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom (Lk 2:40, emphasis added).” He most likely attended Jewish schools while learning his father’s trade. In other words, Jesus probably got bored…

We know that Jesus became tired, he was thirsty, and he became hungry. He probably stubbed his toe, needed to bathe, and had days when he wanted to push the snooze button. As a child, he most likely engaged in physical activities like playground games. He experienced happiness and sadness, elation and anger, affection and horror, sympathy and frustration.

In the darkest moment of his life we see that Jesus became too physically weak to carry a piece of his cross (Lk 23:26). On the cross, Jesus experience emotional states that we could never possibly conceive. His body eventually gave out and died after hours of excruciating torture.

In his resurrection, Jesus demonstrated that his existence remained with and in a physical body when he ate with the disciples and allowed them to feel the wounds of his hands. This means that Jesus did not give up his human nature at death, but instead his human nature is permanently united with his divine nature.

All this to say, Jesus experienced life in the same way we do – in a human body with human emotions that he has retained in the resurrection.

HIGH PRIEST

Jesus was not some cold, calculated robot unable to empathize with the ones he was sent to rescue. Quite the contrary, the author of Hebrews declares that, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hb 4:15).”

Had Jesus not been fully human he would not have known through experience what it is like to be “tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Because he has lived life as a man, he can fully sympathize with our experiences.

Jesus knows what it’s like to experience happiness and sadness, elation and anger, affection and horror, sympathy and frustration. More importantly, Jesus knows what it’s like to be tempted. In this way, he acts as our perfect mediator – one who was tempted and can sympathize, but never sinned.

REFLECTION

Reflect on what it means that Jesus experienced life the same way we do. Think about why it is so important to have a high priest who not only mediates on our behalf, but sympathizes with our weaknesses.

What if Jesus was unable to sympathize with our plight? How do we apply Jesus’ humanity to our understanding of forgiveness and grace?

Day 2: Virgin Birth

Stained Glass Depicting Jesus Christ

[18] Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. [19] And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. [20] But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. [21] She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” [22] All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
[23] “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). [24] When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, [25] but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
(Matthew 1:18-25 ESV)

The virgin birth of Christ is essential for Christian doctrine.  It’s through the virgin birth that God is able to unite both humanity and deity in one person.  Through being born of a woman, as a baby, we are able to understand Jesus’ humanity.  Jesus was fully human and was able to experience the same things you and I experience.  Through being conceived of the Holy Spirit rather than through having an “earthly father” we are able to understand Jesus’ deity.  Jesus is fully God and he alone has the power to break the chains of sin.

Because Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, the descent of Adam was interrupted.  That means that the bloodline of Adam, our first father, tainted with sin, was interrupted in Jesus’ conception.  This does not mean that Mary was sinless, as there is no indication of that in Scripture, but rather the work of the Holy Spirit prevented the transmission of her sin nature to Jesus.

WHY IS THE VIRGIN BIRTH IMPORTANT FOR US?
The virgin birth is important for us because it shows us that salvation can only come from the Lord.  In Genesis 3, God promised that the seed of the woman would destroy the serpent.  But it wouldn’t be through human effort that this would happen.  The virgin birth reminds us that salvation cannot be attained through our human efforts but through the work of God himself.  He alone has that power.

Jesus walked this earth for approximately 33 years and experienced the emotions, pain, joy, and sufferings that you and I often experience.  As a human, he was capable of growing tired and weary, hungry and thirsty, becoming sad and happy.  Jesus operated in his humanity, showing us what it’s like to be completely submissive to the Holy Spirit.  Through Jesus’ life we have an example of what perfect communion with God looks like.

It was through Christ’s obedience to the Father that took Jesus to the cross.  It was his life, one perfect human life, that was traded for the freedom of humanity.  The debt that no other human could pay, Jesus paid.

It is through the work of the Holy Spirit that Jesus was conceived, born, lived, died, and resurrected.  It is the work of God alone that saves you and me from the sins that seek to destroy our souls.  The virgin birth reminds us that we cannot attain our own salvation.  No human effort, no amount of work, resources or money can deliver us from the hands of destruction.  But Christ, who is rich in mercy, he alone has the power over sin.  It’s through our surrender that we are redeemed. Our surrender from being our own god.  Our surrender of trying to be “good enough”.  Our surrender of working our way to salvation.  We surrender to the redeeming work of Christ, understanding that he is enough and the wrath of God was satisfied in his death.

REFLECTION
In what ways do you still seek to attain salvation on your own?  Where do you still seek to be your own god?  What areas of your life are you unwilling to surrender to Christ and allow him to have his own way in you.  How may you begin surrendering completely to what Christ has done?  “Jesus’ blood is enough”: How may you begin to make that statement reality in your own life?