Based on the little attention it receives in teaching and preaching today, one might suppose that the future return of our Lord is a fringe doctrine invented by extremists, a second thought hastily tacked on to resolve some alleged difficulty in the original Christian message. Instead, it is a foundational teaching of the faith, rooted in the promise solemnly given by angels immediately after Jesus’ ascension.
This “blessed hope” is part of the earliest Christian narrative as reported by Luke: “Repent therefore . . . that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old” (Acts 3:18-21).
Jesus’ future appearance is anticipated in the most primitive of Christian communities–including those pastored by James (5:7-8), Jude (24-25), and the author of Hebrews (9:28). It is mentioned in every chapter of First Thessalonians, probably the earliest canonical New Testament book (1:7 -10; 2:17-19; 3:12-13; 4:16-18; 5:23-24). Truly a universal teaching, it is documented as taught in Philippi (Phil. 3:20-21), Corinth (1 Cor. 15:23), Colossae (Col 3:1-4), Thessalonica (1 Thes 1:7- 10), in Asia Minor (1 Peter 5:1-4), Crete (Titus 2:11-13), Palestine (Jude 24-25), Rome (Acts 1:9- 11), Ephesus (1 Tim. 6:14), and wherever Christians are found.
The esteem accorded to this teaching is demonstrated by its inclusion in both the most ancient and also the most prestigious post-apostolic statements of faith. In the section of the Eucharistic Liturgy known as The Great Thanksgiving, we “proclaim the mystery of our faith,” that “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”
And in the Nicene Creed we affirm: “For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven . . . He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” Let us recover this vital Christian doctrine, muted too often and for too long, and once more proclaim it from the roof-tops–“Jesus is coming again!”