Misunderstanding Jesus' expectations of His followers is one of the biggest tragedies of all. Mistakenly assuming that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins so we can now do whatever we want, many have a mental picture of Jesus as a quiet, docile, loving Being handing out eternal life to anyone who will simply acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior. Many believe there are many roads to God and a joyful afterlife.
"I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10)
The Bible reveals that we each have a date with destiny when we will face Jesus and give account of our actions. Surprisingly, the way Jesus will appear when He returns and the criteria He will use in determining who will be in His Kingdom are quite different from what most people have been led to believe. Similar to the confusion surrounding Jesus' first coming, misunderstanding is rampant regarding His return. What is the truth—the real story—about His return?
Why will Christ come a second time?
Jesus is pictured in the book of Revelation as the resurrected Savior, the Messiah who is preparing to return to earth a second time. "I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore" (Revelation 1:18).
But how is He coming, and why? In Matthew 24 He gives us the sobering answer. Responding to the disciples' question, about the time of His return and the end of this age of man, Jesus laid out a frightening scenario that includes widespread religious deception, warfare, famines and devastating natural disasters. "All these," He told them, "are the beginning of birth pains" that will usher in this new age to begin at His return (Matthew 24:8, NIV).
At what point will He intervene? At the point that mankind faces annihilation. "It will be a time of great distress, such as there has never been before since the beginning of the world, and will never be again. If that time of troubles were not cut short, no living thing could survive; but for the sake of God's chosen it will be cut short" (Matthew 24:21-22, REB).
Why must Jesus Christ return? Conditions will have grown so terrible, so life-threatening, that human life will be in danger of extinction. He came to earth the first time to save us from our sins. He will come a second time to save us from ourselves.
Initially at least, it will not be a pretty sight. Revelation 6:16-17 describes Him as coming in wrath because of mankind's continued refusal to obey His laws and the world's continual slide into evil and self-destructiveness. His return is announced with the sounding of trumpets ushering in monumental calamities on the earth (chapters 8 and 9). Yet in all of this it is His great concern for mankind that leads to this righteous anger.
Jesus is pictured as the One who is returning to rule the nations of the entire earth (Revelation 11:15). He will not accept resistance from anyone who opposes His righteous rule and will make war with the nations and the leaders who oppose Him (Revelation 19:15). He punishes and takes charge for our own good—to bring peace to a world bent on destruction.
This is perhaps the most important picture of Jesus in the Bible, because this is the Jesus Christ the entire world will meet sometime in the coming years—perhaps in the not-too-distant future.
From these prophecies it becomes clear that Jesus didn't die for us to have our own way. "He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow" (Philippians 2:8-10).
Jesus will take His rightful place as ruler of the earth, as the saving Messiah, when He returns. Where will you find yourself at that point?
Are we missing something?
As noted at the beginning of this chapter, many have the idea that Jesus died for us to eliminate any requirement that we obey God—and that a gentle, docile Jesus will admit us into His eternal presence if we will only acknowledge Him as our Savior, regardless of any way we would choose to live.
But to believe these things is to believe in a false Jesus and to completely miss the point of His promised second coming. He must return precisely because we will have followed the path of doing whatever we want and rejecting God's laws—and that path ends at the point of global extinction.
Which path will you choose? It's true that Christ's sacrifice demonstrated God's love, and nothing could be a more powerful demonstration of that love. But is that all there is to the story? Is Christianity a matter of only what Jesus has done for us? Or are we willing to follow Jesus by doing what He commanded and following His example?
Are we going to simply believe in Him, or will we believe His message too? There is a major difference. He preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God, the world-ruling Kingdom He will establish at His return. Are you preparing to be in the Kingdom of God? Do you really grasp that the Kingdom of God is a literal kingdom that will rule over all the earth and, in an ultimate sense, will extend throughout all infinity for eternity?
Jesus explained the laws of the Kingdom of God in His Sermon on the Mount. These are magnifications of the same laws He gave at Sinai, laws that He lived perfectly throughout His entire life. And Jesus said that if a person diminishes them in the least way, that person himself will be regarded as least (Matthew 5:19). Yet, tragically, the majority of those who claim to follow Jesus dismiss His clear statements on this important issue.
It seems that the teachings of Christianity, from the time after the apostles passed from the scene, have focused on the appealing idea of One who loves you, forgives you, comforts you and accepts you. But few have explained that Jesus requires His followers to obey the Father's commandments, both for their own good and for the benefit and blessing of all those around them (1 John 2:3-6; 1 John 5:3).
If you don't understand God's commandments, you don't understand sin, because sin is the breaking of God's law (1 John 3:4). And if you don't understand what sin is, then how can you repent? Without repentance—turning from living your own way of life to God's way of life—how can you truly accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?
Jesus didn't die so we can feel better about ourselves. Jesus died to pay the penalty for the sins you and I committed. If we return to a life of sin after knowing these things, we "crucify again...the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame" (Hebrews 6:6). Why would we despise His sacrifice and put Him to death all over again?
What does He expect?
In Luke 6:46 Jesus asks a question we should all seriously consider: "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" (NIV).
It isn't enough to simply call Jesus "Lord" or accept Him as such. As Jesus Himself explained in Matthew 7:21, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven." Entering God's Kingdom requires living according to God's will. Nothing else will do.
He continues in Matthew 7:22-23: "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'"
What laws could He be talking about? The same laws He kept perfectly. The same laws He, as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, revealed to Moses. The same laws He will institute to govern all of humanity in His Kingdom. He will never give His wonderful gift of eternal life to those who, by returning to sin, "crucify again...the Son of God"!
Clearly Jesus fully expects us to turn from sin and begin to obey His Father's commandments, the perfect "law of liberty" that sets us free from the suffering and death that sin brings (James 1:25; James 2:12).
An abundant, fulfilling life
It's tragic that submission to God's laws is called "bondage" by so many—including, ironically, many supposedly Christian religious teachers. The apostle John plainly tells us that such teachers are wrong. "This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments," wrote John. "And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3).
Jesus Christ understood that living according to God's revealed way of life is the key to a successful, happy, fulfilling life. "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full," He said (John 10:10, NIV).
He says to those who would follow Him, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:29-30). What the world sees as bondage is actually true freedom and happiness in Christ. This is what God promises those who follow the real Jesus and His true teachings.
But that path isn't easy to find, and you alone can make the choice to follow it. "Enter by the narrow gate," He tells us, "for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it." He instructs us to not take the easy route most of humanity chooses. "Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:13-14). If you make a decision to turn to Jesus, let it be done with the real Jesus Christ and His real story in mind. He is a king. He is worthy to rule the entire earth, and He will rule.
He is the earth's Maker and the Creator of life itself. He took complete responsibility for His Creation by coming to earth to demonstrate His good intentions toward us and with faithful adherence to the will of God to die for us. He will not fail to complete His mission to establish His Kingdom of peace over the whole earth.
So if you accept Him, remember—you accept Him as King and Ruler of your life now. He is the One you serve now, and the One you will serve forever.