Christ’s Return—Do You Know What to Look For?
Many persons during Christ’s first presence looked for the wrong things. How can we avoid the same mistake today?
JESUS was born into a nation that was in a state of expectancy. The Jewish Encyclopedia (Vol. VIII, page 508) tells us: “After the fall of the Maccabean dynasty, when the despotic government of Herod the Great and his family, and the increasing tyranny of the Roman empire had made their condition ever more unbearable . . . the Jews [sought] refuge in the hope of a personal Messiah. They yearned for the promised deliverer of the house of David, who would free them from the yoke of the hated foreign usurper, who would put an end to the impious Roman rule, and would establish his own reign of peace and justice in its place.”
Yes, the majority of the Jews looked for the Messiah to be a conquering Leader, majestically coming forth from Judah and guiding the nation to a resounding victory over Rome, thereby restoring independence and national sovereignty to the Jew. This view was fostered by their religious leaders, particularly the Pharisees. It appears that the Sadducees did not share this Messianic hope to the same degree but worked toward building up the nation through statecraft and collaboration with the existing political powers.
JESUS CHRIST REJECTED
Jesus did not fulfill the Messianic expectations of the religious leaders who guided the thinking of the Jewish people. Though born in Bethlehem of Judea, he came forth to them from the obscure town of Nazareth in Galilee. (John 7:52) He talked to the Pharisees about spiritual liberation from false worship and told them that it was only by remaining in his word that “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” This was not what they wanted to hear from the expected Messiah; and they self-righteously denied any need for such liberation from sin and wrong worship, calling Jesus a “Samaritan” and, in effect, a ‘religious upstart.’—John 8:31-33, 48, 53, 57.
By the Sadducees, Jesus was viewed as a jeopardy, since, in their view, his teachings placed in peril the position of the Jews with regard to the political powers around them. They therefore joined forces with the Pharisees in conniving to bring about Jesus’ death.—John 11:45-50; Matt. 16:1; Acts 5:17.
Thus, though the common people generally ‘listened to him with pleasure,’ actively discussed the possibility of his being the promised Messiah, marveled at his miraculous cures, and even went so far as to try, unsuccessfully, to make Jesus their king, yet on the whole they were adversely influenced by their rulers and religious leaders and were led to reject him. (Mark 12:37; John 7:25-27, 31, 40-42; 6:15; Matt. 12:23; 27:20) With no majestic appearance, no victorious conquests, no national independence, there could be no Messiah present—so they reasoned.
THE THINGS OVERLOOKED
They committed a tragic error. Why? The indisputable evidence of Jesus’ messiahship was there to see. He was genealogically perfect for the position; chronologically he had come at the precise time foretold in prophecy; and he was undeniably the promised ‘prophet like Moses’ who not only performed miracles but even raised the dead, something Moses had never done.* Yes, and his humble appearance, his rejection by the nation’s leaders, the manner of his death, and his resurrection—all this was there in God’s inspired Word, if only they had given attention to it, in preference to their religious leaders. (Zech. 9:9; Ps. 118:22; Isa. 53:12; Ps. 34:20; 16:10) Instead, they allowed their attention to be focused on the wrong things, particularly Jewish national independence. We even find two of Jesus’ disciples, following his death, disappointedly saying: “But we were hoping that this man was the one destined to deliver Israel.”—Luke 24:21.
Yet Jesus had come as a Deliverer and had done the greatest liberation work Israel had ever experienced, opening the gates and showing the way to freedom from captivity to false religion to which their religious leaders had enslaved them.—Luke 4:17-20.
Moreover, Jesus initiated the Christian ministry, which was to spread genuine Bible education throughout the earth and produce an international congregation with a unity based on love unique among the nations. (Matt. 28:19, 20; John 13:34, 35; 15:17-19) Its members would be anointed heirs with Christ to God’s heavenly kingdom, so superior to any rule out of earthly Jerusalem.—2 Tim. 4:18; 1 Pet. 2:9, 10.
The foundation for a completely new system of things, capable of bringing to perfection the whole framework of human conditions, was laid by Jesus’ sacrifice of his perfect human life. (Heb. 9:15, 28) How much grander this than even the physical cures of specific ailments that Jesus performed!
THE SITUATION TODAY
What, then, about Christ’s second presence? What do we have the right to expect? How can we avoid committing the same error as did the Jews during his first presence?
Beginning in the latter part of the nineteenth century, there was a widespread belief in many countries that Christ’s return was imminent. Many held themselves in readiness for him to appear suddenly, majestically riding literal clouds, gathering up his chosen ones, resurrecting all the dead and then judging them individually (along with the rest of earth’s living millions), all in twenty-four hours.
Many religious leaders, however, rejected the idea of any direct personal intervention by Christ in earth’s affairs. They taught that Christ’s kingdom is diffused in the hearts of men and that the Christian church by its moral force will, in cooperation with “Christian” governments, steadily bring mankind toward union with Christ.
What should we believe? How can we know what to look for? Certainly we need to be guided by God’s Word, the Bible, and by what Jesus himself, as well as his inspired disciples, said about his second coming. Why not now read Matthew 24, 25, Luke 21, Mark 13, and 2 Timothy 3:1-5, which contain some of the most prominent prophecies telling us what to look for at Christ’s return?
THE TRUE SIGNIFICANCE OF CHRIST’S RETURN
In reading the above scriptures, we find that neither Jesus nor his apostles indicated that the time of his return would be a time of international peace and brotherhood, but, rather, a time of international war and violence. (Matt. 24:7, 8) It would not be a time of immediate deliverance from all problems and suffering but a time of famines, plagues, earthquakes, a time of anxiety and distress of nations. (Luke 21:11, 25, 26) Not a time of morality and goodness, but a time of “lawlessness” and of “critical times hard to deal with” due to money-loving, pleasure-loving, uncontrolled, unthankful, delinquent and hypocritically religious men. (Matt. 24:12; 2 Tim. 3:1-5) Jesus did not say that the glad announcement regarding his return and the establishment of his kingdom would be made by prominent, honored, socially popular religious leaders and clergymen. He said it would be announced by persons who would be persecuted and hated by “all the nations” and who would be haled into courts and imprisoned.—Matt. 24:9, 14; Luke 21:12-19.
Compare this with what has taken place since the year 1914. For over thirty years before that date and for half a century since, Jehovah’s witnesses have pointed to the year 1914 as the time for the end of “the appointed times of the nations” and the time in which Christ would begin his Kingdom rule. (Luke 21:24) The world-shaking events that began with that year led a group of eight prominent clergymen in Britain to publish a manifesto in the latter part of 1917 stating that “the present crisis points toward the close of the times of the Gentiles” and that the “revelation of the Lord may be expected at any moment.” However, after World War I ended, these ministers, like the rest of their clergy associates, became engrossed in national and international matters and discarded their previous declaration relative to Christ’s return and the significance of the times. They have since influenced their religious flocks to reject the preaching of the announcement that Christ’s second presence has begun.
Thus, like the clergy of Jesus’ day, the clergy of our day have committed a tragic error and for the same reason: They have looked for the wrong things. They have forgotten what Jesus told the Pharisees when they questioned him as to the coming of God’s kingdom, namely: “The kingdom of God is not coming with striking observableness, neither will people be saying, ‘See here!’ or, ‘There!’ For, look! the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:20, 21) The Pharisees failed to recognize Jesus as the Kingdom’s principal representative, though he was right among them. So, today, the religious clergy and rulers refuse to acknowledge, and even persecute, the humble men and women whom Jesus sends as his ambassadors to proclaim his Kingdom rule.—Matt. 24:9, 14.
In the past three issues of this magazine we have shown that Christ’s second presence is a spiritual return and therefore invisible to human eyes. Now, note what Jesus said, as recorded at Luke 17:26: “Moreover, just as it occurred in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of man.” He also referred to the “days of Lot.” (Lu 17 Vs. 28) Why “days” instead of “day”? Because Christ’s second presence is not a matter of just twenty-four hours during which he judges people at the rate of over 35,000 a second (as he would have to do in view of earth’s vast population). It is, rather, a period of years, just as the “days of Noah” and the “days of Lot” covered a period of years. During this time the reigning King and Judge is invisibly present and accomplishes a number of purposes. What are these?
THE KING’S PROGRAM
First, he disposed of a major problem: the opposition in heaven of his prime adversaries, Satan and his demons, whom he defeated in a heavenly (and therefore invisible) war and drove into a cornered position down in our earth’s vicinity. This did not bring immediate relief for earth’s inhabitants but, rather, “woe for the earth and for the sea, because the Devil has . . . great anger, knowing he has a short period of time.”—Rev. 12:7-12.
Now, from his heavenly throne, the Judge Christ Jesus can direct his attention to earth and reward his faithful followers who are sleeping in death with a resurrection to life in the heavens, that they may “sit on thrones to judge” with him. (1 Cor. 15:20-23; Luke 22:28-30) What about those alive on earth who claim to be his followers? In the parable of the “wheat” and the “weeds” Jesus showed that the world would be full of imitation Christians and that his true followers would have to be separated out at the “conclusion of a system of things.” (Matt. 13:36-43) Some who had once served him would begin to say in their heart, “My master is delaying,” and would have to be rejected as an “evil slave” class. Others would prove to be of that same “faithful and discreet slave” class as were the apostles and early disciples. Of this “slave” class, Jesus said that he would “appoint him over all his belongings.” The “belongings” of the King, Christ Jesus, refer to the earthly interests of his kingdom, which these faithful Christians are to care for as they give out spiritual “food at the proper time.” They do this by promoting and expanding the proclamation of the Kingdom message in all the world through an earth-wide preaching campaign.—Matt. 24:45-51.
Also, the King and Judge uses these faithful Kingdom preachers as a sort of “touchstone” in doing a dividing work. From his heavenly throne he, in effect, makes the whole earth a courtroom and every doorstep a witness stand for householders as he sends these witnesses throughout all nations and thus proceeds to “separate people one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” The people see, not Christ, but, rather, these faithful followers whom the King calls “my brothers.”—Matt. 25:31-45.
In this way a “great crowd” of righteous-hearted persons who hear the announcement of the Kingdom message by these witnesses take their stand for that Kingdom and join in its proclamation. They are drawn into unity as “one flock” with the heavenly Kingdom heirs and are prepared for life in a paradise earth under God’s righteous new order.—Rev. 7:9, 10; John 10:16; Rev. 21:1-4.
Since there is a tremendous work to be accomplished, and that in the face of opposition, there is need for endurance, and so the King says: “He that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matt. 24:13, 14) Thus when the proclamation and gathering work has been accomplished to the King’s satisfaction, he will then act as the executioner of Jehovah’s judgments by cleansing the earth of all opposers of his kingdom, both visible and invisible, thereby putting an end to rule of the earth by selfish men and unseen demons.—Dan. 2:44; Rev. 19:11-15; 20:1-3.
The “days of the Son of man” now upon us are days of opportunity, days for action, for making our decision in favor of the now reigning King, Christ Jesus. Those today who persist in waiting for the wrong evidence are in grave danger. May you see clearly the true significance of Christ’s return now and act in time to ensure your preservation to life in God’s righteous new order, now near at hand.