Jesus is Preparing Us for His Return

With December upon us many are making their preparations to celebrate the Christmas holiday.  However, most Americans are totally oblivious to a very important truth.  Namely, that Jesus Christ is coming again not as Savior but as Judge.  It is this message of Jesus’ Second Coming that is largely missed and/or rejected by our culture each Christmas.  The familiar message of Jesus coming in the form of a little baby in order that He might pay the penalty for your sins and my sins, is readily received by the world around us.  But the message that Jesus will return in all His glory and judge the nations is a more difficult message to hear and receive.

Yet the Bible is clear on both Jesus’ Kingship and His imminent return.  In Matthew 25:31-46, we are reminded that Jesus Second Coming will be very unlike His first.  Verse 31 says, “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all his angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne.”  It will be an awesome sight and the world will know in an instant that Jesus has come again.  This in contrast to His first coming when He came in the form of a little child, emptied of His divine attributes, to be born in a stable in the little town of Bethlehem of Judea.

His purpose in coming will also be very different. We are told in Luke 19:10 that the first time Jesus came to the earth, “he came to seek and to save the lost.”  In other words, he came to make satisfaction for our sins and to invite us to put our faith in Him. This initiated an extended period of history where everyone has an opportunity to enter eternal life and receive the kingdom of heaven.  However, when Jesus comes again it will not be to save the lost, but to judge the nations from His throne of glory.  It will be the final act of judgment, executed without partiality, based purely upon the truth of the Word of God and all decisions will be final.  There will be no going back to try again, no final appeals or negotiations, simply the declaration of the verdict, blessed or cursed, heaven or hell, a life of blessing and celebration or a life of torment and separation from God.  Are you ready for His coming?  Am I ready for His coming?

The questions are not simply academic.  Fortunately, God in His grace is actively preparing us for His return in 2 surprising ways.  The prophet Malachi shows us how the Lord is doing this remarkable work.

1. God loves us as a refiner’s fire

In verse 3 of chapter 3, the prophet Malachi writes, “He (the Lord) will sit as a refiner of silver.  He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver.”  The process of refining results in the removal of impurities in order to obtain a desired product in a reasonably pure form.  In the case of silver and gold the process results in a higher grade of silver or gold and in other metals such as steel the process results in the strengthening of the metal.  As the various metals come out of the ground most contain many impurities or contaminants that lower the quality of the metal and therefore its ability to be used.  In the refining process the metallic ore is heated beyond its melting point, the impurities separate themselves and float to the surface in order that they might be skimmed off.  The process is repeated until the metal is as pure as possible.

This imagery is also found in 1 Peter 1:6-7 where the apostle Peter is writing the church which has been scattered throughout Galatian, Cappadocia, Asia and Bythinia.  The church is undergoing intense persecution for the faith and to this group of believers Peter writes, “So be truly glad.  There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while.  These trials will show that your faith is genuine.  It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold-though your faith is far more precious than gold.  So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”

A Biblical example of this process would be the life of Joseph.  As a young man, at the age of 17, Joseph had received a vision from God but he was not yet ready personally to fulfill that vision.  He was not yet of sufficient character to properly handle the authority and power that would one day be his.  So, God walked with him through a series of trials including being sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and then imprisoned.  While in prison he befriends Pharoah’s cup bearer and baker by interpreting their dreams but when the cup bearer is returned to his position of authority he forgets all about Joseph prison.  In spite of acting righteously, Joseph lingers in prison for years until he rightly interprets Pharaoh’s dream and is placed in a position of authority second only to Pharoah.

We have another example of a leader being prepared that comes to us from American history.  When he was seven years old, his family was forced out of their home on a legal technicality, and he had to work to help support them. At age nine, his mother died. At 22, he lost his job as a store clerk. He wanted to go to law school, but his education wasn't good enough. At 23, he went into debt to become a partner in a small store. At 26, his business partner died, leaving him a huge debt that took years to repay. At 28, after courting a girl for four years, he asked her to marry him. She said no. At 37, on his third try he was elected to Congress, but two years later, he failed to be reelected. At 41, his four-year-old son died. At 45, he ran for the Senate and lost. At 47, he failed as the vice-presidential candidate. At 49, he ran for the Senate again, and lost. At 51, he was elected president of the United States. His name was Abraham Lincoln, a man many consider the greatest leader the country ever had. Some people get all the breaks.

God loves us as a refiner’s fire, allowing trials of many kinds to enter our lives.  These trials are for the perfecting of our faith, in order that our faith may be found genuine and it will result in “much praise and glory and honor on that day Jesus Christ returns and is revealed to the world.

2. God loves us as a laundryman’s (fuller’s) soap.

The NAS translation uses the world “fuller”, the NIV uses the word laundry man  and the New Living Translation translates the last half of verse 2 as “a strong soap that bleaches clothes.”  Regardless, the expression needs some explaining.  The fuller was not only the one who cleaned the cloth but also the one who died it.  And for the cloth to be properly dyed it first had to be cleansed of all the gummy and oily substances that were naturally found on the raw fiber.  This cleansing took a powerful alkali cleaning agent that acted like bleach and would turn white almost any material.  The fuller’s soap was a powerful detergent and bleach that would prepare the cloth for the dyeing process, ready to take on its appropriate color.

This image of cleansing is also found in the New Testament.

“He (Jesus) gave up His life for her (the church), to make her (the church) holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s Word.  He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without spot or wrinkle or any other blemish.  Instead she will be holy and without fault” (Ephesians 5:25b-27).

All of the imagery looks back to the Calvary event when Jesus laid down his life as payment for our sins.  This event is often referred to the perfect tense in the New Testament, a verb form that emphasizes completed action with ongoing results.  Jesus died once and paid the penalty for the sins of the world, past, present and future.  God continues to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness, He loves us as a fuller’s soap in order that He might present to Himself a glorious church without spot or wrinkle or any other blemish.

Joni Eareckson Tada, who was paralyzed in a diving accident as a teenager, draws parallels between her wedding day, and Christ's love for his church.  I felt awkward as my girlfriends strained to shift my paralyzed body into a cumbersome wedding gown. No amount of corseting and binding my body gave me a perfect shape. The dress just didn't fit well. Then, as I was wheeling into the church, I glanced down and noticed that I'd accidentally run over the hem of my dress, leaving a greasy tire mark. My paralyzed hands couldn't hold the bouquet of daisies that lay off-center on my lap. And my chair, though decorated for the wedding, was still a big, clunky gray machine with belts, gears, and ball bearings. I certainly didn't feel like the picture-perfect bride in a bridal magazine.

I inched my chair closer to the last pew to catch a glimpse of Ken in front. There he was, standing tall and stately in his formal attire. I saw him looking for me, craning his neck to look up the aisle. My face flushed, and I suddenly couldn't wait to be with him. I had seen my beloved. The love in Ken's face had washed away all my feelings of unworthiness. I was his pure and perfect bride.

How easy it is for us to think that we're utterly unlovely—especially to someone as lovely as Christ. But he loves us with the bright eyes of a Bridegroom's love and cannot wait for the day we are united with him forever.

This We Believe: The Good News of Jesus Christ for the World, (Zondervan) p. 222; submitted by Tim Pietrogallo, Cary, Illinois

3. Conclusion

In this season when we are making many preparations, even preparing for the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we need to remember that God is making preparations as well.  God is preparing us for His return and He is doing so in a couple of surprising ways.  God is loving us as a refiner’s fire and a laundryman’s soap.  He is purifying and strengthening our faith through the varied trials of life and out of His pure love, grace and mercy He continues to forgive our sins in order that He might present to Himself a bride without spot, wrinkle or any blemish.