Who will be born? Who will die? What catastrophes will occur? What joys will warm and inspire us? For every Adventist, there is the perpetual question, Will Jesus return this year? I hope so! But if not, I will continue to joyously wait and simultaneously toil, sharing the everlasting gospel, so that all may be similarly excited about that glorious day.
Recently, I prayerfully reflected upon Bible verses that Adventists know well—possibly too well: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess 4:16–18, ESV).
When I reread them and meditated upon them, I was blessed.
Let me ask: Did you read them? Or, when you recognized them, did you just skip or skim through, because you know them so well?
I have read these words countless times—preaching them, bellowing them at evangelistic meetings, sharing them instructionally at Bible studies with prospective disciples, and weaving them into prayers during our family worships. Our kids were required to memorize them, too, for Bible classes at their school, and for a few days these verses were “parroted” around the house. Yes, I’ve heard, read, and recited these words very often—particularly at funerals to tear-streaked faces.
Familiarity changes things. Any significant and spectacular discovery can eventually become well known, common, cliched, depreciated, and even disrespected. We can take some stuff for granted, like the air we breathe. We don’t really worry about it until it’s not there or so polluted that it’s poisonous. But so often, it’s the common that we need the most because we rely mostly on the familiar.
What troubles me is that it’s not just the familiarity of 1 Thessalonians 4:16–18. Could it be that the second advent of Jesus has become too familiar to Adventists? Our denomination is chalking up one anniversary after another, and bicentenaries are within sight. Have we become drowsy, tired, or even fallen asleep as we wait for the Blessed Hope?
No one can live in a state of heightened excitement for a prolonged—much less an indefinite—period. All the virgins in Jesus’ parable of Matthew 25:1–13, both wise and foolish, slept. But have we gone a step further? Having no oil, have we ditched our lamps and given up? Is there a sense of embarrassment that we believe in the literal return of Jesus? Has the wait not just affected our attentiveness, but also messed with our actual belief in the return of Jesus?
We haven’t been waiting that long, actually. Cumulatively, Adventists—believers in the return of Jesus—have been waiting less than two thousand years. I’m sure we all know of someone who has lived a hundred years. If you had twenty centenarians and placed their lives sequentially, their collective lifespans would take you back to a time prior to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan in AD 27. In a modest-sized congregation of fifty people, where the average age of the attendees is forty, for example, the cumulative number of years lived by that congregation is two thousand. Two thousand years is not a long time in the whole scheme of history. And none of us have been asked to wait longer than a lifetime—and a lifetime is rather short, is it not?
“. . . This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11, ESV). Now is not the time to jettison our belief and trust in our Saviour, Jesus! Keep and treasure your faith!