BY MATT WARD
"For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:20).
It is easy to become discouraged as one year progresses quickly into the next. New Year is a time, for a multitude of different reasons, that many struggle with and find difficult. But of all people, in a world that is obviously coming apart at the seams, we who have placed all our hopes and aspirations in Jesus alone have reason to be optimistic!
One of the most important messages given by Jesus before he ascended into Heaven has brightened my Christmas and New Year for a long time; it is the message that Jesus is alive and that He is coming again soon!
As the disciples stood gazing into the clouds after the resurrected Lord had ascended from the surface of the earth, rising higher and higher into the sky, to be eventually hidden in the clouds, two angels suddenly appeared with a vitally important message:
"Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11).
There is a hope embedded into this message that one day Jesus will return for his own, that he will one day return for us! Just a short time earlier, whilst Jesus was celebrating Passover with his disciples, he revealed to them,
"Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward" (Jn. 13:36).
The disciples must have felt crushed; after all, this was the man most of them believed would usher in a new Messianic age, and here he is telling them he is departing and leaving them in their greatest hour of need. The disciples must have been distraught, feeling as if the very ground they stood upon had been pulled out from underneath them.
But then Jesus reassured them,
"Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also" (Jn. 14:1-3).
Jesus was departing from them with a specific purpose in mind, and he had a definite plan to return. He wasn't intending to just leave them, but described a specific scenario through which they would once again be united to him.
Jesus referred to a Jewish wedding to help his disciples understand. Using this imagery, Jesus attempted to convey not only the absolute certainty of his return, but the inexpressible joy that would also accompany it!
In Jewish weddings, after paying tribute to the bride's father and establishing the marriage covenant with his father-in-law, the Jewish bridegroom would return home to his own father for a time to prepare a dwelling place in his own father's house fit for his bride. This is where the Jewish bride and bridegroom would later live, in the father's house.
After completing the dwelling places for himself and his new bride to his father's satisfaction, and allowing his fiancé to adjust to and prepare for married life, the father of the groom would indicate that it was time for the bridegroom to return for his beautiful bride! With a shout the bridegroom would announce his arrival, and along with his trusted companions and friends, would take her away to her new home. The bride would leave her old home on hearing the voice of her new husband and immediately leave for her new home. In fact, she wouldn't even look back!
This is the imagery that Jesus used to convey the meaning of his absence. This imagery perfectly fits the concept of the rapture of the church when Jesus Christ, after leaving to prepare a place for his bride, would once again return so that, "...where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:3).
Later, Paul goes on to describe how Christ "loved the church and gave Himself for her ... that He might present her to Himself a glorious church" (Eph. 5:25, 27).
The apostle John, in his Apocalypse, glimpsed this glorious future when he saw the Marriage Supper of the Lamb: "The Lamb [Christ] has come, and His wife has made herself ready ... arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright" (Rev. 19:7-8).
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, this is your destiny; this is your "Blessed Hope" (Titus 2:13).
From the first members of the Bride of Christ, huddled together in the upper room during the final Passover celebration, to each member of the church today, each one has now become through Jesus Christ, a royal priesthood.
God is forming his Church from all the nations of the world, from Jew and Gentile; we are a part of that number if we follow and believe in Jesus Christ alone.
"I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd" (John 10:16).
When Jesus departed he emphasized that his purpose was to prepare a place for his followers, and that he would shortly return for them. The phrase "...and if I go and prepare a place for you..." conditionally links His departure with His return: "I will come again" (Jn. 14:3).
The analogy of the ancient Jewish wedding ceremony that Jesus uses guarantees Jesus' return for the rapture of his church. Therefore,
"Be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand" (Jas. 5:8).
We are entering a time in history that the Bible speaks much of. Indeed, the Bible talks more about the events of this generation than any other, more even than of the time Jesus first walked the shores of Galilee two thousand years ago.
The coming months may bring difficulties. For some of us this may mean persecution; indeed, each passing day seems to confirm this reality. If the Lord tarries much longer, the Body of Christ will begin to experience real persecution here at home, just as it is currently in the Middle East.
But we have a living, dynamic and real hope. We have Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Lord and Savior. Never will he leave us; never will he forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
Jesus is coming back soon, and it is this living hope that will give us the strength and courage to move forward in this coming New Year, even if persecution is lurking up ahead.
"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18).
"However, as it is written: 'What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived'- the things God has prepared for those who love him..." (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Happy New Year all!