Welcome back to the podcast on this Memorial Day here in the United States, a day when we remember and honor soldiers who died while serving in the armed forces.
War has been on the forefront of many minds here in the past fifteen months. No matter how close or far we are from the front lines, war has impacted us all. Of course, Jesus said we can expect to hear of “wars and rumors of wars” and that “nation will rise against nation,” which are “but the beginning of the birth pains” (Matthew 24:6–8). Jesus said this in the context of his return to earth, and what we can expect before he comes again.
Pastor John, you just published a new book titled Come, Lord Jesus: Meditations on the Second Coming of Christ (Crossway, 2023). In it, Matthew 24:6–8 and mentions of war make many appearances, especially in the second half of the book. This new book is very relevant for our age of wars and rumors of wars.
Today, I have another open question for you. With the book’s release, you have done a handful of interviews with various ministries. I think our listeners would be interested if, in all those conversations, anyone asked you a question that you didn’t expect or ones that may have opened new insights into the biblical teaching on Christ’s return. Have any questions surprised you?
In fact, that did happen. In fact, it happened more than once. The one that was most provocative and caused me to see some texts in a different light was a question about how a healthy expectation of the second coming might actually bring stability to a person’s mind who is feeling psychologically fragile and vulnerable and off-balance — maybe because of personal circumstances, losses, tragedies, pain, or because of upheavals in society that disorient people and pull them this way and that and make them feel fragmented and shaky, maybe even agitated and frenzied.
Stability and the Second Coming
What was surprising to me about the question itself was that it seemed a bit counterintuitive. In other words, I think a lot of people would perhaps mistakenly say, “Well, the second coming is not a solution to that problem — it contributes to that problem.” They would say, “Wouldn’t it add to the vulnerability and shakiness and fragility of mind if you stir something as cataclysmic as the second coming into the mix of all the social and personal upheavals of our time?”
So I had to really step back and ask, Does the Bible present the hope of the second coming in a stabilizing way or a destabilizing way? Is it really presented explicitly in connection to this problem? Or do I have to just kind of manufacture connections with this problem of instability? And frankly, I was surprised. I mean, the question was, “Did anything surprise you?” I was surprised.
So in the hope of helping folks who feel like this (and we all do from time to time) — off-balance, wobbly, agitated, fretful, racing mind, can’t quite grab hold of peace of mind — let me show you what I saw and just draw attention to some of these amazing explicit connections between second-coming thoughts in the Bible and stability of mind that we all need in these shaking times.
Beware of Being Shaken
So here’s 2 Thessalonians 2:1–2. Paul said, “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind.” Now, the reason that text jumped out at me after I heard this question was that a literal translation is even more surprising. It says, “We ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken from your mind” or “out of your mind.”
In other words, Paul saw that there were people in Thessalonica who were going out of their minds. They were no longer able to be rational or reasonable. You couldn’t reason with them. The upheavals that were happening around them and were shaking them loose from their minds were causing them to lose their stability. And a kind of hysteria or frenzy was taking control of them. And it had to do with a combination of social circumstances and misinformation about the second coming.
Paul’s solution — this is amazing, I think; for a lot of people it would seem amazing — to their frenzy was to teach the truth about the second coming rather than neglect the second coming. He didn’t say, “Wow, you folks are thinking way too much about the second coming. You need to stop thinking about it and get a grip on reality, like where you live now. Go to work.” What he did, in fact, was the opposite. He spent a whole chapter dealing with that instability by teaching on the second coming.
And so that’s what I take away. Paul believed that a right understanding of the second coming would not add to the frenzy or the instability of life. In fact, it would be part of the remedy. So that’s my first text.
Set Aside Alarm
The second one is from Jesus, and I think it’s where Paul got his thinking on this because the language is so similar. I’ve got a whole section in the book on the similar language between Matthew 24 and the Thessalonian epistles, which I think is just huge with implications for how they understood Matthew 24. Jesus said in Matthew 24:5–6, “Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.” And then he says, “See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.”
“One remedy to our instability and anxiety is solid biblical knowledge about the second coming.”
So Jesus recognizes that the world is going to be a destabilizing, alarming, anxiety-producing place. False Christs, wars — the next two verses talk about famines, earthquakes, and endless difficulties as the end draws near (Matthew 24:7–8). And he realizes that it is natural for people to look around and be alarmed, frightened, uncertain, off-balance. So what’s his solution? His solution is to give true instruction about the second coming. Most of the chapter is for that purpose.
So one remedy to our instability and anxiety is not ignorance or disregard of the second coming, but solid biblical knowledge about the second coming so we can be expectant and hopeful but not be alarmed or fretful.
Guarded Hearts and Minds
Here’s another example of the connection between the second coming and the stability of our minds.
The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:5–7)
Now, most of us, most of the time, make the connection between the guarding of the hearts and the guarding of the minds with prayer. “Let your requests be made known to God,” and it will guard you. But the preceding verse says, “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious. . . . The peace of God . . . will guard your hearts and your minds.” So there’s a connection between a right grasp of the nearness of the Lord and the Christian heart and mind being guarded from anxiety and instability in fretting about the world.
Unsurprised in Stress
Here it is again in 1 Peter 4:12–13: “Beloved, do not be surprised” — in other words, don’t be alarmed and thrown off-balance and anxious — “at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” In other words, a right perception, a right anticipation of the glory of Christ’s appearing and our joy in that day is a stabilizing force to keep us from being surprised, alarmed, or thrown off-balance at the end-time stresses and sufferings that are coming.
“A right anticipation of the glory of Christ’s appearing and our joy in that day is a stabilizing force.”
Let me give one more example.
You yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. (1 Thessalonians 5:2–5)
In other words, Paul’s remedy to fretfulness and alarm and instability in the last days is right and true and balanced teaching about the second coming and who we are in Christ as we eagerly wait for him.
So, Tony, I had seen all those texts, but I had not seen them in the light of that particular question of contemporary frenzy or instability. This is, I think, a really good example of how we keep on learning and growing and how the Bible is an inexhaustible reservoir of help for every kind of human problem.