How do we prepare for the second coming of Christ? The question is a great one and always relevant. And it comes to us today from a listener to the podcast named Sarah. “Thank you for this podcast, Pastor John,” she writes. “How do I prepare for the second coming of Christ properly? What can I expect? What is to come? What should I be doing now as I eagerly await his return?”
One way to summarize our preparation for the second coming is to say that there are three impulses that help us be ready:
- The impulse that comes from the glorious prospect of seeing the Lord
- The impulse that comes from the necessity of suffering before he comes
- The impulse to be found faithful and vigilant in our particular callings when he comes
So let me illustrate each of those three impulses, because that’s the answer to the question “How do you prepare?” You prepare by responding biblically to those three impulses first.
1. Pursue Christlikeness now.
First, the impulse that comes from the glorious prospect of seeing the Lord. First John 3:2–3:
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears [the second coming] we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
“If you really want to be like Jesus by seeing him when he comes, you’ll pursue being like him now.”
So think about the psychological dynamics of those verses. When he says, “everyone who thus hopes in him,” he’s referring to hoping to be like him. “When he appears we shall be like him. . . . [Whoever] thus hopes in him” — hoping to be like him — will purify himself now. So the point is, if you really want to be like him by seeing him when he comes, you’ll pursue being like him now. You will.
So, the impulse of becoming a radically pure, holy, loving, sacrificial, Christlike person now is the intense hope and desire for that to happen when he comes and we see him. That’s the first impulse.
2. Ready yourself for suffering.
Second, the impulse that comes from the necessity of suffering before Jesus comes. Now I have in mind here all Christian suffering, because Paul said that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). And I have in mind the suffering that will become more intense near the end, when Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2:8, “The lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.”
Now Jesus speaks of that season of lawlessness in Matthew 24:11–13: “Many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
So, the implication is that (1) we should get ready for the Lord’s coming by being spiritually and mentally alert to satanic deception and false teaching; (2) we should be completely submitted to the word of God rather than being lawless or self-willed; and (3) we should be cultivating strong faith in the sovereign goodness of God, so that we can endure to the end through whatever suffering comes our way.
And just a word about how this applies today, perhaps more than any other time in history. (I could be wrong about that, but that’s my guess.) Human beings have developed popular as well as intellectual and sophisticated ways of denying the existence of any divine law or standard. We have found a way to claim plausibility for creating our own truth, creating our own right and wrong, creating our own identity.
If you were born a man and you want to be a woman, then there is no law in God, no law in nature, no law in culture to hinder you. You do whatever you think you want to do. You are a law to yourself. That’s what Jesus means by lawlessness. And it is multiplied and increased. And Jesus says such lawlessness will be multiplied, will be increased, and that the effect is a tragic coldness of love among Christians.
So, one way to prepare for the second coming and its antecedent sufferings is to submit ourselves with intelligence and wisdom and joy to the absolute standards of God’s law for the sake of warm love, not cold love.
3. Work faithfully for Christ.
The third impulse to be ready for the second coming is the impulse to be found faithful and vigilant in our particular callings. Over and over and over in the New Testament, we are told to be watchful, to be awake, to be ready. What does that mean? I think the parable of the ten virgins is a good illustration of what it means.
The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. [So this is a picture of being ready for the second coming, the return of the bridegroom.] Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed [that’s Jesus’s hint that there will be some distance of time], they all became drowsy and slept [all ten]. But at midnight there was a cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise answered, saying, “Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.” And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he answered, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” [And here’s Jesus’s conclusion:] Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:1–13)
So, the conclusion of the whole parable is answering this question: How do you get ready? “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day or the hour.” Now, what does that mean? Both the wise and the foolish virgins were asleep, and there was no criticism. That’s not a problem. To watch, therefore, doesn’t mean any kind of artificial getting up at night, looking out the window, paying a lot of attention to end-times conspiracy theories.
“The Master has given all of us assignments for while he’s gone — gifts, resources, abilities, money, relationships.”
To watch means to do your job really well for Christ’s sake. They had an assignment: Have your lamps. Have your oil. Respond to the announcement when it’s given. Light the way of the bridegroom in. And they did their job just the way they should, and they entered in. They were morally, spiritually, and, you might say, professionally awake. They did their job the way God meant for them to do it.
So that’s what you find all over the New Testament. The Master has given all of us assignments for while he’s gone — gifts, resources, abilities, money, opportunities, relationships, spiritual disciplines. All of those are spheres where we do our job with faithfulness and diligence.
One of the most important texts for me over the years as a pastor, and even still, is Luke 12:42–44, where he says (I’m hearing this spoken right to me, John Piper),
Who then [John Piper], is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.
Do you know what that means for me? That means: “Piper, work your faithful fanny off to speak truth on Ask Pastor John. And if the Lord comes and finds you getting ready the day before you record, you’ll be glad you were at work.” Yes, I will.
So, let your life be guided by (1) the impulse that comes from the prospect of seeing the Lord, (2) the impulse that comes from the necessity of suffering, and (3) the impulse to be found faithful, vigilant, full of love to Christ in our particular callings. And then we will hear him say, “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21, 23).