THE REFORMED WITNESS HOUR

"The Final Sign of Christ's Return”

Rev. Wilbur Bruinsma

haak@prca.org

December 5, 2010; No. 3544

(Printed copies in a four-message booklet can be sent monthly without charge.  Request from: Reformed Witness Hour, Box 1230, Grand Rapids, MI 49501)

 

Dear Radio Friends,

 

    There is one last sign that will indicate the return of Christ.  In our broadcast today we will consider that last sign and bring our series on Watching for Christ’s Return to an end.

      This last sign will occur on the very day of Christ’s coming in the end of the world.  It is a sign the rumbling of which we already see in the creation around us.  The final sign will result in the destruction of this present creation.  Not just the destruction of the earth, but of the entire universe.  Everything will be rolled together as a scroll and destroyed. 

      We read of this in Luke 21:25-28.  “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth:  for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.  And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.”

      Because this is the final sign of Christ’s return, quite obviously this will be our final sermon.  As we will find today, this Word of God is an appropriate passage to bring our series to an end.  Jesus’ final words are of great comfort to us.  When you see these things begin to come pass, then look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draws near.  All the signs we have been considering end in this:  our final deliverance from sin and this wicked world.

      God’s judgment at the time of the Flood resulted in a total destruction of the earth.  But such destruction was limited to the earth.  That this is not true of this last sign is obvious from the language of the passage we consider.  Jesus speaks of the destruction of the earth.  But He also speaks of the powers of heaven being shaken.  By the term “heaven” is meant everything outside the circle of this earth.  But Jesus does not refer simply to the shaking of heaven.  He speaks of the shaking of the powers of heaven.  You see, when God created the universe, then He set into place all kinds of natural laws that govern this universe.  It is these laws of nature that man is called to discover and use in order to subdue and develop this creation in the service of God.  And man has done that.  For example, we do not see the oceans overflowing their banks and covering the dry land.  Scientists can explain, from a natural point of view, why this is true.  Well, the same is true in outer space.  We sing in the hymn of the music of the spheres.  The galaxies are held in their place.  The sun is in its place—the earth revolving around it, together with other planets—the moon, in its place, revolving around the earth.  All these are held in their courses by certain laws of nature.  And these are the powers spoken of by Jesus here when He says, “The powers of heaven shall be shaken.” 

      But we must recognize that God is the One who providentially maintains these powers—these natural laws that cause the creation to run smoothly.  The psalmist testifies of this truth when he writes concerning the seas in Psalm 104:9, “Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth.”  Peter points out in II Peter 3 that, since the bound God places on the seas are in His hands, by a simple word He is able to take away the bounds, so that the waters of the seas would cover the earth in the Flood.  Well, the same is true with this present world and the powers of heaven.  God holds these powers, these natural laws that govern the sun, moon, and stars, in His hands.  We read in II Peter 3:7, “But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” 

      When Jesus speaks, then, of the shaking of the powers of heaven, He means that on this last day of the world, the laws holding all things in their places in the universe shall be shaken by God.  God will let loose those powers, and outer space will begin to break apart.  No more music of the spheres.

      But this will not all happen in a moment, probably not even in one day.  Jesus tells us in verse 25 that there shall be “signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars.”  In other words, things will begin to go wrong with the sun, moon, and stars.  In Matthew 24:29 we learn that the sun will gradually grow dark.  And, because of this, so will the moon.  At the same time, however, the stars themselves will begin to lose their brightness.  Men will see this beginning to happen—kind of like a flashlight, the batteries of which are going dead.  The light will grow dim and begin to flicker for awhile, then gradually go dark.  Men will see this taking place over a number of days.  We say this because we will be able to see with our eyes this sign of Christ’s return.  We say this, too, because Jesus implies this when, in verse 28 He says:  “when these things begin to come to pass.”  In other words, the light of the heavenly luminaries will slowly begin to go out.  They will slowly die, until which time the sun will become as black as sackcloth of hair and the moon become as blood (Rev. 6:12). 

      In that final day of Christ’s return, the powers of heaven shall be let loose and the stars will fall from their places in the heavens.  The planets will collide.  The meteors will fall to the earth.  The sun will fall from its place.  The moon will be no more.  Everything that seems so fixed to you and me, that which we have come to think of as never changing, will be destroyed with a fervent heat. 

      Isaiah describes it this way in chapter 34:4:  “And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll:  and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine.”  In all of this catastrophic destruction of the universe, the earth will be involved too of course.  The earth is but a small part of this entire universe.  If the heavens are shaken, so shall the earth and everything in it. 

      Jesus describes this shaking of the earth in terms of its seas.  We read the last phrase of Luke 21:25:  “And upon the earth…the sea and the waves roaring.”  This phrase is really very descriptive.  The great bodies of water shall be roaring.  What is going to be the difference between this and the great storms that have already upset the waters of the seas?  Gradually the heavenly luminaries will begin to be troubled.  The shaking begins—small at first.  But it is enough to set in motion the seas and the waves.  They begin churning, and the waters begin to beat on every coastline of the earth.  As the shaking of the heavens grows worse, so also the shaking of the waters of the earth, until which time those waves begin to spill over onto the dry land itself with waves greater than those of the tsunami that some years ago hit the shores of the Indian Ocean. 

      But more.  When the seas are shaken in this manner, so also is the whole earth.  The dry land, too.  In other words, as Revelation 6:12 informs us, there will be a great earthquake.  No, not a number of individual earthquakes here or there.  All the earth will quake.  Then, in the very last day, when all things are shaking, and the skies are falling, every mountain and island will be moved out of their places.  Jesus does not mention this, but it all goes hand in hand with this final destruction of the universe.  Peter speaks of it in II Peter 3:10 and again in verse 12.  The universe is made of fire.  This essential element of the universe, God will also use to destroy, utterly, completely, catastrophically, the whole world.

      In that great day, in that final day of God almighty, when Christ comes again to destroy this earth and all that is in it, everything will come crashing down and fire will consume it all.  All of this, from its onset to the very last event of time, makes up the final sign of Christ’s return.  And no one will be able to ignore this sign!

      What will be the result of this final sign of Christ’s return upon the peoples of this earth?  Jesus teaches us in verse 25 of Luke 21, “Upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity.”  Every nation and people of this earth will know what is happening.  How could anyone not take notice?  But the idea is that they will all be surprised.  Even with nuclear war either looming or begun, no one would have expected all of this.  The words of Jesus ring loudly and clearly:  “Behold, I come quickly.”  Or, “I come as a thief in the night.”  Whereas all the other signs that heralded Christ’s coming had been ignored by everyone in unbelief, this sign cannot be ignored.  The people of this world, no matter where they might live, will see this final sign of Christ’s coming and be distressed.

      The unbeliever will now see this present creation in which he attempted to set up an earthly utopia being destroyed by God.  And this will cause all kinds of anguish and despair.  The world will be filled with the distress of nations.  Everyone will be looking to their leaders for deliverance but will find none.  They will cry out in their distress.  Their destruction is at hand.  Who can escape the wrath of God?

      And perplexity will ensue, that is, confusion.  This term brings to mind what we see on television of people who are told to evacuate a certain area because of an incoming hurricane.  The roads are jammed with cars; people are hunkering down in their fall-out shelters; houses are being boarded up; chaos and confusion prevail.  Imagine, in the last few days of this earth, when the light of the sun dwindles and the earth begins to tremble—imagine what people will be doing in their hopes that they will escape the massive destruction.  There will be confusion, perplexity, in the nations of this earth.  Man, who loves to portray himself as some kind of super-hero, will die in his unbelief and disobedience to God and to Jesus Christ.

      But the people of this world will know:  this is indeed the great day of God almighty.  And their hearts will shrivel in fear.  We read in Luke 21:26, “Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth.”  Men will be filled with horror.  Their hearts will be seized with terror.  People will not be able to escape the impending doom that slowly creeps upon them.  So much fear, we are told, that men’s hearts will fail them.  This does not mean that a person will simply faint.  It means that men will expire looking on these things.  They will breathe out life itself, so afraid will they be.  The phrase is added here by Jesus, “And for looking after those things which are coming on the earth.”  Men’s hearts will fail of the fear and dread of the events they see transpiring on the earth.  They will be able to see the inevitable result of this sign, that is, utter destruction and ruin.  It brings death.  Men will fear and quail because they are helpless to do anything to escape.

      We read in Revelation 6:15-17, “And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:  for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”  The whole earth, with all of its kings and rich men and its armies and its men of war, cannot stand before the weapons of Christ’s warfare. 

      And notice what it is that really strikes fear into men’s hearts.  The faces of God and the Lamb.  Physical death is nothing.  They would rather be buried deep in the earth, if all it meant was to disappear unto all eternity.  But the fear that men will have is this:  Christ has returned in all His power and glory.  He has returned to destroy eternally those who have defied Him in His rule.  The great fear of mankind will be:  Who shall be able to abide the fierce wrath of God for all eternity.  No man will stand before God.

      For the child of God, the believer, who yet stands in this last day, what a day of victory!  Jesus tells us in Luke 21:28, “And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.”  These things will slowly increase in the last few days of the earth.  When they begin, then look up, we are told.  Literally we read, “Lift yourself up; raise yourselves.”  God’s people will have been smitten.  They will have been imprisoned and treated as the outcasts of society.  They will have been humiliated, and their heads will be hanging.  Well, not anymore.  Lift yourselves up, my people.  Raise those faces that are hung down by means of persecution.  Why?  Your redemption draws near! 

      It is not as if suddenly Christ appears and destroys things so quickly that even the child of God has no time to take note of what is happening.  He will take note.  And his heart will thrill with joy!  Fear may take hold of the unbeliever.  But for him who believes, there will be the greatest thrill.  This day vindicates the righteousness of God’s people.  It proves that they were truly the representatives of the Christ of the heavens.  It will be the time of greatest victory and glory for them. 

      There is another reason we are enjoined to lift up our heads and look up.  Jesus told His enemies, the Sanhedrin, at His last trial before them in Matthew 26:64, “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”  This was also the message of the angels to the disciples on Mount Olivet immediately after Christ’s ascension, in Acts 1:11.  Everywhere Scripture teaches us the same truth.  When Christ returns, every eye shall see Him. 

      How?  It is miraculous.  But time and space in this day are being swallowed up in eternity.  Every eye shall be able to see Christ. 

      And this is what they shall see:  “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (v. 27).  Matthew tells us that the sign of the Son of man shall appear in the heavens.  Just exactly what this sign might be we do not know.  Perhaps it is merely the brightness of His coming that will shine from the east to the west.  Perhaps it is the sound of the trumpet that will blow loud and long.  Perhaps it is the shout of the archangel sending forth the angels to gather God’s elect out of all the nations.  But with this sign of the Son of man will be the return of our conquering King.  Christ will come with power and with great glory.

      Christ will carry with Him the power and authority of that One who rules the nations with a rod of iron.  The nations of the earth have been given to Christ by decree.  Revelation 1:7, “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him:  and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.”  Every eye shall see, every knee shall bow before the might and the authority of Jesus Christ.  And they shall behold His glory.

      He shall shine.  With all the perfections that characterize Him as the Son of God.  The unbelieving shall be terrified at His august presence.  But we who look in faith to His coming will be made glad, because our redemption draws near.

      This redemption is not the same as the ransom price paid on the cross.  That redemption is already ours.  The redemption that Christ brings with Him in the end is our liberation.  We will be set free, free from sin.  It will be no more.  Free from this sin-cursed world.  It will be destroyed and made into a new heavens and new earth.  And free at last from the enemies of the cross and those who have reviled us for Christ’s sake. 

      Christ comes!  Beloved saints, Christ comes, quickly.  Prepare yourselves.  Our redemption is drawing near.


      Let us give God thanks.

 

      We thank Thee, O Father of heaven and earth, that Thou hast revealed these things to us, so that we might know the things that are to come and can watch for that coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He comes as a thief in the night to those who are not watching.  But as we watch, the signs develop around us in the nations and in the creation and in the church.  We see that our Savior comes and that He comes quickly.  May we place our hope in Him and in His return.  For we know that He comes in great power.  Father, bless us according to that word.  Give us strength anew for today and tomorrow.  For Jesus’ sake we pray, Amen.