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The Return of Christ

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
November 4, 2023 12:01 am

The Return of Christ

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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November 4, 2023 12:01 am

Jesus has promised He will return to the world one day in glory. But when will this occur? Today, R.C. Sproul presents three details that we can know for certain about the second coming of Christ.

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Here in the book of Acts, the mode of Jesus' return is said to be parallel to the mode of His departure. And His departure was visible, and He ascended on clouds of glory on the Shekinah cloud. And the expectation is that His return will be just as visible and just as glorious when He comes at the end of the age. There is a lot of debate among Christians when it comes to the end times, particularly about what events will surround the second coming of Christ. Can we really hold the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in another to know how near the Lord's appearing is? Welcome to Renewing Your Mind on this Saturday as we continue to hear messages from R.C.

Sproul's Foundation Series. This is his expansive 60-part overview of theology, and you can add it to your library when you give a donation of any amount at renewingyourmind.org. Despite the different views and the disagreements between genuine Christians, there are things that we can know for certain from Scripture about the Lord's second coming. And today R.C. Sproul will walk us through those truths.

Here's Dr. Sproul. Two-thirds of the doctrinal material that we find in the New Testament relate to future aspects of the kingdom of God. And there is no element of the New Testament future prophecy more important to the people of God and to the history of the Christian church than that body of prophecy that relates to the return of Jesus. The promised return of Christ to this world has been understood by the church for two thousand years as the blessed hope of the people of God, and it is something that keeps people going in the time of distress and persecution and difficulty.

But again, the question of the time of Jesus' return, the manner in which He will come, both of these are issues of ongoing debate and controversy. Let me take a second here to go to the record in the book of Acts of Jesus' departure from this world, the account of the ascension that takes place in chapter 1 of Acts, beginning at verse 9, where we read these words. Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, 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. Now this is only one of the many predictions in the New Testament of the return of Jesus. And when we read about the return of Jesus, we see certain elements that accompany these predictions. The one is that the return of Christ will be personal. That is, it's not just going to be the ongoing influence of His teaching, but that the church is expecting Christ to return to this planet personally. Secondly, we see that the promise is that Christ will come back to this world visibly. And third, the promise is that His return, His personal visible return, will be a return in glory with all kinds of majestic accouterments surrounding it.

Now before I go any further on this, let's see how that in this text these three elements are to be found. This same Jesus, this person whom you are standing here gazing into heaven, watching His departure, this same Jesus will return in like manner. Now that's critical to me for reasons that I'll explain in a few moments, because here in the book of Acts, the mode of Jesus' return is said to be parallel to the mode of His departure. And His departure was visible.

And He ascended on clouds of glory on the Shekinah cloud. And the expectation is that His return will be just as visible and just as glorious when He comes at the end of the age. However, in spite of these clear prophecies of the New Testament, the subject of Christ's personal visible glorious return to this world has been one of the most controversial issues in the last couple of hundred years with respect to the question of the authority and integrity of sacred Scripture. In my book, What Jesus Says About the Last Days, I give a summary of the critical theories that have emerged in that time frame that I just mentioned with the rise of higher criticism and the unprecedented assault against the reliability of the New Testament documents and of the reliability of the teaching of Jesus. I went to a seminary where I was exposed to this kind of critical theory virtually every day, and the New Testament professors who denied the return of Christ constantly pointed to texts in the New Testament where the prophecy of the return of Jesus was couched in a certain frame of reference with respect to time.

And the arguments that I was hearing were the arguments that had its roots in nineteenth-century critical theory. Albert Schweitzer, for example, in his quest for the historical Jesus described Jesus as one who had a critical sense of a waiting for God to intrude into history and bring His kingdom from on high in a decisive manner that Jesus expected to transpire during His lifetime. And Jesus was disappointed because He expected when He sent out His seventy disciples on a mission that that would be the occasion that God would use to bring the kingdom from heaven.

It didn't happen. Jesus thought then when He came into Jerusalem amidst the shouts of Hosanna from the populace there that maybe that would be the occasion where God would bring the kingdom, but He didn't. And Jesus allowed Himself to be arrested, to go through the scourging and the humiliation of the beatings that followed and so on, and was even willing to be taken to the cross because He fully expected that when He went to the cross that while He was on the cross, then at the last minute the Father would intervene, rescue Him, and bring the kingdom. While He was dying, suddenly realized it wasn't going to happen. And so He cried out, my God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?

And died in disillusionment. That's the Jesus that was portrayed by Albert Schweitzer. Now subsequent scholars following after Schweitzer said, yes, we have to take seriously these passages in the New Testament that seem to indicate that Jesus expected and taught His personal return within the lifetime of His own disciples, within the timeframe of the first generation of Christians. And again, the first theory was that this is what the New Testament taught.

The New Testament was wrong, and Jesus was wrong. Therefore, we can safely discard the New Testament documents as being unreliable and also understand that this Jesus of Nazareth, who was a wonderful person and a model of love and an existential hero and all of that, obviously had it wrong with respect to His own future predictions. As I say, subsequent generations, for example, in England, C. H. Dodd developed a response to this critical theory in which he spoke of what was called realized eschatology, the idea being that all of the prophecies that the New Testament made with respect to the future and Christ's return were in fact fulfilled in the first century. Jesus said, for example, you won't go over all of the cities of Jerusalem or of Israel until you see the Son of Man coming in power, or some of you will not taste death until you see the coming of the kingdom and so on.

And what Dodd did with those texts was he say, well, what Jesus was referring to was not a future return, but to His visible manifestation in glory that took place in the transfiguration, in the resurrection, and in the ascension. But of all the texts in the New Testament that came under attack by the critics, it was the text in the Olivet Discourse, particularly in Matthew's Gospel, where when Jesus makes a prediction specifically about the Jewish temple and the city of Jerusalem when He says the day was coming that not one stone would be left upon another, Jerusalem would be surrounded and be defeated and so on, and that also that the Son of Man would come in glory. And the disciples asked Him pointedly, when will these things take place? And in direct response to the disciples' inquiry, Jesus spoke to them and said, this generation will not pass away till all of these things be fulfilled.

Now, do you see why the critics jump on that? That statement by Christ seems to be unambiguous, straightforward, and clear that He is saying that the three things that He's predicting, the destruction of the temple, the destruction of Jerusalem, and His return, all will take place within the framework of a single human generation, which in Jewish terms means approximately 40 years. Now, if the dating of Christ's crucifixion took place somewhere in and around the year 30 AD, one would expect the outer limits of the fulfillment of that prophecy to be 40 years later, which happens to be the date for the actual destruction of the temple and the defeat of the city of Jerusalem in the year AD 70. Now again, the critics look at that and say, okay, we grant that the temple fell. We grant that the city was captured, but Jesus didn't come back.

Two out of three is not good enough. That would only make you a false prophet in the Old Testament. And now I've anguished over that. I have found that very vexing for this very reason, that I don't think anything more clearly proves the identity and integrity of Jesus Christ than these specific prophecies that He made unquestionably years before the events take place, and He made predictions of events that were utterly unthinkable to Jewish people. They thought that the temple was indestructible, and not only was the temple indestructible, with a Herodian stone and everything, but the holy city of Zion would never perish under the protection of their God. And yet Jesus specifically and unquestionably predicted those events before they took place.

That is astonishing. And the thing that's so ironic is that the very text that should function as proof positive of the trustworthiness of Christ and of the biblical documents has become the text that the critics have turned on its head and used to repudiate the trustworthiness of the New Testament and of the integrity of Jesus, because He didn't come back in that timeframe. Now how have conservatives and evangelicals dealt with this? Usually by saying that the word generation in the Olivet Discourse does not refer to a span of life or to a group within a particular timeframe, but rather refers to a type of people. That is, they take the word generation and they say what Jesus really meant was this kind of people that we're encountering here every day will still be around until I come back. And all these things are going to happen before these kinds of people, these generations pass away.

Now I personally think that is a possible interpretation of the Scripture, but I think it is so remote and so unlikely that it appears to any sober critic of the New Testament that it's a pure grasping at straws, because the way in which the term generation is used consistently throughout the gospels is not in that manner but with specific reference to a particular age group of people. Others have looked at that text and say that what Jesus is saying when He says all these things, that He only is incorporating in the all these things, the first two elements of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple, and He's kind of telescoping history together by including broadly His return. Now another theory, the theory that I evaluate and find it some ways wanting in my book, is the theory that's called full preterism that teaches that actually Jesus did return in 70 A.D. and that all of the future prophecies with respect to the coming of Christ actually took place when Jesus returned in judgment on Jerusalem, though it was invisible. And the argument that the preterists use at this point is that the language of future prophecy, even as found in the prophets, for example in the Old Testament, whenever an event of divine judgment is predicted, catastrophic imagery is used commonly.

Upheavals and turbulence in the heaven, for example when God visited wicked cities in the Old Testament, the prophets described that in terms of the moon turning to blood and so on, the same kind of language that is used with respect to the coming of Jesus. They believe that Jesus came in judgment to judge the Jewish nation in 70 A.D. That was for all purposes the end of Judaism and the distinctive innovation of Christianity as a group that was distinguished from Judaism rather than a sect within Judaism. It was Christ's punishment on His people for rejecting Him.

It was the last judgment. It was the end not of all history, but the end of the Jewish age. Remember, he talks about the age of the Gentiles.

Well, if there is an age that refers to the age of the Gentiles, that can only be meaningful in contrast to some other age, and the obvious one here would be the age of the Jews. And so the full preterist says that if the Jewish age ended in 70 A.D. with the return of Christ in judgment and the beginning of the age of Gentiles took place. They even argue for a secret rapture and an invisible final resurrection at that point. And I disagree with that because I believe there are other texts in the New Testament such as the one I've already read that indicate that we still have every reason to hope for a future personal visible return of Jesus. However, I do think that partial preterism has to be taken seriously, that a most significant event did take place in 70 A.D., and I am persuaded that what Jesus was talking about in the Olivet Discourse was in fact His judgment coming on Israel.

But I don't think He was referring to His final consummation of His kingdom. Now the other theory that you meet here frequently that's something that does take place in biblical prophecy, where a future event will be predicted, where you have a typological fulfillment of it in a near-term situation, but where its final full fulfillment takes place long into the future. And we see that with some of the Old Testament prophecies. Out of Egypt have I called my son. That was fulfilled immediately with the exodus, but fully and finally with Jesus' return from Egypt after the flight into Egypt during the slaughter of the innocents by Herod, and so on.

You have that kind of phenomenon. And so I'm saying in the final analysis, I'm not sure when Jesus is going to come. In fact, the only thing I know for sure is that nobody knows for sure when Jesus is going to come. But I still think that we as the people of God have a very blessed hope, every reason to believe in the integrity of Jesus' Word, and His promises are without fail, and we look forward to a personal, visible, and glorious return. We do have a blessed hope, and as we each navigate our own personal trials and suffering, and as we see tragedies, even on a global scale, we pray the words of Revelation 2220, Come, Lord Jesus.

Today's message was from R.C. Sproul's series Foundations, An Overview of Systematic Theology. This series has been a great help to so many as Dr. Sproul walks us through and introduces us to the major areas of what Christians believe, and he always strives to be fair and gracious, even when describing a position that Dr. Sproul disagrees with. You can own this series yourself when you give a gift of any amount at renewingyourmind.org. We'll send you this special edition DVD set and give you digital access to the series and the study guide. This is really a wonderful resource for a church library, so perhaps consider streaming the series yourself and donating the DVD to your local church.

Visit renewingyourmind.org today, as this offer ends at midnight. You frequently hear R.C. Sproul's teaching and preaching on Renewing Your Mind, but throughout any given month you also hear from other teachers and preachers. But did you know that we have a podcast that is exclusively teaching from Dr. Sproul?

It's called Ultimately with R.C. Sproul, and new episodes come out three times a week. Each episode is a brief insight from his decades of teaching and also includes audio that has never been released publicly before. Here's a sample episode that's also on today's theme of the return of Christ. What if our faith is a hypocritical faith? What if it's not real? As Christians, we look forward to the return of Jesus with great anticipation, the day when our Prince will come and will set aright all of those things which are unjust and out of kilter in this world. We long for that day as a time of vindication, a time of healing for the nations, a time of the final realization of the fullness of our salvation. But what if our faith is a hypocritical faith?

What if it's not real? What will happen to us on that day? You see, when the New Testament speaks of the return of Christ, it speaks of it in two different dimensions. On the one hand, it is the day of final salvation for the people of God. On the other hand, it will be the day of final judgment where God's long suffering and patience with wickedness will come to an end. And so it will be a two-edged sword, won't it? For those who are saved, it will be the time of exquisite delight. For those who are not, it will be the ultimate time of judgment and doom.

What will it be for you? That was an episode of Ultimately with R.C. Sproul, and that is a question that we each need to consider seriously.

You can find Ultimately with R.C. Sproul and listen for free wherever you get your podcasts. And as you consider the return of Christ, if you're not sure if you know the Lord in a saving way, I encourage you to visit renewingyourmind.org gospel. We have a free ebook from Dr. Sproul for you titled, What is the Gospel? As we heard in that preview of Ultimately with R.C. Sproul, for some, the return of Christ will not be a blessing. Next Sunday, Dr. Sproul will be teaching on that final judgment. Hope you'll join us then here on Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-04 05:08:41 / 2023-11-04 05:16:29 / 8

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