Hope at Christmas
By Matt Ward
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20).
One of the most important messages ever given by Jesus before he ascended into Heaven has brightened Christmas every year for centuries. It has given hope for two millennia now. That message, sometimes lost today, is that Jesus is alive and 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, 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. 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. 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 though 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 very real scenario through which they would once again be united to him and with 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 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 that was fit for his bride. This is where the Jewish bride and bridegroom would eventually live, in the father’s house.
After completing the dwelling places to his father’s satisfaction, and allowing for 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 with her new husband.
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 also describes 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.
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 members of a royal priesthood, through Jesus Christ,
“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:10)
There are very real foreshadows of this modern bride of Christ found in the Old Testament. As John Walvoord states,
“Some expositors have found, for instance, in the marriages of Isaac and Rebekah, Joseph and Asenath, Moses and Zipporah, and Boaz and Ruth a typical representation of the plan of God to present Christ with a bride, the church, composed largely of Gentiles. In each of these illustrations the bride is non-Jewish, that is, not a descendant of Jacob.”
God is forming his Church from all the nations of the world, from Jew and Gentile. This has always been his plan,
“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 emphasises that his purpose was to prepare a place for his Bride 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).
In the Greek, the word translated “will come” is actually in the present tense. Jesus is literally saying, “I am coming,” which “carries a future force … to emphasize the certainty of Jesus’ return for his disciples.”
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 about. Indeed, the bible talks more about the events of this generation and Jesus’ second coming than it does his first appearance on this earth. We stand on the cusp of world changing and momentous events.
No doubt, in view of the change we are seeing everyday now, the world will be a dramatically different place just twelve months from now.
For some of us this may mean persecution is ahead – each and every passing day seems to make this reality more of a certainty in my own mind.
But we have a living, dynamic and real hope. We have Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Lord and Saviour. Never will he leave us, never will he forsake us.
Whatever the future may bring, we are servants of the King and that fact alongside the very real promise Jesus made that he will come back at some point soon and take us to be with him, so that we will be where he is, should fill us with hope and peace.
As the early church would say, “Maranatha!”, meaning, “Our Lord, come!”
“Abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 Jn. 2:28).