I imagine it as a sunny morning with just a few clouds in the sky. What a whirlwind the last few weeks had been. Just six weeks ago, the Lord had been wrongly arrested, falsely accused, and unjustly crucified. Peter and the others thought it was the end, their dreams and expectations dying on the cross that day too.
But then, just three days later, Jesus rose from the grave. In the weeks that followed, He appeared to His disciples on numerous occasions, explaining to them why His death had been necessary as the Savior of the world.
The Lord interacted with His followers for forty days after His resurrection, appearing to as many as five hundred at one time. The resulting anticipation was high because the hope that had died on the cross had risen again — there was no longer any room for doubt.
Nearly six weeks later, Christ assembled His disciples on the Mount of Olives for one last lesson. As they gathered around Him, He instructed them, “You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
And then, He ascended into heaven.
Of course, they watched Him as He rose steadily into the air. What a sight that must have been! They watched Him as He disappeared into a cloud. They continued gaping, even after He was gone. And they probably would have gazed into the sky for hours, maybe days, if God had not sent two angels to spur them on their way. “Men of Galilee,” said the angels, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10).
With that the disciples dispersed, returning to Jerusalem to wait and pray. Pentecost was a short time away, meaning that the power of the Holy Spirit would soon enable them to carry out their Lord’s commission. Yet, they never forgot the promise of His return. For the rest of their lives, while faithfully attending to the task He had given, the eyes of their hearts continued to look upward — always watching for their hope to be realized in the return of their King.
Unlike the disciples, the sad truth is that many Christians today, while claiming ultimate love for their Savior, would prefer that Jesus not return during their lifetime — or, at least, not until the very end. After all, there are so many thrills yet to experience in this life, so many adventures still to be had. If Christ were to come back now, He might interrupt all of these plans and dreams. The common hope, it seems, is that Jesus would delay in order that earthly ends might be pursued.
In contrast, the hope of Christ’s coming was of paramount importance for the early church. In fact, its certainty was so real that first-century believers would greet one another with the term “Maranatha,” meaning “Lord, come quickly.” Instead of being frightened by the possibility, they clung to it as the culmination of everything they believed. Not surprisingly, the New Testament reflects this intense anticipation by referencing Jesus’ return, whether directly or indirectly, in every New Testament book except Philemon and 3 John.
In the Gospels, the description of the Second Coming is given by Christ Himself. It will be sudden (Matthew 24:27; Luke 17:24), unexpected (Matthew 24:36, 44), and visible in the sky (Mark 14:62); it will include an angelic escort (Mark 8:38) and great power and glory (Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27); it will result in the final redemption of His chosen ones (Luke 21:28); and it is guaranteed by His word (John 14:3, 21:22–23). So, His followers are to keep watch (Matthew 25:13; Mark 13:35; Luke 12:35–47) and live faithfully during His absence (Luke 19:12–26).
The book of Acts continues this theme. Christ’s return will inaugurate His earthly kingdom (1:6) where He will rule as supreme Judge (17:31). In fact, He will come back in the same way He left (1:10), although the time of His coming has not been revealed (1:7).
The epistles also focus the attention of their readers on the imminent return of the Savior. Romans 13:11 commands believers to awake from their spiritual slumber in light of His coming; 1 Corinthians 1:7 and 4:5 encourage Christians to wait on the Lord as they anticipate His return; and 1 Corinthians 15:52 describes just how quickly the events of that day will occur — a day that Paul later calls the “day of Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:14; Philippians 1:6, 10) and the “day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30).
Galatians 5:5 tells us we should hope eagerly for it, and Philippians 4:5 suggests that His coming is near. Colossians 3:4 indicates that we will receive our glorified bodies at that very moment, an observation confirmed by 1 Thessalonians 4:13–17. In contrast to the redemption of Jesus’ followers, 2 Thessalonians 2:1–12 describes how Christ’s return spells out destruction for His enemies. And in 1 Timothy 6:14 and 2 Timothy 4:5, Paul encourages Timothy to live righteously because the Master will soon be back to evaluate the work of His servants.
Titus 2:11–14 calls Christ’s coming our “blessed hope,” the great climax of history to which all Christians should look with joy and excitement. And Hebrews 10:37 encourages us to remember that our wait will not be too much longer. In the meantime, we are to “be patient” (James 5:7–8) and diligently pursue holiness (1 Peter 1:13, 5:4), rather than doubting His coming (2 Peter 3:3–10) or growing spiritually apathetic (1 John 2:28, 3:2–3). After all, when He appears, believers will be fully rewarded for their faithfulness (2 John 1:8), while the wicked will be judged (Jude 14–15). So when He says, “I am coming soon” (Revelation 3:11, 22:12, 20), we are to watch for Him with great anticipation. After all, He may even return today.
Clearly, the writers of the New Testament looked to Christ’s coming as the source of great comfort and motivation. The same should be true for us today. As God’s children, Jesus’ arrival from heaven should be our greatest longing and desire.