It is difficult to describe something for which you have no words. When the apostle John talks about the new earth in the book of Revelation, he begins by saying what it is not rather than what it is. He describes it in terms of the absence of things that destroy our lives here: death, mourning, crying, and pain. Why? Because we can describe only that which belongs to our experience; we cannot describe what lies beyond it.
When I think about the second coming of Jesus Christ, seeing my Savior face-to-face, there are few words that seem sufficient, yet there is a longing that cannot be measured. There are perhaps four thoughts or emotions that come to me—feelings almost too immense to adequately describe.
The Second Coming represents to me, first, a gateway through which we leave behind all that imprisons us here. In John’s description of the earth made new, I find it striking that the first thing he says is that the sea is gone. And it is natural that he should focus on this imagery. To John, exiled on the island of Patmos, the ocean around him formed the walls of his prison.
For us, there are other kinds of prison walls. People are imprisoned in poverty, and they can’t get out. People are imprisoned in addiction, or in abusive relationships, or in bodies wracked with illness—they can’t get out. People are also imprisoned by war and violence. We think of Sudan or Iraq or Afghanistan, and we can easily name a dozen more countries where men, women, and children are caught in a seemingly endless cycle of political unrest and bloodshed. All these things hold us tight; we see no escape.
I see Christ’s return as the moment when He will tear down these walls that surround us; when, in the words of John, the sea will be gone.
For John the sea also represented distance—separation—from his loved ones and friends. And so when he describes a place where there is no sea, he is talking about the absence of anything that creates distance or separation. There are so many things that generate distance between people: misunderstandings, anger, harsh words. Or we allow divisions to arise based on differences in ethnicity, national background, or language.
Of course, the greatest separator of all is death, and Christ’s return means that this also will be gone. It means that I will be reunited with people who are very important in my life. I will see my parents again—I feel sure about that. I want to see my brother also, and my children. And I want to meet others I care very much about. So as I think about this reunion, there is a great sense of anticipation, yet also a measure of anxiety. Will all those I love be there?
I believe there will be a wonderful display of grace when that moment comes. We need to prepare ourselves for some surprises. To put it somewhat flippantly, we may see someone else there and ask them, “What! You’re here?” and Christ will respond, “And you should talk!”
I feel sure that it is only at the moment of Christ’s return that we will realize the depth of His commitment to saving everyone He can possibly lay His hands on. I expect there will be a huge number of young people—teenagers and children who had not yet learned fully what life is all about, yet whose lives were cut short while they were still discovering or experimenting or searching. I think we will see when Christ comes back that acceptance by Him is rooted in far more than performance reward, that there are other values that also come into play.
When the Lord returns, when I see Him face-to-face, I will look into the eyes of the One who knows me through and through; the One who created me, who has a perfect “CT scan” of my personality. Nothing is hidden! And yet I will see in His eyes not condemnation, but a mixture of love and compassion.
The second coming of Christ represents to me the moment of ultimate acceptance, the moment when God receives His children. Yes, He sees everything that is not right; things that we wish we could change, have tried to change, but cannot. He sees all of this yet still receives us. It is an incredible thought, one that fills me with hope and anticipation and awe.
When Christ returns we will be freed from that which imprisons us, we will be reunited with those we love, and we will experience divine acceptance. And on that day we will also hear our Lord say: “Let’s start again. I am erasing everything hurtful that has come before. Let’s move forward with a fresh, clean slate.” In this new era “the former things will not be remembered, / nor will they come to mind” (Isaiah. 65:17).
How can we find words to capture the breadth of this idea? Each of us has scars and hurts that come in so many shapes and forms. There are the self-inflicted wounds; silly mistakes whose consequences we find so difficult to live with. There are the hurts of broken relationships, of loved ones who suffer, of illness and death. For some it is poverty and hunger, or the frustration of having no future to offer a child, or the pain of abuse or injustice.
In these moments of anguish, in the struggle to make the best of what life has dealt out, there is no ointment more soothing to our wounds than the words: When I come “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5). I long for Christ to come back so that I may hear these words from His own lips.
Living in Anticipation
How then do I wait for the Lord’s return?
I wait without fear, knowing that He is with me every step of the journey; knowing that the moment of seeing Him face-to-face will transcend every sorrow, every difficulty, every hurt.
I wait in anticipation, knowing that His return will be soon—not just in the sense of a particular moment in time or part of the linear sweep of history. But for each one of us, individually, Christ’s return may be in the next instant when we open our eyes.
I wait with the conviction that how I live today matters; that although I yearn for that moment of ultimate healing, God is calling me today to be a healer, an agent of transformation and renewal in society.
And I wait with a sense of responsibility— a desire to share this hope with as many people as possible; to help them know that the Second Coming will be a real event in time, that Jesus Christ is a real person who offers His grace to everyone, and that it is only through His return that all our yearnings, our deepest longings, will meet their fulfillment.