Christ is coming back. This much has been promised to us. The season of Advent is a time to remember this promise and to prepare—not because we ought not to prepare at other times, but because it is hard to hold all the facets of the Christian life in our minds and our hearts at the same time. The cycle of the church year—Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and ordinary time—sets a framework for times of celebration of God’s great triumph, repentance for our sins, steadfast work for the Kingdom, and preparation for the second coming of Christ. All of these things should always be happening; but each is brought to the fore in turn to prevent us from narrowing down our understanding of the Christian life down to our favorite attitude.

That being said, as we wait this Advent for Christ to return, what exactly are we waiting for? What does the Bible say about what it will be like when he does return? I cannot provide an exhaustive account of what is written, but here are some first thoughts.

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

judgement dayThe first thing to realize when we sit down to study the second coming is that we just aren’t given perfectly clear information. In fact, when asked about the last day, Jesus says, “No one knows about that day or hour” (Matthew 24:36). Guesses about when it will come won’t work; neither will sophisticated numerological calculations. We just don’t know. And this is just the beginning of our ignorance. Too often we are like the fools of the book of Proverbs, rejecting wisdom and ignoring good advice, running toward our destruction because we have decided that we don’t want to know any better.

However, when Christ returns, this lack of knowledge will cease. “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We have hope that when Christ, true wisdom, returns, the confusion and ignorance that too often surround us will be abolished forever.

O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
Who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times didst give the law,
In cloud, and majesty, and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

God knows each of us uniquely, and loves each of us with surpassing tenderness; but he is also the God of might, who gave the law and who will judge us all on the last day, according to what we have done (Revelation 20:12). Let me say at once that this does not mean that we must rely on our deeds for our salvation, rather than the work that God has done in us; instead, because Christ has set us free, we ought to use that freedom as a mark of the Holy Spirit’s life in us (Galatians 5:13-16). We cannot use the trust we have in God’s goodness and love to lead a life that is fundamentally opposed to that goodness. How will we bear to look at Christ when he returns if we spend all our lives beforehand turning away from him? God does not have two kinds of goodness, one that we have to stick to here and now and one that we will receive in the fullness of time. If we refuse to let God change us into the kind of people who delight in submission to his will and obedience to his love, we will find that our names are not written in the book of life, because we have rejected life and sought death.