Preparing for the Second Coming
Christ faced temptations greater than any human has ever endured. During His ministry He could have silenced the questions and the jeers of the rulers. In Gethsemane He could have summoned throngs of angels to protect Him. Standing accused before the high priest, He could have used His divine power to lay His enemies in the dust. And He could have avoided humiliation, shame, and death by coming down from the Cross.
Not only were the temptations of Christ more intense than ours, He also met them at the depth of human weakness. He faced temptation in the wilderness after 40 days of starvation. On the cross He overcame at His weakest moment, having endured the weight of the sins of the world as well as sleeplessness, hunger, torture, and the physical agony of the cross itself. No one can ever use the excuse that he or she has been in a more trying circumstance than Christ.
Notice the intensity of the temptation in Gethsemane and at the cross. “As Christ felt His unity with the Father broken up, He feared that in His human nature He would be unable to endure the coming conflict with the powers of darkness. In the wilderness of temptation the destiny of the human race had been at stake. Christ was then conqueror. Now the tempter had come for the last fearful struggle. For this he had been preparing during the three years of Christ's ministry. Everything was at stake with him. If he failed here, his hope of mastery was lost; the kingdoms of the world would finally become Christ’s; he himself would be overthrown and cast out. But if Christ could be overcome, the earth would become Satan’s kingdom, and the human race would be forever in his power. With the issues of the conflict before Him, Christ's soul was filled with dread of separation from God.”1
“Amid the awful darkness, apparently forsaken of God, Christ had drained the last dregs in the cup of human woe. In those dreadful hours He had relied upon the evidence of His Father’s acceptance heretofore given Him. He was acquainted with the character of His Father; He understood His justice, His mercy, and His great love. By faith He rested in Him whom it had ever been His joy to obey. And as in submission He committed Himself to God, the sense of the loss of His Father's favor was withdrawn. By faith, Christ was victor.”2
In spite of everything Satan attempted, Christ was victorious. “In every possible way Satan sought to prevent Jesus from developing a perfect childhood, a faultless manhood, a holy ministry, and an unblemished sacrifice. But he was defeated. He could not lead Jesus into sin. He could not discourage Him, or drive Him from the work He had come to this earth to do. From the desert to Calvary the storm of Satan’s wrath beat upon Him, but the more mercilessly it fell, the more firmly did the Son of God cling to the hand of His Father, and press on in the blood-stained path.”3
Christ endured temptation in all points, “yet [was] without sin” (Heb. 4:15).4 He did not exercise any power unavailable to us, but relied totally upon His Father, thus gaining victory through submission and faith in God. Christ lived the life originally intended for us, a life in communion with God because He lived in harmony with God. Paul emphatically states that we may also overcome: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
Christ, the divine Son of God, became one with us, not only to live for us and conquer where we have failed, but also to die in our place. Only He who was our Creator, who had life within Himself, could take our place. Assuming upon Himself the sins that separated us from God, He Himself bore their consequences. He died our eternal death that we might receive His righteousness and life. Only in this way could God fulfill His original plan for our creation. And only by accepting His sacrifice do we have the opportunity of living in fellowship with God throughout eternity.
Christ came also to be resurrected on our behalf. While His death reconciles us to God, His life saves us. Baptism represents our participation in His death with its removal of our sins, in order that we might walk in a new life by virtue of His resurrection. The God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead is willing to give us the power of the resurrection so that we might live for Him. We receive that resurrection power through faith.
Scripture clearly teaches that salvation is by faith alone. In fact, to seek salvation by works is itself sinful, for it is an attempt to live independently, autonomously from God. However, “Do we then make void [God’s] law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law” (Rom. 3:31). By faith we accept the reconciliation with God made possible by Christ’s death, and also by faith we accept the power of His resurrection. God gives forgiveness not that we might continue in sin, but in order that we might be reconciled to Him. If we willfully continue to sin, we continually break our connection with Him, thereby nullifying the purpose of Christ’s death. The foundation of our salvation is always by grace through faith, but the result of salvation is life in Jesus Christ by faith in the power of His resurrection. Therefore, faith establishes the possibility of living in harmony with God.
Paul makes a clear connection between the death of Christ and the life we live as we await the Second Coming: “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14).
The Bible makes many other connections between the first coming of Christ and the certainty of His return. The Book of Acts assures us that Jesus will return in the same manner as He went into heaven (1:9-11). Christ Himself linked His first advent with His return for us (John 14:1-3).
Christ is the firstfruits of those who will be resurrected at the Second Coming. Our hope of the resurrection at the Second Coming also depends upon our faith in the resurrection of Christ. Himself inherently immortal, Christ desires to give everlasting life to us. Only if we have a relationship with the Son will we have everlasting life.
Having retained His humanity even after the Resurrection, Christ will be one with us throughout eternity. He is more closely united with us now than if He had never walked with us in the flesh. After He rose from the dead, Christ did not return in some spirit form but in the flesh. The bodily resurrection of Christ protects our concept of the unity of human nature. It confirms that it always takes the combination of the spirit and the body to form a living soul.
Christ set a pattern for those preparing for the Second Coming. He led the way by rejecting the life that leads to independence from God. Rather, He overcame as we must. “It is written” was His motto. He let neither the evidences of His senses nor the misleading rationalizations of philosophy sway Him, thereby setting an example for those who live in the last days.
The major issue in the last days will be our relationship to the Word of God. Will we take it as the foundation under all other authorities, or will we substitute for it ecclesiastical bodies, political institutions, science, or the spirit world? God will have a people on earth who will follow Christ and accept the Bible and the Bible only.
Imagine yourself in the position of Christ, seeking to woo back your own. You long to restore to fellowship all those separated from you. Yet when you burst upon the world as light shining into darkness, the darkness does not understand you. Although they were your people, they ignore you, preferring darkness and hiding themselves from the light. Yet you do not react with anger or revenge—you weep over them and cry out in despair, “‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! . . . How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!’” (Matt. 23:37).
Such love and devotion is beyond our comprehension. Philosophy cannot explain it, archaeology cannot discover it, science cannot dissect it. Yet God freely gives it to us. We can shut that love out from our lives and thereby cut ourselves off from the Life-giver. Or we can fulfill God’s purpose in sending His Son to live and die for us by opening our lives to His self-revelation and love. By so doing, we will affirm our participation in the Second Coming and our fellowship with God and fellow human beings throughout eternity.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. The Desire of Ages, pp. 686, 687.
2. Ibid., p. 756.
3. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1130.
4. All Scripture references in this article are quoted from the New King James Version.