It’s times like this when our expectation of the return of Christ is heightened. It was no different in the first century for the Jews who were in full expectation of the coming of their Messiah. In John chapter 1 when we read about Andrew going to his brother Simon and saying, “We have found the Messiah” (v.41) the excitement in his voice is probably lost in translation. Later another disciples, Nathanael, expressed his understanding of who Jesus was – “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
Both Andrew and Nathanael were correct; Jesus is the Messiah and king of Israel. But Jewish expectation of Messiah in the first century weren’t necessarily in line with what Jesus went on to do, particularly die on a cross. As we read through the life of Christ, we see the excitement wane. For instance, in John 6:66 we’re told, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him”, because of the things that he was teaching. The Jews were expecting their Messiah, among other things, to come as a military leader who would conquer the Romans and bring back the throne of David to Jerusalem. Right up until the eve of Jesus’ death his twelve disciples were still expecting him to fulfill that expectation. But when he was arrested in Gethsemane and didn’t allow his disciples to fight back, all hope, for the next three days, was lost. Then, forty years later, instead of restoring the kingdom to Israel, the Romans besieged and destroyed Jerusalem, the exact opposite of what the Jews expected to happen.
Because of the parallels drawn up in Bible prophecy between the end of the Jewish world and the end of the Gentile world, there’s a sobering lesson we can learn from failed expectations. First, when we look at the wider Christian world, we see it in constant expectation, particularly in evangelical Christianity, for the return of Christ and the unfolding of events according to their understanding of prophecy, particularly in the book of Revelation. But from our understanding we know that things like the Rapture and the rise of the Antichrist in Jerusalem aren’t what the Bible teaches. The person Christianity thinks is the Antichrist will instead be God’s Messiah and they will fight against him. That’s one reason why we separate ourselves from the Christian world.
But let’s turn the lesson on ourselves. What are we expecting? While we differ from mainstream Christianity on interpreting Revelation and prophecy in general, some of us can have a very dogmatic idea of the order of events, and the main players, when world events fulfill Bible prophecy leading up to the return of Christ. The problem is, if those expectations aren’t met, if it’s not Russia which comes down onto the mountains of Israel after all, then are we going to react like the Jews of the first century? What if things don’t go according to our expected understanding of the order of events?
But even more sobering are verses like Matthew 7:21-23 – “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” That’s one of the scariest passages in the Bible. To have Jesus say to you “I never knew you” is horrible to contemplate. But that’s exactly what happened in the first century. Many of the Jews, in full expectation of Messiah, didn’t know who Jesus was and he didn’t know them.
What differentiates those whom Jesus knows and those he doesn’t is going to be outlined in the rest of the gospel record of John. He is going to say some hard things (John 6:60) that will divide the chaff from the wheat. The Jews, in general, are going to react negatively to Jesus’ words, seek to kill him, and then deliver him up to be crucified. The disciples, like Andrew and Nathanael, on the other hand, are examples for us of people who did expect their Messiah, were sometimes completely ignorant of what Jesus was saying but were willing to listen to learn and stuck with him even while others no longer followed him.
Let’s echo the sentiment of Andrew, “We have found the Messiah”, and excitedly look for the return of our Lord. But let’s do it in a spirit of humility and willingness to learn that we might be wrong about how things are going to pan out. We know Jesus will return, we know he will raise the dead and we know there will be a judgment. The order of events before, during and after those things are something for us to think about but not be dogmatic. There are going to be a lot of surprises, things we didn’t expect. The judgment seat is something I think is particularly going to provide a great deal of surprise. There are going to be people accepted and rejected we won’t expect. Let’s make sure that our excitement for the return of the Lord is measured by us doing the will of God.
Simi Hills, CA