For many devout believers, the second coming is the point when the world as we know it is done away with and Jesus snatches his own people up to heaven, to live there with him forever as it’s in some far away celestial zip code.
If that’s what’s going to happen, why would we plant a tree? Why oil the wheels of a car that’s about to drive off a cliff?
Is that what the second coming is all about?
In Ephesians 1:10, Paul declares that God’s purpose for all eternity was to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth. Colossians 1:15-20 declares that all things were created in, through, and for Christ, and that all things are reconciled in, through, and for Christ. Neither Ephesians or Colossians gives any support for the idea that a major part of the created order is destined to be thrown in the trash while redeemed humans, whether in or out of the body, live forever in some other place. Indeed, it’s in Colossians 3 that we get a hint of a different way looking at what is commonly called the second coming. Paul says, “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God; when Christ who is our life appears, then you will also appear with him in glory.”
Think about the meaning of “appears” for a minute. When we talk of Jesus coming, we make it sound as though he is presently far away. But “appears” is different. As we find in many New Testament passages, Jesus is not far away; he is in heaven. And heaven is not a place in the sky, but rather God’s dimension of what we think of us ordinary reality. The failure to grasp this leaves many Christians puzzled about how to put together the biblical picture of Jesus’ return. The point is that Jesus is presently in God’s dimension, that is, heaven; however, heaven is not a place in our space-time continuum, but a different sphere of reality that overlaps and interlocks with our sphere in numerous though mysterious ways. It is as though there were a great invisible curtain hanging across a room, disguising another space that can be integrated with our space; one day the curtain will be pulled back, the two spaces or spheres will be joined forever, and Jesus himself will be the central figure.
“When Christ shall come,” we sing in the hymn, “with shout of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.” We ought to sing, “When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, and heal this world, what joy shall fill my heart.” In the New Testament, the second coming is not the point at which Jesus snatches people up, away from the earth, to live with him forever somewhere else, but the point at which he returns to reign not only in heaven but upon the earth.