Good Monday. Thank you for listening to the podcast. We’re going to start the week looking at your most recent book, Pastor John: Come, Lord Jesus: Meditations on the Second Coming of Christ (Crossway, 2023). I’m holding it in my hands right now. It’s a beautiful volume.
On Friday, you shared what you called five misconceptions about the timing of the end times: that the second coming of Christ is far out into the future, or that it already happened, or that it will never happen, or that there are no events on earth yet to happen before his return, or that his coming will unfold in two stages. That was all in Friday’s episode.
But your book is far less about controversies, and much more about the life applications we can draw from Christ’s return. He is coming back — maybe very soon. Maybe today? So with the possibility of his soon return as our hope, how do we live our lives today? How do we respond right now? The entire final third of this new book is all about how we should live in the light of the second coming. One of the chapters in that section stands out because of its brief and simple title — chapter 21: “Go to Work, Go to Church.” Is there a biblical basis for these simple directives? And, if so, explain what you write in that chapter, because it seems like a lot of people are curious.
Yeah, it’s amazing that in almost all the interviews I’ve done — and I’ve done four or five — all of them pick up on that chapter. I evidently touched a nerve by saying, “Go to work, go to church.” And I’m happy I did, because I like it. I like simplicity and bluntness.
The answer is yes, there is a biblical basis for those simple directives. In fact, I was struck as I worked on this book over how many straightforward links there are between our expectation of the second coming and its practical effect on the way we live. So not only do you have “go to work” and “go to church,” but I would add “pursue purity,” “be gentle,” “suffer with joy.” All five of those are simple, straightforward exhortations explicitly connected to the second coming of Christ. So maybe it would be helpful just to take them one at a time and give a verse and a comment to go with each one so people can see that I’m not making this up.
1. Go to Work
Many times in my life — especially while I was a pastor, but now too — I have pondered the question, “What do I want to be found doing when the Lord comes, should he come in my lifetime?” (And I think he could, even now at age 77. Read the book and you’ll find out how I think that way.) There are a lot of things I don’t want to be found doing. I don’t want to be walking in any sin. But what do I want to be found doing when the Lord comes?
Here is the text from which I got “go to work.” This is Matthew 24:44–47: Jesus said, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” And then he tells us how to be ready: “Who then is the faithful and wise servant?” Now that’s what we want to be.
That’s what I want to be when he comes: a faithful, wise servant.
Who then is the faithful and wise servant whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed [I want to hear that word] is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.
In other words, you will be blessed at the second coming if you’re doing what the Master assigned you to do with your life. So my paraphrase is, “Go to work.” In other words, if you believe that the job you have right now is God’s will for your life, then keep on doing it. Do it faithfully. Do it in his name. Do it for his glory. Do it in reliance on his power. Do it the way he wants you to do it. And when he comes at ten o’clock in the morning while you’re doing your work, he’ll find you so doing what he’s given you to do, and you will be blessed.
So, the first end-time exhortation is this: go to work.
2. Go to Church
I wonder how many Christians take church — the assembly of God’s people in corporate worship — seriously enough to say, “The Lord is coming soon — I need to go to church. I need to be in fellowship with other Christians in a healthy church in worship and service.” How many people make that connection? Well, here’s the connection.
Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another [and here’s the key phrase] and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24–25)
“As the day of Christ’s coming draws near, it becomes increasingly important not to neglect meeting together.”
Wow. The Day drawing near is the day of the Lord, the coming, the near coming of the second coming of Christ. So Hebrews is saying that as the day of Christ’s coming draws near, it becomes increasingly important not to neglect meeting together with other Christians. I think we ought to let that sink in. There’s a reason for that. And the natural understanding of these verses would be that this is just an ordinary, healthy church — worship, service, fellowship, gathering together.
It’s just an amazing statement that Jesus would say — and I think this is why we dare not forsake the assembling of ourselves together — that in the last days, “the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Now, when a glowing coal is taken out of the fireplace and put by itself, it goes cold, doesn’t stay hot, but when you leave the coals together in the firepit, they stay hot. So there is a connection between becoming a recluse, a loner, and growing cold and indifferent to the second coming. And Jesus says, “That’s going to happen. The love of many is going to grow cold because they’re not going to church. They’re not in good, solid, healthy, loving, Bible-saturated fellowships that help each other stay hot.” So go to church.
3. Pursue Purity
Now that may be the clearest of all in the way it’s connected to the second coming because of 1 John 3:2–3: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” Wow. I love clarity. “Anyone who thus hopes . . .” — hopes for what? What does that refer to? Well, it refers to the hope of seeing Jesus as he is and, by that amazing sight, being transformed into his pure and holy image.
“You can’t long to be pure when you see Jesus and be indifferent to purity as you wait for Jesus.”
And then he says, “If you really hope for this, if you want this, if you’re longing for this, if this event is your passion and you love it, you’re going to purify yourself.” You’re not going to wait. You’re not going to be indifferent as to whether your life has the purity now that you’re hoping for then, when in the twinkling of an eye you are going to be changed into the pure likeness of Jesus. It can’t be otherwise. You can’t long to be pure when you see Jesus and be indifferent to purity as you wait for Jesus. You can’t do it. So if you love the Lord’s appearing, go to work, go to church, pursue purity.
4. Be gentle.
That is, don’t return evil for evil. Here’s what Paul says: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:4–6). “Be gentle. The Lord is at hand.” Amazing. What’s the logic? What is he saying? I mean, what’s the connection between “be gentle” and “the Lord is at hand”?
I think the logic is this: The Lord is ready to step into history. Nothing hinders him but his own wise timing. He knows what he’s doing. He’s at the gates. Any delay is not owing to forces outside him preventing him from doing what the Father wants him to do. He will step in at the perfect time. And when he does, he will settle all accounts justly. No wrong will go unpunished. No right will go unrewarded. So you don’t need to take vengeance on your brother; you don’t need to avenge yourself. You can leave it to him and return good for evil. That is, be gentle.
And that’s exactly the way Paul argues in Romans 12:18–19: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably [that is, gently] with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’” Well, when is that going to happen? It’s going to happen when the Lord steps in and breaks into history and settles all accounts. And so, the Lord is near. And when he steps into this world, vengeance is his. He’ll settle accounts. You don’t need to. So you can love his appearing and be gentle.
5. Suffer with joy.
First Peter 4:12–13 says, “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” Now, “when his glory is revealed” refers to the second coming. So the point is this: when God calls you to walk with Christ through suffering now, remember its connection with the glory at the second coming and rejoice now, because your experience of Christ in joy now through suffering will intensify and enlarge your joy when his glory is revealed.
So, this is what I ask all my readers and myself; this is why I wrote the book: Do you love the Lord’s appearing? If so, go to work. Go to church. Pursue purity. Be gentle. Suffer with joy.