One of the great promises of the Bible is that Jesus will come back for his Church. But does that include everyone who calls themselves a Christian?
By Mark Weeden
THE PROMISED RETURN OF JESUS is in the Creed, recited perhaps a little too automatically in churches up and down the land every Sunday: “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”
Think for a moment what a wonderful but awesome event that will be. However, Jesus also asked a curious, rhetorical question about his return in Luke 18:8: “When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?”
One might be taken aback by this question. There are many different kinds of Christians today, many denominations, many streams. Many of us think of ourselves as Christians. But who does Jesus see as his followers? After all, he is the Christ of Christianity.
Some Christians struggle with the book of Revelation, with its strange symbols and apocalyptic scenarios. (Yet its first chapter contains a promise of blessing for those who read it).
Whatever one’s views, there is no controversy with chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation. There, we read of Jesus describing the strengths and weaknesses of seven different churches. He knows every church inside out! He knows their good points and their bad points. He knows all about your church and my church. He knows all about you and me!
When Jesus returns, will he take everyone who calls themselves a Christian to be with him? It’s a sobering question.
He himself has already answered that question, many times, in the Gospels. There will be churches all over the world. Alongside this, there will be false ‘christs’ (or messiahs) and false prophets and teachers, with many being deceived and the love of many growing cold (eg Matthew 24).
At this time comes the apostasy (or falling away from the faith – which many would believe is already upon us) with people “holding to a form of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Thessalonians 2 and 2 Timothy 3). Remember the seventh church, Laodicea, with Jesus on the outside? (Revelation 3:20). Notice that this famous verse applies to a church, not to sinners in need of a Saviour!
Jesus described this situation very simply in some parables, for example, the “wheat and tares” (Matthew 13:24-30). Tares look so much like wheat, particularly in their early growth, that it’s difficult to tell them apart. Lambs and kid goats look similar too, to the untrained eye, and yet the sheep and goats will be separated, he says, as will the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25).
So as the time gets closer to Jesus’ return, these “apostate” and “confessing” churches, church attenders and true Christians will become more obvious, according to the teaching of the New Testament.
This can be a very unsettling thought. We might be tempted to brush it aside, or even react against it. But that would not change Jesus’ warnings. Instead, the apostle Paul, who knew these things, counsels us: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Notice he refers to “the faith”. True Christianity is a “confession”, or holding to certain facts, which leads to a consequence in our lives.
True Christians are those who turn from sin (as God calls it, in the Bible) to a Saviour, leading to a change in behaviour. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews put it like this: “Make every effort…to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
Amongst other things, the apostate Church will soften, and even deny, the truths about the Lord Jesus Christ – his virgin birth, his death on the cross to take away our sins, his physical resurrection, and his uniqueness as the only begotten Son of God.
This apostate Church will take a wordly approach to moral issues, such as human sexuality. The Church of Scotland’s recent General Assembly vote allowing congregations to call practising homosexual clergy is a sad example of this. The apostate Church will embrace a form of spirituality, allowing all world religions to come together, as supposedly valid expressions of worship of the same God.
When Jesus returns, he will come back for his Church, or, “his bride” (John 3:29). Some will be taken, some will be left. Some will knock on the door, wanting to get in, but will be unable (Matthew 24:40-44; Luke 13:24-27).
So – who are Christians, according to Jesus Christ? “I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3).
“You must be born again” (verse 7).
The New Testament speaks a great deal about salvation. This is repenting from what God declares to be wrong, and turning to Jesus Christ, with a heartfelt faith (or trust) in him, and his death on the cross to pay the penalty for your sins. This is the new birth.
Are you saved? If you are, then when Jesus returns, he will be coming for you!
After 12 years as minister of the Worthing Tabernacle and previously leading a Baptist church in Gloucestershire, Rev Mark Weeden now leads Living Word Ministries, which seeks to support and train Third World ministers in teaching biblical truth.
Mark is married to Jane, a professional soprano, and they have four children. Mark is available to lead services and preach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Living Word’s next trip takes place on 26 June when Mark and a team of six fly to Zambia. The oldest member, Robert Figures, a local representative of Christian Friends of Israel, is 84! Details at www.livingwordministries.co.uk.