Albert N. Martin
Now secondly, as to the place of the Lord’s return in the history of redemption—it is central and climactic. It is central and climactic.
Now, it’s clear from the Scriptures that the salvation of sinners and the renovation of a cursed creation were planned and purposed by God before He ever created the world, before He ever put our first parents in it. When we use the term ‘the history of redemption’ what do we mean? We mean this: that though God planned and purposed salvation before He actually created—for the Scripture says we were chosen in Christ, before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before Him (Ephesians 1:4), clearly indicating that God envisioned us as created and fallen and in need of redemption—so in Christ, before He even created the world or our first parents, the plan of redemption was all laid out in the mind and heart of God.
But you see, God actually effects that plan not in eternity, but in space, time, history. He executes that plan in the stuff of real, human history, of a real world with a real earth and real trees and real human beings, and unseen beings called angels and demons and the devil. It is in that history that God is working out His redemptive plan and purpose.
The history of redemption is the sovereign activity of the Triune God, working out His eternal, saving purpose and plan in the theater of the real world of space, time, all material and immaterial entities and of human beings.
That’s the history of redemption.
Now, the question is this: after all of this stretching over several millennia—from the creation of our first parents to their fall into sin, to God’s initial announcement of redemptive grace, all the way through to the appearance of our Lord Jesus, His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and descending of the Spirit—what is the next great act of God in that history?
It is the clouds, the voice of the archangel, the trump of God. It is the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
As surely as all the lines of prophecy that pointed to our Lord’s first coming should have been understood—you remember Jesus said, “O fools and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have said, ought not the Christ have suffered, and then have entered into His glory?” (Luke 24:25-26).
You had Isaiah 52:13 through Isaiah 53! You had those Psalms in which David speaks of the depth of suffering far beyond his own, personal experience. You should have known that all the lines of prophecy pointed to this great act in redemptive history. From the coming of the Lord Jesus and the meticulous fulfillment to all the lines of prophecy that pointed to His first coming, so now all the lines focusing converge like the rays of light through a magnifying glass on a pinpoint that will burn. All of the rays point to this next great act in redemptive history: it is the Coming again of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
So I say, as to its place, the Lord’s return in the history of redemption is both central and climactic.
What do I mean, it’s central?
I mean this: once these other things have occurred in the history of redemption, the next great event is the Second Coming of Christ, and in a sense that next act presses in upon whatever time passes from Pentecost until the Lord comes. This is why the biblical writers can use this language about “the Coming of the Lord is at hand.”
Look at 1 Peter 4:7. I’m trying to demonstrate now the centrality of the Second Coming in redemptive history. Peter writes in AD 62 or 63, verse 7 of chapter 4:
“But the end of all things..” is where? Away off in the distance? There’s going to be some people sitting in Montville in the year 2001, so how dare I say the end of all things is at hand? It is at hand in terms of God’s redemptive purposes and commitment. It is the next great event in redemptive history. “The end of all things is at hand.”
As Peter reminds us in his second letter: God does not reckon time as we do. “A day with the Lord is a thousand years, a thousand years as a day” (2 Peter 3:8).
He’s not slack concerning His promise. That ancient promise that was at hand in the first century is at hand in the second, the third, the fourth, and in the twenty-first century it is still at hand. “I come quickly.”
This is the next great event in the history of redemption.
The words of James that we looked at earlier—James chapter 5. He says in verse 8, “Be patient; establish your hearts: the coming of the Lord is [where?] at hand. Murmur not, brethren, one against another, that ye be not judged: behold, the judge stands before the doors.” He hasn’t pushed the doors open yet, but He stands before the doors. At any moment all that must be fulfilled shall be fulfilled.
The next great event is indeed the return of the Lord Jesus.
This is why Paul can say to the Romans in Romans 13:11, “And this knowing the season, that already it is time for you to awake out of sleep: for now is salvation nearer to us than when we first believed.”
Revelation 22, verses 10 to 12, “And he saith unto me, Seal not up the words of the prophecy of this book; for the time is at hand. He that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness still: and he that is filthy, let him be made filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him do righteousness still: and he that is holy, let him be made holy still. Behold, I come quickly.”
In the first century: “I come quickly.” The time is at hand, and for this reason the return of Christ is identified as the hope of the believer, not his personal death, though as we saw last week the intermediate state is glorious. For the child of God to be absent of the body is to be present with the Lord. “I desire to depart and to be with Christ; which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). You see, that’s the individual child of God entering into an intensified level of sinless communion with Jesus.
But Jesus does not yet have His wedding day! Jesus does not yet have the conquest of all of His enemies! Jesus does not yet have the full inheritance of that for which He died! And as glorious as death is for the child of God—in terms of what it does, releasing him from this more limited communion, this sin-stained communion into a relationship of face-to-face communion without sin—my friend, there’s something bigger than your individual salvation alone.
That’s why the hope of a believer is not the intermediate state in death! The hope is that which is at hand: the next great event in redemptive history, when all of the promises of God with respect to the triumphs of His grace and the defeat of His enemies will find their consummate and final fulfillment at the return of the Lord Jesus.
That’s why the Coming of the Lord is said to be the blessed hope. It is the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ!
Bible References: Ephesians 1:4; Luke 24:25-26; Isaiah 52:13; 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 3:8; John 5:8; Romans 13:11; Revelation 2:10-12; Philippians 1:23