The worst earthquake in recent history happened in 1976 in China. The lives of 655,000 people were snuffed out in moments. It’s hard to even comprehend so many people dying at the same time. It’s not just a number; each one of those 655,000 was a human being who loved and was loved, who had just as much consciousness and love of life as you or I do.
Such tragedies happen more frequently than you’d suppose. The worst natural disaster in recorded history, also in China, was the Yellow River flood in 1931. So many lives were lost that the authorities simply said one to two million and left it at that.
This earth isn’t a naturally tranquil place. For years we may go along happily, but then the happiness is punctuated by something that shocks us by the scope of its destruction: a Hurricane Harvey, an Indian Ocean tsunami, an earthquake in Nepal. Billions have died of disease and scientists say we are one mutation away from a supergerm that would be so hard to defeat that it could take millions of lives.
And these are but the impersonal forces of nature. Far worse is the destruction caused intentionally by humans. World War II was the most deadly war in history; the total number of casualties is estimated at 50 million, with Russia alone accounting for 20 million. In that war 140,000 people died in one single event: the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, Japan—each victim a thinking, breathing, loving human being, gone in an instant.
A world built on despair
The world has never been and never will be a safe place. Is it any wonder that people are afraid? Atheist Bertrand Russell wrote, “All the labour of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system. . . . Only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”
What a dismal philosophy of life! Despair is hardly a “firm foundation.” A world built on despair is a world of selfishness, where each one survives by his or her own strength and wits, even at the expense of others. There is no happiness, no peace of mind there.
Each time we approach an election, we hear some voicing hope that newly elected leaders will solve our problems. But they won’t. Many feel instinctively that prosperity might heal their wounded souls. That won’t work either. Some put their hope in fame and popularity. Yet with every news story about Beyoncé or Angelina Jolie or Tiger Woods, it becomes self-evident that success rarely brings long-term happiness.
No, for all our efforts, this earth remains a sad place. Even today, the prophet Isaiah’s words ring true: “Darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples” (Isaiah 60:2).
Hope is here
But then, when things are most dark; when we are the most overwhelmed by everything this world shows us—the hypocrisy of politics, the confusion of psychology, the petrification of organised religion, the dissolution of the family, the failure of work and money to satisfy—when all seems lost, Isaiah promises that “the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you” (verse 2).
God’s promise to enlighten our dark earth comes to pass in three events. The first happened just a little more than 2000 years ago when Jesus, God’s Son, came to this earth. His appearance was the opening of a new door, the beginning of new hope. A few of those who saw and heard Him knew instantly who He was and what He could do, and those who surrendered their lives to Him were transformed. His teaching, His love, His power to heal and bring peace . . . no-one who met Jesus Christ would ever be the same. He was in Himself a touchstone for truthfulness: people either loved Him with their whole hearts or resented Him with their whole hearts. But no-one was left unchanged.
“At His second coming He will touch every soul who lives.”
Jesus was crucified and for two horrible days it seemed as though the light of the world was extinguished. But then, astonishingly, He came alive again. He returned to heaven with the promise that He would come back to this earth again.
And He did—though at first He didn’t return physically, as His followers had expected. Jesus’ second arrival was a more personal one. After He left, His presence and power could be seen in the lives of believers: “All who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Those who accepted Jesus weren’t just nominal, lip-service believers. They met the resurrected Jesus in their hearts; they knew Him as a living Saviour who spoke with them and heard their prayers.
Many today—perhaps including yourself—have become His disciples through baptism. Erring, stumbling disciples to be sure; disciples in need of forgiveness, disciples dependent upon grace; but disciples no less than Peter, James and John. From person to person, for 2000 years, this good news has been passed, and billions have known the living Christ—living not in the flesh but in our hearts.
“Christ in you,” the apostle Paul called it, “the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Paul, who trusted wholly in Jesus, said that his life was safe in the Lord whether he lived or died (Romans 14:8). When a follower of Jesus passes to his or her rest, the next thing he or she will see is the face of their Rescuer.
It’s wonderful to know that my life is safe in the Lord. But while I rest in my grave, this sad old earth still toils on; earthquakes and floods and disease still kill thousands, and innocent children still suffer from conflict and starvation. That’s why we wait for one more appearance of Jesus. This time, when He appears, He will not be in just one country in the Middle East as He was when He came to first-century Judea. This time He will touch, but not just those who know and accept Him, as He does when He comes into the hearts of believers. At His second coming He will touch every soul who lives and all His faithful followers who have ever lived through the long march of history. What is this final, wonderful event? He promised that He will come again, personally and physically, to put an end to sin on earth and give us an eternal home with Him (John 14:1–3).
Here, then, are the three ways that Jesus touches the earth. The first we traditionally celebrate at Christmas—Jesus arriving as a baby in a stable in Bethlehem. The second was the day that Jesus came into your heart, the day you called Him Friend and Lord. Because of that you have confidence that your life is safe in Christ, whether you live or die. The final event, and the most glorious, is when Jesus comes in the clouds, when He shall wipe every tear from every eye, when there is no more sin, death, sadness, war or pain (Revelation 21:4).
Of these three events, there is only one that you can do something about. If you haven’t given your heart to Jesus Christ, now is the time. Jesus came the first time so that you could become acquainted with Him in all His saving power. And as marvellous as His coming in the clouds of glory will be, it will be a happy time only for those who have accepted Him as Lord and Saviour.
There is only one thing you can do to be ready for Jesus’ coming. Only one! The only thing you can do is to be a follower of Jesus. No other knowledge will suffice. No signs of the times, no last-days conspiracies, no survivalist preparation—nothing else will qualify you, except that you be a follower of Jesus.
Some of us may be alive to see Him come again, or none of us may be. No-one knows that day and hour, not even Jesus (Matthew 24:36). But of those who are friends of Jesus, to those who call Him Lord, it doesn’t matter when He returns. Because whether now or later, through Jesus, our eternal salvation is sure.