Every now and then I hear of my fellow Christians, my Catholic brethren among them, speaking with great conviction that the Lord may be coming soon, or at least that he will bring a great chastisement upon the world. There is almost a longing for this to occur.
Such a longing is not without biblical precedent. Indeed, the closing words of the New Testament, an hence the whole Bible are these:
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life….He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen. (Rev 22:16-21)
Hence there is an eagerness for Christ’s return. This eagerness is also expressed in the Church’s liturgy in the “embolism” of the Pater Noster:
Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Yes, there is an appropriate eagerness for the Lord’s second coming.
However, there is also a context for that eagerness that we ought not forget. The context is one of repentance and humility, a context of our need to be purified and delivered from sin to be ready for the “Great and Terrible day of the Lord.”
The words of Revelation uttered above occur only after a period of intense purification for the Church expressed in chapter after chapter of purgative sufferings and persecutions experienced by the faithful. And the embolism of the Our Father utters our hope only after mentioning our need for mercy and the grace to be kept always free from sin.
Hence our eagerness for the coming of the Lord ought to framed in great humility, beseeching a prevenient grace of mercy not only upon us, but on the whole world, a grace of readiness for ourselves and all the world before the Lord comes.
The danger to be avoided in our zeal for the Lord’s coming, is a triumphalist notion of “Lord give this world the punishment it deserves.” For in asking God to crush the wicked, we ought not too easily presume we are not among those who will get stomped. God is very Holy and the Lord’s second coming, or even his coming upon the world in “mere” chastisement, might not necessarily include us in his inner circle of the blessed, no matter how highly we think of ourselves. Again, God is very holy, and we have many reasons to not to be too eager to usher in the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord. The prophet Amos warns us in this regard:
Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him. Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light— pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?
Therefore this is what the Lord, the Lord God Almighty, says: “There will be wailing in all the streets and cries of anguish in every public square. The farmers will be summoned to weep and the mourners to wail. There will be wailing in all the vineyards, for I will pass through your midst,” says the Lord. The Day of the Lord. (Amos 5:16-20)
This text ought not be seen to cancel the Christian longing for Christ’s return, but, rather, to frame it carefully in the context of repentance and the need for God’s saving grace to “deliver us from the wrath to come.” (cf 1 Thess 1:10).
No room for triumphalism here, only pleas: “For the sake of thy sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world!” Yes, Lord, do come! But please prepare us for that great and terrible day, that day of awe. What shall I frail man be pleading? Who for me be interceding? When the just are mercy needing! Righteous judge for sin’s pollution, Grant thy gift of absolution, Before the day of retribution. Yes, any call to usher in the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord, should be made in great humility, in a spirit of repentance and recognition of the need for great mercy and grace to precede it. Otherwise, who can be saved? In this light the Second Letter of Peter gives us good advice in this regard:
[The Lord] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed it coming. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him….Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. (2 Peter 3:6-18)
Yes, do come Lord! Maranatha! But unto that very day Lord, pour forth your mercy and love, send forth your call unto the ends of the earth. Save us from the pride that forgets we need your mercy every day, even as do our enemies and those who have rejected you. Bring all to conversion Lord, and establish us in on-going conversion. For the sake of your sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. Maranatha!