“Christ also, having been once offered to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time, apart from sin, to them that wait for him, unto salvation” (Hebrews 9:28).
We are all conscious that nothing is perfect; that the things which Christ came to do are not yet done; that the works of the devil are not yet finally destroyed; that sins are not yet experimentally taken away; that in the spiritual consciousness of the race, God is not yet perfectly known. “Now we see not yet all things subjected to Him.” The victory does not seem to be won. It is impossible to read the story of the Incarnation, and to believe in it, and to follow the history of the centuries that have followed upon that Incarnation without feeling in one’s deepest heart that something more is needed, that the Incarnation was preparatory, and that the consummation of its meaning can only be brought about by another coming, as personal, as definite, as positive, as real in human history as was the first.
“Christ . . . shall appear a second time.” There is no escape, other than by casuistry, from the simple meaning of those words. The first idea conveyed by them is that of an actual personal advent of Jesus yet to be. To spiritualize a statement like this and to attempt to make application of it in any other than the way in which a little child would understand it, is to be driven, one is almost inclined to say, to dishonesty with the simplicity of the scriptural declaration. There may be diversities of interpretations as to how He will come, and when He will come; whether He will come to usher in a millennium or to crown it; but the fact of His actual coming is beyond question.
Paul in all his writings is conscious of this truth of the second advent. In some of them he does not dwell upon it at such great length, or with such clearness as in others, for the simple reason that it is not the specific subject with which he is dealing. In the Thessalonian letters we have most clearly set forth Paul’s teaching concerning this matter. In the very center of the first letter we have a passage which declares in unmistakable language that ”the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
James writing to those who were in affliction said, “Be ye also patient; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
Peter with equal clearness said to the early disciples, “Be sober and set your hope perfectly on the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
John, who leaned upon his Master’s bosom, and who wrote the most wonderful of all mystic words concerning Him, said, “We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is. And every one that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”
Jude said to those to whom he wrote, “Ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”
Every New Testament writer presents this truth as part of the common Christian faith. Belief in the personal actual second advent of Jesus gave the bloom to primitive Christianity, and constituted the power of the early Christians to laugh in the face of death, and to overcome all forces that were against them. There is nothing more necessary in our day than a new declaration of this vital fact of Christian faith. Think what it would mean if the whole church still lifted her face toward the east and waited for the morning; waited as the Lord would have her wait — not star-gazing, and almanac examining, but with loins girt for service, and lamps burning; waited as she served. If the whole Christian church were so waiting, she would cast off her worldliness and infidelity, and all other things which hinder her march to conquest.
MEANING OF THE SECOND ADVENT.
This text does more than affirm the fact of the second advent. In a somewhat remarkable way, it declares the meaning thereof, “Christ . . . shall appear a second time, apart from sin.” To rightly understand this, we must look upon it as putting the second advent into contrast with the first. That is what the writer most evidently means, for the context declares that He was manifested in the consummation of the ages to bear sins. He now says that “Christ . . . shall appear a second time apart from sin.” All the things of the first advent were necessary to the second; but all the things of the second will be different from the things of the first.
By His first advent sin was revealed. His own cross was the place where all the deep hatred of the human heart expressed itself most diabolically in view of heaven and earth and hell.
There was also revelation of darkness as contrary to light. “Men loved the darkness rather than the light,” was the supreme wail of the heart of Jesus.
His presence in the world was, moreover, revelation of spiritual death as contrary to life. In the perpetual attempt of men to materialize His work, the attempt of His own disciples as well as of all the rest, and their absolute failure to appreciate the spiritual teaching He gave, we see what spiritual death really is.
In His first advent He not only revealed sin, but bore it. In the words, “Christ also, having been once offered to bear the sins of many,” the reference is not merely to the final movement of the cross. The word “offered” is used in reference to God’s action in giving Him. It would be perfectly correct interpretation to supply the word “offered” by the word “gave ;” the word which we have in John’s Gospel, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” Let us put that word here — “Christ also, having been once given to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time.” All through His life He was putting Himself underneath sin in order to take it away. He bore its limitations throughout the whole of His life. In poverty, in sorrow, in loneliness, He lived: and all these things are limitations resulting from sin. When Jesus Christ entered into the flesh, He entered into the limitations which follow upon sin, and He bore sin in His own consciousness through all the years; not poverty only, but sorrow in all forms, and loneliness. All the sorrows of the human heart were upon His heart until He uttered that unspeakable cry, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
Having finally dealt with sin, and destroyed it at its very root at His first advent, His second advent is to be that of victory. He will come again; not to poverty, but to wealth. He will come again; not to sorrow, but with all joy. He will come again; not in loneliness, but to gather about Him all trusting souls who have looked and served and waited. All in His first advent of sorrow and loneliness, of poverty and of sin, will be absent from the second. The first advent was for atonement; the second will be for administration. He came, entering into human nature, and taking hold of it, to deal with sin and put it away. He has taken sin away, and He will come again to set up that kingdom, the foundations of which He laid in His first coming.
“Judgment” — “Salvation.”
This text declares the purpose of the advent: “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this cometh judgment; so Christ also, having been once offered to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time, apart from sin, to them that wait for him, unto salvation.” A similarity is suggested. “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this cometh judgment.” Over against that dual appointment stands, “So Christ also, having been once offered to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time, apart from sin, to them that wait for him, unto salvation.”
There is a strange differentiation in the ending of the two declarations. We would expect that it would be written to complete the comparison, thus, it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this cometh judgment; so Christ also, having been once offered to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time, apart from sin, unto judgment. That would seem to be a balanced comparison, but the writer does not so write. This very difference unfolds the meanings of the first and second advents. It is appointed to men to die, — He was offered to bear the sins of many. After death judgment, — He is coming again unto salvation, As the first advent negatived the death appointed unto men, the second advent will turn the judgment into salvation.
“It is appointed unto men once to die.” It is often somewhat carelessly affirmed that men must die. While admitting the truth of this statement we inquire, why must they die? Science can no more account for death than it can account for life. It has never yet been able to say why men die. How they die, yes; why they die, no! I will tell you why. Death is the wage of sin. Science will admit that death comes by the breaking of certain laws, but Science will use some other word than the word sin. “It is appointed unto men once to die,” by the fiat of God Almighty because they are sinners, and no man can escape that fiat.
But He was offered by God to bear the sins of many. That was the answer of the first advent to man’s appointment to death. Beyond death there is another appointment, that of judgment. Who shall appeal against the absolute justice of that appointment?
He “shall appear a second time, apart from sin . . . unto salvation.” To those who have heard the message of the first advent and have believed it, and trusted in His great work, and have found shelter in the mystery of His manifestation and bearing of sin — to such, salvation takes the place of judgment. But to the man who will not shelter beneath that first advent and its atoning value — judgment abides. All the things begun by His first advent will be consummated by the second.
At His second advent there will be complete salvation for the individual — righteousness, sanctification, redemption. We believed, and were saved. We believe, and are being saved. We believe, and we shall be saved. The last movement will come when He comes.
Those who have fallen on sleep are safe with God, and He will bring them with Him when He comes. They are not yet perfected, “God having provided some better thing concerning us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” They are at rest, and consciously at rest. They are “absent from the body … at home with the Lord,” but they are not yet perfected; they are waiting. We are waiting in the midst of earth’s struggle — they in heaven’s light and joy, for the second advent. Heaven is waiting for it. Earth is waiting for it. Hell is waiting for it. The universe is waiting for it.
That coming will be to those who wait for Him. Who are those who wait for Him? “Ye turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven.” The first thing is the turning from idols. Have we done that? The second thing is serving the living God. Are we doing that? Then because we have turned from idols, and are serving Him, we are waiting. That is the waiting the New Testament enjoins, and to those who wait, His second advent will mean salvation. “Christ shall appear.” Glorious Gospel!