The Lord's Return in the Acts of the Apostles

The Lord's last words to His disciples as to His kingdom ought to have been enough to preserve men from the folly, and we might say the presumption, of fixing dates as to when it will come. "And He said to them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father has put in His own power" (Acts 1:7). Yet we should be looking for that kingdom to come, and be hastening it by our prayers and labours for it. It will come when the King comes, and not till then. Knowing this, how interesting it is to see that the first message from the glory after the Lord entered it was that He was coming back again. On swift pinion, as our Lord entered the glory, came His messengers, saying, "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven" (v. 11). Clearly His coming back again should have the first place in the thoughts of His own. It was from the Mount of Olives that He went, and His feet will return to that same spot. If we connect this angelic declaration with the Lord's words in Matthew 24:16, and the prophet's words in Zechariah 4:1-5, a flood of light is cast upon these Scriptures, and what otherwise might be obscure is made very clear to us.

Acts 3:19-21 has direct reference to the coming of the Lord for the blessing of His people Israel, of which the prophets spoke. "The restitution of all things" is limited by the words "which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began." And this meets the error of the universalists who use this passage to support their doctrine of universal Salvation. Yet how near to God's heart must the coming of the Lord in glory and the blessing of His people be, since all His prophets have spoken of it! Let the fact that all God's holy prophets have spoken of the coming of the Lord in glory prove to us the great importance of it.

In the first sermon preached to the Gentiles (Acts 10) it is remarkable that judgment is given the prominent place "He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead" (v. 42). The judgment of the quick will be when He appears in glory for the establishment of His kingdom on earth (Matt. 25:31-46), the judgment of the dead will be when that kingdom is finished and the great white throne is set up (see Rev. 20:11-15). There is remission of sins now, through His name, but if this is rejected there remains nothing but judgment at His coming. Paul also pressed the coming judgment upon the Gentiles in Acts 17. "God now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: because He has appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He has ordained; whereof He has given assurance to all men, in that He has raised Him from the dead." This judgment will be continued throughout the reign of Christ. It will be introduced and maintained in righteousness.

These are the only two sermons recorded for us as being preached to Gentiles in the Acts by the Holy Ghost-inspired apostles, and the fact of judgment to come being made so prominent ought to arrest the gospel preacher of this day and make him inquire as to how far his preaching squares with it. We have the Lord's command to preach and to testify that He is coming to judge, and when the Lord gives a command His servants have no option but to obey. Again in speaking to Felix, the Gentile governor, Paul reasoned of "righteousness, temperance and judgment to come" (chap. 24-25).

How His Servants will be affected

These statements as to the coming of the Lord in the Acts are all about His appearing in glory to the world, to judge what is evil and to establish what is right: and this is the testimony that the servants of the Lord have to bear to the world, as it was Enoch's in his day — the man who was translated to heaven before the judgment came, as we are to be. Our heavenly portion with Christ and His coming to introduce us into it comes out later in the epistles, and is ministered for the comfort and joy of the servants of the Lord, rather than to be the subject of their testimony to the world. There is joy in serving the Lord, yet there is something greater: "Rejoice," said the Lord to His servants, "that your names are written in heaven." Our citizenship is there, "whence we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our bodies of humiliation, that they may be fashioned like to His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things to Himself" (Phil. 3:20-21).

This great event draws nigh, for the Lord's work on earth must be nearing its completion, and when it is completed He will instantly come. The first stage of His coming will be His descent to the air to summon His servants from their labours to meet Him there, and to introduce them into His Father's house, to enjoy with Him their heavenly portion, and to review with Him their lives and labours at His judgment seat. What an unspeakable joy will His servants know when He calls them home from their service! Some are toiling in lonely and difficult fields, with very little human encouragement and no applause. What a rapture it will be for these to be caught up in the twinkling of an eye to the joy of the Master's presence, there to receive His approval, His "Well done!"

They are searching the highways and hedges for souls that His house may be full, and are going forth to every kindred and tongue and people and nation, that the sum of those who are to be redeemed to God by the blood of the Lamb may be made up. The work is surely almost done, and the moment is fast coming when the voice of the Lord shall pronounce the work finished and they shall be instantly with Him, bringing their hard-won trophies with them, that shall be their joy and crown of rejoicing in that day! If our words reach any of these we would say to them, "The Lord has chosen you for most honourable service — He has fitted you and sent you forth to gather these souls out of the world for Him, and your labour is not in vain in Him. Hold fast! Cleave to the Lord! Let His coming be a bright and blessed hope to you, while you carry the gospel message to thirsty men saying, "Let him that is athirst come."

Others, faithful and wise servants are they, are giving to the Lord's household their meat in due season. They are feeding and nourishing the affections of His saints by ministering Christ to them, and in this way they are preparing them for His coming. Blessed, said the Lord, shall all such be when He comes.

No truth that we know of is more likely to stir up a holy energy within the servants of the Lord, than that of His speedy return, and they could have no greater joy than the fulfilment of this blessed hope.

May we expect a Revival before the Lord comes?

"Do you think we may look for a revival before the coming of the Lord Jesus?" Often I have heard this question lately, and my answer has been, "We ought not to allow any expectation to stand between our souls and His coming, for His coming is our immediate hope." Yet while we wait for Him we may rightly and earnestly desire a true revival of spiritual energy in the service of the Lord and most of all an increase of joy in Him. How can this be secured? What could more surely revive us than manifestations of Himself to our souls? Nothing, surely. And these He has promised to those that love Him. But the love that secures these manifestations must not be in word only; to approach Him with the lips is not enough — it must show itself in obedience to His commandments, and the first of these is "that ye love one another."

I believe that if we loved our brethren more, if we were kinder to the children of God, fellow-members with us of His family, if we were more ready to discern and appreciate the work of God's Holy Spirit, which is one work in all the saints, we should be greatly revived. For what could revive our souls more than an increased experimental knowledge of the Father's love to us, and manifestations of the Lord Himself in His all-varied grace to our souls? And the way to secure these unspeakable favour is to keep His commandments, and this is His commandment, that ye love one another.

I have no doubt that we have all realized the joy that follows a practical expression of love to one of God's children; we have been greatly blest when we have visited an isolated or suffering saint; a few words to a Christian whom perhaps we have never met before has brought great cheer into our souls. These experiences all meant that the Lord saw and appreciated these manifestations of love and He drew near to us, and we walked with Him. Suppose we gave ourselves more definitely and with greater purpose of heart to these things, should we not be greatly revived, and revive others also?

We know also, from sad experience, how that hard feelings toward our brethren have brought deadness and dearth into our souls, for the Spirit of God has been grieved thereat and the Lord has withdrawn Himself. Questions, debates, sects, party feelings and zeal, all put the Lord at a distance from us and stop the flow of His grace to us and through us. We know it — let us own it, and put these things far from us, and instead of them love His commandments and do them. Then we shall have no need to ask, May we expect another revival. It will be with us, a great reality, binding hearts as one and joining voices together in the cry, "Come, Lord Jesus."