Built Upon the Rock
by E.H. ‘Jack’ Sequeira
The Second Coming of Christ is a cardinal Seventh-day Adventist doctrine, and, like the Sabbath, is built into the church name. Church pioneers believed and proclaimed the imminent coming of Christ. From the very start, it was the focus of their preaching.
As the church established its central doctrines in the 19th Century and for several years thereafter, the Seventh-day Adventist Church was the only denomination that proclaimed Christ’s soon return. The rest of Christendom, while believing in the Second Advent, taught that it would occur in the distant future. Today, however, most Christian denominations readily acknowledge that the Second Coming of Christ will happen soon. Everywhere, the signs of the times demand it. So Adventists no longer stand alone on the matter of the Second Coming, though the belief that “the Savior’s coming will be literal, personal, visible, and worldwide” is not held by all.
Now let us consider the relationship between this belief — the Second Coming of Christ — and the everlasting gospel. Most are confused about the connection, believing that Christ’s Second Coming is part and parcel of the gospel message. In fact, this is not true; the Second Coming of Christ is “the blessed hope of the church.” Scripture states clearly that the gospel is the incredibly good news of salvation, realized in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Nothing must be added to this central message, lest the objective facts of salvation be confused with the subjective experience of salvation achieved in the believers’ lives.
The Incredibly Good News
The New Testament states clearly that the entire human race was reconciled to God by the death of His Son:
2 Corinthians 5:19
...That God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
Therefore, the incredibly good news of the gospel must be shared with everyone:
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”
As pointed out in Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 of this book, this is the objective, or universal gospel.
But the subjective experience of the gospel applies only to believers — those who have, by faith, received Christ as their personal Savior. Only those walking in the light of the gospel will experience the blessed hope of the Second Coming:
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ....
To the unbelievers, the Second Coming is neither good news nor a blessed hope; it is, for them, the day of God’s wrath:
Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”
Lest we forget, the gospel is the good news of Christ’s accomplished salvation for all mankind. In Him, the entire human race was redeemed, justified unto life, and reconciled to God:
...So also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.
1 Timothy 2:6
[Christ Jesus], who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.
But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
1 John 2:2
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
This cannot be overemphasized. This salvation is God’s supreme gift to the world and, like any gift, it has to be received if it is to be experienced:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Justification by faith makes effective the good news of the gospel in one’s life:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have [present continuous tense] peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ....
The process of sanctification, or holy living, that follows justification by faith and the new birth, carries no merit and contributes nothing to salvation. Sanctification is important, however, for it is the fruit of the gospel. It is the inevitable outgrowth of true justification by faith:
This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?
Failure to produce such fruits indicates than an individual has not fully understood the gospel or its demands on his or her life.
Again, the experience of glorification, realized by all genuine believers at the Second Coming of Christ, is the hope of the gospel:
1 Peter 1:1-5
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
The Second Coming will bring to fruition the salvation the believers already have in Jesus Christ, by faith. The apostle Paul says:
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive [past tense] with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved [past tense]. And God raised us up [past tense] with Christ and seated us [past tense] with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus....
Justification, sanctification, and glorification were all obtained for mankind in Christ during His earthly mission; we all received this together [this is emphasized in the NKJV, where use of the word together occurs three times in the text].
God planned this “before the creation of the world” and fulfilled it in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ:
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
But not until the Second Coming of Christ will believers experience:
...In order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
The Blessed Hope
Meanwhile, Christians are to regard themselves as citizens of heaven who are living, temporarily, in enemy territory. For though Satan is a defeated foe, he is very much alive and able to make life difficult for believers. Like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, he constantly tries to destroy the Christian’s faith:
1 Peter 5:8-9
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
Because of the hardships Christians face in the world, the apostle Paul penned these words to the Corinthian believers — especially those who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead:
1 Corinthians 15:19
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
The hope of all Christians is the Second Coming of Christ:
For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
But here we face another problem concerning the Second Coming of Christ, especially the younger generation of Adventists. The church has been preaching the soon return of the Lord in glory for more than 150 years, and many are beginning to ask, “How soon is soon?” Human beings by nature are time-bound and define “soon” quite differently than God does. God, after all, lives in eternity. The early Christians experienced this same impatience, as they looked ahead to the Second Coming of Christ. Note how Peter addressed the problem:
2 Peter 3:9-13
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise [His soon return], as some understand slowness. Instead he 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 done 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 its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
Because the Second Coming of Christ is the blessed hope of believers, who tend to be impatient, the Bible presents Christ’s return as a soon-coming event for believers of all ages. Keeping focused on it keeps faith alive. Note how the writer of Hebrews encourages Christians to maintain their faith:
Hebrews 10:35-38a [Emphasis Added]
So do not throw away your confidence [faith in Christ]; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For,
“In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.” And,
“But my righteous one will live by faith.”
The statement, “in just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay,” was penned almost 2,000 years ago. So those who now live in the last days should not give up their conviction that Christ is indeed coming soon, in their day — though they have been proclaiming it for the past 150 years. In God’s eyes, a thousand years is as one day:
2 Peter 3:8
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.
Adventists today face the same danger the antediluvian world experienced before the universal Flood. They were thrown off guard, not only because they did not believe Noah’s message, but because it took so long (some 120 years) for the prophecy to be fulfilled.
Jesus warned that His Second Coming would catch many off guard, as a thief who comes when the owner of the house least expects it:
But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.
This warning applies especially to those who live in the time of the end, for Scripture warns that, just before the Second Advent, many will cry, “‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them”:
1 Thessalonians 5:3
While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
The writer of Hebrews encouraged the Jewish believers of his day not to give up their hope in Christ’s coming under any circumstances. Likewise, Jesus urged His disciples:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
The blessed Christian hope says nothing about the departure of the soul to heaven at death. It focuses entirely on the Second Coming of Christ to take the believers to heaven with Him.
Salvation Versus Reward
Indeed, not until Christ comes the second time will Christian believers receive the rewards of justification by faith. Christ Himself told John, the beloved apostle:
“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.”
Here some Adventists go wrong in their understanding of the good news of the gospel. They confuse the word reward with the word salvation. So many have been trapped in a subtle form of legalism, believing that salvation comes partly as a gift, by faith, and is partly earned, by works. This is the same perversion of the gospel that deceived the Galatian Christians:
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain — if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?
“Reward” and “salvation,” although related, refer to different things. Salvation is a free gift from God to sinners and cannot be earned:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.
But when Scripture talks of rewards, it is referring to recognition of the works that believers allowed the Holy Spirit to do in and through them:
“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”
The apostle Paul expresses the same idea:
1 Corinthians 3:8
The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.
When God talks of rewards, He is not referring to material things, though heaven will be filled with material blessings. In God’s eyes, rewards are the privilege of serving Him and others. He that is greatest in God’s kingdom, said Christ, will serve those who are the least:
The greatest among you will be your servant.
Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.”
“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
The greater the reward one is blessed with in God’s kingdom, the more one will have the privilege to serve.
Another area to consider when discussing the Second Coming of Christ in light of the gospel is one’s attitude toward this great event. One can be motivated either by carnal desires — living in mansions and walking on streets of gold (this to many is the reward) — or by a spiritual hope, longing to be delivered from the law of sin and the sinful passions.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
At first, Christ’s disciples followed Him out of selfishness. Prior to the cross, they continually argued among themselves over who would be the greatest in God’s kingdom:
A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.
Their goals were purely material. Peter once spoke out on behalf of the group, demanding:
Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
Paul had an altogether different attitude toward the Second Coming. His one great longing for the Second Advent was to be delivered from the evil body that was preventing him from living fully for Christ. He wrote to the believers at Philippi:
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
This is mature Christianity — the ability to say:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
The Purpose of the Second Advent
Christ’s Second Coming will liberate the believers from their sinful natures, one of the greatest stumbling blocks to Christian living:
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.
Writing to the Corinthian Christians, Paul tells them what will actually happen to their sinful natures at the Second Advent:
1 Corinthians 15:51-53
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.
Paul reminds his readers in Rome:
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.
Like the rest of creation, Christians are constantly groaning inwardly, waiting to be liberated from their bodies of sin. They are to patiently await this transformation at the Second Coming of Christ:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
But such a desire can be experienced only when they fully understand the everlasting gospel and the goodness of God leads to repentance:
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance [turning away from a life of sin]?
As long as believers remain insecure about their salvation, the gospel is good advice, rather than good news, and the Second Advent is cause for fear, rather than a blessed hope. But once Christians realize that their salvation is a free gift, obtained at infinite cost by God, their attitude will harmonize with these words of the apostle Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians:
2 Corinthians 5:14-15
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
Preparing for the Advent
How does one prepare for the Second Coming of Christ? This question is uppermost in the minds of many Adventists, and last chapter we dealt with a similar question related to the Great Time of Trouble.
Jesus told His disciples:
Matthew 24:42, 44
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. ...So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Too often, we have used this text to scare people about the Lord’s coming. I remember, when I became an Adventist, I was told that my guardian angel would not go with me into places such as taverns and theaters and, if Christ were to come while I was in such a place, I would be eternally lost.
Adventist children often grow up with such views, and it damages them spiritually. The Church Ministries Department of the North American Division has published guidelines to counteract these legalistic teachings (after determining that, in the late 1980s, some 82 percent of Adventist youth had no assurance of salvation).
On page five of this material, we find these unfortunate examples of legalistic teaching:
Guidelines for Writers and Producers of Children’s Ministry Resources, August 1993
“Can I go to heaven too?” asked Bobby. “Of course you can,” answered the Sabbath School teacher. “If you are a good boy, Jesus will invite you to spend eternity with Him.”
Jesus invites everyone who believes in Him. But He knows the names of those who really believe. And He knows the people who only say they believe in Him. The Bible is very clear on this point: if we don’t keep God’s commandments, every one of them, we won’t be saved.
“I’m worried about getting to heaven,” said Maria. “I know that in order to be saved I should follow God’s rules. But sometimes I make mistakes.”
The children stared at the beautiful cloud. “Don’t you wish Jesus was coming right now?” Steve whispered. “Yeah,” Mike agreed. “But it’s scary. What if you’re not ready?”
Let’s not forget the part we play in our salvation. We must act like Christians. We must look like Christians. We must eat and drink like Christians. We must even think like Christians. Only then will Jesus know that we are safe to save.
The Valuegenesis study of Adventist youth has clearly demonstrated that the great majority of Adventist young people still have no assurance of salvation and feel unprepared for Christ’s Second Coming. When children are reared with the idea that only those who live up to God’s rules will be saved when Christ comes, they become terrorized by the prospect of failure to perform to God’s expectations. The good news of salvation becomes a gospel of fear.
Then, as teenagers recognize that their parents, school teachers, and even their pastors are struggling to be good, they think to themselves, “If these adults are still struggling to make it to heaven, what hope is there for me?” They see no reason to remain in the church, and vast numbers leave.
To prepare for the great Time of Trouble and the Second Coming of Christ, Adventists young and old must be grounded in two great truths:
And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Once believers understand these two pillars of salvation and are established on the rock, Jesus Christ, they will be prepared to stand and be used by God to fulfill the global mission of illuminating the world with the glory of Christ. May that day come soon!