WHAT ABOUT THE SECOND COMING?
BY: JOHN R. GAVAZZONI
Sharing in the Unity of the Spirit
Christ in the Believer
Reconciliation versus Salvation
The following was written by John while participating in an Internet discussion group where a member of the group raised the subject of the second coming of Christ.
I hope you don’t mind if I jump in and comment on your question about Jesus coming again. I’ll keep this as short and simple as I can. Conventional Christian teaching on this has simplistically reduced the whole subject of the coming of Christ to a first and second advent. No one disagrees as to what the first advent was of course. He was “conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary” according to the Apostles Creed and thus the eternal “Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.“ (Jn. 1:14) As recorded in John’s gospel, Jesus, as he approached the time of His suffering and death, told His disciples not to let their hearts be troubled because He was going away but would “come again.” Most Christians think that He was speaking of a far distant time when He would come down from heaven traveling through space as it were. Actually, what He was essentially referring to was that in a very short time He would return in the Person of the Holy Spirit and would then be forever present with them in the most sublime way. (John 16:7,13-16) That is, in contrast to His presence with them before His death and resurrection, which was a presence external to them, this time He would come in the Spirit, He would come to indwell them and make them His corporate Body, the living Temple of God, the House of His Father. With Christ in them and the Father in Christ, they would be the many-membered manifestation of God on the earth as Jesus was the single-member manifestation. So, as St. John said in his 1st epistle, “As He is so are we in this world.“ (I John 4:17) Jesus, before He died, promised that He would send the Spirit of Truth to them and also said He would come again. These statements refer to one truth for in the sending of the Spirit, Jesus Himself came to them. Jesus said, “I am the way, the TRUTH and the Life…” (John. 14:6) You see, Jesus did come back to them as Truth (Reality) to be subjectively experienced as their very life. That’s where Paul’s epistles are so important because until He came along the disciples only spoke of receiving the Spirit where Paul explained that, in receiving the Holy Spirit, they had received Christ Himself, saying “The Lord is the Spirit” (II Cor. 3:17), and “he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.“ (I Cor. 6:17) Over and over again Paul spoke of Christ living in the believer and that Christ in them was their life. (Gal. 2:20)
Now, what takes a little careful explanation is the fact that this coming of the Lord again in His glorified Spirit Personhood, (in a body now incorruptible and eternal); this coming already occurred on the Day of Pentecost but continues to occur and will yet occur in a final consummation. You see, the Greek word translated “coming” means coming and presence. The tense indicates something that occurs and continues on. He has come in the Spirit to indwell us, is present in us, is inwardly real to us and now in us as a corporate body He continues to come to others who don’t know Him yet until He comes to all the world. Actually, it can be said that even in the life of one in whom Jesus already lives that He continues to come to them from within by unveiling Himself progressively to that one. The coming of the Lord is a matter not simply of His coming from one cosmic location to another but a matter of His being revealed and manifested. There are many Christians who are indwelt by Christ but know little of Him as He really is. From within me the Lord has come to me many times and continues to do so to introduce new dimensions of His glorious presence.
Maybe this will help to make it very clear. The coming of the Lord, whether we’re speaking of when He was born of Mary or when He came in the Spirit after His resurrection, is always a matter of God, as eternal Spirit, becoming flesh. That is becoming human. He (God) became a Man in Jesus of Nazareth, but God desired more than just His only begotten Son to manifest Him on the earth; He wanted a family of many sons indwelt by His first begotten Son and those many sons with the Son living in them become what Paul calls, “the one new man.“ (Eph. 2:15) That one new man is a corporate man. Many, having one life, the life of Christ, while being many, are one Body. So that the Christ of God has multiplied Himself in many and now the many are the Christ. You’ll find that explicitly stated by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. (I Cor. 12:12) I really encourage you to read that passage and meditate on the wonder of it. Also I asked the Lord, some time ago, to give me something fresh and seminal on the Lord’s coming and as a result wrote a 5 part series entitled, “The Coming of the Lord.”
Editor’s Note: This contribution created such a stir on the forum that John wrote a short piece, which follows to explain that he was not merely attempting to alter the eschatological position of other participants but to introduce an underlying truth that they could begin to enjoy in whatever framework in which they conceived of the Lord’s return.
Having also gone through the confusion about the coming of Christ that several of you have shared and the confusion that has plagued Christians for nearly two thousand years, I thought I’d just remind us all of Jesus’ precious promise, “I will never leave you or forsake you.“ (Heb. 13:5) At the heart of the truth of the final restoration of all things is the commitment of Christ to be present in and with His disciples and in them to be present in the world until all things are summed up in Him. (Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:16-17) He has not made a commitment and then departed to work it out from a distance. Some who are participating in our discussion group, who may be new to the truth of ultimate reconciliation, may not be familiar with the fact that where most translations speak of eternal life, the actual Greek is “aionian life.” The essential idea of aionian life is that the eternal Word has entered the aion(s) and now He is not only eternal life but He has become aionian life. That is, age-pertaining and age-abiding life. He made His abode in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth and now makes His abode in the body of Christ by His Spirit within the space-time continuum. In us, He is present and committed to the world, not standing afar and aloof from us/it but hanging in there to the glorious end until He, the eternal one who was injected by the Father into the aion, abides, continues, endures through the ages until death is completely swallowed up in the victory of His resurrection life, a present life.
Some, who began to really take seriously the Lord’s promise to never leave us have said that He was only ever gone for 10 days between His final resurrection appearance and the Day of Pentecost. Even that is not entirely accurate since, before the outpouring of Himself as the power of the Church at Pentecost, He had bestowed Himself upon His disciples as their Life by breathing upon them saying, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit.“ (John. 20:22) And even before that, He had told them, “He, (the Spirit of Truth) is with you and shall be in you” (John. 14:17), so, in fact, though Jesus did leave them in terms of a physical presence, His presence in the Spirit never left them for even an instant from the time that each of them responded to His call to follow Him. In the matter of His Spirit as breath and His Spirit as a mighty wind, the imagery in the two events is beautiful. One, breathing upon them, indicates the impartation of life, His life to them. The second that of the sound of a mighty tempest wind indicates the dimension of the power of His life already given to them when He breathed upon them. In Christ, by His Spirit, we have life, His life, regenerating us, and also His power enduing us, so that the works that He did, we shall do and greater works because He has gone to the Father and continues to impart life to us from the position of all authority and power. (Matt. 28:18; John. 5:20, 14:12)
As the organized church began to lose the experiential reality of Christ’s presence in and among them, substituting for that dynamic presence the determination to insure unity by conformity to dogma (II Tim. 3:5), the idea of the coming/presence of Christ became more and more something to yet occur some day as an eschatological event. Martha, Lazarus’ sister, made that mistake when she said that she knew that her brother would arise in the resurrection. To her, resurrection was a day in the future. Jesus pathos-filled answer to her was, “I AM the resurrection and the life…” (John. 11:25) There are always prophetic scenarios presented to us that distract us from the reality of His presence with us now. Anyone, with any mature understanding of the relationship between the Spirit and Christ knows that the essential work of the Spirit, in relationship to the believer, is to impart Christ and all that He is to US. Even within the best of evangelical Christianity, this is understood. A mentor of mine once said it so succinctly. He said, “The Father is the source, the Son is the course (coursing to us) and the Spirit is the transmission (impartation).” So the dispensation of God to usward is that the fullness of God is in Christ and the fullness of Christ is in the Spirit and the fullness of the Spirit is in the Church, the real Church. The New Testament can be summed up in the following little outline: In the Gospels we see God in Christ, in the Book of Acts we see Christ in the Spirit, in the epistles we see the Spirit in the Church, and in the Book of Revelation we see the Church in glory (the glory of God, that is).
Andrew Murray, an evangelical of impeccable credentials, who from some of his writings, we know understood reconciliation, wrote a classic book, “The Spirit of Christ.” (See Link at end). I’m sure it’s still in print and I would recommend it to anyone desiring a balanced understanding of the coming of the Lord. Love ya’ all,
John Editor’s Note:
This is John’s wrap up of the discussion, tying up the loose ends. In this forum, we have agreed to disagree agreeably, which is easier said than done.
SHARING IN THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT
Our unity of the Spirit is the highest priority, yet I believe if we share honestly our deepest convictions in a spirit of love and respect for the convictions of others then, in that quality atmosphere of dialogue, mutual edification occurs. I do not share my thoughts about the topic of “The Coming of the Lord” out of reaction to anyone’s theology but only to introduce the element of the certainty of Christ’s presence in each of us and in us together. For Him to be present in us, of necessity means that He must have come to us. I share my thoughts about the coming of the Lord because I want believers to be aware of how He is really doing that right now, and in so doing it may provide a balance to an emphasis that might be prone to making it simply an eschatological event in the future.
CHRIST IN THE BELIEVER
The apostle who is so rich in explicit teaching on ultimate reconciliation, namely our dear brother Paul, was equally as powerful in his assertion of the coming and presence of Christ in the believer. It is so interesting that in what some call the perfection epistles, namely Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, and indeed they contain the peaks of Pauline thought, that two themes stand out; the real, present presence of Christ in the believer/Church and the summing up of all things in Christ.
I am careful to speak of the coming of Christ as something that has, is, and will occur so that what I have to say could be considered in the light of Pretorist, Historicist or Futurist understanding. Everyone that I know of within those schools of thought agree that Christ is really present in the believer now and in the church now, and yet we all look forward, by some definition, to His coming/presence in the future. That is why I usually say nothing about eschatological events or sequences of such events. It is difficult if not impossible to draw me into an argument about such. I am profoundly bored by it all.
I am only concerned to hold forth the gospel principle of the Word becoming flesh which is the undergirding principle of ultimate reconciliation. That is, that the propensity of Deity to become flesh is behind God’s refusal to lose anyone. He will not lose any because they are all ultimately to become human expressions of His fullness.
The love that motivates God in His determination to save all is the love that first is determined to come to and be present in all humanity. God will have all men to be saved not merely because He’s too nice to do otherwise, but because He so passionately desires to be with us and in union with us that anything else does not compute with God.
RECONCILIATION versus SALVATION
Paul carefully distinguished between these two realities: reconciliation on the basis of Christ’s death and salvation by His life. “Much more being reconciled by His death, we shall be saved by His life.” (Rom. 5:10) I use the term reconciliation in a sense that includes its introduction to the salvation of all. Reconciliation implies that there is no longer any enmity in the relationship but salvation speaks of being made whole now that the relationship has been restored. If I find, as we discuss the salvation of all, that I feel there is some imbalance of emphasis regarding the reality of Christ’s saving presence, I will be prone to offer a word toward a true balance in the most gracious spirit.
If any believers still think of salvation as a matter of being delivered from going to an eternal underground place and being sure of going to an up-in-the-sky place then there is room for a more mature word.
Salvation, including the salvation of all is a matter not of where we end up as far as cosmic location, but it is a matter of becoming whole by the impartation of the divine nature, i.e., Christ in us delivering us from death and making us whole by His life. The spirit of antichrist is a spirit that in many subtle ways seeks to deny that “Christ is come in the flesh.” (I John 4:2; II John 1:7) Now I am by no means accusing any of my fellow believers of antichrist notions, I am simply saying that there has always been a theological influence down through history that would seek to make the coming of the Lord something that is always going to be “in the sweet by and by.”
I dearly want all to know that He has come, and we are part of His coming while acknowledging a future dimension, unfolding and consummation of that coming however one might conceptualize it. One can fit that into any eschatological framework that is comfortable to their mentality, but one must not deny it.
SECOND COMING, WHAT ABOUT IT [John R. Gavazzoni] November 2001 1