by Terry Smith
Our Alliance founder was once asked by a reporter if he knew when Jesus would return. Simpson replied, perhaps surprisingly, that he did know, and pointed to Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” The King will come when the work Jesus has given us to do is completed, when every people group on planet Earth has received a witness of the gospel and when some from every people group have believed the message of the gospel (see Rev. 5:9 and 7:9).
As we think about Christ our Coming King, there is a clear biblical connection between Jesus’ coming and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. In The Alliance, we believe that part of our impetus for missions engagement is to bring back the King. This is seen in both Matthew 24:14 and 2 Peter 3:8–12, which states:
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. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. 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 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.
It’s important for us to cling to this fundamental truth of our faith: that Jesus is coming again. This is our Blessed Hope. It’s a prominent theme of the Bible, and it ought to be a prominent theme of our teaching, despite the complexity of the subject matter.
When Will He Come?
I graduated from Toccoa Falls College in 1981, having had a pre-Tribulation president in a school where all the theology professors were either mid-Tribulation or post-Tribulation. I emerged feeling somewhat confused about the subject and therefore not excited to preach about it. About 10 months into my ministry, I attended the 1982 General Council in Columbus, Ohio. At the time, L. L. King was president of The Alliance, and he preached on the Second Coming of Jesus, exhorting us to do the same.
I knew then that I had to preach on the subject—regardless of whether I understood every prophetic detail. I adopted a very basic philosophy in doing so—the essentials: “Jesus is coming. Be ready, and help others get ready.” There’s a missional heartbeat related to Jesus’ coming that I still feel compelled to preach.
Occasionally, I have taught on the signs of His coming in Matthew 24 and other Scriptures. But I believe we need to do so with a high degree of humility because we do not know the exact time He will come: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matt. 24:36). We don’t know the day or the hour of Jesus’ coming, but that hasn’t kept so-called prophecy experts from preaching and writing as if they do know. We’ve all heard about blood moons and a certain peace accord in the Middle East. Some have tried to identify the Antichrist. Others have even set dates only to see them come and go without Jesus returning. Then one such date-setter set a second date, indicating that his first calculation had been off. And the second date came, but Jesus did not.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t pay any attention to the signs of His coming as some are delineated in Scripture. But I am saying our interpretation of those signs shouldn’t be our fixation as we think of Jesus’ coming. To do so would be like the disciples who watched Jesus ascend and stood gazing up. As they stood looking up, two angels appeared to them and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
Don’t just stand there looking up. Yes, look up in hope but also look around. See the needs of lost people, and get busy doing what Jesus has called you to do.
What Is He Waiting For?
We are to be mission-driven as we anticipate Jesus’ coming. The clear indication of Matthew 24:14 is that the end will not come, Jesus will not return, until the mission He gave us to do is completed. The gospel must get to all nations before Christ’s coming—and He won’t return until the Great Commission is fulfilled.
When we read 2 Peter 3, we see in verse 8 that God is not wrapped up in a prophetic calendar. We might think more time has passed than should have and ask, “What is He waiting for?”
Verse 9 tells us—He’s being patient so more people can be rescued from eternal condemnation by coming to faith in Jesus. God isn’t watching some predetermined calendar. He’s observing the progress of the mission to win lost people to Christ. That is not to say God doesn’t know when Jesus will come. He is omniscient and prescient, knowing everything before it happens. He knows when He will send Jesus, but that day and time have not been set by some artificial timeline; rather, they have been determined by the Church’s progress in getting the gospel to all nations.
Our president, John Stumbo, often reminds us as The Alliance that we are one of God’s end-time families called to complete the Great Commission. We do what we do the way that we do it to ensure that every people group on planet Earth receives a witness of the gospel so King Jesus can return.
Recently, the churches in Cambodia celebrated the 100-year anniversary of Christianity being introduced in their country. It was Alliance missionaries who first brought the gospel there because it has always been our passion to take the good news to those who have never heard. About a dozen years earlier, Alliance missionaries had been the first to bring the gospel to Vietnam. About 30 years later, Alliance workers were the first to bring the gospel to the Hmong people in northern Laos, and in the 1950s, certain people groups in Irian Jaya heard the name of Jesus for the first time from Alliance missionaries.
It is this passion to preach the gospel where it has never been heard that causes our denomination to redeploy our missionaries. We’ve pulled U.S. personnel out of fruitful places like the Philippines, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and numerous other countries, believing the Alliance national church networks in those countries were strong enough to continue evangelizing their own people. Meanwhile, our U.S. missionaries have been sent to a variety of new places where the gospel may have never been heard before—many that carry such high risk for our missionaries that we can’t publicly identify them by name or country. Even today, we are still entering locations where no one has heard the good news. By doing so, we are fulfilling Matthew 24:14 by preaching the gospel “in the whole world as a testimony to all nations.” In Peter’s words, we are speeding Christ’s coming.
When will this mission be completed? We cannot know. We only know that Jesus’ coming is imminent. Meanwhile, there’s work to be done. Only God will know when the task Jesus assigned to us is completed. And when He knows that every people group is represented in the Church, He will turn to Jesus and say, “Go get your Bride.” The King will come, and His coming will launch an everlasting, international, multicultural celebration of His redemptive work—crossing every boundary and including all nations.
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