There was an emphasis on purity in the preaching of John the Baptist when he was telling people to get ready for the day of the Messiah. John did not know that the Messiah was coming ‘incognito’ in order to prepare the way for his coming in glory at a later date. He assumed that the coming of the Messiah would be immediately followed by the day of judgement, and the only way people could be ready for that day would be by receiving forgiveness from God in advance, and then living the rest of their lives in line with God’s will.
At best, however, John’s baptism could only be symbolic. Forgiveness is always costly; and the one who grants forgiveness is the one who pays for it, by accepting the injury or insult and not demanding to be compensated for it. John baptised people as a sign that their sins were washed away and they were making a new start; yet he knew that the only one who could wash away their sins was God himself.
Jesus knew that his coming to earth at that time was to pay the price for forgiveness. He also came to fill up the measure of John’s teaching about repentance, so that people would know how to live in line with God’s will. (‘Repentance’ is not just about being sorry for the past. It really means a change of heart and mind, so that we turn around and go in a new direction.) When he began his ministry, he continued where John had left off, preaching that the kingdom of God was near so people needed to repent. He then went much further, telling people about God’s love and how we need to live lives of love if we want to live in line with God.
Why did the Messiah need to come twice? Why didn’t the Day of Judgement and the Kingdom of God follow immediately after he had finished his teaching, finished paying the price for sin, and resurrected to new life? The obvious answer is the correct one: if the resurrection had immediately been followed by the judgement there would not have been many people ready for it! God wants people from all over the world to be ready! (See 2 Peter 3:9.) So Jesus’ resurrection was followed by his ascension, and then it was the task of the people of God to spread the good news throughout the world, by the help and direction of the Holy Spirit. That is our task too.
Paul looked forward to ‘the Day of the Messiah (Christ)’. He knew it would be a day of judgement – it has to be, for justice has to be done if everything in the world is going to be put to rights. He knew it would be a day when good triumphs over evil, when everything evil is dealt with once and for all, and everything good is honoured and there is true freedom and fulfilment. All would be renewed, and death and suffering would be past! But he knew also that it is of vital importance for God’s people to be ready for it, and that when the current is against you it takes effort just to remain where you are. So he prayed for the Philippian Christians (Philippians 1:3-11) that they would increase in love as they increased in knowledge and depth of insight. Lives of love produce fruit; but for the fruit to be useful in a world where God is misunderstood or forgotten love needs to be coupled with practical wisdom. We need to discern what God wants us to be and do in all the circumstances of our lives.
If Jesus comes soon, will he be pleased with us?
1) How should we pray for each other?
2) What difference does our faith in the coming of Christ make to us today?