Why are we still waiting for the second coming?
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
21 Dec, 2023

The first coming of the Lord Jesus was unobtrusively in Bethlehem, some two thousand years ago. He then died at Calvary and ascended up to heaven, promising to come again. There are plenty people who entirely miss the point of His first coming and entirely ignore what He achieved on the cross. If the thought of Him coming back again ever crosses their minds, they only scoffingly dismiss it. But even the Lord’s people sometimes flag as they wait for Him to come again. We know He will “come again, without sin, unto salvation,” but it seems to be taking such a long time. In his commentary on 2 Peter, Alexander Nisbet reaches the point where Peter has countered the foolish opinions of those who mocked at the idea of Christ’s second coming. In the following updated extract, he explains Peter’s three reasons why the godly do not need to worry about the apparent long wait. Instead, the certainty that it will eventually happen should inspire us to persevere in Christian living in preparation for it.

The Lord’s eternity should mould our perception of time

The first reason, which is in verse 8, is that the delay ought not to be judged of according to our sense or apprehension, but according to the duration of God. “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (v.8).

The godly to whom Peter is writing either had taken, or were at risk of taking, some bad impression of God from the bold assertions and apparent logic of the mockers. There is so great affinity between the hearts of the godly, who are but in part renewed, and the vilest temptations to the greatest blasphemies or errors, that when these errors are expressed boldly with pretence of reason, there is great risk that there be some impression left on the hearts of even the godly, inclining them to these errors.

It has pleased the Lord to condescend so far to our shallow capacity as to set forth His duration to us in Scripture in our own terms, and to give us leave to describe it in our own terms, while He calls Himself, “Yesterday, and today and for ever” (Heb. 13:8), “He which was and is and is to come” (Rev. 1:4), “the Ancient of Days” (Dan. 7:9), “He whose years have no end” (Psa. 102:27). Yet all these differences of time, which to us are longer or shorter, are all alike to Him, whose duration admits of no beginning, succession, or ending. Instead it consists in a constant presentness of all that seems to us past, or future. “For one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”

Ministers of Christ ought to have a far different view of those who mock at the truth of God and scoffingly vent their errors contrary to it, and of those who through infirmity may have some inclination toward error and therefore stand in need to be guarded against it. Accordingly they will behave differently toward the one and the other. Of the one the apostle spoke with indignation and contempt (as they deserved), calling them “scoffers, walking after their ungodly lusts” (v.3). But to the other he speaks with love and tenderness, calling them “Beloved,” and advising them, “Be not ignorant of this one thing…”

Some things revealed in Scripture concerning the Lord must be understood by faith, even though they cannot be comprehended by us to the satisfaction of our shallow reason. We should not be ignorant of this one thing, “that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day,” yet this is a truth that no one within time can well comprehend. Only faith can assent to it and make use of it, in judging as He judges, that many years’ delay to us of the performance of a promise is but a very little time compared with eternity. It may though foster a holy longing to be with Him, when we shall partake of His duration as well as of His glory, when there shall not be such a thing as any sad reflections on past sweetness, or any painful langour for sweetness to come, but a constant present possession of it.

The Lord’s patience takes time to accomplish His purposes

The second reason to reassure the godly concerning the delay to Christ’s second coming is that this delay does not proceed from any such thing in God (whatever may be thought) as usually makes people slow in performing their promises, but only from His patience toward His elect, whose temperament requires time and effort for working grace in them, that they may be fitted for glory. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (v.9).

We ought not to frame our thoughts of God as we do one of another, especially when we think of how long it takes for Him to perform His promises, as if that delay flowed from lack of foresight for possible difficulties, weakness, forgetfulness or fickleness — the reasons why there are ordinarily delays among us. All such thoughts of Him, though our hearts are very apt to entertain them (Psa. 50:21), we ought to remove far from us, and to persuade ourselves of the opposite — that He is most mindful of His promises (Psa. 111:5), and so swift in performing them, that He will not wait a moment after He has wrought what is necessary before the performance (Mal. 4:2). Constructions like this, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise,” which deny something about God, in Scripture convey both that we are wrongly apt to imagine this about Him, and also that the contrary of what is denied is superlatively true. The Lord is the opposite of slow about His promise.

The true and satisfying explanation for the delay to Christ’s second coming is the Lord’s longsuffering toward His own elect. In order for them to be converted they must be dealt with in a way suitable to their temperament. It requires time and pains to work on each elect soul who comes into the world, and to the years of discretion, by commands, threatenings, promises, and alluring motives, every one of these being multiplied after another. By these same means, every elect person is brought to that measure of grace which God has determined to work in the converted, in order that they may be fitted for glory. The Lord does not soon or easily win His point even with His own elect, but after many refusals of His renewed offers and slighting of His pains. His love is patient and powerful and overcomes all opposition in them eventually.

The Lord’s day will come when least expected

“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the earth also and the works that are therein shall he burnt up.”

The day of judgment will be very unexpected and terrible to complacent sinners, just as the coming of a thief in the night brings sudden terror to a sleeping family. On that day there will be a great change and the dissolution of the whole frame of nature, and of all the things in which most people place their happiness. The inference from this is not stated explicitly but we can gather it — that it is the wisdom of the Lord’s people to prepare for that day, rather than to complain of the delay, or to be anxious concerning it.

Christ’s coming at the last day will be a great surprise to the majority of people, who refuse to be wakened out of their complacency by the Word in order to make preparation for it. Scripture does speak of prior signs that this day is coming, such as the destruction of Antichrist, the conversion of the Jews, etc. But some of them may be done in so little time, and so immediately before the judgment day, and others of them may be so little noticed, or recognised as signs of that day, that, notwithstanding them all, the majority shall be surprised at it

That day of judgment will be a most terrible day to all who do not expect and prepare for it. There will be a strange sight, and a dreadful noise, when the great workmanship of all creation, being on fire, shall all rush down, and all the delights of wicked men shall be burnt up before their eyes. By this the Lord testifies His displeasure against people placing their happiness in these things, and defiling them by making them subservient to their lusts, while at the same time signifying His purpose to give a more cleanly and glorious mansion to His own to dwell in. “In that day the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burnt up.” Rather than raising questions about this, it is much safer for us to direct our time and energies towards being found of Him in peace at that day.

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