Image Of Christ
The second coming of Christ and the resurrection are the hope of the Christian. It is what the apostles pointed forward to and eagerly anticipated. Jesus told us in Revelation that He was coming quickly, and certainly no one is more anxious than God to bring an end to sickness, suffering, sin, and death. Why, then, has Christ not returned? What is He waiting for?
The answer we usually give is found in Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations, and then the end shall come.” We have a long way to go to get the gospel to every person as we have been told to do and as prophecy says must happen. I have even heard ministers state that Christ could not come back for at least thirty to forty years, because we can’t get the gospel to every language and people group in less time than that.
While it is certainly true that the gospel will be preached in all the world, to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, it is also true that the final movements will be rapid ones. We usually quote this passage when we’re talking about the mark of the beast and the actions of nations on the side of Satan, but God is faster and more powerful than the devil, and I believe that His work will meet that description just as much, if not more. We are told that God is going to take the reins of the work in His own hands. He is not constrained by human limitations and human inadequacies. He can finish the work of spreading the gospel faster than we can imagine.
I am sure we have all heard or read the stories of missionaries going to remote jungle villages and being welcomed by people who say, “You have finally come. We have been waiting for you.” When the missionaries arrive they find the village already clean and free of spirit worship. The stories often tell of a chief who had a vision in which an angel gave him instructions, which they followed. The chief was also told that the people of the Book would come, and that they would teach them more truth that they should follow.
There are also recent stories from Adventist World Radio about villages in the mountains of the Middle East where missionaries cannot officially go, but the villages are clean; the villagers are keeping the Sabbath and worshipping God. The village chiefs tell of a tall stranger dressed in white that brought them a radio, tuned it to AWR, and told them to listen to that station, because it would teach them truth. When I heard these stories a few years ago, there were approximately two hundred villages of about a thousand people each where everyone was following the teachings of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church proclaimed through AWR on radios that had been brought to them in this way.
God does not need our help to take the gospel to the world. He can and does at times use angels, visions, and dreams, and who knows what else. We should not be so proud to think that we are indispensible to the work of God. That does not mean that there won’t be people lost if we don’t do our assigned work, or that people won’t be saved if we do share Christ with them. Certainly there are people whom no other person on earth can reach, and it is our responsibility to reach them. God gives us responsibility and asks us to play a part in His work. It is, nevertheless, His work, and He does not need our help to take the gospel to the world.
What, then, is He waiting for? He is waiting for the restoration of that which was lost: the image of God in man.
“When the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come” (Mark 4:29). Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.
It is the privilege of every Christian not only to look for, but also to hasten the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:12, margin). Were all who profess His name bearing fruit to His glory, how quickly the whole world would be sown with the seed of the gospel. Quickly the last great harvest would be ripened, and Christ would come to gather the precious grain” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 69).
God is waiting for us to be ready. God’s problem is not so much finishing the work of taking the gospel to the world; His problem is finishing the work of the gospel in our hearts. He has not given us the work for the salvation of souls because He needs us to do it, but rather, because we need to do it.
“God could have reached His object in saving sinners without our aid; but in order for us to develop a character like Christ’s, we must share in His work. In order to enter into His joy—the joy of seeing souls redeemed by His sacrifice—we must participate in His labors for their redemption” (The Desire of Ages, p. 142).
We have here a type of positive feedback loop. When we give our lives to Christ, He changes our characters and we long to win souls to Him. As we work for souls, our characters become molded more into His image. As our characters are molded into His image, we have a greater burden for souls. This feedback loop gets broken when we let our devotional life slide, when we get too involved in earning a living, too caught up in self-indulgence, pleasure, and leisure, or when we become proud and self-righteous.
Many times in our churches, God cannot give the success He would love to give because, if He brought some of the people into the church that He is working to save, we would blow them right back out with our criticism, fault-finding, murmuring, bickering, complaining, and our lack of zeal for the cause of Christ. The witness of our self-pleasing, ease-loving, self-serving ways, or our attempts to control others and be their conscience would also repel these dear people. We need Christ to transform us through the work of the Holy Spirit so that we can be effective soul-winners, united in love, nurturing one another and allowing others the freedom to grow in their own walk with Christ.
“All true obedience comes from the heart. It was heart work with Christ. And if we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses. The will, refined and sanctified, will find its highest delight in doing His service. When we know God as it is our privilege to know Him, our life will be a life of continual obedience. Through an appreciation of the character of Christ, through communion with God, sin will become hateful to us” (The Desire of Ages, p. 668).
This is what He came to do—to restore that which was lost. Primarily what was lost through sin was the image of God in man. Speaking of Christ, the book of Hebrews says, “Who being the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). Christ was the “express image” of the Father. The word translated “express image” is the word character. This is the image of God that Christ came to restore in man. When it is restored, He will come to claim us as His own.
Why are we still here? Why hasn’t Christ returned? Don’t look so much to the unreached masses and think of the time it will take to reach them. Instead, look in the mirror and ask the Lord to help you be more focused upon Him, His Word, His character, and His work. Ask Him to help you overcome those defects in your character. Ask Him to help you cooperate with Him and allow Him to complete the gospel work in your heart. Seek Him with all your heart. If we do that, and Christ can finish the work in our hearts, the work in the world will wrap up quickly, and Christ will come to claim us as His own.