'As the Lightning…'
Nothing ought to matter to us in this life like the getting safely out of it. If we do that, we shall do what is of most importance, even though we shall have done little or nothing here of importance in the eyes of worldly men. On the other hand, we shall have squandered life utterly and eternally if we succeed in everything except our safe departure to a better world. Grace, when it enters the soul of a man at his conversion, teaches him that 'one thing is needful' and that he had better lose all he has rather than 'lose his own soul'. Grace in the soul gives it a holy urgency to prepare for the end of all things as they are now in this present temporary state. The effect of conversion is to throw the centre of gravity of our thoughts forward from the present to that last great end-time of the world.
Our Saviour has portrayed the end-time of this world in such vivid and awesome language that all these instincts of grace within us are quickened with a tenfold urgency. To be ready for the great Day of the Lord when it comes is clearly the clarion call of Christ to us. He and his inspired prophets and apostles depict the end of the world in language which might well make the very angels to shudder, lest even they, if it were possible, should be unprepared for it.
The history of our little world is not unlike some great symphony composed by a master musician. It has its themes and counter-themes. It has its moments of drama and its passages of calm. It has its movements and its overall progression. But above all else, it will have its terrible finale, a finale more dramatic, more conclusive and more final than the greatest genius of man could ever imagine or devise.
The end of history is to be no less an experience than for us all to encounter God himself. When the drama is over and the curtain finally falls on the stage of human affairs, the actors and the audience are both alike to make the acquaintance of the divine Dramatist in person. The One who has throughout history hidden himself so largely in the background will then, in that last Great Day, finally appear to take the centre stage. Every eye will be upon him alone, and every thought will be swallowed up in the universal collective realisation that nothing at all matters like having his favour and not his frown. If men had not had that realisation before then, they will certainly have it in that solemn hour. God will be all that matters then.
'As the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be' (Matthew 24:27) no normal creature — whether man or beast — loves lightning. It sends strong men to their knees. It reduces wild beasts to silent fear. The atheist himself is ready to pray when he is confronted with lightning. We know instinctively that it is a formidable and a deadly power. The heathen who are in other respects so blind in their ideas of God, are at least right to ascribe to lightning a heavenly and divine source. Only fools laugh at lightning. There will be no laughter of fools when that event takes place which Christ describes as like 'the lightning'.
The last Day is an event which Jesus Christ prophesies will be heralded by a vast global streak of lightning, visible from pole to pole of this universe. The Second Coming of Jesus will be the rudest shock ever felt by mankind. If the flood of Noah's day was dreadful, the Second Coming will be a thousand times more dreadful. If the cataracts of fire which fell on Sodom and Gomorrah were dire, the final coming of Christ will, for the wicked, be dire in the extreme. No atomic or other explosion made by the hand of man will inspire such awe or command such universal silence as this appearing of the Son of man upon the clouds of heaven. It is the terminal knell of God, and it will summon us all either to heaven or to hell.
It is good for the Christian to pause regularly in the busy course of life in order to remind himself of this text of our Lord and Saviour:
As the lightning ... so shall ... the coming of the Son of man be.Matthew 24:27
It is a text fitted to recall the believer to sanity in this tragic and perverse generation. Never (or perhaps seldom) has mankind been so fast asleep to divine judgment as it is today. Our age is giddy with endless trivial pleasures and pursuits.
Rare are the voices raised today to recall men's minds and consciences to the stark realities of death, judgment and eternity! Sermons there are in plenty which soothe and caress the hearers into careless ease and carnal security. 'Peace, peace' is heard on every side. But our careless age needs to be wakened up and reminded of the thunder-storm which is to put an end to all mankind's soft and lawless pleasures in the end. What a tonic it would be to hear at least one radio preacher summon up courage to warn his hearers of the coming thunder-bolt and lightning-flash!
Not the least serious side to the Saviour's prediction that his Second Coming will be like the lightning is the fact that we do not know when it will take place. If sinners were able to calculate 'the day and the hour', as they are able to calculate the weight of the earth or the speed of light, they might relax till a short space before the great event itself. If they knew just when our Lord's return were to occur, men might, with some appearance of reason, continue in their reckless pursuit of vain pleasure till the eve of the coming divine holocaust. If men knew when the lightning was to strike, they could programme their computers to serve notice on the world that the eleventh hour had arrived and men must now prepare to meet their God.
The fact that God has told us of the lightning-day but not the date of it, however, is evidence enough that we had better 'watch and pray' now and every day, in case that Day should come on us unawares and find us unprepared. The worldly man's gamble with life's pleasures and his heedless disregard of the coming lightning-storm is as suicidal as the game of Russian roulette. The next sin that men commit may be their last.
A man who knows that a tornado is about to strike his house lives very differently from another man who is ignorant of the warning signs in the weather. This is the difference between the believer and the man of the world. The believer, like Noah, is 'moved with fear' (Hebrews 11:7) every day he lives. The believer is, in a manner of speaking, always in a hurry in this life. His agenda is to get safely through this world and safely out of it. He handles the world with care. His concern is to use the world so as not to abuse it. The believer's eyes are not simply on the world before him. He lives with one eye on the heavens. He looks up and knows that his redemption is drawing nigh with each passing day and hour. He is aware that the lightning-flash is still to come.
O what a day that will be when Christ is seen in the heavens in all his glory! What a sight that will be when the heavens and earth shall flee away in a moment to expose at last the glorious throne of God, a throne of perfect and inflexible righteousness! God forbid that we should ever forget the coming great Day when seas will evaporate, stars collapse, mountains be removed and the present universe sink in one gigantic meltdown of the elements! As when a huge liner is sinking in the ocean and every man for himself hunts for some way of escape, so shall the end of this world be.
When the lightning flashes from east to west and bleak eternity stares mankind in the face, the air will be rent with the cries and groans of many billions of unprepared souls. Would God that we might, as Christians, be stirred to do all we can now, before the fatal lightning flashes, to have the one true gospel made known to sinners far and wide in every land and every language! Once the midnight hour strikes, this gospel age will close for ever and the filthy will be 'filthy still' (Revelation 22:11) with a filthiness in which poor lost sinners will wallow for a million million ages of misery.
The lightning-like arrival of Jesus Christ will be the end of all sorrow to those who love him. Like a flock of birds the elect will rise up on the wing to greet him with songs of joy and adoration. They will meet him 'in the air' (1 Thessalonians 4:17). It is the reunion of friends who meet to part no more. The final separation between the righteous and the wicked now takes place, 'the one shall be taken and the other left' (Matthew 24:40).
The magnetism of God's electing love will find out every one of those on earth whose names are in the Book of Life. With infallible certainty every last one of them — and even the very least of them — will be lifted up from the earth to gather around their Saviour in his majesty and glory as he sits on the clouds above. They are the welcoming party who cry, 'Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him!' (Isaiah 25:9). The sea will give up its dead and death and hell will give up their dead.
For all who meekly serve Jesus now in this life, death will be over and done forever when he comes to reign. The lightning-flash of his Second Coming will be the harbinger of their full and perfect glorification. For them, now death shall be swallowed up by life and mortality by immortality. They will be now ushered into the everlasting Kingdom of light and love with Christ eternally. O blessed prospect!
When Christ comes like the lightning, all a believer's present cares will end abruptly. Our light affliction is then over. With divine lavishness he will make much then of our little acts of service to his Great Name. Did we preach a little for him? He will reward it with ten thousand-fold honours of kind appreciation. Did we a little live for him and speak well of him here below? He will not forget such faithfulness when he comes at last. A cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple will receive its ample reward from him.
If this sad age is bent on forgetting all that our Lord Jesus has said about the coming great Day of God, let believers call it to mind all the more frequently. The more careless the world grows, the more careful God's children need to be. Even now, for all that we know, the archangel is putting to his lips that golden trumpet whose awful last blast will summon the living and the dead before the tribunal of Almighty God. In spite of all this world's ridicule and scorn, one thing is certain: Christ is coming to judge the world. And his coming will be like the lightning.