For one long moment that is forever etched in my memory, I actually watched Jesus come back to earth! I wish His return could remain as real to me today as it was at that moment. As anyone familiar with the Bible can tell you, when Jesus Christ left this earth nearly 2,000 years ago, He promised: “I will come again” (John 14:3).*Nonetheless, the day I looked up at the sky and actually saw Him returning took me by surprise. I was just a boy then and lived with my family in the woods of southern Oregon. My Dad was a logger, and we were living in very primitive temporary housing near the site of his most recent job.
Ours was a Christian home, and as a young boy I already knew that the second coming of Jesus would take place soon. I also knew His return would be spectacular as He descended toward earth in the clouds of heaven surrounded by all His angels.
And though it happened more years ago now than I care to think about, the memory of that day is so clear it might as well have been yesterday.
I remember wandering off into the tall stands of Douglas fir near where we lived. I emerged from the trees into a small, grass-carpeted meadow. Spanning the clearing was a fallen giant. Climbing aboard, I stretched out on my back along the old log’s moss cushioned bark and gazed up at the sky.
Suddenly it happened!
A bright light began to shine behind the clouds, growing in intensity. Probably the sun trying to break through, I thought. But then the clouds began to swirl, forming rapidly shifting patterns that shimmered with every color of the rainbow. The area of swirling clouds grew larger and—it seemed to me—closer as well. I’d never seen anything like it in my life.
Suddenly the thought dawned on me: This had to be Jesus coming back! Then, as if to confirm my conviction, the clouds parted, and a shaft of brilliant light shone through.
Electrified, I leaped from the log and raced through the trees to let my family know. But by the time I reached my doorstep and looked up again, I saw nothing but an overcast sky.
Simply the sun emerging from behind the clouds? Probably. Just an overactive boyish imagination? Perhaps. But let me tell you, for one long moment that I’ll never forget, the second coming of Jesus was real. Never has my faith in Christ’s return been so certain.
Since that day, I’ve grown from a boy to a youth and from a youth to a man. With maturity has come a change in the quality of my faith—a change that I’m not sure has been altogether desirable. For if I’ve become less naive, I’ve also lost something of the unguarded trust that most children seem to have.
As we grow older, we learn that we can’t always trust people, for they can hurt us. So to protect ourselves, we learn to be cautious, questioning, suspicious. Children who trust perhaps too much all too soon become adults who trust too little.
The secular humanists among us welcome all this. They equate cynicism with facing reality. And reality for secular humanists includes no room for taking religion too seriously. Why should they, when they are so routinely offended and disgusted by the corruption and excesses of religion’s professed practitioners?
Yet whether or not they are justified, I cannot agree with secular humanists that today’s cynicism is positive, because the less we trust each other, the less likely we are to trust God.
We’ve been bombarded for so long with so many misleading claims; we’ve been victimized by so many broken promises; we’ve been let down by so many people we thought we could trust, that trusting no longer comes easily. And, regrettably, such an acquired skepticism cannot help but carry over into our relationship with God.
Jesus Himself obviously knew about the epidemic of skepticism that would sweep across the world just before His second coming. “When the Son of man comes,” He asked, “will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). That’s a haunting, rhetorical question.
Certainly His question implies that faith will be in short supply when He arrives. But faith in what—or in whom? Perhaps He left the question intentionally open-ended so that we who live near the time of His return would examine the whole question of faith in our daily living.
Christ’s question was quite general and all-inclusive: “Will he find faith on earth?” I can’t answer for the world. I can only answer for myself. And I can’t answer for you. I can only respond to what I personally hear Christ asking in His question. In Christ’s one question I hear Him asking many others. Let me share some of them with you.
1. When Christ returns, will He find faith between people? In his autobiography, developer Donald Trump tells of his effort to buy the air rights over Tiffany in New York City to build his Trump Tower. The billionaire went to see Walter Hoving, the long-time owner of Tiffany. After presenting his case as persuasively as possible, Trump offered Hoving five million dollars for his air rights.
“Look, young man,” Hoving replied as he shook Trump’s hand, “I’m going to make a deal with you at the price you’ve suggested. I just hope that you’ll do as nice a job as you say you will, because I want to be proud of it. In the meantime, I have one small problem. I’m going away with my wife for a month, and I won’t have time to devote to this until I get back.”
At this point Trump began to get nervous. A month was long enough for Hoving to get cold feet and back out of the deal. Trump began worrying out loud about what would happen if Hoving changed his mind.
Hoving looked insulted. “Young man,” he said, “perhaps you didn’t understand. I shook your hand. I made a deal with you. That’s that.”
Trump recorded his reaction: “I was speechless. You have to understand where I was coming from. While there are honorable people in real estate, I was more accustomed to people with whom you don’t waste the effort of a handshake because you know it’s meaningless.
“With Walter Hoving, I realized I was dealing with a totally different type—a gentleman who was genuinely shocked at any suggestion that he might renege on a deal.”**
Trusting others means taking risks, but also opening ourselves up to the joys of friendship and love. So, when Jesus comes, will He find anyone left who believes in others enough to take the risks that go with trusting?
2. When Jesus returns, will He find faith in God? Sometimes it seems He might not. The world is dominated by atheistic ideologies and non-Christian religions. In so-called Christian nations, many have only a form of religion. With hypocrisy surfacing in the Christian church, with so many churchgoers sleepwalking through the motions of Christianity, is any spirituality to be found?
Undoubtedly, when Jesus comes He will find true faith—true spirituality. Waiting for Him when He comes, He says, will be a people who “keep the commandments of God” and who have “the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12).
In this final time of waiting for Christ’s return, pursuing true spirituality is very difficult. The diversions, the deceptions, the pressures are so many. If we aren’t driven by a compulsive hurry-mania, we’re distracted by the glitter of materialism and amusement.
This is a tough time for making the pursuit of God’s life a priority. It can be like swimming upstream. But with constant effort, it can be done, and the rewards are enormous.
3. When Jesus comes, will He find faith in His second coming? “There shall come in the last days scoffers,” Peter wrote, “walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Peter 3:3, 4).
Among today’s intelligentsia, the idea that Christ will return to earth is no more credible than that He created the world in the first place. Yet even as bemused and indulgent smiles continue when the second coming is mentioned, time races to its final year, month, and day.
“Behold, he cometh with clouds,” John wrote (Revelation 1:7).
“Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence,” said the psalmist (Psalm 50:3).
“The Lord himself shall descend from heaven,” added Paul (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
And Jesus promised, “I will come again” (John 14:3).
When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?
Years ago, one day in the Oregon woods, I thought I saw Him coming. I really believed it. The day He really does come back again, I hope and pray He will indeed find faith on the earth—faith that is alive and well and living in me—and in you.