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I see a sharp contrast between the kind of hope inspired by scientific endeavors like the space shuttle and that which popular religion inspires. The achievements of the space program inspire us because they’re tangible and specific. The complex details all fit together like clockwork.

Religious hope today, however, tends to be vague and shapeless. People have hunches about life after death; they imagine something about what heaven might be like. This kind of vague hope may be OK on a greeting card, but what about when some malignant tumor or serious heart condition brings you face-to-face with death? Vague hopes don’t do much for us then.

You may be thinking that religious hope is always going to be a shot in the dark. After all, it’s not scientific. But let me ask you, Do you think our Creator is scientific? If He’s the Creator of all living things, doesn’t that make Him wiser than all our scientists combined? Certainly, He’s capable of being precise and specific if He so chooses.

My point is this: God has laid out His end-time plan for our world in the Scriptures. He’s specific. He’s eager to tell us what’s coming in the future, what we can hope for.

Much of God’s wonderful picture is in the book of Revelation. This book gives us a look at the event that will bring human history to a climax—Jesus’ second coming. And it pictures that event in various ways, for instance, as a harvest, or the D-day invasion of a heavenly general with His army (see Revelation 14:14; 19:11, 14). The kingdom of God will have finally burst in upon this planet.

Christ is coming to “ ‘reign for ever and ever’ ” (Revelation 11:15). That’s the blessed hope of the New Testament.

Jesus’ return

What exactly is involved in this second coming of Jesus Christ?

Fortunately, the Bible gives us clear answers. Jesus is going to descend from the skies as visibly, as tangibly, as He ascended (see Acts 1:11). Revelation says, “Every eye will see him” (1:7). Paul tells us “the Lord Jesus [will be] revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels” (2 Thessalonians 1:7). And Peter says, “The heavens will disappear with a roar” and the earth will be burned up (2 Peter 3:10).

Jesus Himself described the event: “ ‘As lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. . . . The Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory’ ” (Matthew 24:27, 30).

People can fake miracles; they can claim to be Christ. But no one can counterfeit the Second Coming. It will be unmistakably real. When the heavens above us explode and ten thousand angels lift their voices and the glory of God breaks through the clouds, no one will wonder who has come calling!

Some people have developed a theory that conceives a “secret rapture,” in which believers are whisked away to heaven in a flash while others go about their business. The secret-rapture theory relies primarily on texts that speak of the Lord coming like a thief in the night. On the surface this seems to imply a secret, perhaps invisible, event.

But the texts that picture Jesus coming like a thief stand side by side with texts that portray Him coming in a blaze of glory. Peter, for instance, mentions the two in the same breath: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire” (2 Peter 3:10).

Obviously, Jesus will come like a thief in the sense that the Second Advent will be a great surprise to those who aren’t ready. It will catch them off their guard. But Jesus’ return will not be a mystical or invisible event. There’s nothing quiet or intangible about the heavens disappearing with a roar!

Jesus’ return may come as an incredible surprise to some. But it won’t be quiet; it won’t be secret; it won’t be something vague and mystical. It will be the definite, irreversible period that God places on history. It’s the end of one age and the beginning of an entirely new one in which Christ’s followers are clothed with immortality. It’s the time when death, the final enemy is vanquished (see 1 Corinthians 15:51–53).

Imagine a cemetery

You can imagine what it will be like: in a small cemetery on the windswept prairie, the earth breaks open, pushing aside the flowers that a grieving mother has placed on a tombstone. A tiny coffin opens up and a baby’s voice begins to cry out. Instantly, an angel darts from the sky and gathers the infant in his arms. In another instant, he’s beside the mother, who’s been gazing in stunned silence at the heavens.

She stares at her son for a moment. The last time she looked at him, his precious face was pale and full of pain. His breath had come in little gasps as he fought a losing battle against a deadly disease. Now his flesh is warm and health, his eyes bright as he looks in his mother’s face. Trembling, this woman hugs her baby close, too happy for words.

In the last few minutes of earth’s history, this planet will be shaken with countless resurrections. And everywhere you’ll hear the cries of recognition as loved ones separated by tragedy fall into one another’s arms.

But something else happens, the most wonderful event of all. Believers begin to notice that their feet are no longer on the ground. They feel weightless. They’re rising up to meet the Lord of lords, the Prince of Peace, the Wonderful Counselor, the Good Shepherd, the Creator of all life. They’re rising up to begin eternal life with Jesus. What inexpressible joy!

You may feel rather indifferent about God right now. You may not consider faith important. But one day soon, your faith will make all the difference in the world. One day soon God will divide humanity eternally into two groups.

Revelation describes these two groups. One will experience the second coming of Christ as a horrifying surprise. They will pray for the rocks to fall on them and hide them from Him (see Revelation 6:15–17). The second group will experience it as a wonderful deliverance—a fulfillment of all they’ve lived for. They will be singing ecstatically, “This is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us” (Isaiah 25:9, KJV).

Yes, God, our Creator, will someday soon descend from outer space and make a spectacular appearance. That’s the great hope that shines through the New Testament. That’s the hope that can lift us above our dreary days and out of our darkest night.

Don’t you want to be a part of that great victory? Don’t you want to be one of those who rise to meet the Lord in the air and are reunited with departed loved ones? Choose today to make Jesus your personal Savior.

What to Expect When Jesus Returns

by Mark Finley
From the April 2010 Signs