The two sides of the Messiah
We may say that we are looking forward to the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. For his coming is the fulfillment of all our longing; it is finally the end of all suffering, all need, and all darkness in this world. It is the end of suffering over ourselves, and this world. Who does not yearn for this end?
But God’s word says that when the Messiah comes he will not only bring the end, but also the new beginning; whether we believe that or not. Yes, he comes to fulfill. Many Christians rejoice over this thought, and rightly so. But now our text tells us something else, which is rather unsettling, if we look closely. We read, “Who can endure the day of his coming?” This doesn’t fit the picture we have of Jesus: the good shepherd, the saviour to whom everybody can always come, with whom one surely finds acceptance. Then why do we read here, “Who can stand when he appears?” What does this mean? The reality about the Messiah is both the good shepherd and the consuming fire!
The side we are more familiar with is described in Isaiah 42. The Messiah is the one who “will not snuff out a smoldering wick,” who “will not break a bruised reed” (verse 3) because he is mercy itself; because he is the one who does not judge weakness in men. He is the one who turns to each one without demanding achievement in advance. This is the Messiah, Jesus. He came to seek the lost. He is familiar with our reality. He knows who we are, for we read that he knows our soul to its depths (Ps. 139). He is familiar with our need, with our struggle for life, with our suffering over ourselves. He knows us and has absolutely no illusions about us. He is familiar with the make-up and the fall of the human heart. He sees through our facade. Thanks be to God, here is one before whom we cannot and must not pretend anything!
And he says, “I am the door.” Whoever comes to him can be certain that Jesus will take him home and lead him to life. He is our sole true hope; because he alone is able to make us free, to remove us from all our fears and everything which holds us captive, which restricts us and slowly but surely destroys us: bitterness, accusation, self-condemnation. We have developed a whole range of diversions in which to enslave ourselves, with which to destroy one another.
Jesus knows that we are ultimately incapable of relationships either with ourselves or with others – our marriage partners, our children or our neighbours. But he doesn’t shrink from us because he is the Messiah, the saviour of the world! He is truly the one who does not snuff out the smoldering wick nor break the bruised reed. He says to us, “You can come to me, no matter how broken and bruised you are. I will make you whole, I will create something new in your life.” This is good news!
Then there is the other side of the Messiah, which is also a reality. This is what the prophet Malachi spoke of, “Who can stand when he appears?” Why? Obviously, the second coming of the Messiah will not be hidden and quiet like the first, but will be as described by Matthew (24:27), “As the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Thus the light will break into the darkness, ruling and demanding that men give account of themselves; it will unveil and expose to men God’s reality and truth. What Messiah’s light reveals will be so shockingly unbearable that the powerful and the proud of this world will yell to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Rev. 6:16-17).
Now it is still possible to brag in God’s presence; it is still possible to develop endless private theories about God and act as if our own opinion and personal interpretation of our lives and world events mean just as much, or are more important than God’s word. But when the Messiah comes all argument will cease. We will simply be at a loss for words. He who is the truth, who is the light – his presence will silence every lie and evaporate all pride. Everything will be exposed and reduced to his own true reality. When he comes, our lives will be revealed. There will be nothing more to hide. Man in his pride and his self-righteousness, in his human-made faith, in his arrogance, will have to come into the Messiah Jesus’ presence. And in the darkness of his heart, he will not be able to bear the countenance of him who is the light.
And yet it would be so easy now, before that day dawns, for all men to prepare for the coming judgment and thus avoid such condemnation! In the present time of grace Jesus is struggling with all his means to forgive us and draw us into his light; so that when he comes we will be able to stand in his light. What is demanded of us is really not too much: to turn around, place our lives in his light, and let ourselves be helped out of pride, lies, guilt, self-righteousness and need. It is not much. But it costs us everything to humble ourselves!
Bearing his presence
Jesus desires for us to be able to bear his presence when he comes because he loves us. He takes no pleasure in the death of the godless. What will be our condition when we come before him? What about us, who call ourselves the bride of Christ? What sort of bride will we be when we appear before him? Will we be a bride whose heart is totally aligned with him, a heart longing for him to return? Or are we a bride who, although she knows that the bridegroom will come one day, is so concerned with herself that she has no time to think about how she will appear before him?
When Jesus comes, his light will reveal what is in our lives, even the most secret thoughts, which we have been able to hide from other men who cannot see into our hearts. Let us not forget: God is always present! Not pointing an accusing finger, but longing for our heart to be a place where he can reside when truth, forgiveness and mercy dwell there like a pleasing fragrance. Other people should see in us that our God is a good God.
The Messiah who comes will not snuff out the smoldering wick, nor break the bruised reed. This is a message for us. Nor does the Messiah’s bride condemn others, but calls to each one of them, “Come to Jesus. Come now; no matter what your circumstances, what your history or how deep you may have fallen. There is hope for every one!” The Messiah is coming to save us, his bride, out of all need, fear and loneliness. He will bring to an end our daily struggle for life, for dignity, for our longing for love and acceptance. We wait for him. He will come.
Cleansing our hearts
But when he comes, he will cleanse us from our self centeredness, our conceit and pride; he will cleanse us from our narrow-mindedness, which so quickly and thoughtlessly judges other believers whose relationship to Jesus is not like ours. It is unbelievable how much our heart is penetrated by these disease-causing, destructive habits: egoism, status seeking, narrow-mindedness, envy, jealousy, miserliness, self-righteousness and dishonesty. Not even our prayers or our service for God are free of them. When we serve God or seek him in prayer, how often are we ourselves really the goal and the centre of what we think and do!
When Jesus comes, he will cleanse us, his bride – and it will be an extremely painful cleansing. Not because he wants to punish us. No. But without his grace we would not be able to bear the shame over our heart condition, which his light reveals! Then we will realize that our lives have been one long denial of his name.
We will realize that we, his bride, have prostituted ourselves most of the time by giving our hearts to other lovers and lords – be they mammon and everything it offers; be it intoxication with our religious self-righteousness which forbade fellowship with other Christians (who also set their hope in the cross of Christ), thus trampling underfoot our bridegroom’s legacy and heart’s desire; or be it our striving not to appear narrow-minded and fundamentalist. All the time we have kept a distance from the claims of God’s word on our lives, considering it out-dated, relativising it as not binding and keeping it at a distance so that we wouldn’t seem outsiders who sacrifice the world’s warmth and affection. How great must be the pain when the depth of faithlessness, weakness and lack of character in our hearts is revealed before our eyes!
In 1 Cor. 3:12-15, as in Mal. 3:2, we read of the fire which will test the substance of the works of God’s people, the bride of Christ. It will be the fire of God’s holiness which leaves in us only the eternal fruit of our likeness to Jesus. The only things in our hearts which will survive this fire are the aspects of Jesus’ character which became reality. Our calling is to be changed into his likeness. This is what God made us for!
God will seek his son’s likeness in us. Jesus clearly stated the sign by which others could recognize that we are his disciples, “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35). Not only the earth, but also the heavens will look for this sign.
We will be judged according to our readiness to forgive, according to the mercy, kindness and purity of our motives. The sole criterion will be what motivated our actions – quite apart from our life’s circumstances, our gifts and abilities, or what sort of work, position or responsibility we had. God is not impressed by our achievements because he is the one who gives us both the power and the gifts or abilities. He is impressed only by the motives from which we acted.
A housewife whose fear of God and whose love for the Messiah motivates her to invest her life in her children, her husband, and in the people who go in and out of her house has just as much chance to rise from the fire with riches and glory as people with many gifts who achieve great things in God’s kingdom. God looks at our hearts. He will not be fooled.
God’s word says, “Keep watch!” Whether a bride or bridegroom is watching is visible in their behaviour. Jesus clearly said what sort of behaviour he expects of his bride who loves him and wants to belong to him. “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love…My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:10 and 12). But God cannot be fooled. Our love must be real. He can ask us, “How do you treat your wife, your husband, your children, your colleagues at work? Can it be seen that you belong to me and that you love me? Are you a person who builds up others through his daily behaviour? One who encourages others to hope? One who does not attempt to use others to promote his career or his life? Do you treat others in a way, which encourages them to love me, to trust me and to follow after me? What are your priorities? What is important and central in your life? Where and for what goal do you invest your energy, your power, your gifts, your possessions? Do you love me?” The Messiah will ask this before he comes.
Revelation 2 gives us a very serious warning. Here is the passionate call of the Messiah to the church in Ephesus. This church is in many ways exemplary – in its attitude during persecution and pressure, with its gift of discernment which retained pure and true doctrine and which could differentiate between a lie and truth. Probably these people provided wide-ranging services to the poor, as well as much social work. A model-church. But in all their activities for God, it seems they had increasingly lost sight of God himself. “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen. Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Rev. 2:2-4). God desires a heart relationship, or as David put it in Psalm 51, “truth in the innermost parts”.
Passionately expecting Jesus
When the Messiah comes he will look for a bride who is expecting him and has made herself beautiful for him. How does a bride make herself beautiful for her bridegroom? In the Bible there is a mirror in which Christ’s bride can look to investigate her beauty and her similarity to the Messiah Jesus. This mirror is found in Galatians 5:22-25. It describes how God’s spirit works on and prepares a heart which pleases God and makes it beautiful like a bride for her bridegroom. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” This is the beauty and pleasing fragrance which through the Holy Spirit grows in our hearts and makes us a flawless bride, capable of standing in the bridegroom’s light when he appears.
May God help us be a bride who makes herself beautiful for her bridegroom every day, who passionately awaits his return, calling to him daily, “Come, Lord Jesus!” She will run toward him joyfully when he appears. “The Spirit and the bride say, come! And let him who hears say, come!” And he is coming. He is coming! This is as true as the fact that God, the God of Israel, is the living God!
Let us pray: Holy Father, we are so grateful that your word is so clear; that you are a God who thoroughly knows us – his creatures, his children. No thought of ours is unknown to you. No word is on our tongues, which you aren’t familiar with. You want to help us come into your light, into the truth about ourselves and about you. We are so grateful that you are the one who will prepare our hearts to receive the Messiah Jesus.
We ask you from our whole hearts, Holy Father, that you help us to be genuine in our relationship to you and to other people. Help us become people of the truth so that we can stand in your light and so that others can see in us hope and mercy, thus making them able to see and honour you. We ask you for your benevolent Holy Spirit to support us, to help us and to remove all our illusions about ourselves – illusions arising from an over-estimation of ourselves, from dullness and lethargy. Holy Father, we ask you in the name of your Messiah Jesus to be merciful to us.