By Ken Gurley
SERMON TITLE: A Promise Better than Capistrano
TYPE: The Second Coming
TEXT: Hebrews 10:37-39
DATE ORIGINALLY PREACHED: March 18, 2001
COMMENTS: The Second Coming of the Lord is a doctrine of paramount importance to the church. As the bride of Christ, the church eagerly awaits her wedding day.
In theater jargon the question is often asked, “But, how’s the second act?” It’s apparently easier to write the opening act than the closing one. Jesus Christ wrote the second act in advance. His purpose in coming the first time was to take out a people for His Name’s sake, that He might some day retrieve unto Himself. His second act is quite well, actually.
I love preaching on the Second Coming. The hope engendered by this theme is a simple cure to complex maladies. As the beloved John wrote, such hope “purifieth a man” (I John 3:3). The preached hope of His Second Coming and the hearer’s subsequent response dispel physical, spiritual, and moral malaise.
Many of us steer clear of the subject of prophecy due to its immensity and complexity. Others of us simply agree to disagree on the non-essential aspects of prophecy, all the while holding that the doctrine of the Second Coming of the Lord is nonnegotiable. Timing and sequence are debatable, but the fact remains: He that shall come will come!
A PROMISE BETTER THAN CAPISTRANO
- INTRODUCTION: THE SWALLOWS OF CAPISTRANO
It happens each and every year. They spread their wings and begin their pilgrimage from the Andes Mountains in Argentina to a small mission church in Orange County, California. Today, I speak of the swallows of Capistrano.
At dawn on February 18 of each year, the bands of swallows leave Argentina where they have wintered and stored the energy reserves necessary to make the long trip to the mission at San Juan Capistrano. They fly fifteen hours a day at altitudes higher than one mile. At a top speed of eighteen miles per hour, the swallows will fly for about thirty days, a distance of some 12,000 miles.
And each and every year, the first bands arrive at the mission on March 17. The flocks continue to grow until they’ve consumed the mission. Here, they build their characteristic mud nests in the eaves of the old mission. Here, they will raise their young and in the fall they return to Argentina.
This migration has taken place for hundreds of years, long before the mission was ever built. It was popularized by poetry and song:
When the swallows come back to Capistrano
That’s the day I promise to come back to you.
All the mission bells will ring, the chapel choir will sing
The happiness you’ll bring will live in my memory.
This year, the promised return of the swallows caused the city to purchase multiplied thousands of lady bugs for the birds to feast upon. Thousands of mud puddles were created and thousands of imitation, ceramic nests were festooned across the town to encourage the swallows to think many like fowl surrounded them.
And yesterday, on March 17, a crowd of 18,000 people gathered before the mission at sunset. The mission bells rang. The crowd cheered. A man dressed in a swallow costume raced across the eve of the mission. But, not a single swallow stirred. It was something that was a given. You could set your clocks by it. As sure as the sun rose in the east and set in the west — as sure as there are twelve months in a year and twenty-four hours in a day — as sure as gravity — But, they didn’t show. And thousands went home disappointed.
It makes me wonder if that’ s how people feel about the Coming of the Lord. For years, they have heard the warning bells heralding His approach. For years, they’ve anxiously awaited, peering into every sun-drenched cloud hoping to catch a glimpse of His Coming. But, He doesn’t show.
To all of you, the Bible has a distinct promise:
For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.
Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.
But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.
He that shall come will come.
What a promise—A promise better than Capistrano
- THE SECOND COMING IS FOUND THROUGHOUT SCRIP¬TURE
- THE OLD TESTAMENT
If the value of a doctrine is judged by the frequency at which it is found in Scripture, then the Second Coming of the Lord must be very precious. Salvation is the scarlet thread woven throughout the Bible. Entwined with the red cord of His First Coming into the world is the royal blue cord of His Second Coming. Together, they present the purpose and plan of Christ: He came once for a funeral; He will come again for a wedding.
The most beautiful prose and the most exalted poetry break like undulating waves upon the shore and vanquish into a steamy mist of utter helplessness in trying to describe the beauty of the coming glory of God. Stars would burn brighter, loose from their orbits, and would pen His coming across the night sky if per-mitted. The flood lifts up its voice and the mountain echoes the approaching footfalls of the Savior. Heaven and earth combine their voices to shout, “Behold, he cometh!”
Early in the Old Testament, we read of a man named Enoch. Enoch, the one who walked with God and was not. Enoch, the one who disappeared from earth’s view only to reappear in Heaven. Enoch, the one who spoke of the Second Coming of the Lord:
And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.
From Genesis to Malachi, the Second Coming of the Lord can be found. Whether by type, parable, story, or illustration, Scripture seems to exhaust human vocabulary in proclaiming this marvelous event.
– Abraham seeks a city whose builder and maker is God.
– Jacob prophesies of a king coming to Judah.
– In the trilogy of the 22nd, 23rd, and 24th Psalms, the Psalmist sees the entire, sweeping divine plan: redemption, reconciliation, and return. The King of Glory returns.
– Isaiah sees that returning King of Glory.
– Zechariah writes about a world recreated at His return.
By the time we reach Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, and lean into the four silent centuries, our ears are full of the footsteps of the approaching King. He that shall come will come!
- THE NEW TESTAMENT
As we barely dip our toes into the New Testament we hear John the Baptist speaking of the Messiah’s Second Coming. A kingdom will be set up, so we must repent! It is at hand.
Jesus Himself spoke of the day in which He would return. On one occasion, transfigured before the sleepy, astonished eyes of the disciples, He allowed a sneak peak of the glory to come.
When our Lord stood before His earthly judges, He spoke of the day when they would lift their eyes and see Him coming in the clouds with great power and glory.
Then, there was the last time Jesus passed through the Temple and the disciples sought Him out. He sat upon the Mount of Olives and unfolded the plan for Jerusalem. Here He described His Second Coming. (See Olivet Discourse, Matthew 24-25).
Just prior to Calvary, Jesus promised His disciples:
JOHN 1 4: 1 -3
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.
In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
After His resurrection, Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives heavenward. Two men in white addressed the enraptured disciples saying:
Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.
On the Day of Pentecost, Simon Peter declared that Jesus would come again (Acts 1:19-20).
The book of Romans is divided into three sections: doctrinal, prophetic, and exhortation. Each section ends with a declaration of the Lord’s return. Chapters eight, eleven, and the final chapter show us that we are saved by the hope of Christ’s return.
The opening chapter of I Corinthians tells us to not come behind in any gift since we should be caught up in a constant expectancy of the Lord’s return. And, what about the high point of the discussion on the resurrection?
1 CORINTHIANS 15:51-55
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
At Christ’s coming, there will be a catching away. In the Ephesian letter, Paul pictures the church as ascended and translated. In the first letter to the church of Thessalonica, Paul says:
I THESSALONIANS 1:9-10
For they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead— Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.(NIV)
In both letters to Timothy, Paul speaks of the hope of Christ’s coming. In Titus, he calls it a blessed hope. In Hebrews, the Second Coming is found everywhere.
And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. (NKJV)
Even with the heaviness of a desolate Jerusalem upon James’ shoulders, he finds time to declare that his elder brother, the Lord Jesus Christ, would return.
Simon Peter speaks of the attitude prevalent at the Second Coming. Scoffers will discount the idea and ask, “Where is the promise of His coming?”
John follows in his threefold family epistle with the sweet chords of Beulah Land and describes Jesus as “The Coming One.” Jude quotes Enoch to better present the coming of the Lord. Then, finally in Revelation, the Book of the Second Coming, we read those red letters assuring us, “Behold, I come quickly.”
On the average, one of every thirty verses in the New Testament speak of the Lord’s soon return. He that hath an ear let Him hear the swift approach of the soon-coming King. He that shall come will come!
III. THE DOCTRINE OF THE SECOND COMING IS ENTWINED WITH OTHER DOCTRINES IN THE BIBLE.
- IT’S FOUND IN HIS GOSPEL.
The Gospel is the death, the burial, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Christ rose from the dead, so shall those who put their trust in Him. Without a resurrection at the Lord’s Second Coming, there is no Gospel.
- IT’S FOUND IN OUR RELATIONSHIP TO HIM.
The Second Coming of the Lord is entwined with who we are, the sons of God.
I JOHN 3:2-3
Beloved, now are we the sorts of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
- IT’S FOUND IN THE DOCTRINE OF REDEMPTION.
Part of the divine plan of redemption is that the created world will be released from its corruption and redeemed by God (Romans 8:22). If we could put our ears to the earth and hear her travail, we would know she longs for her redemption. The cosmos longs for a newness that will only come when her Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ, returns. Darkness, bloodshed, and calamity will
pass and the earth will be liberated.
- IT’S FOUND IN THE DOCTRINE OF SANCTIFICATION.
The sai0nt’s holy lifestyle is entwined inseparably with the Coming of the Lord. In just a cursory glance, I found thirty-three New Testament passages that link our holy lifestyle with our expectancy of the soon coming of our Lord.
TITUS 2: 1 1- 13
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present
world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;
No wonder we preachers are commanded to preach the Word. Throughout the Word is the Second Coming of the Lord. We preach it when we see men grow unconcerned about their souls. We preach it when we feel a desire to heap up treasures like gan¬grene. We preach it when we see people ignore the Lord’s Day and serve mammon. We preach it when we hear the anguished cries of violence in our world. We preach it when we see people have lost sight of the nearness of His return.
The human circulatory system has arteries carrying oxygenated blood to the body and veins that return the depleted blood back to the lungs and heart. The arteries carry the red blood to the body and the veins return the so-called blue blood back to the heart. The First Coming of the Lord carried the red blood fresh from the heart of God. His Second Coming is the return trip to bring us into His abiding presence. You might as well say that the human body can live without veins as to say that the Body of Christ can survive without the hope of His Second Coming.
On that great Day of Atonement, the High Priest entered into the holiest place and disappeared from sight. It wasn’t until his return that people could sigh and say, the work of redemption is accomplished. Jesus came once, but when He returns the sec-ond time, that’s when we will be able to sigh and say, it’s all over but the shouting. We might as well shout it now; He that shall come will come!
- SECRET, PUBLIC AND IMMINENT: THE LANGUAGE OF HIS SECOND COMING.
- THE RAPTURE IS THE SECRET PART OF THE SECOND COMING.
The Second Coming of the Lord appears to have two distinct stages. The first part of His coming is called the Rapture, “harpa-zo,” the catching away.
The Rapture can be compared to a thief coming in the night to steal away that which is precious to Him. Jesus will come in a private manner to do just that. He will come for His church. It is the planned elopement of the church and the Lord Jesus Christ.
- THE APPEARING IS THE PUBLIC PART OF THE SECOND COMING.
The second stage of Christ’s Second Coming is His Appearing. Although there is disagreement as to the interval of time between these two stages, there appears to be considerable agreement as to the two distinct phases of His return.
In the Rapture, Jesus comes in the air.
In the Appearing, Jesus comes to earth.
In the Rapture, Jesus comes as Bridegroom.
In the Appearing, Jesus comes as King.
In the Rapture, He comes for the church.
In the Appearing, He comes with the church.
In the Rapture, He’s the silent thief in the night.
In the Appearing, He’s the lightning bolt with thunder.
Between the Rapture and us, there is not a single predicted event that must take place. Between the Appearing and us, several things will take place: the wrath of God will be poured out on earth, the mark of the beast, etc.
- THE PROMISE OF HIS COMING IS IMMINENT.
Jesus Christ can come for His bride at any moment. The language of the New Testament is that of imminence. Jesus Himself fostered this view. It was He who said, “I come quickly.” Or, as the writer of Hebrews promised His Coming would be in a “little while,” or as the Greek renders it: mikron, the tiniest of moments.
Since no man can know the day or the hour of His return, Jesus commands us to be watchful. The early church was just that. They fully believed they lived in the shadow of the Lord’s imminent return. Before an eye could twinkle, they believed Jesus would return and take them away.
Did it happen? Unless you’re one of those who believe that the dust clouds of a Roman army in 70 a.d. was the Second Coming of the Lord, Jesus didn’t return in the apostles’ lifetime. Yet, the hope of His imminent return kept them through great trials and persecution. It also fanned the flames for a revival that swept the known world of their time.
Such watchfulness would do us well. We know that there is a generation who will not sleep the sleep of death, but will be alive to witness the Coming of the Lord. I can’t help but believe that we’re living in that generation.
- CLOSE: THIS PROMISE IS ASSURED
What happened to the swallows? Oh, they finally arrived but not when promised or expected.
No one knows the day or the hour of our Lord’s return. So, let’s ring the bells daily and keep our eyes lifted to the sun-streaked sky. He that promised to come will come. This promise is some-thing you can rest your entire life and future upon.
That’s a promise better than Capistrano.
The above article, “A Promise Better Than Capistrano,” is written by Ken Gurley. It was excerpted from the tenth chapter of Gurley’s book, Preaching For a New Millennium.
The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.