Preparing for Christ’s return

john the baptist

John the Baptist, Preaching / Luca Giordano, ca. 1695

The church sets aside the season of Advent to prepare for Christ’s coming. It is a season of penitence to prepare our hearts to celebrate Christmas, the first coming of Christ. He entered the world by stealth, being born in an obscure village.

But the New Testament proclaims in many ways that Christ will return in triumph. Advent prepares us for that event, too.

Regarding John the Baptist, Luke 3:4-6 quotes a passage from Isaiah that has not yet seen its entire fulfillment:

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” – Isaiah 40:3-5 (ESV)

God’s very last word in the Old Testament promises,

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction. – Malachi 4:5-6 (ESV)

Total fulfillment of that promise hasn’t come, either.

We have probably all heard Old Testament prophets compared to someone looking at a far-off mountain range. I suppose most of us have experienced what that means. From a distance, it looks like we see one row of mountains.

As we get closer, it becomes apparent that some of those mountains are farther away than others. If we focus attention on what seem at first to be two adjacent peaks, we might very well find that once we arrive at one of them, the other is still across a wide valley.

Isaiah’s imagery calls people to prepare for the king, who is coming for a state visit. The king would send his messenger ahead of him to ensure that the town would be adequately prepared.

And so this messenger says to straighten out the crooked places in the road, to exalt the valleys and smooth out the hills and mountains—in other words, grade the road and fill in the potholes and ruts. The twisty, bumpy road that has long been good enough for everyone else is not fit for a king.

All of the gospels declare that John the Baptist was that messenger, preparing the way for Jesus. Otherwise, to this day we do not see this scripture fulfilled. Jesus later referred back to Malachi, “if you are willing to accept it, John is Elijah who was to come” (Mt. 11:14). But most people who heard John were unwilling to believe and ignored the message.

The king (Jesus) came, but the only way anyone prepared the road was when some people threw palm branches and some of their clothes into it. The king rode straight into an ambush. He knew he would be killed and raised from the dead. After that happened, he promised to return.

Christ's return

The Last Judgment / Stefan Lochner (15th century)

Jesus himself prepared the road for his Second Advent, but he has not yet returned in triumph. The Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, looks forward to that day. Key details of the two prophecies quoted above remain unfulfilled:

  • Nothing like the great and terrifying day predicted by so many prophets has occurred.
  • The glory of the Lord has not been revealed in a way that all flesh has seen it together.
  • John the Baptist did not turn the hearts of fathers and children to each other.
  • Yet God did not decree utter destruction (except for Jerusalem)

When Jesus returns, it will happen differently. Jesus will send Elijah, probably as one of the two witnesses mentioned in Revelation 11:3. Again the world will kill the messengers, but they will be raised from the dead. The world will no longer have the option to ignore and disobey Jesus.

Jesus will then appear as a conqueror. Christ’s return will be a great and terrifying day for his enemies. Jesus’ glory will stun them. But as Scripture proclaims from Genesis to Revelation, his glory will bring peace, joy, and salvation to all who acknowledge him.

Have you acknowledged him?

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