I used to love air travel.
Before the whole masking up thing and COVID tension, air travel had some discomforts, but it was still fun. I especially loved take-offs and landings! The engines would roar and zoom! we were above the clouds in bright sunlight. Then there was the descent to the terminal that gave me “funny stomach,” followed by the basketball dribble on the runway. Then the final jet brake made the seatbelt my beloved friend.
I once heard a comedian who said he was uneasy with the word terminal describing the building from whence jets took off and returned. He said terminal has a connotation that shouldn’t be used in connection with air travel. Terminal as in death.
We speak of someone having a terminal condition, like cancer. Their life is heading toward its end. Do we really want to call the airport a terminal? Pretty creepy if you think about it. Another comedian once joked about how far a plane will go with just one engine. He replied, “All the way to the crash site.”
Yeah, pretty dark humor.
But just because we use the word terminal, it doesn’t necessarily mean death. It simply means an endpoint. In the case of air travel, it’s the end of our airborne journey.
Scripture is clear that humanity, at least in its curent era, is terminal. Yes, we’re terminal in the sense that every human being faces an endpoint, physical death. But in another sense, humanity is heading toward a terminal event – the moment when God’s kingdom will physically manifest on earth (Daniel 2:44). And there will be one generation that will be alive to see the transition.
They will be the Terminal Generation. That generation will mark the end of one journey and the start of a new, eternal one. As Buzz Lightyear put it in Toy Story 1, “To Infinity… and beyond!”
The reality of death is close to me again. My wife’s brother, Jon, died recently. He wasn’t terminal by disease. His heart just gave out. He reached his terminal point. The good news is Jon knew Jesus and is now in our Lord’s presence. He’s probably telling Jesus how to do a task better. “Ya know, Jesus, a guy could… (insert advice here).” That was Jon.
For you and me, dear reader, we’re still alive and awaiting our end, a termination point, either by death or Jesus’ return. That’s what got me thinking recently.
After Jesus ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9) the first generation of followers believed He was going to return quickly to set up His kingdom as He taught and promised (Matthew 25:31).
But it didn’t happen as quickly as they thought.
When you read the New Covenant scriptures, look for the writer’s anticipation of the Big Event. Paul says believers should wait eagerly for Jesus’ return (Paul in Romans 8:19-25; 1 Corinthians 1:7; Philippians 4:5; and Jude in Jude 21). James tells believers to “be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near” (James 5:8). John tells believers that the time is near (Revelation 1:3, 22:10).
Because the writers believed Jesus’ return was soon, even imminent, all disciples were encouraged to live holy and righteous lives in preparation for their King’s return.
But Jesus didn’t return.
And so, Jesus’ later followers began to adjust their theology to explain why not. They came up with a bunch of theological explanations:
The End already happened in A.D. 70 (Preterism).
The End is happening from Jesus’ day to His return marked by specific events and people (Historicism).
The End will happen (Futurism).
Me? I’m a full-fledged futurist. While events in history indicate we’re moving toward the End-Time terminal point, some signs that signal the End haven’t happened. We not yet on our final approach, an eschatological terminal, so to speak.
Jesus taught it clearly, “This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14) and “Immediately after the distress of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not shed its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the peoples of the earth will mourn; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:29-30).
So, the End comes when the Son of Man does. Jesus will judge the earth, separate the righteous from the wicked, and then set up His 1,000-year Messianic Reign (Revelation 20:4). Just before that happens, human history will experience various signs that will grow in prophetic significance as it moves through the years (Matthew 24:4-13).
But the big question today is the same one that every obnoxious child on a journey has pestered their parents with since time immemorial,
“Are we there yet?”
True, in every generation there have been cataclysmic events that cause Christians to scream, “This is it! We’re about to take off. Fasten your seatbelts! Keep your seat backs and tray tables in the upright and locked position. Divine Airlines’ Jesus Jet is comin' in hot!” No surprise. We’re self-focused and when world-rocking things happen, we think we’ll be the privileged ones to see Jesus’ return. But compared to the wars, pandemics, political upheaval, and genocides of the 1900s, the 2000s look like a walk in the park so far.
Which now causes me to think, “If the 1900s were so horrific with WWI and WWII, the Holocaust, the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, major earthquakes, and other nasty incidents, how humongously devastating will the End be?”
(Alright. Take a breath. Let it out slowly…)
When Jesus spoke of His return, His disciples believed Him. At first, they believed their triumphant, resurrected, and never-to-die-again-King of Israel would get right to work on His kingdom. Read it yourself – “So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?’” (Acts 1:6)
But Jesus corrected them. He said it wasn’t for them to know when that was going to happen. Rather, they were to get to work, spreading the word that people can be forgiven, reconnect with their Heavenly Father, and experience God’s Kingdom now and in the future (Acts 1:7-8).
However, Jesus did say there would be other disciples who would know that the King was about to touch down to set up His Kingdom. To those End-Time disciples, Jesus admonished them to be prepared and stay alert (Matthew 25: 13).
If you read those verses (you should have!) notice Jesus said the near-term disciples wouldn’t know the time or season of His return, but the far-term, End-Time disciples wouldn’t know the day or the hour, implying they would know the time and season.
The two Greek words used in the Acts 1 text indicate the length of time or when it ends and what marks out that time. In other words, “You guys won’t know how long it’ll be until I return or what will happen until then.” But to the disciples alive at the End, they’ll know it’s the time of Jesus’ return, just not the precise moment. Furthermore, Jesus said there will be signs to mark that End-Time season. What are those signs?
Jesus gave a sermon on the Mount of Olives just before His death (Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21). According to Matthew 24:15-28, here are the signs of the End:
The Abomination that defiles the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (24:15).
It will be a terribly distressing time unlike anything that’s ever happened before or will in the future (24:21).
False messiahs and prophets with great signs and wonders that will pop up and deceive many (24:23-24).
Stunning cosmic upheaval (24:28).
Jesus then gave His disciples the parable of the fig tree. “Learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things, recognize that he is near—at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away (Matthew 24:32-34; compare with (Mark 13:28-30 and Luke 21:29-32, italics mine).
In other words, as a fig tree’s sprouting leaves mark the return of summer, so there will be definite signs the mark Jesus’ soon return. Jesus said the 1st c. disciples wouldn’t have to worry about seeing or missing those signs, because we now know His return wouldn’t be in their lifetimes. But there will be disciples at the End who will see those specific signs start, and once they start, that generation is going to see the Coming King.
As I’ve shared before, there are two definite prophetic markers of the End – Israel returning to their Promised Land (1948, Isaiah 66:8), and Jerusalem coming back into Jewish hands after Gentile control (1967, Luke 21:24). Those major prophetic mile markers should make us aware that we are indeed close to being the Terminal Generation. Whether we are or not remains to be seen.
But the point I want to make is this. Regardless of ANY signs, if Jesus’ return was “near” 2,000 years ago and Jesus’ disciples took it seriously, then how much more should we take Jesus’ return seriously 2,000 years later? The time-lapse alone should motivate us. And when we add in the two big prophetic signs? Well, that should get us looking out and looking up.
So, how are you doing with your life? Are you living for the Lord or yourself? Are you focused on learning God’s word and living it out or not? Since Jesus hasn’t returned yet, then the original commission still applies – “Get to work, spread the word that people can be forgiven, reconnect with their Heavenly Father, and experience God’s Kingdom now and in the future.”
If you’re breathing, you’re still on the journey. But keep in mind there’s a terminal point fast approaching and we don’t know when it will come or how bouncy landing will be. We’re all born with a terminal condition called life. And at our life’s terminal, there are only two ways to move forward – with Jesus or without Him.
Are you going to make your connecting flight?
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts