In the last few chapters, I have tried to answer a few questions that I have encountered when sharing the Gospel with the Vietnamese. Hopefully, they have satisfactorily answered your own questions about God, people, and His salvation plan. Many scholars devote their whole lives to study these theological questions. Although I welcome this scholarly attitude, I ask you to take a step of faith.
Because our limited minds cannot understand everything, we cannot wait until we know everything before believing. Neither do we need to know everything in order to believe. I do not need to know medicine before going to a doctor. Nor do I need to have an engineering degree before entering an airplane. Actually, that is what “faith” is about. A demand to know everything is a demand to become God. After you believe in Jesus, the Holy Spirit will enter into each of us and help us to understand more truth. (We will talk about the Holy Spirit in the next chapter.)
In this chapter, let us take another look at the meaning of the cross, so that we can maintain focus on the purpose of this book and have a starting point to discuss the Holy Spirit.
One perspective is that of God the Judge, who loves humanity but must punish sin. Now let’s us look at it’s meaning from another perspective – the death of Jesus Christ as our redemption. Peter wrote, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”145
In Vietnamese history, General Le Loi was once surrounded by the enemy. Another man, Le Lai, volunteered to wear his commander’s coat and escape through enemy lines. Mistaking Le Lai for Le Loi, the enemy chased after Le Lai. Le Loi thus survived, continued the war, and finally was able to liberate the country. Likewise, we were surrounded by Satan, who tried to keep us in hell. Jesus Christ volunteered to become human, wearing our coat of sins to die for us on the cross. Because of this, we can live to eternity.
Yet, no example can completely describe the grace with which God died for us. Human redemption requires some loss, some sacrifice. For example, suppose that a son of a billionaire is kidnapped. If the father pays the ransom, he sacrifices but he also concedes to the criminal. But if he eventually gets his money back, then he did not really concede. In God’s plan of salvation, Jesus had to sacrifice because God had to punish sin, but he emerges victorious in resurrection.
Earlier, we analyzed the evidence of the resurrection. Now, let us look at its meaning.
The most important conclusion we can draw from the resurrection of Jesus Christ is that He has overcome death. “But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”146 Thus, Christians no longer should fear death. Of course, our bodies will die one day, but that is not the end of the matter. Jesus Christ was resurrected, and so will Christians. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.”147 “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’”148
According to Luke, within forty days after his resurrection, Jesus appeared before many people. Finally, “he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”149
But not only was Jesus Christ resurrected, but he also ascended into heaven. He had accomplished his mission on the cross, and hence he no longer needed to stay on earth. Forty days was enough to teach further truths that could not be understood before his death.
Returning to heaven in glory, Jesus Christ was rewarded by God. “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”150
Although he was now God’s “right hand man,” Jesus Christ did not forget his disciples. The Bible teaches that he now appears for us in God’s presence151 to pray and “is also interceding for us.”152 Therefore, Christians not only look forward to the last day to receive eternal life, but they can also pray to God in the name of Jesus so that they “may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”153
Prayer is beyond the scope of this book, but note that Jesus Christ completely understands our situation. Let’s say that you have a relative working in the White House. However, if your relative has been immersed in politics for too long, he might feel distant and may not understand your current problems anymore. Thankfully, knowing Christ is better than knowing all the presidents.
He once was a human being. He was tempted, just like us.154 When he was a baby, his parents had to take him to Egypt as a refugee. He was despised and flogged. He experienced loneliness and sadness. He was hung on the cross between two robbers. Therefore, he empathizes with you and is able to take care of those who trust in him.
Jesus Christ did not promise us prosperity in this world. On the contrary, he warned us, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”155 One of the things he did promise, however, was peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”156 Peace comes to the believers because they know that he is ever-living, all-powerful, understanding, and is now sitting at the right hand of God. Peace comes to them because they know that, “all things God works for the good of those who love him.”157
Jesus Christ will return to this earth in the “Second Coming.” He confirmed, “I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”158 This will be on the Last Day, Judgment Day, the day on which sinners will face eternal damnation and believers will be resurrected, as Jesus was.
If you asked me when Jesus Christ would return, I would say that nobody knows. Jesus said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son.”159 Why? Why doesn’t the Bible let us know precisely the time when this important event will occur? Jesus Christ replied, “If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”160
This is a very important point. If you knew exactly the time he would come, you could remain in a life of sin and put off believing in Jesus until just prior to that time. But Jesus doesn’t want such a calculating faith. If he were to return tonight, would you be ready to face him?
Although the Bible does not specify a time for his return, it describes some “signs” or events that are to occur before he comes back.
It says that, in the last days, we will witness a declining morality – a last gasp of Satan, like a candle flickering before going out. The apostle Paul wrote, “Do not let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.”161 He warned, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.”162 Jesus Christ also taught, “At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect--if that were possible. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.”163
If you look around today and see many false teachers and vain philosophies that deter people from the truth, then you need to be careful and stand firm in your faith. This is a sound heralding the return of Jesus. Nowadays, with many psychological discoveries and advanced propaganda techniques, those teachers have many effective means to denounce Christianity. Do not listen to them. They are just a last attempt of Satan before his complete silence in eternal hell.
Jesus Christ gave us other signs. “When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away…. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.”164
War and earthquakes and famines are not new; they are the result of our sinful nature and hence were in existence since Adam committed the first sin. What is new is their incredible ability to destroy. Nobody is optimistic enough to believe that humans are becoming more civilized and more loving towards each other. The Bible has no such optimism and clearly states that until the Last Day, people will fight with each other and wars will not only continue, but will do so with ever more destructive capabilities.
I dare not rely on these events to assure you that Jesus Christ will come back within our lifetime. What I want to tell you is that our world is coming closer and closer to this time. We always have to be on guard for this day. If you believe in Him, please stand firm in your faith and do not let heresy lead you astray. If you still hesitate in believing, please hurry to him because he might come back in the next minute.
How can we stand firm in our faith before Jesus’ return? Surely, he is sitting in heaven, praying for us, but that is still a long distance away. If we face temptations and misguiding philosophies promoted with the latest propaganda techniques, and if we have to live in a constant threat of war, enticing us to “enjoy life,” how can we remain steadfast in our faith?
Once again, when we see the answer, we can appreciate God even more. When Jesus ascended into heaven, he did not abandon us. The Holy Spirit came down to live inside those who believe in him to give them a new life, to give them more gifts, to comfort them, and to encourage them to stand firm in faith while waiting for the day that they come face to face with their Savior.