Maybe he is already here?

Based on Matthew 25:31-46

When I was about 13 or 14, a friend and I watched A Thief in the Night and A Distant Thunder at a Youth for Christ film evening. These were the first two of a series of ‘end times’ films that dealt with the second coming of the Christ, the rapture, and the great tribulation. 


I am sure you will all be familiar with these concepts. They are primarily taught by American style evangelical churches, but they are also found in some churches here. The fundamental tenets are that the return of the Christ will take the form of a rapture, in which believers will be taken up to heaven by Jesus, and this will be followed by a great tribulation, albeit with some dispute over the precise order in which everything is believed to be going to happen. 


A Thief in the Night tells the story of Patty, who is presented as being a nominal Christian. But not a true believer, so therefore not a genuine one. Because one day, her husband and millions of other people suddenly disappear, and Patty realises, not only was this the rapture she had heard about, but as someone who was not a real Christian, she had been left behind. A totalitarian regime is set up, and everyone is required to receive the ‘mark of the beast’ on the back of their hand or their forehead. Those who resist are arrested and rounded up. Patty tries to avoid the authorities but is eventually captured. She escapes but is cornered and falls, seemingly to her death, but she wakes up. It was all a nightmare. She turns on the radio, and to her horror, she listens to a report of the rapture. Her nightmare has really only just begun.


A Distant Thunder continues the story and sees Patty having to choose between accepting the mark – and with it, eternal damnation – and a gruesome death.


In recent years, I watched some of the more memorable scenes on YouTube, and I found them so cheesy they were almost laughable. But that was not how I found them over 40 years ago.  Back then, I was terrified by those films. I couldn’t sleep properly for weeks afterwards. I would lie awake at night, worrying that the rapture would come any day now, and that like Patty, I might not be a ‘proper’ Christian and that I would be left behind. And I was anxious that I would not have the courage to resist the mark when I found myself in her situation.


And while it was not the only reason, let alone the main one, seeing those films would have been a factor in me ceasing to identify as a Christian and stopping going to Church a few short years later. I could follow a faith tradition based on the God of love I had grown up believing in, but I could not subscribe to keeping followers in line through the strategic use of terror.


Twenty years later, after many misadventures in the wilderness, I found my way back to my faith. And I soon learned that the idea of a rapture to be followed by a great tribulation was not believed in by the first Christians, but is in fact a relatively modern construct, which first arose among American Puritans in the 1600s, and was emphasised by the Plymouth Brethren about 200 years ago, but did not really gain widespread support until the 1970s.


It takes in part of St Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, adds some of the fantastic events described in Revelation, throws in a few bits of the gospels, and mixes it all up with the apocalyptic second half of the book of Daniel. And films like A Thief in the Night and A Distant Thunder helped popularise it.


Now it may well be that the rapture is a deeply held belief of yours. If this is the case, it is not my intention today to tell you that you are wrong or try to convince you to change your beliefs. But I would like to invite you to consider a different scenario altogether.


The second coming of the Christ is arguably the hardest doctrine of the Church to understand, and it doesn’t help when different passages of scripture that have very different contexts are jumbled together. We can’t just mix them all up and see what we come up with.


While early Christians may not have believed in the rapture as it is generally understood today, they did believe in a coming revelation of the resurrected Christ. And they believed this was imminent. Indeed, Jesus had clearly told his followers their generation would not pass away until all these things have taken place.[1] But their generation has long since passed away. And we are still waiting.


So does this mean Jesus got it completely wrong? No, it doesn’t. The texts I have just referred to could be described as being apocalyptic. While ‘apocalyptic’ and ‘apocalypse’ are now popularly taken to refer to the end of the world as we know it, the original meaning is closer to uncovering, or revelation. Which is why the Book of Revelation is sometimes called the Apocalypse. In the words of American Baptist minister Chuck Queen, “…apocalyptic language points to some kind of ultimate vindication and redemption that means life beyond this life.” [2]


The second coming of the Christ is anticipated by the season of Advent, which commences next Sunday. And Advent is in turn anticipated by today, which is Christ the King Sunday. This is a relatively recent addition to the liturgical calendar. It was first instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, with the somewhat grandiose title of ‘The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe’. And while it was initially only a Catholic feast, it was soon adopted by other denominations of the Church.


Christ the King Sunday observes the coming reign of Christ. It is the complete antithesis of Jesus being mocked as the ‘King of the Jews’ prior to his crucifixion. And its occurrence on the last Sunday before Advent points toward the incarnation of God in human form at Christmas. So today is an appropriate day on which to prayerfully reflect what on what it means to say the Christ will come again. In the words of the Memorial Acclamation, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come in glory.


Or, as I would prefer to say, Chris is coming in glory. Because, if, like I believe to be the case, if the Christ is not going manifest himself in the form of a rapture, then we need to consider just how he will appear to the world.


Well maybe he already has. And maybe those wonderful words from the Gospel according to St John, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us,” [3] are just as relevant as they were at the first Christmas more than two thousand years ago.


In today’s gospel reading (which just happens to be my undisputed favourite text from The Bible - or at least the first half of it is) Jesus taught us that whenever we give food to the hungry or a drink to the thirsty, welcome a stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, or visit those in prison, we do this for him. [4]


We are all created in God’s image and we don’t need to look very far to see Jesus. As St. John Chrysostom is purported to have said, “If you do not find Christ in the beggar at the church door, neither will you find him in the chalice.” [5]


While history was changed forever by the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus two thousand years ago, when we consider the state of the world today, it is clear that the God’s involvement with the world is not yet over.


I believe it is our calling to work towards the realisation of God’s reign of justice and peace here on earth. God may be transforming the world, but God is doing so through us.


Whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer, like we will be doing together shortly, we pray for the coming of God’s kingdom, on earth as in heaven. And the realisation of God’s reign of justice and peace makes far more sense to me as an end times scenario than any notion of a rapture to be followed by a great tribulation does.

Today, we celebrate that the Christ the King is indeed coming in glory, and God’s reign of justice and peace will finally come to fruition.

But don’t stare out of the window for too long looking for him to appear in the sky. Becase maybe he is already here.



Darryl Ward
22 November 2020



1 Matthew 24:34. Mark 13:30


3 John 1:14a

4 Matthew 25:35-36

5 St John Chrysostom (attributed)


All Bible references are from the New Revised Standard Version unless stated otherwise.