Many religious scholars in the West have made much of the assertion that the early Christians were mistaken about the great Second Coming of the Lord. They expected him to return again in their lifetime, so it is said, and were disappointed in the failure for that to happen. Jesus was wrong they imply. Paul was wrong they declaim. Though Jesus himself told his disciples that only the Father knew when that day would come, these pundits discount that central truth.
Many, if not most, of these same scholars go on to undermine other parts of the early church’s testimony, and in the process have sown great confusion and doubt in the minds and hearts of those whose faith is only notional. It is a tragic reality that for at least several lifetimes many Western scholars have specialized in destroying biblical faith, at least among those whose faith is second hand. But it has not affected those with a living and true faith. Men and women who have met the Risen Jesus Christ need no scholar to support them. They know what God has wrought in the coming of Jesus Christ, and they know they have been drawn into the joyful mystery of Resurrection Life. They know a truth no doubter can remove. They have a joy no quisling can destroy. They have a hope that will never disappoint. They are successors to the first believers.
Easter became, almost immediately, the defining event for all who followed in the way of the Master. To join in the triumphal train of believers was to become part of an Easter People. Sunday became, and remains, for true believers a “little Easter” because always the gospel of the Cross and Resurrection is re-presented. First in word and preaching, and then in the sublime mystery of the sacramental coming of the Risen Lord. Every believer kneeling at the Table of the Lord experiences Easter again.
But does this weekly coming take the place of that Great Day?
It was certainly to be expected that many, perhaps most, would hope that indeed Jesus Christ would return to take his bride home in the lifetime of the first disciples, but it was never taught as doctrine. The central focus on the Lord’s Day as the day of Resurrection, and the consistent experience of the Lord’s presence, did not diminish that confident faith that the Day of Resurrection would one day come for all believers.
Every gathering of faithful since the first Easter always includes the clear and unmistakable news that a day of triumph is coming. The One who came in humility “will come again in power and great glory to judge both the quick and the dead.” Easter Hope is not extinguished, but fanned into bright flame week by week in the company of those who know the Lord Jesus. The Lord who taught them that he was the Way, the Truth, and the Life also taught them that he would come again to take them home.
Whether in this life, or after earthly death, the Easter Hope will be fulfilled among the saints who are in Christ Jesus. Easter Hope is a certainty.
Next Week: Recapping the First Five Principles for Reformation