I’m far from a consistent movie goer. In fact, that’s an understatement. However, through the years there have been several series that I’ve really gotten into: Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings. The imagination, characters, animation and plots are captivating. We had a friend who was so enamored with the Lord of the Rings series that, when the first two movies came out, he rented a local theater and sold tickets to his friends so we could all watch it together. I was hooked. Besides the brilliance of the movies, these stories develop the all-important conflict of good versus evil. J.R.R. Tolkien’s third Lord of the Rings book is titled, The Return of the King. After staggering hardships and epic battles, the “good guys” win. Aragorn takes his rightful place and is crowned King of Gondor. Good has triumphed over evil. There is victory, glory and peace.
As we look at this present world we also long for the return of the King. In our heart of hearts we long for the assurance that no matter what has happened, no matter what is going on in the world, good will ultimately triumph. Without that hope, we live in despair. This is real. If we pay attention to the news, we see nature convulsing in the form of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes. We see a world in which war and terrorism have been claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands, with no end in sight.
We can develop “thick skin” to a certain degree, but it affects us, and it should. The more we love people, the more we grieve the incredible suffering and loss of life. We yearn for the return of the King! But Scripture gives us hope. It tells us that the King will return, that good will triumph, and that the Son of God will come in glory and rule forever. And because of the gospel, we who know him will live and rule with him in his kingdom, and he will put an end to suffering, sorrow and death. Our King will return.
In Luke 21, Jesus gives his disciples prophetic insights into the end times. He tells them that both nature and nations will be in upheaval and that those who stand for Christ will be persecuted. Then he makes this simple statement: “Now when these things begin to happen, look up, and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near” (Luke 21:28, World English Bible).
What should we do as his return draws near? “Look up!”
What does that mean? A literalist might think we should walk around looking up to the sky so we don’t miss anything. I wouldn’t recommend that. I’ve almost been knocked down by people texting while walking on the sidewalk, and seen a few almost smack into walls and doorways doing the same thing. So what does Jesus mean?
He is talking about focus, anticipation, expectancy.
It’s beautiful to see the excitement of a young couple waiting for their wedding. For months they live in joyful anticipation of their “big day.” They’re just plain excited. That’s what Jesus is calling us to do—to live in joyful anticipation of his coming. In Matthew 24 Jesus says “keep watch,” or in other translations, “stay awake” or “be on the alert.” In other words, keep focused, live in the excitement of the return of the King.
What would it look like if we lived that way? One way to figure that out might be for us to ask the question, “What would I do if I knew Jesus was coming back in a week?” We don’t know that, nobody does, but the question stands. What would we do if we knew Jesus was coming back in a week? Hopefully non-Christians would wake up and call out to God for salvation. When he comes again, Jesus says, “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left” (Matthew 24:40-41). What a chilling thought!
Even more terrifying are the words of the Apostle John in Revelation 20:15, “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” Don’t ever presume on the grace of God. Today is the day of salvation. We don’t know when Jesus is coming back.
But what would we believers do if we knew the King would return in a week? I’m sure we would want to be focused on what is important. We’d find every opportunity to talk to our friends and loved ones about knowing Jesus. We’d spend more time seeking the Lord—worshiping him—thanking him. Meaningless TV shows would probably fall off the radar and we’d realize the relative unimportance of whether or not our favorite sports team won last week. We would want to be filled with the Holy Spirit—we’d want our words and actions to always count for something and our lives to overflow with love toward others. We’d make every effort to be at peace with others. Sin would feel more sinful, more pathetic and futile, and God’s grace would be recognized as more amazing and wonderful than ever. And we’d be excited and filled with joy!
Reflecting on the words of Jesus, I penned some simple words to a song titled “Look up!”
“The road is narrow going home; sometimes our restless hearts grow weary, longing for the day the crooked shall be straight and we will see the Savior in his glory.
All creation groans to be delivered, ransomed by the power of his grace, but soon he’ll come in splendor, his light will pierce the darkness. Transfigured, we will gaze upon his face. Look up…”
When we look at our world today and see the insane and evil things that are happening, it is easy to get deeply discouraged and bewildered. But God’s people have an amazing security in Christ. The King will return and triumph in the end. And we will be with him. We will live with him and share heaven with him.
Until the King returns, he has told us to look up!
Rev. James Jensen serves as pastor at Community Church of Joy in Sammamish, Washington.