When I was in my twenties, I was discussing various difficulties imposed by aging. I remember saying that I would be spared all of those things because the Stefan males die young. However, my sister told me that one of the great notes of thanksgiving and praise to God that my father had was the fact that God has blessed him with about 10 years of life above his father (His father lived only until the age of 60, he lived to be 70). Now that I am approaching the age of sixty I am thinking that it will be a great blessing if this Stefan will reach the 80’s in good health.
In the Stefan family we always had a strong faith in eternal life. There is no doubt in our hearts that when we leave this world, we will be in the presence of the Lord which is by far better than this earthly life. Yet, I find that in our lives and the lives of biblical writers there is a tension.
I see this tension in the lives of the Apostles Paul and Peter. They are certain of both – there is eternal life in the presence of God and they will be there. Yet, sometimes they are more ready for one than the other.
In Peter’s preaching on the Day of Pentecost there is an emphasis on the immediate return of the Lord – Jesus Christ will return to restore the Kingdom of God. There is immediacy in preaching because Christ is coming back.
However as the years are passing by, Peter tells us that there are mockers who are disdainful about the promised return of the Lord Christ. To them, he gives this answer, “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this coming he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation. But they deliberately forgot that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:3-9). The coming of the Lord is still certain; however the time is unknown. It is in this waiting period that people should not scoff, but repent.
Later on he receives a message from the Lord that he will soon face death. He writes, “I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.” (2 Peter 1:13-15) Peter’s desire was that the church would remember well the important doctrines that he taught.
I am even more captivated by various variables in the life of Paul. He writes to the Philippians, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.” (Phil 1:21-26) One can ask if this change was due to Paul’s prayer on behalf of the Philippian Church. Did God extend his life on this earth because he was needed here for the sake of the believers? The verse lends credence to that conclusion.
Later on he writes to the Thessalonians, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thes. 4:16-17). Paul believes that he will be among the living when the Lord Jesus returns.
As he approaches the end of his life he writes to Timothy, his beloved disciple, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:6-8) Paul is ready to go home. Jesus is not coming yet, but he is certain that in that glorious day when Jesus appears, Paul and the saints will receive the crown of righteousness.
Jesus Christ is asking each one of us to give our lives completely to Him because on the cross He gave Himself completely for us. Peter and Paul have done that and because of that they were looking with great joy to the day when God will crown them because they have been faithful here on this earth.