Part One – The Second Coming of Jesus Christ
Most everyone, even those who take little interest in spiritual things, has heard of the Second Coming. In our time it has not been uncommon to hear newscasters report of some new cult sequestering itself from society in anticipation of the last days, Armageddon and all – its leader a self-professed reincarnation of Jesus Christ Himself. Or, in a more orthodox vein, some well-intentioned group with no members pretending to be deity will arise proclaiming urgently that Jesus Christ is on the verge of appearing from the sky in the flesh. And there are all sorts of variations on this theme – some sinister and despicable, some well-meaning, and some impossible to tell.
Some of these groups end with a bang and some with a whimper. Some actually go on indefinitely, boldly forecasting new dates for the Second Coming as if they didn’t realize that the passing of the old dates had already discredited them. When natural disasters and world tensions are on the increase, speculation about the Second Coming appears beyond the bounds of these types of groups we have mentioned. Even more people begin to ask, “Are these the last days?” “Is this the time that the Second Coming of Christ is about to occur?”
And so, the knowledge most people have about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is a knowledge of hopes – raised and dashed. Repeatedly. For the one thing that all these forecasts, speculations, prophecies, and prognostications have in common is that they have failed to produce a Second Coming that matches what was promised. And so for many people, the hope for the Second Coming has become like the hope of many Jews for their Messiah: a hope not completely abandoned, yet a hope long overdue for fulfillment. The surrounding world cannot be blamed if it is confused by all this.
The New Testament Record
It is widely acknowledged that the writers of the New Testament expected the Second Coming in their lifetime. What are we to think about this? Are we to conclude that as fine a moral specimens as were Peter, Paul, John, and the others (not to mention Jesus Himself) that still they must fall into the same category as those groups we’ve mentioned who raised hopes they could not fulfill? Hardly! On the other hand, are we believe Jesus and His apostles were mistaken about the Second Coming but trust them about everything else? That’s not reasonable either! The good news is that all that they promised did come to pass. They did not raise hopes that could not be fulfilled. We can trust them fully and completely.
Part Two of this book will examine carefully just what Jesus and the apostles said about the timetable for the Second Coming. For now we simply acknowledge that a straightforward reading of Matthew through Revelation will leave a reader unable to deny that these people had a great expectation; that they believed they were on the verge of that cataclysmic coming of the Lord that would climax in the last days of the old age they were living in and usher in the glorious new age. It is my contention in this book that Jesus and His apostles were absolutely right in everything that they said.
Why So Much Confusion?
There is no good reason for there to be confusion on the issue of the Second Coming. If we read the words of Jesus and the apostles in their context we will see that their words all fit together, giving a clear and consistent teaching on the subject.
There is no lack of written material in our day on the subject of Jesus’ return. Bookshelves are full. Bible reference works would be considered incomplete if they did not include articles on the subject. And there are a variety of headings and sub-headings: such as, Parousia (from the Greek word for “coming”), Eschatology (study of last things), Judgment (as in final, last, or the day of), the Kingdom of God, Resurrection, and others as well.
Therefore, what confusion there is about the Second Coming is not for lack of explanations. In fact, the many explanations have only created confusion. To someone who has been exposed to the literature, it will seem that there are as many positions on the subject as there are denominations in Christianity. But there is no one-to-one correspondence either, for even within a single denomination, a variety of theological interpretations may be found.
Of all these positions that hold the Second Coming as yet future instead of accomplished fact, none has emerged as the true answer acceptable to the majority of Christians. The only thing that prevails is disagreement. Why? Because all these positions begin with the unquestioned and unspoken assumption that the Second Coming is an event which could not be missed. In other words, they assume that there is no way possible that it could have already occurred.
Could the Second Coming Be Missed?
How, you ask, could the Second Coming possibly be missed? Well, was not the first coming of Christ missed by some people? (Recall that “Christ” and “Messiah” are synonymous terms, from Greek and Hebrew respectively.) And don’t the people who missed Him offer as a reason that the coming of Messiah could not be missed?
Take a moment and let it sink in that the Jews did not recognize their Messiah for who He was when He came to them. His coming had been promised and prophesied for years – even centuries – by Israel’s prophets, and recorded in the Scriptures. Nonetheless, the synagogues, as a general rule, refused to see Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. They missed His coming. This, therefore, is how you can miss a coming of the Lord: assume He couldn’t possibly come without your knowing about it.
If the first coming of Messiah could be missed, who’s to say that His second coming couldn’t also be missed? At the very least, we ought to abandon arrogance and humble ourselves to the possibility that the Lord Himself could be in our midst without our being aware of it.
How a Coming of the Lord Is “Missed”
In Matthew 17, after realizing that Jesus was the Messiah, but being urged to secrecy on the subject until after His resurrection, the disciples asked Him about Elijah. The scribes taught that Elijah would precede the Messiah based on the prophecy of Malachi. Since Jesus was the Messiah, the disciples asked, what were they to make of this teaching? Jesus’ answer was that John the Baptist, as the forerunner of Messiah, had been the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy. That is, it was not a literal, physical return of Elijah himself but someone in his spirit of boldness calling the authorities, as well as the common people, to repentance.
Indeed there was much about John the Baptist that would bring Elijah to mind, even to the evil wife of Herod who incited him against the prophet just as Jezebel had incited her husband King Ahab against Elijah so many years before. As the writer of Ecclesiastes told us, there is nothing new under the sun. Jesus went on to explain that just as the Israel’s leaders had not recognized John the Baptist as Elijah, neither would they recognize Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. These leaders were missing the fulfillment of prophecy.
Jesus the Messiah could be tried and crucified precisely because the Jewish authorities were sure He was not their Messiah. Even to this day, Jews who still hope for the Messiah reject Jesus on the basis that Messiah’s coming would produce such effects (such as visible, universal peace) as could not be missed. Since they do not see these effects, Messiah could not possibly have already come. Ipso facto, in their minds, Jesus is not the Messiah.
From a Christian’s point of view, these Jews have closed their minds to the possibility of seeing Jesus as He truly is because they have made the unwarranted assumption that their Messiah’s coming could not be missed. (Note that we are using the term “missed” in the sense of “unrecognized,” not in the sense of “unexperienced.”) Do not some Christians make the same mind-closing assumption about the Second Coming that some of their Jewish brothers made about His first coming? And, in fact, isn’t our error as Christians worse, since we can see it in our brothers but do not notice when we are doing the same thing ourselves? Therefore, since we as Christians see how Christ’s first coming could be missed, shouldn’t we be very quick to acknowledge that his second coming could also be missed? Yes, for only pride could keep us insisting that Christ’s Second Coming could not be missed.
Now back to the idea of “missed” meaning “unrecognized” and not “unexperienced.” We would not say that Israel did not experience her Messiah, for all Israel experienced Him though not all recognized Him. The same is true for the Second Coming. No one in the world could have failed to experience the Second Coming, for it was a worldwide event. But the world could have failed to recognize it as such. By the way, have you ever wondered why throughout Bible times polytheism, including animal sacrifice, was the rule and yet today monotheism is the prevalent worldview, with most people getting nervous when someone wants to sacrifice animals? Is it possible that some cataclysmic event occurred in the unseen realm, having among its many results, that what the Greeks took seriously even school children today now know is mythology?
Could the Second Coming Be a Spiritual Event?
Obviously, we are speaking of the Second Coming as a spiritual rather than a physical or fleshly event. Is this such a strange idea? If it seems strange to anyone it should not seem strange to Christians. Christians proclaim a resurrection hardly any of them claim to have seen physically. If we can accept the resurrection by faith, why not the Second Coming?
Is there something unimportant about a spiritual event? Would it carry more weight with us if it were physical or fleshly? If so, what does that say about us? Certainly the resurrection “spiritualized” the first coming in a way some were not expecting. That is, Jesus ascended from a physical place to a spiritual place. The disciples had thought they were going to follow Messiah in earthly victory, vanquishing the Romans. But the resurrection meant they were to follow Him in spiritual victory through fleshly suffering, vanquishing the unseen forces of their own jealousy, strife, and pride. If to “spiritualize” something means to make it of no practical effect, then such spiritualizing is wrong. If, however, we take as spiritual something that is spiritual and apply it in our lives, have we not honored Him who taught us that spiritual things are more important than physical things? (See Luke 16:15.)
Spiritual things are not only more important than physical things, they are more enduring. “For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are forever.” (See 2 Corinthians 4:18.) The very reason that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is an event to last for eternity, never needing to be changed, altered, or improved upon, installing forever the reign of Jesus Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, is precisely because it is not an event of the flesh but rather of the spirit. That is, it was unseen and eternal. In other words, if God wanted something to last forever and be the foundation of all eternity, wouldn’t He choose to do something spiritual rather than something physical? How much did Moses’ tabernacle or Solomon’s temple keep the people from going astray? We see that, great as they were, they had little lasting effect.
How would the faith in the invisible God that Jesus was working so hard to inculcate in His followers be helped by a physical Second Coming? If He were to come again in the fleshly display which so many seek, faith would not be necessary to greet Him and yet He asks,
“…when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:8 NASB
Jesus thus indicated the necessity to have faith in the Second Coming.
People who believe God is invisible and that Jesus is the Son of God should not find it so strange if Jesus should return as God, that is, invisibly. Since Jesus is who He is, isn’t it fitting that He should come the first time as man and the second time as God; the first time in the flesh and the second time in the spirit (2 Corinthians 5:16); the first time for sin and the second time for salvation (Hebrews 9:28); the first time in suffering and the second time in glory (Luke 24:26)? Should we be disappointed that we do not see Him physically when He told the apostle Thomas,
“Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” John 20:29 NASB
Making the Case
But we may be getting ahead of ourselves. The case has only begun to be made that Jesus Christ has already come again. The overwhelming evidence comes in the next two parts of the book as we examine in detail the statements of Jesus and His apostles on the subject. The next part of this book will look at everything they said about “when” the Second Coming could be expected. Nothing they said would let us date it anytime past the 1st Century A.D. To say then that it has not occurred some 1,900 years later is to say that we know more about the Second Coming than they did!
The last part of the book will look at what Jesus and His apostles said about “what” the Second Coming would be like. We will see that to regard their descriptions as referring to a physical event leads to all sorts of contradictions and inconsistencies – the very situation we find in the multiplied opinions about what the “future, physical” Second Coming will be like. If, however, we take their descriptions as referring to a spiritual event we will find that they harmonize to present a clear, consistent, and undeniably magnificent portrait of our Savior’s enthronement and His eternal reign.
At this point, therefore, it is only necessary for you to maintain an open mind. For in the acceptance or rejection of any Bible teaching, one must engage his or her conscience. We must ask ourselves, “Am I willing to stand before God and say this is what I truly believe?” If we believe the crowd is right, we should stand with the crowd; but if we believe the crowd is wrong, then we must stand alone. It is that sort of honesty before God that tends to break up crowds.
End of Chapter One
End of Part One