Please Help Us Keep These Thousands of Blog Posts Growing and Free for All
First, we start with a brief introduction from Andrews that highlights the importance of always having the second coming of Christ at the forefront of our minds. Then, the article will delve into the specifics of exactly what the Bible has to say about the second coming of Christ by Bible scholars and theologians Millard J. Erickson, Walter A. Elwell, and Barry J. Beitzel.
Do Not Put the Second Coming of Jesus Christ on the Back Burner (Delay Thinking)
When Christians write on the subject of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, trying to prove that he will indeed come again, this might seem entirely pointless, worthless, and a waste of time. It is a doctrine that all orthodox Christians agree will take place. However, there is hardly another article of Christian faith so unemotionally held and definitely not truly taken seriously. Think of it this way, former President Barack Obama continuously talks about climate change, global warming, and the flooding that is going to supposedly take place, and yet, he buys a 12 million dollar home right next to the water that would put his house 100 feet (ca. 30 m) underwater if all of this were true. Do his acts belie that he truly believes in global warming?
Similarly, few Christians really welcome the second coming of Christ as a reality. Few take it up like it is a powerful truth that impacts their lives. Now, these do not deny it, but they do not have an outward display about themselves that it is real. In their thinking, they have distracted their minds with a fantastical, fictional, metaphorical coming of the Savior. In timely preparation for future eventualities, in their grasp and appreciation of the Word of God, in the church, the actual true second coming has nearly become outdated—a dead message.
The church nor the Christians has the second coming embedded in their hearts and minds with its pressing and dominating power. Christians talk about it, banter it around, and on the other extreme end, the apocalyptic Christians have Jesus returning every weekend. However, most do not effectually live as though it is true, any more than the global warming alarmist believe that global warming is true. While the second coming is in our belief system, it is not part of our faith. It is something for some far distant generation to deal with, so we do not contemplate it at all. It is highly recommended herein that we rethink how important this doctrine is to us and where we stand on it. We would rather not be like those that have relegated it far into the future, but we also do not want to be like the apocalyptic Christians.
If we have been going months, years without pondering the second coming, saying to ourselves, “it will not be in my time,” we need to awaken to the words of Jesus Christ,
Keep on the Watch
Matthew 24:42-44 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Christians need to live as though Jesus is returning today and plan as though he is returning in fifty years. This means we are vigilantly awake doing the will of the Father and the Son but can do things like seeking a university degree, getting a seven-year car loan, and paying a 30-year mortgage. Again, be balanced, and do not let the apocalyptic-minded Christians with their screaming from the rooftop that Jesus’ return is nigh cripple you from living. Jesus also said,
Matthew 24:36 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of the heavens, nor the Son, but the Father only.
 א*, B D Θ f13 it MSSaccording to Jerome “nor the Son” Other MSS (א1 L W f1 33 Maj syr cop) omit “nor the Son.”
A blind man facing a cliff taking steps toward it does not know if it is the next step, or 500 hundred more steps, or 500 million more steps, so he must always be prepared. Now, this is not to illustrate that we need to dread the second coming like a cliff, but instead, it is making the point that we do not know the day nor the hour, so we must remain vigilant in living a life where we have a righteous standing before God. And to the Calvinist-minded, it isn’t saying works earn us salvation; it is saying that a true Christian with a righteous standing before God will have works.
Albert Barnes and Edward D. Andrews write,
1 John 5:2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and do his commandments.
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God. This is repeating the same truth in another form. ‘As it is universally true that if we love him who has begotten us, we shall also love his children, or our Christian brethren, so it is true also that if we love his children, it will follow that we love him.’ In other places, the apostle says that we may know that we love God if we love those who bear his image, chap. 3:14. He here says that there is another way of determining what we are. We may have undoubted evidence that we love God, and from that, as the basis of an argument, we may infer that we have true love for his children. Of the fact that we may have evidence that we love God, apart from that, which we derive from our love for his children, there can be no doubt. We may be conscious of it and find pleasure in meditating on his perfections; we may feel sure that we are moved to obey him by true attachment to him, as a child may about a father. But it may be asked, how can it be inferred from this that we truly love his children? Is it not easier to ascertain this of itself than it is to determine whether we love God? Comp. 1 John 4:20. To this, it may be answered, that we may love Christians from many motives: we may love them as personal friends; we may love them because they belong to our church, or sect, or party; we may love them because they are naturally friendly: but the apostle says here, that when we are conscious that an attachment does exist towards Christians, we may ascertain that it is genuine, or that it does not proceed from any improper motive, by the fact that we love God. We shall then love him as his children, whatever other grounds of affection there may be towards them.
And do his commandments. This is the only proper evidence of love for Jesus, for mere profession is no proof of love. Still, that love for him, which leads us to do all his will, love each other, deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him through evil report and good report is true attachment. We have evidence that a child loves its parents when that child is willing, without hesitation, gainsaying, or complaining, to do all that the parent requires him to do. So the disciples of Christ must show that they are attached to him supremely by yielding to all his requirements and patiently doing his will in the face of ridicule and opposition. The Father’s will and the Son’s will are the same because, as we are told by Jesus himself, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30) This means they both have the same will, purposes, and goals. Notice Jesus’ words about the will of the Father.
Matthew 7:21-23 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of the heavens, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in the heavens. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’
- “The one who does the will of my Father” – Might want to know what the will of the Father is?
- “Many will say to me” – Many so-called Christians
- “‘Lord, Lord, did we not … do mighty works’” – Did we not have soup kitchens for the poor, did we not cloth the poor, did we not pay to send that teenage girl to an Islamic country to have her head chopped of, while we sat comfortable in the pew?
- “I will declare to them” – Yeah, “depart from me, you who practice lawlessness’”
So, knowing the will, purposes, and goals of the Father and the Son might be very advantageous.
Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel write,
Second Coming of Christ. Doctrine of Christian faith concerning the consummation of Christ’s saving work upon his return to earth.
Terms Used. The doctrine is expressed by verbs such as come, descend, appear, and is revealed, with Christ as the subject (“I will come again,” Jn 14:3; “the Lord himself will descend,” 1 Thes 4:16; “when he appears,” 1 Jn 2:28; 3:2; “the day when the Son of man is revealed,” Lk 17:30; “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven,” 2 Thes 1:7), or send, with Christ as the object and God as the subject (“that he may send the Christ appointed for you,” Acts 3:20). It is expressed also by a variety of nouns, principally by coming (which is the regular translation of the Greek word parousia, meaning presence, visit, arrival, advent, esp. of a royal or distinguised person), also by appearing (as in 2 Tm 4:8; Ti 2:13), revealing, or revelation (1 Cor 1:7). These different verbs and nouns point to the same event but highlight different aspects of it, especially the manifestation of God’s glory in Christ when he comes.
The time of this event is repeatedly referred to as “the Day,” sometimes absolutely (as in Rom 13:12; 1 Cor 3:13; Heb 10:25), more often with a qualification, such as “the day of Christ” (Phil 1:10; 2:16), “the day of the Lord” (1 Thes 5:2; 2 Thes 2:2), “the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor 5:5; 2 Cor 1:14), “the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6), “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:8), and “the day of God” (2 Pt 3:12). When such expressions are used, there is often some reference to the judgment to be passed at the coming of Christ: his day is “the day of judgment” (1 Jn 4:17, etc.) or “the day of wrath” (Rom 2:5)—“that day when … God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (v 16). For the hard-pressed people of God, however, it is “the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30).
In some evangelical circles today a technical term widely used with regard to the second coming is rapture. This is the noun corresponding to the verb used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, where those believers who are still alive at the coming of Christ are described as being “caught up” together with their resurrected fellow Christians to meet him “in the air.” This rapture or translation is an incident in the second coming, not something distinct from it. (It may be relevant to note that the verb of 1 Thes 4:17 is used in 2 Cor 12:2, 3 to denote Paul’s mysterious experience of being “caught up” into the third heaven or Paradise).
Difference of interpretation about the time relation of the second coming to other end-time events or epochs has led to the emergence of distinct schools of eschatological thought. This is especially so as regards its relation to the 1000-year period of Revelation 20:2–7 (if that period is indeed an end-time epoch).
The NT Evidence. That the second coming of Christ was an essential element in the gospel as preached in the apostolic age is clear from one of the earliest, if not absolutely the earliest, of the NT documents. Writing to his converts in Thessalonica (cf. Acts 17:1–9) a few weeks after they first heard and believed the gospel, Paul reminds them how they had “turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thes 1:9, 10). Here Jesus’ expected deliverance of his people from end-time judgment is put on the same plane as his historical resurrection; the Christian way of life embraces both serving God and waiting for Christ. This note of waiting for Christ is repeated and amplified several times in this short letter.
A few years later Paul uses similar language when writing to his converts in Corinth (cf. Acts 18:1–18): “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:7). And in what may have been his last letter he speaks of “the crown of righteousness” which the Lord will award him “on that Day, and not only to me,” he adds, “but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tm 4:8). To love his appearing and to wait for him are two different ways of expressing the same attitude.
Nor is Paul the only NT writer to use this kind of language. The writer to the Hebrews encourages his readers with the assurance that in a little while “the coming one shall come and shall not tarry” (Heb 10:37). James says that “the coming of the Lord is at hand” (Jas 5:8). Peter speaks of the time “when the chief Shepherd is manifested” (1 Pt 5:4). The Revelation to John ends with the risen Lord’s promise, “Surely I am coming soon,” and the church’s response, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rv 22:20).
The record of Acts begins with the angels’ assurance at the ascension of Christ that “this Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). The summaries of apostolic addresses which the book contains make repeated references to Jesus as “the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (10:42; cf. 17:31).
The origin of this entrenched belief and proclamation is found in the teaching of Jesus before his death. In the synoptic Gospels appears ample reference to the coming event, if one accepts that the Son of man mentioned so frequently by Jesus is to be identified with Jesus himself. On “the day when the Son of man is revealed” (Lk 17:30) he will come “in clouds with great power and glory” (Mk 13:26). This language is derived from the OT, especially from Daniel’s vision in which “one like a son of man” is brought “with the clouds of heaven” to receive everlasting dominion from the Ancient of Days (Dn 7:13, 14). A cloud or clouds regularly enveloped the divine glory in the OT (as in Ex 40:34; 1 Kgs 8:10, 11); their mention in connection with the coming of the Son of man indicates that, when he comes, the glory of God will be manifested in him. The Son of man discharged his earthly ministry “in weakness”; thanks to his victory on the cross he discharges his present ministry “in power” (cf. Mk 9:1), and this power will be consummated at his revelation from heaven. His revelation from heaven will bring judgment to the ungodly and rewards to his followers: “every one who acknowledges me before men, the Son of man also will acknowledge before the angels of God” (Lk 12:8); but “whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mk 8:38), for “then he will repay every one for what he has done” (Mt 16:27).
Jesus’ last reference to this consummation was made at his trial before the Jewish authorities when, asked by the high priest to say whether or not he was “the Christ, the Son of the Blessed,” he replied, “I am; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mk 14:62).
It may be that the NT points to a succession of partial comings of the Son of man, but these in turn point to the final coming. As in the OT age, so too in the Christian era can one recognize outstanding days of the Lord in which his judgment of evil and vindication of righteousness are signally displayed. The early church recognized one such “day of the Lord” or “coming of the Son of man” in the destruction of the temple and city of Jerusalem in ad 70—an event which took place within a generation of Jesus’ prediction of it (Mk 13:30)—but even while predicting that judgment was relatively near, he went on to speak of his final coming, on a day and hour of which no one knew (v 32).
While the synoptic Gospels stress the public and earth-shaking aspect of Jesus’ coming, the Gospel of John dwells on its inward and personal aspects. The action of the Son in raising the dead for life or judgment does indeed find a place in this Gospel (5:25–29); but in the upper room the promise of his return is intended to comfort his bewildered disciples: “when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (14:3). The possibility that one or more of them might remain on earth until he comes is mentioned, but no positive statement is made one way or the other (21:22, 23).
In this Gospel also one can trace references to anticipatory comings of Christ. When, for example, John says in 14:18, “I will not leave you desolate [orphans]; I will come to you,” the immediate context suggests that he is speaking of his coming in the person of the Spirit, the “other Counselor.” But this cannot be identified with his coming again to take them to himself; it is a preliminary visitation to that final coming.
The second coming of Christ is specially associated in the NT with his activity in resurrection and judgment.
Resurrection. In 1 Thessalonians, written not more than 20 years after the death and resurrection of Christ, his coming again is presented by way of comfort and encouragement to those whose Christian friends have died. Paul had been compelled to leave Thessalonica before he had time to give his converts there as much teaching as they required, and when some of their number died shortly after his departure, their friends wondered if they would suffer some serious disadvantage at the second coming, in contrast to those who would still be alive to greet the returning Lord. No, says Paul, “those who have fallen asleep” will suffer no disadvantage; on the contrary, the first thing to happen when “the Lord himself will descend from heaven” is that “the dead in Christ will rise”; only after that will those who survive until then be caught away to join them and be for ever “with the Lord” (4:15–17).
Fuller information on the same subject is given in 1 Corinthians, written about five years later. There the coming resurrection of believers is the full harvest which was inaugurated by the resurrection of Christ: “Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (15:23). An additional revelation is imparted: not only will each believer who has died be raised in a “spiritual body” (v 44); those who are still alive will be “changed” so as to conform to the conditions of the resurrection age. For dead and living believers alike it holds that “as we have borne the image of the man of dust (that is, Adam; cf. Gn 2:7), we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (i.e., the risen Christ; 1 Cor 15:49).
To the same effect Paul writes, a few years later still, in Philippians 3:20, 21, that from heaven “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body.”
A deeper unfolding of what this will involve is made in Romans 8:18–23, where the resurrection of the people of Christ, their investiture with his risen glory, carries with it the renewal of all creation: creation, at present subject to change and decay (cf. Gn 3:17, 18), “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God,” because then it will obtain a share of their “glorious liberty.”
Judgment. The association of judgment with the second coming arises in Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels. The association is equally plain in the epistles of the NT. Paul in particular puts the subject on a personal level. He forbids premature judgment of fellow Christians: “do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes” (1 Cor 4:5). The Lord will conduct an investigation which will bring to light the hidden motives of the heart such as no earthly court can penetrate, without the knowledge of which judgment must remain a blunt tool. Paul knew that his own apostolic work would be assessed on “the day of Christ” (Phil 2:16), and he expected that the chief criterion in that assessment would be the quality of his converts. So he writes to the Thessalonians: “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?” (1 Thes 2:19).
Elsewhere Paul urges his converts to bear in mind that they, with himself, must appear before the tribunal variously called “the judgment seat of God,” to whom “each of us must give account of himself” (Rom 14:10, 12), or “the judgment seat of Christ,” where each will “receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (2 Cor 5:10). It seems clear that this judgment is to take place at the second coming of Christ, who will then “judge the living and the dead” (2 Tm 4:1). Because Paul is writing to Christians, he tends to concentrate on the judgment or assessment which they will undergo at the Lord’s return. But in writing to the persecuted members of the church in Thessalonica, he makes it plain that the same coming will bring relief from their afflictions to them and retribution to their persecutors (2 Thes 1:6–10). The outstanding act of retribution will be visited on the “man of lawlessness,” the incarnation of evil and rebellion against God, for “the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming” (2:3–8). This language echoes that used in Isaiah 11:4 of the, expected Prince of the house of David, who “shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.”
More generally, the apostolic statement that God “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed” (Acts 17:31)—the day being self-evidently that of Christ’s return—implies that it is the second coming of Christ that will give effect to the OT prophecies of the new age when God “will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth” (Ps 96:13; cf. 98:9).
Its Meaning for Church and World. From the earliest days when Christians began to confess their faith in a commonly accepted form of words, the second coming of Christ has been one of its basic articles. For example, the Apostles’ Creed (which is based on the 2nd-century baptismal confession of the church in Rome) devotes its central section to a recital of the saving acts of Christ, “who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; he descended into hades; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.” Most of these acts are expressed in the past tense, one in the present, and one in the future; but the act expressed in the future tense is held to be as factual as those which have taken place in the past. Jesus’ coming to judge the living and the dead does not occupy a different plane of reality from his suffering under Pilate. The series of his saving acts is incomplete without this consummating act which still lies in the future; those which have taken place already provide the guarantee that this also will take place.
The Nicene Creed (ad 325 and 451), which is based on the baptismal confession of the church in Caesarea, enumerates the same saving events in somewhat fuller language, concluding them with the words: “and he shall come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead; of whose kingdom shall be no end.”
The second coming of Christ consummates his saving work. It is to this event that Paul refers when he says that “salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Rom 13:11). The writer to the Hebrews similarly assures his readers that Christ “will appear a second time … to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (9:28). This final salvation of God—or we might say (using a different idiom) the consummation of his kingdom—was inaugurated by the ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ but will be manifested in full by his coming again.
Because of an inevitably changing perspective, the second coming is no doubt envisioned rather differently by most Christians today than it was by their predecessors in the primitive church. If Christians of the first generation assumed that theirs was the generation that would witness the second coming, those of later generations have learned to be more cautious. It is for man’s spiritual health that it is not known when the Lord will come. In the words of the 18th-century German commentator Johann Albrecht Bengel, “each separate generation, living at this or that time, occupies during its own life-span the place of those who are to be alive when the Lord comes.” Each Christian generation, therefore, should live as though it might be the last one, while bearing in mind that Christians in the remote future may look back on the first 2000 years ad as the early period of church history. The second coming of Christ remains the hope of his people, as it is also the hope of the world (without the world’s necessarily being aware of this); but its timing is not of the essence of the hope.
If one asks what, in that case, is to be made of the NT assurance that the Lord is at hand, an answer may be found in a sermon entitled “Waiting for Christ” by the 19th-century English preacher John Henry Newman. He pointed out that, before Christ’s first coming, the course of time ran straight toward that event, but that since then the course of time runs alongside his second coming, on its brink. If it ran straight toward it, it would immediately run into it; but as it is, the great event is always at hand throughout the present era. The course of time will one day merge in the presence or parousia of Christ. If reckoned in terms of the succession of years, final salvation is nearer now than when Christians first believed; but personally, Christ is not nearer now than he was in NT times, and he is as near now as he will be when he returns.
There are times when the partition between his presence now and his coming parousia becomes paper thin; one day it will disappear completely and this mortal life will be swallowed up in the eternal order.
In the meantime, the real presence of the Lord at his table is a promise and foretaste of his presence when he comes in glory. At his table his people “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). In the early days of the church Christians reminded one another of this in the Aramaic invocation Maranatha, “Our Lord, come!” (16:22). With this invocation the communion service appears to have been regularly concluded; as is gathered from the document called the Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (a primitive manual of church order dating about ad 100). The corresponding Greek invocation, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” appears in Revelation 22:20 as the church’s response to her Lord’s assurance: “Surely I am coming soon.”
There are other moments of such conscious nearness to the presence of Christ that something like absorption into it is experienced. For each believer the partition disappears in the moment of death; at the last advent it will disappear on a universal scale.
Not only in personal experience but at various junctures in world history it has seemed to some Christians that the second coming of Christ must be just about to break in. A particularly fierce imperial persecution in ad 202, the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West in the 5th century, the fall of Constantinople to the Turks 1000 years later, the French Revolution (ad 1789 onwards) and its aftermath in the Napoleonic wars, not to speak of events in the 20th century, have stimulated expectations of this kind. The fact that these crises have passed without Christ’s personal return does not mean that those who cherished such expectations were entirely wrong; these and similar crises may be recognized as anticipatory “days of the Lord” or even “comings of the Son of man,” just as, for example, the fall of Jerusalem in ad 70 was so recognized.
Again, the numerical notes of time in Daniel and Revelation have been studied and reinterpreted, with a zeal and ingenuity which might have been more profitably employed, in order to calculate the probable date of the second advent. The dates suggested have regularly come and gone without any fulfillment of these calculations; they were so artificially determined that they cannot for the most part be recognized as even anticipatory “days of the Lord.”
In the NT and in historical theology the parousia of Christ has been presented not only as the hope of the believer but also as the hope of the world. Paul appears to link it, too, with the ultimate salvation of Israel when, adapting OT prophecies, he speaks of the deliverer who “will come from Zion” and “banish ungodliness from Jacob” (Rom 11:26)—if it is the heavenly Zion that he has in mind. The NT interpretation of the “one like a son of man” whose eternal dominion replaces that of warring empires based on force (Dn 7:13, 14) points to the universal establishment of the peaceful reign of Christ, as does the vision of the seer of Patmos in which “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Rv 11:15). John’s favorite acclamation of God in three tenses as the one “who is and who was and who is to come” (cf. 1:4, 8) is reduced to two tenses: “who art and who wast” (11:17). He is no longer the one “who is to come”; he has come.
Millard J. Erickson writes,
Second Coming of Christ. The doctrine that Jesus Christ, who left earth and ascended to the Father, will one day again return to earth.
The Fact of the Second Coming. This belief is based upon several portions of Scripture. Jesus himself in his great discourse on last things (Matt. 24 and 25) spoke of his return, both in parables and in more direct teaching. He promised the disciples that he was going to prepare a place for his followers and would one day come again to receive them to himself, that they might be together forever (John 14:3). The angels at the time of the ascension told the disciples that the Lord would come again in the same manner in which he had gone away (Acts 1:11). The return of Christ was part of the kerygma (3:21). It is mentioned in Paul’s writings, especially the letters to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:15–17; 2 Thess. 1:7). Other references include 1 Corinthians 15:23; Philippians 3:20; Colossians 3:4; 2 Timothy 4:8; Titus 2:13; and Hebrews 9:28.
The second coming is a topic of progressive revelation. While there are allusions in the OT to the second coming, they are not clear and explicit, and consequently the Jewish rabbis found the messianic references apparently contradictory. On the one hand, they seemed to depict the coming of the Messiah as triumphant and powerful. On the other hand, this Messiah appeared as the suffering servant (Isa. 53, etc.). What were actually two comings had been collapsed into one through the foreshortening effect of the time perspective. Only in the NT is the revelation clear enough for the two to be distinguished, in large part because of the first had already occurred. Yet even here, the references to the second coming are often found within genres that are not completely clear, making interpretation difficult.
If the fact of the second coming is clearly revealed in Scripture, the time of it certainly is not. Jesus himself confessed that even he, during the period of his earthly incarnation, did not know the time of his return. This was not even known by the angels, but only by the Father in heaven (Matt. 24:36). At no point do the prophecies give any specific dating for the return of Christ, although there are indications of signs to be watched for. In response to an inquiry from his disciples as to whether he would at that time restore the kingdom to Israel, Jesus seemed to indicate in a more general way that this information about times and seasons was not for his disciples to know (Acts 1:6–7). With the end of the twentieth century, there has come a renewed interest in attempting to date the Lord’s return. Some, believing that creation took place about 4000 b.c. and that the text “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pet. 3:8) applies to this matter, expected the third millennium a.d. to be the biblical millennium, with the Lord’s return at the very close of the twentieth century.
The Nature of the Second Coming. The second coming will be personal and bodily. Some maintain that the coming of Christ was fulfilled by the promised coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. On these grounds, when Jesus said, “We will come to him” (John 14:23), he was referring to a presence that would be mediated by the Holy Spirit. Others see Jesus’ statement in Matthew 16:28 as being fulfilled at his resurrection. Others generalize the reference somewhat, maintaining that Jesus’ statement, “I am with you always, even to the very end of the age” (28:20), gives us the sense in which the coming of Christ is fulfilled. Another reference cited is Revelation 3:20, where Jesus says, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door. I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” This would make the second coming of Christ virtually equivalent to conversion. Yet a different twist is given by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who teach that Jesus has already returned, in 1914, but not visibly. Rather, he began to reign on his heavenly throne.
There seems little doubt, however, upon examining the biblical data, that Jesus’ return will be personal and bodily, and thus perceivable and unmistakable. This is seen in the circumstances attaching to it in the predictions of the second coming. Jesus seemed to suggest that his coming would be spectacularly visible and unmistakable when he warned against those who would say that he was present “in the desert” or “in the inner rooms.” They were not to be believed, for “as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:26–27). The Son of Man would be seen “coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (v. 30). Paul’s description of the second coming includes similarly unmistakable circumstances: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16). Finally, the two men dressed in white (angels?) at the ascension said, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Since this ascension was bodily, personal, and visible, it seems reasonable to assume that the return will be similar.
Terms for the Second Coming. Several NT terms represent the event.
Parousia. The most frequently used term is parousia, meaning “presence, coming, or arrival.” It is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:15 to designate Christ’s coming to raise the righteous dead and catch believers up to be with him. This coming will also result in the destruction of the man of lawlessness, the antichrist (2 Thess. 2:8). It will not be a secret event; it will be a glorious outshining. Paul prays for God to strengthen the hearts of believers, so that they may be “blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (1 Thess. 3:13).
Apocalypse. This word means literally “revelation.” Paul speaks of waiting for “our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed” (1 Cor. 1:7). It appears from 2 Thessalonians 1:6–7 and 1 Peter 4:13 that this will be a time of relief from great trial and will produce great rejoicing on the part of believers.
Epiphany. This word means “manifestation.” This will be a coming of Christ at the end of the tribulation. It will involve judgment upon the world and slaying of the man of lawlessness. Believers place their hope in this and keep the commandments of Christ, waiting for the rewards to be received at that time (1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 4:8). It is the completion of their salvation (Titus 2:13–14).
The Purpose of the Second Coming. The purpose of Christ’s second coming is the establishment, in the fullest sense, of the kingdom of God. The kingdom does not primarily mean a realm, characterized by a geographically bound domain, so much as it means reign. Wherever Christ reigns in the hearts of people, there is a kingdom. It is both present and future. In one very real sense, it came with the coming of Christ the first time. In another sense, however, it is yet future. Although Christ was a king when he came the first time, relatively very few accepted him as that. The time is coming when “every knee should bow, … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10–11). That will involve joyous celebration by Christians, but also reluctant submission by unbelievers. Even the devil, the beast, and the false prophet will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10). It is significant that in his great message on the last things, in Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man until he comes to 25:34. Having said that the Son of Man will come in his glory, and his angels with him, and will sit on his throne, he then begins to refer to himself in verse 34 as the King. He again uses the expression “the King” in verse 40. He does not again use the term Son of Man of himself until he returns to the discussion of the past and immediate future, in 26:2: “The Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” Thus the setting of the second coming is one in which the kingdom is prominent, for it is the fulfillment of the kingdom.
Preparation for the Second Coming. It is apparent, particularly from Jesus’ teaching about the second coming, that it has great practical import. For Jesus did not simply affirm the event as something about to occur. He also emphasized the appropriate behavior in the light of this fact. Many of Jesus’ parables were associated with this great fact. Three responses are particularly related to this impending event.
Watchfulness is urged. Because no one knows the time of Jesus’ coming, it is essential that one be alert to the possibility at any time (Matt. 24:42). He will come at an hour when he is not expected (v. 44). The wicked servant who assumed that it would be a long time until the master’s return did not conduct himself appropriately (vv. 45–51).
If watching is to protect one against the error of assuming that the second coming will be a long time off, waiting is the precaution against the opposite error, believing that it must necessarily be soon. So the five foolish virgins apparently were not prepared for a long wait (Matt. 25:1–13), and they fell asleep. When the bridegroom finally came, their supply of oil was depleted. While they went out and bought oil, the bridegroom came and entered, and they were left out. Peter tells of scoffers who in the last days, because such a long time has elapsed, will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:3–4). Thus, it is necessary not only to be watchful but to sustain that watchfulness in the face of apparently negative indications.
Finally, the follower of the Lord is to be working in view of the certain fact of his return. The parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14–30) makes this especially clear. The master gave five talents to one servant, two to another, one to a third. The first two servants put to work what had been entrusted to them, thus doubling these resources, but the third merely hid away what he had received, preserving but not increasing it. When the master returned after a long time, he spoke words of commendation to the first two servants and gave them even greater responsibility. He rebuked and punished the wicked servant, however, terming him lazy. It is clear that watchful waiting is not to be idleness. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians (2 Thess. 3:6–13) underscore this.
While it is clear that we have not been told, and thus will not know, the time of the Lord’s return in an absolute sense, there are some indicators in Scripture that may enable us to ask about the relative time, that is, when it will occur in relation to two other important future events.
Millennial Views. These deal with the question of the relationship of Christ’s return to the thousand-year period of which John writes in Revelation 20:4–6.
Amillennialism. This view does not expect any earthly reign of Christ between his return and the final judgment. It maintains that the thousand years are symbolic, either of the completeness of Christ’s reign when he returns, or of the condition of believers during the intermediate state between death and resurrection. Amillennialists note that the thousand years are mentioned in only one passage, and that in a highly symbolical book.
Postmillennialism. This is the view that through the successful preaching of the gospel, the reign of God will gradually become complete upon earth, evil will cease, and peace will come. At the end of this period, which is not necessarily exactly a thousand years, Christ will return. The parables such as the mustard seed and the leaven, which depict the kingdom as growing progressively larger, are cited by this view.
Premillennialism. This holds that Christ will return at the beginning of the millennium and will resurrect dead believers; they, together with believers still alive at Christ’s coming, will reign with him on earth. At the end of this period of time there will be a brief flareup of evil, followed by the resurrection of unbelievers, and the final judgment. This view rests heavily upon the contention that the two resurrections in Revelation 20, being described in identical fashion, must both be bodily; and upon OT passages such as the description of the lion and the lamb lying down together, which must occur within this period.
NOTE FROM EDWARD D. ANDREWS: We hold that there will be a Great tribulation that the Christians will have to go through. At the end of the Great Tribulation, Christ will return, initiating Armageddon. After the war, the millennial reign of Christ will begin. If you would like to know more about this, see the linked article below (The 1,260, 1,290, and 1,335 Days of Daniel’s Prophecy), which will give you the exact amount of time the Great Tribulation will last.
Tribulational Views. These relate the time of the second coming to the great tribulation of Matthew 24.
Pretribulationism. This holds that Christ will come for the saints to remove them from the world (the rapture) before the seven years of tribulation, returning with the saints at the end of the tribulation.
Posttribulationism. This teaches that the church will not be removed from the world, but will go through the tribulation, although preserved within it.
NOTE FROM EDWARD D. ANDREWS: We do not pick any of the specific views per see. Because when there are multiple doctrinal views on something, there are many aspects to it, and it isn’t easy to agree with all that might be said. However, we are on board with the Posttribulationism view in the that is no rapture. The rapture is an unbiblical doctrine. Christians will go through the Great Tribulation and right into Armageddon and then the millennial reign of Christ. Not all Christians are going to heaven, only those who will rule with Christ as co-rulers of his kingdom for a thousand years.
Midtribulationism. The church will go through the first three and a half years (the tribulation) but will be removed before the great tribulation (or wrath of God).
Other Issues. The Second Coming—One Phase or Two? Some theologians, especially dispensationalists, see two phases or stages to the second coming. The first, basically a secret coming, is to remove the church before the tribulation. The second phase, at the end of the tribulation, is Christ’s triumphant return to set up his earthly millennial kingdom. They base this upon a distinction among parousia, epiphany, and apocalypse. Others find this distinction artificial and believe there will be simply one return, at the end of the tribulation.
Imminence of Second Coming. Some teach that the second coming could occur at any moment. No additional prophecies remain to be fulfilled. They believe that the injunctions, “Watch, you do not know the time,” require this.
Others speak of imminence in a more general way. They note that at the time Jesus spoke the words they could not mean that he could come at any time, since certain events, such as the aging and infirmity of Peter (John 21:18), the fall of Jerusalem, and the destruction of the temple, had to occur first. They argue that if the words could not denote any-moment imminency when spoken, they do not require that meaning now. Thus, the second coming may be very near, but certain events, such as the tribulation (which may not require a full seven calendar years), would have to occur first.
Conclusion. The doctrine of the second coming is sometimes made a topic of quarreling among Christians. It is instead, as Paul indicated, an encouragement to hope and comfort (1 Thess. 4:18).
SCROLL THROUGH THE DIFFERENT CATEGORIES BELOW
BIBLE TRANSLATION AND TEXTUAL CRITICISM
BIBLICAL STUDIES / INTERPRETATION
CHRISTIAN APOLOGETIC EVANGELISM
TECHNOLOGY AND THE CHRISTIAN
CHURCH HEALTH, GROWTH, AND HISTORY
 G. C. Berkouwer, Return of Christ; C. A. Blaising and D. L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism; R. G. Clouse, ed., Meaning of the Millennium; A. A. Hoekema, Bible and the Future; G. E. Ladd, Blessed Hope; Crucial Questions about the Kingdom of God; R. Pache, Return of Jesus Christ; D. Pentecost, Things to Come; A. Reese, Coming Advent of Christ; S. Travis, I Believe in the Second Coming of Jesus. Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 1080–1083. G.R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Future; G.C. Berkouwer, The Return of Christ; T.F. Glasson, The Second Advent; G.E. Ladd, The Blessed Hope; R. Pache, The Return of Jesus Christ; D.W. Pentecost, Things to Come; A. Reese, The Coming Advent of Christ; G. Vos, The Pauline Eschatology. Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Second Coming of Christ,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1918–1922.