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The Second Coming of Jesus Christ
Here is a quotation from the Bible - you will probably recognise it as the words of Jesus:
‘And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself; that where I am, there you may be also.’
What did Jesus mean when he said, ‘I will come again’?
This article explores what the Bible says about this subject. Be prepared - you may find that what the Bible says is different from the beliefs of many Christians.
The mission of Jesus
Let us start with an Old Testament prophecy that deals with the mission of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. Compare the words of Isaiah with those of Luke, which describe a reading that Jesus gave in the synagogue.
In this comparison we have strong clues about his first and second coming:
‘The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; he has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.’
Part of the great Isaiah scroll found near the Dead Sea, dating from around 200 BC. Some two hundred years later, Jesus read aloud from the scroll in the synagogue at Nazareth, and said he was fulfilling the very words spoken by the prophet. Picture from Light Magazine originally John Theodor/istock
Luke records in his gospel: ‘And he (Jesus) was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to preach the acceptable year of the LORD” . . . And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today is this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”.’
Notice that Jesus applied the first part of Isaiah’s prophecy to himself. He told them it was being fulfilled as they listened to him. Who could deny the truth of this? This was at the start of his ministry, and there would shortly be ample evidence before them that he was able to fulfil this role as the gentle preacher who also healed their sick. Jesus did not quote the entire passage in Isaiah. The words he did not read aloud have to do with a future role − not the role of preaching the Gospel message.
Jesus is the Christ
Did Jesus fulfil this prophecy?
Clearly, he stated that it was about him. We would be foolish to disagree with his assessment of this. However, equally clearly, he did not fulfil the entire prophecy, which you will note from the above comparison, continues after the words quoted by Jesus. We need to acknowledge that his work foretold by Isaiah has only been partly completed. There was, and still is, more to come! Jesus was quick to distance him- self from some of the practical aspects of his role as the ‘Christ’ or the ‘Messiah’ (both words mean ‘anointed one’), even though he was very quick to encourage the disciples to believe it was his destiny.
A future work
The Bible tells us that the work of Jesus was incomplete when he died and later ascended to heaven after his resurrection. We should look at some of those final exchanges with the disciples before he ascended to the right hand of his Father. We find these in the first chapter of Acts. The disciples asked him about his coming kingdom, that is the unfulfilled part of his work: ‘Therefore, when they had come together, they asked him, saying, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
And he said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth”’
Does this say they were mistaken about the Kingdom? Not at all. Jesus’ response was not to tell them they were mistaken, but to tell them that a lot more work had to be done, a lot of things had still to happen, and it would be quite a while before that time was to come. Shortly after this, Jesus was taken from them but they were left in no doubt about his second coming: ‘…while they watched, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly towards heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw him go into heaven”.’
The very last message the disciples received after Jesus left them, was that he would return. We also need to fully understand that his return was to be as they saw him go. This is really important, because it means Jesus must return and be recognised, just as people recognised him as a person at that time; one who walked among them. Jesus was no figment of their imagination! As far as his public appearances were concerned after his resurrection, he was seen and handled as a being with substance. So, remember this, when Jesus returns he will do so as the ‘Christ’, and he will return bodily.
How will we recognise his return?
The disciples asked a similar question and Jesus gave them the answer: ‘Now as he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?”’
The disciples linked ‘the end of the age’ with the coming of Jesus, and he was happy to discuss the issue with them. He gave them a number of signs to be alert for. He warned them not to be taken in by fraudulent, premature claims of his return in these words: ‘For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be’. He advised them that his return would not be hidden, but would be seen as lightning when it strikes and illuminates the whole landscape: ‘Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory’
- Matthew 24:27
- Matthew 24:30
Jesus often refers to himself in the New Testament narrative as ‘the Son of Man’. This is a clear description of people witnessing the return of Jesus, and ‘all the tribes’ or nations on earth at that, not just a privileged few. There are also a number of allusions to the return of Jesus in Matthew chapter 24 and we encourage you to carefully read this chapter. The return of Jesus Christ is clearly referred to during his life on earth and after he went to heaven.
The Apostle Paul makes many references to this, and some of them are found
in his first letter to the Christians at Thessalonica:
- 1:10 ‘and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.’
- 2:19 ’For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?’
- 3.13 ‘so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints’.
- 4.16 ‘For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.’
- 5.2 ‘For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.’
As you read those quotations, one from every chapter of the letter, did you notice anything about the characteristics of the second coming? Paul was assured that when Christ comes it will be sudden, without warning, like the unexpected ‘thief in the night.’ And the first thing that will happen is that those who are ‘in Christ’ will be raised from the dead.
What will Christ do when he comes?
Paul answers this very succinctly in his second letter to Timothy: ‘I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom.’
Paul clearly wanted Timothy to understand that, when Jesus returns, he will judge many people, some of whom will have been raised from the dead. Judgement, both for the world in general and for believers, is one of the features of his second coming. Some of the teachings of Jesus refer to this too. For example, consider the parable of the sheep and the goats: ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And he will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…’
So Christ will not save everyone after all! Some people are going to be turned away; and only those who are ‘dead in Christ’ will be raised from the dead. That is something we need to think carefully about.
The consequences of judgement are vitally important for those who will be judged. In this next passage we read of salvation, which is the destiny of those who pass to the right side of Christ’s judgement seat. ‘. . . Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for him he will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.’
Salvation is not universal; it is only for those who ‘eagerly wait’ for Christ’s return. If this is not a comfortable thought, remember that it is consistent with his teaching about the sheep and the goats.
The future Kingdom of God
The future work of Jesus is depicted very clearly in many Old Testament prophecies. When God created the world, it was His intention that it would give Him glory. It is not difficult to see that something went very seriously wrong, because this is far from the situation we see today. This does not mean God has given up. His plan, revealed by the Old Testament prophets, is still the same, and will be carried out at the appointed time
For example, the prophecy of Daniel illustrates that one of the consequences of the second coming of Christ will be to destroy all that is wicked, and set up an everlasting kingdom which will glorify God: ‘And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.’
In this passage Daniel explained to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, what would happen in the future. Daniel chapter two is a remarkable prophecy. It depicts a time when God will send Jesus to destroy the kingdoms of the world, and then to establish the world-wide Kingdom of God. Daniel was convinced about this, and we are too.
The great metal statue in the dream of Daniel chapter 2, a prophecy that one day all human government would be replaced by the kingdom of God (see Light Special Issue on Prophecy). Picture by Roy Toms - Light Magazine team.
What about you?
The Apostle Peter wrote about people ‘in the last days’ who would scoff at the idea of Jesus returning to set up God’s Kingdom on earth.
He describes them as ignorant. The reason he has not yet come is that it is not quite time in God’s calendar. All the evidence is that we are on the last page, but that page has not yet been turned to establish the Kingdom of God on this earth. We urge you to think about this, and take action while you still have time. All that you need is found in the Bible, God’s Word of truth. The door of opportunity will not remain open for ever! Will you be among the sheep or the goats when Jesus returns?
Source Light on a New World reprint from Volume 31.4