The second advent of the Lord Jesus is the “blessed hope” of the church (Titus 2:13). Throughout the centuries of church history, concerned believers have waited expectantly for the glorious event.
The Son of God came the first time in Bethlehem as a virgin-born baby. He was “despised and rejected of men” (Isaiah 53:3). He was arrested, ridiculed, and finally crucified. His death was a perfect sacrifice for sin. But some day He will come again — not to experience mocking and humiliation — but to reign as King over the universe. The second coming of Christ to the earth is the bright and radiant hope of God’s people.
The Apostle John, writing from the island of Patmos, says, “Behold, he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him” (Revelation 1:7). Jesus himself declares that people will “see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30). Jesus promises that He will prepare a place for us, and that He will come again (John 14:2b-3).
There are scoffers who say, “Where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Peter 3:3-4). They are not willing to take the promises of God’s Word seriously. But the angels declared to the disciples of Jesus who witnessed His ascension into Heaven: “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
The Apostle Paul declares that “when Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). The truth about the second coming of Jesus is clear — and we do not try to explain it away.
1. The Certainty of Christ’s Coming
If the second coming of Jesus were mentioned only once in the Bible we would accept it as a fact, but the New Testament mentions Christ’s return in about three hundred places.
The Apostle Peter explains that one time many years ago God promised that the earth would be destroyed with a Flood. Noah preached to the people, but they did not believe that there was going to be a flood. They scoffed, and looked at Noah’s boat, and laughed. But when the clouds gathered and the rains poured down, and the people were forced to leave their homes, they climbed the hills, but the water soon covered the hills.
The people scrambled to the tops of high mountains, but the water eventually covered the mountains. The whole generation (with the exception of Noah and his family) perished in the waters of the Flood. Peter in essence says, “If God, in earlier days (in the days of Noah), made a promise — and if that promise came to pass — surely His promise about the second coming of Jesus (and the destruction of the earth with fire) will also come to pass” (2 Peter 3:3-10).
The news magazines report the findings of modern scholars and claim that recent scholarship has “virtually dismissed the idea of a real second coming of Christ, preferring to view the Bible accounts as merely symbolic.” But the angels announced this message to those who were standing by at the time of Jesus’ ascension: “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). The coming of Jesus will be “in the same manner” as His going was. That requires an actual, literal, visible appearing of Jesus when He comes back to earth again.
The second coming of Jesus is not Christ’s coming at conversion. He does come to an individual at conversion, and as a result, many of us can say with the Apostle Paul, “Christ lives in me.” But that is not Christ’s second coming.
The second coming of Jesus is not Christ’s coming to fellowship with His people when they assemble together. He does come to fellowship with His people. He promised that “where two or three are gathered” He would be there among them. But that is not Christ’s second coming.
The second coming of Jesus is not Christ’s coming for His people at death. He does come for His people at their death. He promised that when we breathe our last mortal breath, He will be at our side. He will walk with us down the valley of “the shadow of death.” None of us needs to “cross Jordan alone.” But His being with us at death is not His second coming.
The plain teaching of 1 Thessalonians 4:16 is that “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.” And in Hebrews 9:28 we are told that “Christ . . . shall appear the second time” [not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him]. Jesus came the first time to bear our sins (when He died on the Cross); He is coming the second time to bring a completion to our salvation.
2. The Phases of Christ’s Coming
Keep in mind that the coming of the Lord is one great event — in two stages. Some think there will be an interval of time between the two stages; others believe that the two primary purposes for His coming will be accomplished at essentially the same time.
a) Jesus will return to remove the church. This phase is sometimes called the rapture phase of His coming. The word “rapture” is not used in the English translations of the Bible. It is a Latin word which means “to snatch away.” There will be a generation of Christians that will never die. In a split-second, in the “twinkling of an eye,” living believers will be caught up and removed from the earthly scene. Those who died in Christ, and those who are living for Christ when He comes, will be caught up to be with the Lord. All who have embraced Christ as Savior, and have received the Holy Spirit, and are continuing on the journey of faithfulness in the service of Christ — will suddenly be removed from earth and transported in the presence of God. The Lord’s disciples will be caught up into the air when Jesus comes and will go to be with Him. The Bible says so in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.
b) Jesus will return to smite the nations. The second phase of Christ’s coming is often spoken of as “the revelation phase” of His coming. The word “revelation” means “an unveiling.” When Jesus comes in the second phase of His coming, “Every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him, and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him” (Revelation 1:7). The grand climax of Bible prophecy is the coming of Jesus Christ to conquer His enemies and to set up His kingdom.
In connection with our Lord’s coming, there will occur a number of judgments which Jesus describes as “the suffering (or tribulation) of those days” (Matthew 24:29). A satanic world ruler called the Antichrist (or the lawless one) will come to power (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Great battles will be fought in the Middle East (Revelation 16:14-16). A portion of earth’s population will be wiped out (Revelation 9:15). Difficult times lie ahead for the inhabitants of earth. Days of agony will occur in the midst of the end-time events.
At the first phase of His coming, Christ will remove the Church (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18). The event will come upon the human family as a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2). And Jesus says we should “watch” for we do not know “when the master of the house cometh” (Mark 13:35).
At the second phase of His coming, Christ will conquer His enemies (Revelation 19:11-16). Jesus describes the scene when He says, “Then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27). And in Revelation 1:7 we read, “Behold, he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him.”
We have seen that the Scriptures speak of “a thief in the night phase” of Christ’s coming, and also of “an every eye shall see him phase” of His coming. We must keep in mind that Bible prophecies are not arranged neatly in a one-two-three order. For example, try to picture a Jewish student of the Scriptures in early times who was looking forward to the Messiah’s coming. The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem — a town in the southern part of Palestine (Micah 5:2). He was to be called a Nazarene — a town in the northern part of Palestine (Matthew 2:23). And He would be called “out of Egypt” — a country way down in Africa (Hosea 11:11; Matthew 2:15). How could all those statements possibly be reconciled? But when the coming of Jesus took place, it was obvious that there was no contradiction at all! And so it is with the facts related to Christ’s second coming. There is not one portion of Scripture which neatly fills in all the details. It may very well be the Lord’s way of getting us to search, and to think, and to study His Word.
John the Baptist was a gifted man and a Spirit-filled prophet who could not harmonize what he expected the Messiah to do, with what he saw Jesus doing. And so he sent representatives to Jesus who flatly asked Him if He was the Messiah. If John the Baptist failed to grasp the significance of some of the prophecies about Jesus, surely we should be cautious about announcing every detail related to prophecy as if we knew all the answers.
Details surrounding the Second Coming of Christ are difficult to sort out. There are some principal lines of thought that are clear however. The Book of Revelation, for example, depicts a vision of the glorified Christ, and then a description of conditions that occur in the church throughout the church age, and then a series of excruciating end-time events.
The Apostle John was told to write the things he had seen (the vision of the glorified Christ), and the things that are now (the description of conditions in the churches during the present age), and the things which will take place “hereafter” (Revelation 1:19). The door standing open in Heaven and the voice [like a] trumpet (Revelation 4:1) can easily symbolize the removal of the Church (1 Thessalonians 4:16). The judgments described (in chapters 6 through 18 of Revelation) picture the “tribulation” suffering (Matthew 24:21). And the returning of the King of kings in great power and glory (Revelation 19:1-16) are a picture of His smiting the nations and ruling with absolute authority.
3. The Time of Our Lord’s Return
No person knows the exact hour of the return of Jesus Christ. Jesus clearly states that fact, as recorded in Matthew 24:42 (and also in verses 44 and 50 of the same chapter). Occasionally down through history people have ignored this truth and have set dates for the Lord’s return. The most recent widely published examples of date-setting were the predictions by Harold Camping that Jesus would return at certain precise dates. Satan seems to want either to get people to fix a date for the Lord’s return in our own generation, or else he tries to get people to push the event so far into the future so that they end up scarcely thinking about His coming at all. Both extremes are wrong.
Over the years, some have set dates and prepared for an early departure from earth. They sometimes have gathered at an appointed place, hoping to meet the Lord. Large numbers of people thought that Jesus would return about 1000 A.D. As the year 1000 approached, multitudes of people speculated about the Antichrist and made the long and dangerous journey to Jerusalem and waited for Jesus to set foot on the Mount of Olives. But the coming of Jesus did not happen then. We saw some efforts to repeat this kind of sensationalism at various times during the Twentieth Century, but especially as the year 2000 approached.
There is simply no way by which we can tell when Jesus will come back. We know there are certain general signs which point to the return of Christ. Just as travelers can often tell when they are approaching a town, by reading the signs along the road, so Christians can notice certain special signs taking place on earth — signs which make our hearts beat faster. There is, for example, the decay of moral standards on a global scale. And then there is the rise of militant forces against Jerusalem; there are dangerous cults that are deceiving millions; there have been unusual environmental disturbances in various parts of the earth; and there has been increasing violence which at times marches out of control. All these things are evidences of our Lord’s return, and they keep mounting every day. Jesus may come for His followers before those signs are completely fulfilled. There is not one prophecy that needs to be fulfilled before Jesus returns.
Jesus will return on an ordinary day when people are doing ordinary things. The wicked will be practicing their ordinary sins. The followers of our Lord will be doing their ordinary service. The only thing we know for sure about the removal of the Church, is that it will be sudden and it will come at an unexpected moment. Jesus uses illustrations like the flash of lightning (Luke 17:24), the breaking-in of a thief (Matthew 24:43), and the unannounced return of a master (Mark 13:35) when He talks about His coming again.
The challenge to believers is to be ready always, not because of today’s trends, but because we don’t know when Jesus is coming back. All we know for sure is that when He does come, it will be a sudden experience.
4. The Glory of Christ’s Coming
The first phase of Christ’s coming will be glorious. The passage in 1 Thessalonians 4 says that when our believing loved ones die, we are not to grieve as others do who have no hope. In fact those who are dead “in Christ” will rise first, and those who are alive at His coming will be “caught up together with them in the clouds” and we will be “with the Lord.” The conclusion of the paragraph is given in verse 18: “Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
Those words are a glorious promise. Believers will see Christ and be with Him, and will never be separated from His presence. We are to encourage each other with the words of Paul’s inspired promise.
The second phase of Christ’s coming will also be glorious. The description of the time when Jesus Christ will be “revealed from heaven” (2 Thessalonians 1:5-9) indicates that the Lord Jesus will come “with his mighty angels in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (verses 7-8). The Bible says that we can take comfort in the fact that one day everyone will stand before God, and that then wrongs will be righted and evil will be terminated. Verse 10 (of 2 Thessalonians 1) says that Christ’s revelation will “be admired” on that Day by all those who have believed.
My heart leaps at the sound of the words of the angels at the time of Jesus’ ascension into Heaven: “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). One of these days, the same Jesus who walked by the shores of Galilee, and had compassion on the multitudes — and then was scourged and reviled and crucified — will descend from Heaven and catch away those who have served Him.
There is a little motto that hangs on the walls of some of our homes. It says, “Perhaps Today.” That is a good little phrase. We must never forget that Jesus may come on any day. It may be today; it may be tomorrow; it may be next week; it may be far into the future. But it will not be announced. It will be sudden and unexpected.
The truth about the return of Jesus Christ should constrain us to want to diligently purify our lives. We read in 1 John 3 that when Jesus appears, “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). The Apostle Peter looked at future events, and said, “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness” (2 Peter 3:11).
It is our duty to “occupy” until Jesus comes. In the parable of the king’s ten servants, we are told to do the business that needs to be done until Jesus comes back (Luke 19:13). While waiting for the coming of Jesus in glory, we must be diligent about doing the work which Jesus assigned us to do. We are to make disciples, and baptize new believers, and then teach them to follow Christ.
We must live our lives as though Jesus might return within the next hour. Yet, we must move ahead, and press on into the future, as though He might not return in our entire lifetime.
Can you honestly say today that the Second Coming of Jesus is your highest hope — or do you secretly wish that He wouldn’t come today, lest He interfere with the plans that you have for tomorrow? Let’s aim to live each day expecting that Jesus may come back before sunset!