It was once fashionable in religious
circles to say that Jesus Christ would never return to the earth.
There are still plenty of professing Christians who believe that.
But there are now many others who have come to believe that the
Second Coming is a very important event.
Christadelphians have always taught
that the Return of Jesus Christ to the earth is vital to the
fulfillment of the purpose of God. This booklet reviews Bible
teaching about the Second Coming, both the events that will lead
up to that miracle and the reason for the Lord's Return.
Someone has counted the New Testament references to this great
event, and they number 318 occurrences! If you reflect that the
number of times the word for Christian love occurs is only 115,
you will begin to see the importance of this topic. Nor is it
simply the case that only one or two New Testament writers refer
to the matter in their writings. Treatment of the subject is
Jesus spoke often about the Kingdom
of God and his Second Coming. His parables, for example, were told
to those who thought the Kingdom of God was to appear immediately.
He was like a nobleman who had to go "into a far country to
receive for himself a Kingdom and to return" (Luke 19:12).
More than once he spoke of the Coming of the Son of Man
(e.g. Matthew 24:27,30,37,39,48; 25:27; 26:64). And when he
assured his disciples of his continuing spiritual, but invisible,
presence "even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20),
he inferred that then he would be visibly present with them for
The testimony of the Apostles was
equally plain. They had been clearly taught by the Risen Lord who,
during the forty days before his ascension into heaven, instructed
them about the Kingdom of God, the restored kingdom of Israel
(Acts 1:3,6). It was the opening theme of his post-resurrection
appearances that all the Old Testament promises were coming to
their fulfillment in him (Luke 24:27). At the time of his
ascension, as he was being taken up from the Mount of Olives into
the clouds, God sent His angels to explain.
"Ye men of Galilee", they said to
the watching apostles, "Why stand ye gazing up 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
It is not therefore surprising that
when the Apostles began to teach in the streets of Jerusalem, they
said that their Lord Jesus Christ was to return to the earth as
King. Peter gave the lead when he boldly announced that the grave
could not keep Jesus imprisoned. He referred his hearers to a
statement in Psalm 110:1, used also by his Lord, to show that he
had gone to heaven only until his enemies have been subdued
(2:34,35). Note the authoritative use of the Old Testament.
But also note a vital point. Bible
teaching is never given just for the sake of informing us what
happens next. It always has a deeper intention, for we are meant
to use the knowledge it confers to prepare ourselves for those
let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made that
same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ . . .
Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus
Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:36,38).
It should follow that our
consideration of Bible truth concerning the Return of the Lord
should also cause us to search our hearts.
But what of the writings of other New Testament authors? Let us
look at just one of the New Testament letters, the First written
by Paul to the Thessalonians. Notice how he centers his entire
message on the truth of the personal return to the earth of the
"wait for his Son
from heaven . . . which delivereth us from the wrath to come"
"what is our hope or joy? Are not ye in the presence of our Lord
Jesus Christ at his coming?" (2:19);
"he may stablish your hearts unblameable . . . at the coming of
our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints" (3:13);
"the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout" (4:16);
"the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night" (5:2);
"I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved
blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (5:23).
You could try extending this
investigation, if you wish. The emphasis on the Lord's Coming
continues in all the New Testament letters, but it is always
related to practical Christian living. Because the Lord is coming
again, there were matters in their lives that required attention!
And it is so for us.
The same person who counted 318 references in the New Testament
extended the search to the Old Testament, and discovered 1,527
such references to an event in God's purpose which can be no other
than the Coming of Christ as King. Let it be clear that the exact
number is unimportant; there is always room for some difference of
opinion about the occasional passage. But it is perhaps startling
to some readers to consider that there could be five times as many
references to the Second Coming in a part of the Bible which has
suffered widely from neglect over the years.
The fact of the matter is this: the
New Testament can only be understood once the Old Testament has
also been studied. The two Testaments belong together as
interdependent parts of God's revealed truth. What the Old
Testament foretells the New Testament fulfils, in part. But a very
large amount of Old Testament prophecy remains unfulfilled.
Consider these promises of a King
who will reign over God's Kingdom on earth, and ask yourself
whether they have ever been fulfilled:
||"Thy seed (a descendant of
Abraham) shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy
seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed"
(22:17,18; see Acts 3:25; Galatians 3:16).
||"And when thy days (David)
be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will
set up thy seed (descendant) after thee, which shall proceed
out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He
shall build a house (a Temple) for my name, and I will
stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever" (7:12,13).
||"The LORD hath said unto me,
Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me,
and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and
the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession" (2:7,8;
see Acts 4:25,26);
"He (the promised king) . . . shall have dominion also from
sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth"
||"It shall come to pass in
the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house (His
Temple) shall be established in the top of the mountains (at
Jerusalem) . . . and all nations shall flow unto it . . .
for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the
LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations"
"Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be
no end, upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom,
to order it and to establish it with judgment and with
justice from henceforth even for ever" (9:7);
||"Behold, the days come,
saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous
Branch (descendant), and a King shall reign and prosper, and
shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days
Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and
this is the name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR
Kingdom of God
Many times God has promised that He will rule the earth. What man
has failed time and again to achieve, God will establish. The King
will be a descendant of both Abraham and David (see Matthew 1:1).
He will rule from Jerusalem, on David's throne (see Luke 1:31-33).
His Kingdom will be one of justice and righteousness; it will
involve Divine education, Temple worship, and the exercise of
Kingly power to establish peace on earth (see Revelation
The Kingdom of God was once before
established on earth. King David and his descendants reigned upon
the throne of the Kingdom of the Lord (1 Chronicles 28:5). There
was nothing special about the throne itself. The Divine
appointment was what mattered and when king after king had
neglected God's law, He brought that arrangement to an end. But
even when the prophet Ezekiel announced the end of the Kingdom to
King Zedekiah (in 21:25-27), he promised that God would restore
the Kingdom on earth when he should "come whose right it is".
The Second Coming of the Lord Jesus
Christ to the earth has therefore to be understood against that
powerful Old Testament background. When Jesus began his public
ministry by announcing that the Kingdom of God was at hand (Mark
1:15), he was saying to those who knew the Old Testament promises
that he was the promised King. But Jesus had first come to achieve
personal righteousness, and to make it possible for others to
become right with God.
It is now possible for us to find
peace with God through the forgiveness of our sins, by association
with the saving work of the Lord Jesus. First we have to
understand the Gospel, including Bible teaching about the work and
person of the Lord Jesus, and the Kingdom over which he is now the
King. Then we have to be baptized as believing adults into his
saving Name (see Acts 8:1 2).
But what is the Second Coming of the Lord going to be like? For
example, would it be possible to miss it altogether and not even
be aware that it had occurred? Will it be visible or invisible?
Will Jesus be there in person or merely a spiritual presence? And
will he come to the earth or only towards the earth?
Jesus Christ rose bodily from the
grave. He was not an invisible spirit creature but One who could
be seen, handled and held (1 John 1:1; Luke 24:39,40). His body
was marked by the evidence of his suffering on the cross. Yet he
was no longer subject to the limitations of human existence. He
could come and go despite locked doors, and on Mount Olivet he
ascended bodily to heaven, defying the law of gravity. The
disciples had seen him go; he would return visibly. As the angel
later said: "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall
see him" (Revelation 1:7). Or as Zechariah the Old Testament
prophet had predicted, long before the crucifixion, "They shall
look upon me whom they have pierced and they shall mourn for him"
So it will not do to say that only
those who look with faith will see the Lord. Some will look, see,
and mourn (Revelation 1:7). Nor will it do to say that Jesus will
come invisibly, for the Lord himself warned:
"Then if any man
shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.
For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets . . ."
Nor will it do to argue that the
Bible talks of the presence of the Lord, meaning that it
will be an invisible one. The New Testament also talks about the
revelation of the Lord, using a word that means uncovering
or manifesting. In fact, the presence (Greek: parousia)
of the Lord turns out to be an especially suitable term. One of
the most authoritative Greek Lexicons available says of the word:
"It became the
official term for a visit of a person of high rank, especially of
kings and emperors visiting a province" (Arndt and Gingrich).
It is such a visit by a King that
the Scriptures foretell. The crowds who welcomed King Jesus into
Jerusalem when he sat astride a donkey and they threw coats and'
palm branches before him, shouted out greetings that referred
right back to the Promises of God: "Blessed be the kingdom of our
father David that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Mark 11:10).
Matthew comments that the rejoicing was a foretaste of what had
been forecast by Zechariah the prophet, when he wrote "Behold,
thy King cometh unto thee".
Now if the initial royal visit was
attended by such joy and rejoicing, consider what the next one
will be like! The prophet had declared:
"Rejoice greatly, O
daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold thy king
cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation. . . and he
shall speak peace unto the heathen; and his dominion shall be from
sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth"
This Scripture illustrates a widely used feature of Bible
prophecy: its joint short and long-term character. Jerusalem
rejoiced at the Kingly coming of Jesus -- "Lowly and riding upon
an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass" -- just as the prophet
had said. But their joy was short-lived, for he did not then go on
to establish worldwide peace, or commence to rule from Jerusalem
over a Kingdom that was to last for ever. Jesus completed enough
of the prophecy at that time to demonstrate that he was the Coming
One, and to give us confidence that he will return to complete the
promised transformation of the earth. Zechariah compressed the two
comings in such a way that there appeared to be no interval
between them. This has led some people to argue that the Kingdom
will never come, because, they say, even Jesus expected it in the
First Century, or at most shortly afterwards. It has thus been
dismissed by some as an early Christian hope, which has now been
superseded by a superior understanding. But when all the
Scriptures are studied carefully, it becomes clear that the Coming
of Jesus was not to occur immediately after his ascension to
heaven. The Day and the Hour
Any attempt to show that Jesus was mistaken about the time of his
Coming is doomed to failure. He clearly stated, more than once,
that he did not know:
"Of that day and hour
knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only"
As he later said, this was
something that the Father had reserved within His own authority
(Acts 1:7). But Jesus did know that some long time would elapse
before his Second Coming. He told parables to indicate that his
coming would not "immediately appear" (Luke 1 9:11), that it would
be "after a long time" (Matthew 25:19), and that there might be
some delay for those who were waiting (25:3). Like their Lord, his
followers were to appreciate that they could "not know what hour"
he would come.
The apostles also acknowledged that
they could not know the precise time of the great event for which
they waited. Peter warned about people who would scoff, as so many
have, at the "promise of his coming" (2 Peter 3:4). Indeed he
poured scorn on their faithlessness, what he called "willful
ignorance" -- people believing what they wanted to believe,
regardless of the evidence. And Paul was in no doubt either, for
he went on record as saying:
"But of the times and
the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For
yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh . .
." (1 Thessalonians 5:1,2).
Can you complete that quotation? It
holds the key to two vital matters concerning the early return of
the King. Notice first what the verse above says. There would be
general indications available -- what Paul calls "times and
seasons" -- which would help keep the believers prepared. And the
". . . the day of the
Lord so cometh as a thief in the night."
When it happens the Lord's Coming
will be swift, sudden and unexpected. No-one expects thieves to
strike. But they often succeed because people overlook the
dangers. It is also the case that speed is vital to a successful
robbery, which is why the figure is used by Jesus (Matthew 24:43),
Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:2), and Peter (2 Peter
3:10), to emphasise the vital
point. We must be on our guard, watchful, prepared, vigilant. The
Lord could come at any time! He will come when we least expect
That is why when Jesus explained what was to happen before his
Return, he very carefully emphasised the need for watchfulness.
Sitting with his disciples one day on the Mount of Olives, from
where he would later ascend to heaven, he gave them some general
indications of what was to happen prior to his "coming and the end
of the world" (Matthew 24:3). This prophecy presents a fascinating
challenge, for it combines a short-term prediction about the fall
of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, with a long-term
forecast of world events.
A list of the predicted events in
the three Gospel accounts (Matthew 24, Mark 1 3 and Luke 24),
which does not claim to be a structured sequence of prophetic
events, shows the following:
- The rise of
false Christianity and false Christs
persecution of true Christians.
- Wars and
rumours of wars, nation against nation.
Earthquakes, famines and pestilences.
surrounded by armies.
- The Jewish
in non-Jewish occupation.
- Signs in
the sun, moon and stars.
- The powers
of heaven shaken.
Notice how believers are warned
about the rise and growth of false Christianity. It is the Lord's
first concern. His words were fulfilled by the rapid development
of wrong teaching in New Testament times (e.g. Acts 20:29), and
are being fulfilled again at the close of this age. Elsewhere the
message is that the true believers will comprise a very small
remnant, compared with those who hold a distorted form of
The apostles also warn about this development. Paul was emphatic
that there would be manifestations of false Christianity, for he
prophesied that the Day of the Lord:
"shall not come,
except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be
revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself
above all that is called God, or that is worshipped" (2
The apostle Paul describes the man
of sin in language that refers back to the prophet Daniel, who
accurately foretold the rise and fall of four empires that
exercised power in the Middle East. He traced the development from
them to a false religious system, involving the Holy Roman Empire
and the papacy, that is opposed to Christ and his true followers.
This is counterfeit Christianity, and the apostle Paul describes
it as "the mystery of iniquity" which was already at work, and "a
The other thread of teaching in the
Lord's catalogue of future events concerned trouble. There were to
be wars and rumors of wars, both within and between nations; there
would be natural disasters and widespread hardship, earthquakes,
famines and epidemics; terrors and fearful sights would be in the
heavens, causing much fear and distress. People would not know
which way to turn for fear of what was about to happen on earth.
To some extent these problems are
as old as man. The tendency to war against one another is
evident even in the first book of the Bible, and famine
features there too. But even within Bible history the atrocities
of which man is capable become increasingly ugly, and since then
even more widespread horrors have been seen. The powers now
available to mankind are enough to make any sane person fear for
the future. More than ever before, these words of Jesus are coming
"There shall be . . .
upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and
the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them for fear, and for
looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the
powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the
Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory" (Luke
The reference to the sea and waves roaring, like others to
signs in the sun, moon and stars, may be either symbolic or
literal or some combination of both. The prophet Isaiah, for
example, wrote about the wicked being "like the troubled sea,
when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt"
(57:20). Jesus may have been drawing upon such imagery to describe
a world that was full of trouble because it was full of
wickedness. He may also have been teaching us to look out for some
upheaval of the physical order, like tidal waves, which would also
be an indication of the end of the age. Certainly there have been
many earthquakes and natural disasters over the past few years,
all over the world. The apostle Paul described the whole world
order as groaning and travailing in pain (Romans 8:22),
like a woman waiting to be delivered of a child. It is thus
evident that our present troubles are the birthpangs of a new and
better world, soon to begin.
In both Testaments we are told that
the tribulation that will come at the end of human government is
the final herald of the Second Coming. It will be:
"a time of trouble
such as never was" (Daniel 12:1);
"the time of Jacob's (Israel's) trouble" (Jeremiah 30:7);
"great tribulation" (Matthew 24:21).
Will the believers waiting for
their Lord have to suffer this trouble, or will they be spared?
The likelihood is that present-day believers will live through
this time of trouble, indeed that they have already begun to do
so. Jesus promised that for the elect's sake that time would be
shortened (Mark 13:20). But those who finally stand approved
before the Judge are those "which came out of the great
tribulation, and they washed their robes, and made them white
in the blood of the Lamb" (Revelation 7:14).
As that trouble increases, and God
pours out His wrath upon the earth, there are indications that
true believers will be sheltered from that outpouring. Isaiah
describes the great shake-up of human society when God intervenes:
"Come, my people,
enter into thy chambers. . . hide thyself as it were for a
little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the
LORD cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the
earth for their iniquity" (24:18-23, 26:20,21).
We must therefore consider
carefully what Jesus said:
"When these things
(the signs of which he spoke) begin to come to pass, then look up
and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh" (Luke
We should not wait until total
disaster has struck, and there is no escape route left. It is
better to learn the lesson now, that this is the time
immediately before the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is one great sign which removes all doubt concerning his
imminent return. The nation of Israel is back occupying the land
promised by God. The history of the Jewish nation has been a guide
throughout the ages to the outworking of God's purposes. They were
called as a special people, because of the great promises that had
been made to their Fathers. They were given the right to occupy
the land we now know as Israel, conditional upon their faithful
obedience to God. They were the people whose kings occupied the
throne of God's Kingdom on earth.
They forfeited these rights when,
after centuries of indifference, they not only refused to accept
the Lord Jesus as their Messiah, but were involved, with the
Romans, in effecting his death by crucifixion. Because of that
rejection, Jerusalem was overthrown. Throughout the intervening
centuries Jews have wandered the earth as a stateless people,
hated and persecuted almost everywhere they went, just as
Scripture said they would be.
But Scripture also forecast a
better future for this nation of sign, not because they would
change their behavior and live to deserve better treatment, but
because God would take pity on their plight and act to redeem
them. He would remember the promises made of old to the Fathers
and act to vindicate His great name. At the time of the end they
would be brought back from the nations and once more be settled in
their own land-the land of promise! So the prophets said:
||"The remnant shall return .
. the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion"
||"He that scattered Israel
will gather him" (31:10).
||"I will even gather you from
the people, and assemble you out of the countries . . . then
shall they dwell in their land . . . yea, they shall dwell
with confidence" (11:17; 28:25,26).
||"I will bring them, and they
shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem" (8:8).
And so it came to pass. After
nearly two thousand years of dispersion and down-treading, in 1948
the State of Israel was born by the decree of the United Nations,
and in 1 967 the whole of Jerusalem was repossessed by Jews. It
had taken all that time for the words of Jesus to be fulfilled:
"They shall fall by
the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all
nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles,
until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21:24).
Everything now indicates that the
Times of the Gentiles are rapidly drawing to a close and
the Time of the Kingdom of God is once more at hand. The
bringing together of troublous times and the return of the Jews to
the Land removes any doubt. Shortly King Jesus will return to
Jerusalem as World Ruler, to reign over Israel and over all
nations. Of all the available Signs of the Times given by Jesus
and the prophets, the establishment of Israel-the Nation of
Sign-is the clearest witness that the End is now at hand.
What then awaits the faithful follower of Jesus? Can he expect to
go to heaven with the Lord at his Return? Hardly, for the Lord is
coming to reign on earth, from Jerusalem. An elaborate scheme has
been devised by some Bible readers which requires not one Coming
but two. According to this, Christ's Coming would be first for the
Church only and would be a secret "rapture". He would come again
with the Church, for the world, and this would be visible and
public. In some versions of this theory the interval between the
two comings is very small; in others as much as seven years is
thought to separate the two events.
There is very little Scripture that
can be used to attempt to support these theories, for whilst there
are some indications that a separation will occur between
companions when Jesus comes (Luke 17:34-36), the main teaching
about the circumstances of the Return is that given in Paul's
First Letter to the Thessalonians:
"The Lord himself
shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the
archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall
rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught
up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the
air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (4:16,17).
The phrase caught up is that
from which the whole idea of a rapture has evolved; and the links
with a supposed seven year period of tribulation have been
achieved by the unsatisfactory interpretation of other Scriptures,
especially from the Revelation. Clearly there is to be a
catching away of true believers, both of the living and the
resurrected dead, "to meet the Lord in the air". They are to form
a welcoming party who, with the angels who attend his coming, will
make up his entourage. But they go to meet him, not he
them. And their destination is made clear in the Scriptures
already considered: the Lord and his followers are bound for
Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:4), "the city of the great king" (Matthew
In these dying moments of human government, the powers of heaven
will be shaken as men's hearts fail them for fear. The nations
will be engaged in a battle around Jerusalem. Then the Lord will
come! Unexpectedly, suddenly, in great power and glory, bringing
salvation for those who have faithfully waited and prepared for
this central event in their lives; but bringing judgement upon all
those who have wilfully ignored the faithful promises and gracious
invitation of God:
"The Lord Jesus shall
be revealed from heaven 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: who shall be punished with
everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from
the glory of his power: when he shall come to be glorified in his
saints, and to be admired in all them that believe" (2
It is vital therefore that we
believe what the Bible so clearly promises. We cannot simply "wait
and see", because Jesus is coming to save those who already
believe, not to give reasons for faith to those who have had clear
evidence, but no inclination for the things of God.
When the Lord spoke to his
followers about his eventual return to earth, he focused their
attention more on the consequences of his Coming than on the
sequence of events itself. To this day we cannot know for sure
when Jesus will come. But we know perfectly clearly that when he
comes he will call us to account, and ask us how we spent our
lives on the eve of his return:
"Take heed . . . be
not led astray . . . be not troubled . . . take heed to yourselves
. . . preach the gospel . . . be not anxious . . . endure to the
end . . . flee . . . pray . . . believe not false prophets . . .
take heed . . . look up and lift up your heads . . . take heed to
yourselves . . . watch . . . BE READY" (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke
The apostles make the very same
points as they reflect on the nearness of the Lord's Return.
"What manner of
persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness . .
. be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot,
and blameless" (2 Peter 3:11-14).
and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly,
in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the
glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ"
"When he shall
appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And
every man who has this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he
is pure" (1 John 3:2,3).
The Bible is our guidebook to the future, just as it is our
handbook for the present. It alone will show us what God wants us
to do. From it we can learn God's purpose and promises. The first
thing is to understand and believe those things that are true. We
shall then come to appreciate the need for obedience to God,
starting with baptism. And thus we shall be doing what Jesus
The coming Kingdom of God on earth
will transform human experience. We need to learn to live now in
harmony with our Creator. The Lord is at hand! It is now an urgent
matter for us all to examine our lives, so that we are properly
prepared for the Coming of the King.