Peter declares that the prophets in the Old Testament testified of "the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow" (1 Peter 1:11), and -- such is the difference between the words of inspiration and those which originate in a man's own consciousness -- he added that the prophets searched diligently "what and what manner of time" would see the fulfillment of their message. We have already noted that the Old Testament foretold in considerable detail the sufferings of Christ there are also many passages of Scripture which describe in glowing terms the glory of the reign of the Messiah: some of these we shall examine in the next chapter. There are also some prophecies that describe the work of Jesus Christ without giving any indication that an interval of time would intervene between the fulfilment of the first and second phases of his work.
It is of the greatest importance to recognize this fact in seeking to understand the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus. The "sufferings" and the "glory" of Christ are actually separated in time by centuries -- the one is past, the other mainly still future: yet in many Old Testament predictions they are combined without any indication that an interval of time divides them. There is, however, no error in thus uniting the "sufferings" and "glory" in one prophecy, for they are closely related in the work of Jesus: the glory would be impossible without the previous suffering. If we are careful to remember this relationship, no difficulty arises, and we are able to distinguish between that part of Old Testament prophecy which has already been fulfilled, and what yet remains to be fulfilled.
A good illustration may be found in Isaiah 61, which has the added interest that Jesus himself quoted it, but stopped at a significant point in the quotation. Jesus was visiting his home town of Nazareth in the early days of his ministry; he attended the synagogue "as his custom was", and stood up to read. There was handed to him a roll of Isaiah's prophecy, the opening verses of which read: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified" (verses 1-3).
Jesus, however, only read verse 1 and half of verse 2, stopping at the end of the words: "to preach the acceptable year of the Lord". Then, according to synagogue practice, he sat down to expound that which he had read. To the amazement of his listeners, he said, "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears" (Luke 4:16-21). Why did he stop at that point?
The reason is that the prophecy was being fulfilled at that time only up to the point at which Jesus broke off the quotation. Jesus was then preaching the acceptable year of the Lord; but the day of vengeance, and the remainder of the prophecy, referred to events yet future. The last portion of Isaiah's prophecy is as certain of fulfilment as the first, and will be fulfilled by the same person. The phrase at which Jesus stopped reading, and the next phrase, were separated in fulfillment by the interval of time between his first and second advents. The unfulfilled portion of the prophecy necessitates the return of Jesus, as the verses he quoted required his first advent. That the opening words of the chapter were accomplished when he came at first is evidence that the remainder will have its fulfillment when he comes again.
In Zech. 9:9 there is the prophecy of Israel's king riding into Jerusalem on an ass, amidst the shouting of the people of Jerusalem. To fulfil this Jesus rode into Jerusalem in the way the prophecy described on the Sunday before his crucifixion. His action was so understood, and the populace acclaimed him as their king. "Thy king cometh" truly, but in the context the prophecy denotes other work than that of reigning. "He is just and having salvation" indicates a work of righteousness for men's salvation, but the royalty is also described in unmistakable terms: "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" (verse 10). The prophecy of his rule will as surely be fulfilled, as the prediction conveying his work of salvation was fulfilled at his first coming.
We mention these passages, illustrative of many, to show that the double rote of Saviour and Messiah (or King) assigned to Jesus involves his second coming to complete his mission. The same conclusion inevitably follows from the many prophecies of the coming of Israel's Messiah to rule the world. The New Testament establishes that Jesus is that Messiah; therefore the fulfilment of those prophecies involves his return from heaven. This second coming of the Messiah is inferentially stated in Psalm 110. David here says that the Almighty will invite his "Lord" to sit at His right hand until his foes are made his footstool, when God will send the rod of his strength out of Zion. Observe the time limit assigned by the word "until" to the "sitting" at God's right hand. When that time comes to its end, Jesus will return to rule in Zion.
The Teaching of Jesus
Jesus' references to himself in his teaching are mostly concerned with his sacrifice, by which eternal life was made available, and with the work of judgment committed to him. Since some of the things he said he would do were not performed in the past, these statements involve his return to accomplish them. But he also made specific reference to his coming again. It could not he expected, in the very nature of the case, that these references would be numerous. Whilst he was actually with them it would have been very perplexing for his followers had he emphasized that he would come again. But toward the end of his ministry and after he had plainly declared he must suffer and rise from the dead, he compared himself to a nobleman going into a far country and returning (Luke 19:12). He described his servants as being like men waiting for their Lord (Luke 12:36). He said that if he went away he would come again (John 14:3). We need not be surprised that at the time the significance of these sayings was lost on the disciples, who were not expecting his death. But these sayings assumed their proper place in his teaching when, after being with him for the forty days between his resurrection from the dead and his ascension, they saw him taken up into heaven. Two angels then asked them why they gazed into heaven, and said "This same Jesus which was taken up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go" (Acts 1:11). From this time many sayings of Jesus which had been obscure when he spoke them became full of meaning. He had died as he said; he had been raised as he had said; he would return, as he had told them. Henceforward their hope was fixed upon the return, assured by the angel's promise that it would be real, personal and visible.
Early Christian Hope
From the time of this announcement, the second coming of Jesus Christ was a vital element of the Christian faith. This is established beyond dispute by the many references to it throughout the New Testament from the Acts of the Apostles onwards. Some of the evidence we now cite. Very shortly after the ascension of Jesus, Peter, speaking in Jerusalem, declared that the Jews had killed the Prince of Life, whom God had raised from the dead. In doing this they had unwittingly fulfilled the purpose of God: "But those things, which God before had showed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled" (Acts 3:18). Peter therefore now called upon them to repent: "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began" (verses 19-21). The phrase "until the times of restitution" fixes a limit to the stay of Jesus at God's right hand, and also indicates the object of his return to the earth. He comes to fulfil the other prophecies in the Old Testament concerning Israel's restoration, and the blessing of all nations.
Paul's Witness to the Second Coming
The Apostle Paul was chosen by Jesus Christ to carry the gospel to the Gentiles. The Second Coming of Jesus holds a vital place in his teaching, both in his speeches and in his epistles. In Athens Paul declared: "God hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained" (Acts 17:31). He wrote that the Corinthians were "waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 1:7). He disposes of a matter of strife by the command, "Judge nothing before the time until the Lord come (4:5). In partaking of the Lord's supper they showed forth the Lord's death "till he come" (11:26). Resurrection has its "order", "Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming" (15:23) The very casualness of these allusions shows how well established in the thought of the first century Christians was the belief in the second coming of Christ.
To the Philippians Paul wrote: "From heaven also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3: 20, 21). To the Colossians the hope of everlasting life is bound up with the reappearance of Christ. "Your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:3, 4).
If a keynote be sought for each of the letters of Paul, then the predominant thought of the two letters to the Thessalonians must be that Christ will come again. They had turned from idol-worship "to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his son from heaven" (1 Thess. 1:9, 10). They were Paul's crown of rejoicing "in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming" (2:19). God would direct their way "to the end he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints" (3:13). They must not despair as men who were without hope when some of their members died, "for the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout . . . and the dead in Christ shall rise first" (4:16). He would have them "preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (5:23). The second epistle to the same community is equally full of references to the Lord's return. In their trouble and distress they were to "rest" in the prospect "that the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels . . . when he shall come to be glorified in his saints" (1:7, 10). He beseeches them "by the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ" to be steadfast in their faith (2:1), because there would come a falling away from the Christian faith. He prays that the Lord would "direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ" (3:5). Thus the lives of the early believers were influenced at every point by their conviction that Christ will come again. That expectation of the Lord's second coming dominated their thought and conduct.
The last letter that Paul wrote has a striking reference to his personal hope. He was in prison; he knew the end of his life was near; he wrote a last letter to his young co-worker, Timothy, fearing he might not see him again. The letter is a solemn farewell, and has the importance that belongs to such an occasion. Paul declares his faith to be centered in Jesus Christ and in his return, when he, and all others who love Christ's appearing shall receive the reward of eternal life. "I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom . . . For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (4:1 and 6-8).
The letter to the Hebrews points the contrast between the work of Jesus at his first and second advents: "So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation" (9:28).
Evidence of Other Epistles
When we turn to the writings of the other apostles there is the same form of allusion -- incidental references abound which show how the doctrine of Christ's return was held by all without question. The very way the return of Jesus is mentioned shows how it permeated their thought. There were doubts and disputes on several matters in the churches which led to many of the epistles being written but there was never any need for the apostles to reestablish this doctrine. The Lord's return is mentioned as a ground for encouragement in tribulation, and as the time of reward when eternal life will be bestowed. James exhorts: "Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord" (5:7). Peter calls for faith amidst temptations, "that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (1:7). He exhorts them to "hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1:13). As one to be a partaker of the glory to be revealed, and as an elder of the Church, Peter counsels other elders to "feed the flock of God", assuring them: "When the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away" (5:4). John also relates the time of future reward which is the promise of the gospel to the return of Jesus: "When he shall appear, we shall be like him: for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2).
The last book of the Bible is described in verse 1 as "the revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave unto him to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass". The following references to Christ's return are found in it: "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him" (1:7). "Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame" (16:15). "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly" (22:20).
It is abundantly evident, therefore, that the second coming of Christ is a doctrine well established by the testimony of many witnesses. During his ministry Jesus taught it in their addresses the apostles proclaimed it and the letters of the New Testament show that it was a tenet of the faith of all first century Christians. The topstone of the evidence is found in the closing words of the Bible, in the last promise of Jesus Christ himself: "Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be" (Rev. 22:12).
It is clear from the evidence we have reviewed that the coming of Jesus Christ, which was at the very center of the faith of the early Christians, must be personal and bodily. His presence on earth in the future will be as real as it was in the past. With the Bible as guide, we see clearly that it is a mistaken view to regard the second appearing of Jesus as only spiritual, as having occurred at Pentecost, or as taking place at some crisis in a man's life. His coming again is not a present inward experience when it comes to pass it will be so evident a fact that none on earth will be able to ignore it, for it will initiate the most revolutionary change that has ever happened in the history of the world. Jesus comes, as we shall see in the next chapter, to establish a world dominion on earth which will supplant al1 other governments. The revelation in the Scriptures concerning the coming time of peace and blessedness on earth makes quite clear that he who trod the hilts and valleys of Palestine in the past will be personally and visibly present again on earth.