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Christ is Coming!
Bible Teaching About His Return
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.
New Testament Teaching
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 ever.
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 1:11).
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 coming events:
"Therefore 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.
Other New Testament Writings
"wait for his Son from heaven . . . which delivereth us from the wrath to come" (1:10);
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.
Old Testament Teaching
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:
The Kingdom of God
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).
Behold Your King!
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" (12:10).
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 . . ." (Matthew 24:23,24).
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" (Zechariah 9:9,10).
The Day and the Hour
"Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only" (Matthew 24:36).
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 verse continues:
". . . 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 him!
The Times and Seasons
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:
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 Christianity.
"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 Thessalonians 2:3,4).
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 strong delusion".
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 true:
"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 21:25-27).
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);
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 21:28).
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.
The Nation of Sign
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:
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.
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 5:35).
The Lord will come!
"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 Thessalonians 1:9,10).
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 21).
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).
"Denying ungodliness 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" (Titus 2:12,13).
"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).
Take Heed to Yourselves
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.
-- TECWYN MORGAN
Reproduced with the kind permission of The Christadelphian Magazine and Publishing Association Ltd (UK), by whom all rights are reserved.