3. The Second Coming of Christ in the New Testament
Article contributed by www.walvoord.com
The revelation of the second coming of Christ is one of the most important ard most frequently mentioned doctrines of the New Testament. One out of every twenty-five verses in the New Testament refers either to the rapture of the church or to Christ’s coming to reign over the world (cf. Jesse Forrest Silver, The Lord’s Return, p. 29). Though it is not always possible to distinguish references to Christ’s coming for the church from references to His coming to establish His earthly kingdom, there are many passages which clearly present a premillennial coming at the close of the great tribulation to judge the world and to bring in the righteous reign of the King. Approximately twenty major references are found in the New Testament alone (Matt 19:28; 23:39 ; 24:3—25:46 ; Mark 13:24-37; Luke 12:35-48; 17:22-37 ; 18:8 ; 21:25-28 ; Acts 1:10-11; 15:16-18 ; Rom 11:25-27; 1 Cor 11:26; 2 Thess 1:7-10; 2:8 ; 2 Pet 3:3-4; Jude 1:14-15 ; Rev 1:7-8; 2:25-28 ; 16:15 ; 19:11-21 ; 22:20 ).
His return to reign is posttribulational. Though many premillenarians believe that the Lord will come for His church before the tribulation and that the rapture is pretribulational, most conservative scholars of today agree that the second coming to the earth to reign is a posttribulational event. Exceptions to the rule would include the old school Of postmillenarians who place the return of Christ after the millennium instead of before it (cf. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, III, 792). Those who completely spiritualize the second coming and find it fulfilled at Pentecost in the advent of the Spirit, or at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, or those who find the second coming fulfilled in any spiritual crisis are of course exceptions to the rule. Most conservative amillenarians as well as premillenarians, however, consider the return of Christ to reign as a posttribulational event. This is so clearly taught in Scripture that only extensive spiritualization can escape such a conclusion.
In Matthew 24:21-29 the period preceding the second advent is described as the great tribulation (v. 21 ), in which there will appear many false Christs (23-25 ), and false reports of the coming of Christ (v. 26 ). The second coming is described as following these events. In verse 29 it is declared: “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.” In the next verse it is stated: “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Mark 13:24-26 gives precisely the same order and so does Luke 21:25-27. In the Book of Revelation, likewise, the second coming of Christ is given as the climax to the tremendous scenes of the tribulation described in the earlier chapters and scholars even of differing schools of interpretation usually agree that Revelation 19 is climactic. Unless the Scriptures bearing on this subject are robbed of all literal meaning, they teach unmistakably that Christ will come to reign after the predicted tribulation.
A personal return. The graphic description of the second coming in its principal passages should leave no doubt that the coming of Christ is a personal event in which Christ comes from heaven to the earth. Support to this idea is given in the words of the angels in Acts 1:11 where His second coming is compared to His ascension and it is declared: “This Jesus, who was received up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye beheld him going into heaven.” That His second coming is a personal return is borne out by all the details revealed in the many passages bearing on this subject.
A bodily return. The Scriptures also indicate that the return of Christ, like the ascension, is a bodily return in the same sense that His ascension was a bodily ascension into heaven. There is no evidence that the second coming can be explained as merely a change of state as some Lutheran theologians have seemed to teach (cf. H. E. Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith, pp. 156-57). The resurrection body of Christ never becomes omnipresent. His body does not “fill all things” (Eph 4:10; cf. Jacobs, ibid., p. 157), but always has a local characteristic even though it may be granted that Christ in His divine nature is always omnipresent. Zechariah 14:4 refers to the fact that “his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east.” This would certainly confirm a bodily return.
A visible and glorious return. The Scriptures leave no doubt that when Christ returns in power and glory it will be visible and is compared to lightning shining from the east even unto the west (Matt 24:27). That it will be visible is implied by Acts 1:11 in that the ascension was visible. Revelation 1:7 states explicitly: “Behold, he cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they that pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him.” In contrast to His first coming in which His glory was hidden, it is clear that in His second coming Christ appears in all the full glory of His deity. The description given in Revelation 19:11-12 coupled with the earlier description of Revelation 1:12-17 should leave no doubt as to the extent of His glory. His glory is magnified by the fact that He cometh with clouds as the Scriptures indicate (Matt 24:30; Rev 1:7) even as He ascended, “And the cloud received him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). Every description of the second coming would indicate that it is the most spectacular and glorious event ever to take place on the earth.
A geographical event. The specific character of the second coming is further indicated by its relation to a return to the earth in the vicinity of Jerusalem. This is plainly noted in the Old Testament prophecies of Zechariah (14:1-4 ) and in the fact that in Romans 11:26 He is said to fulfill the prediction that “there shall come out of Zion the Deliverer.” In the frequent mention of Christ in His second coming in relation to Zion as revealed in the Old Testament, the prophets predict both that Christ will come to Zion and that thereafter He will come out of Zion (cf. Ps 14:7; 20:2 ; 53:6 ; 110:2 ; 128:5 ; 134:3 ; 135:21 ; Isa 2:3; Joel 3:16; Amos 1:2). Further confirmation of the geographical return of Christ is found in the Book of Revelation where He comes to judge the armies gathered in Palestine in rebellion against Him (Rev 19:11-21). The geographical nature of Christ’s return serves to confirm His coming as a specific future prophetic event.
Accompanied by the holy angels and the saints. In keeping with the pretribulational rapture of the church, the second coming of Christ to the earth is pictured as an event in which He is accompanied by the holy angels and the saints. Specific mention is made of this fact in Matthew 25:31: “when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him….” According to the prophecy of Jude, quoting Enoch, the second coming is described in the words: “Behold, the Lord came with ten thousands of his holy ones.” Some have taken the statement in 1 Thessalonians 3:13, “the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints,” as a similar reference though the passage itself is not conclusive. In the description of the second coming in Revelation 19:11-21 it is further stated: “The armies which are in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and pure” (v. 14 ). The armies here mentioned may be angelic beings, if so, are in contrast to the church which is described earlier in the passage as the wife of the Lamb (v. 7 ). In view of the fact that the event pictured in Revelation 19:7 is the marriage feast of the Lamb, it would follow in the oriental custom of marriage that the bridegroom had previously gone to receive the bride to himself. Then, the event in view is the final stage, that is, the marriage feast. In this case, the wife would accompany the bridegroom.
To judge the earth. One of the most prominent features of the second coming mentioned in most of the passages is the prediction that Christ in His second coming returns to judge the earth. This is introduced in Matthew 19:28 where Christ predicts that the Twelve Apostles will judge the twelve tribes of Israel “when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory.” The major portion of Matthew 24:29—25:46 bears out that Christ will judge both Jew and Gentile living in the world at the time of His second advent. The various parables and illustrations found in the Gospels in connection with the second advent are all to the same point (cf. Luke 12:37, 45-47). Likewise in Luke 17:29-30 the judgment of Christ at the second advent is compared to the judgment upon Sodom when fire and brimstone destroyed them. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 describes “the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus: who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”
The time of this event is plainly stated in 2 Thessalonians 1:10 as the time “when he shall come to be glorified in his saints.” According to 2 Thessalonians 2:8, the second advent will also be the occasion when the lawless one shall be judged, “whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming.” According to Judges 1:15, the Lord’s coming is with the divine purpose “to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their works of ungodliness which they have ungodly wrought, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” Revelation 2:27 pictures the reign of Christ as being shared by the faithful saints who in Christ’s name “shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to shivers.” The final description is given in Revelation 19:11-21 where Christ is described as being “arrayed in a garment sprinkled with blood.” It is further revealed: “And out of his mouth proceedeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God, the Almighty.” The passage also describes the utter destruction of men and horses, and the false prophet and the beast will be cast alive into the lake of fire. Satan himself is cast into the abyss where he is chained until the end of the thousand-year reign of Christ after which he too is cast into the lake of fire.
A problem exists in some of the descriptive passages of the second advent relative to the use of fire as a divine judgment in connection with the establishment of the millennial reign of Christ. According to 2 Peter 3:7 the earth eventually is to be destroyed by fire and in verse 10 it is stated: “The day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” The idea of complete destruction of the earth at the beginning of the millennium is contradicted, however, by numerous passages where the present characteristics of the earth are, carried over into the millennium, such as the location of the city of Jerusalem and the geographic identification of certain areas according to their present occupants by the nations involved. If the earth is destroyed by fire at the beginning of the millennium, it would also be difficult to explain the continuity of men in natural bodies and the continued existence of plant and animal life. The best solution to the problem is that the expression “the day of the Lord” is an extensive time period which includes not only the tribulation and the judgments taking place at the second advent, but which includes also the entire millennial reign of Christ as a time period in which the Lord deals directly with human sin. The destruction of the earth described, therefore, in 2 Peter 3:10 is at the close of the Day of the Lord, rather than at the second coming, and is properly located at the end of the millennium when all wickedness in the earth will be judged in a final way.
To deliver the elect. The second advent of Christ to the earth not only brings judgment upon the wicked, but it is an event which brings deliverance to the elect, the saved of both Jews and Gentiles, and to the nation Israel as such. In Matthew 24:22 it is revealed that the second advent cuts short the great tribulation which would otherwise have eventually brought death to all flesh upon the earth. The judgment is limited to the time indicated in Scripture “for the elect’s sake” (Matt 24:22). The same idea is indicated in Romans 11:26-27 where it is predicted: “And so all Israel shall be saved: even as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer; he shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” Luke 21:28 indicates that when they shall see the second advent of Christ they are exhorted to “Look up, and lift up your heads; because your redemption draweth nigh.” This is in keeping with many passages in the Old Testament which likewise describe deliverance that will take place at the time of the second advent (cf. Zech 14:1-4).
To bring spiritual revival to Israel. Along with the deliverance of the godly, the Scriptures predict that at the second coming Israel will experience spiritual revival. This is intimated in Romans 11:26-27 and is involved in the fulfillment of numerous Old Testament passages of which Jeremiah 31:31-34 may be taken as representative.
To re-establish the Davidic kingdom. In the discussion of the relation of Israel to Gentiles in the present age in the council at Jerusalem, it was brought out by James in his quotation from Amos 9:11-12, and other Old Testament predictions, that a future day was coming in which Israel would once again be restored. According to Amos, God has promised: “In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up its ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old” (Amos 9:11). According to Ezekiel 37:24, after Israel is regathered to their ancient land, David is going to be raised from the dead to be king over Israel, and God will make a covenant of peace with His people (Ezek 37:26). To be fulfilled also is the prediction of the angel to Mary in Luke 1:31-33 In regard to Jesus: “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” It should be clear from the many Scriptures dealing with the second coming and their graphic revelation of this glorious event that the future climax to the interadvent age is one of the most important events of all time, taking its place with the incarnation itself and the death and resurrection of Christ. The precise nature of the judgments in connection with the second advent and the resurrection of saints such as the tribulation martyrs gives the event tremendous significance.
(Series to be continued in the October-December Number, 1957)
This article was taken from the Theological Journal Library CD and posted with permission of Galaxie Software.