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8. The Second Coming

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What is the second coming of Christ? The second coming is one of the most important doctrines in Scripture. It is mentioned more than 300 times in the New Testament.1 In Titus 2:13, Paul called it the believers’ “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13 ESV). Blessed can be translated as “happy.” Therefore, the second coming should be the happy and joyous expectation of every Christian. In Philippians 3:2 (NIV), Paul said this:

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

In considering the second coming, we’ll look at its characteristics, purpose, the signs that precede it, whether it is imminent, and applications of it.

Characteristics

1. The second coming will be sudden—happening at an hour no one expects.

In Matthew 24:27, Christ described his coming being like “lightening” from the sky. He says, “For just like the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so the coming of the Son of Man will be.” The coming is also compared to a thief in the night, which demonstrates how people will be unprepared for it. In Revelation 16:15, Christ said, “Look! I will come like a thief!” Because Christ comes like lightning and like a thief, no one will know the exact hour of his coming. Consider the following verses:

Therefore you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Matthew 24:44

But as for that day or hour no one knows it—neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son—except the Father. Watch out! Stay alert! For you do not know when the time will come.

Mark 13:32-33

Therefore stay alert, because you do not know the day or the hour.

Matthew 25:13

Therefore, any attempts to declare the timeframe that Christ will come are wrong. Unfortunately, there have been many false declarations throughout history and many people who have been led astray by them. Grudem’s comments on this are sobering:

The Jehovah’s Witnesses have made many predictions of specific dates for Christ’s return, and all of them have turned out to be wrong. But others in the history of the church have made such predictions as well, sometimes claiming new insight into biblical prophecies, and sometimes claiming to have received personal revelations from Jesus himself indicating the time of his return. It is unfortunate that many people have been deceived by these claims, because if people are convinced that Christ will return (for example) within a month, they will begin to withdraw from all long-term commitments. They will take their children out of school, sell their houses, quit their jobs, and give up work on any long-term projects whether in the church or elsewhere. They may initially have an increased zeal for evangelism and prayer, but the unreasonable nature of their behavior will offset any evangelistic impact they may have. Moreover, they are simply disobeying the teaching of Scripture that the date of Christ’s return cannot be known, which means that even their prayer and fellowship with God will be hindered as well. Anyone who claims to know the date on which Christ will return—from whatever source—should be rejected as incorrect.2

2. The second coming will be visible and dramatic.

Revelation 1:7 says, “Look! He is returning with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the tribes on the earth will mourn because of him. This will certainly come to pass! Amen.” Also, Matthew 24:30 says, “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man arriving on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” It will be visible and dramatic in that all people will see Christ arriving on the clouds with power and mourn because of him. They will mourn because they never repented of their sins, because they lived a life of not recognizing his Lordship, and because their time is up and only judgment awaits (cf. Matt 7:23, 13:41-42, 25:31-46).

3. The second coming will be physical.

When Christ ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives, angels said to his disciples in Acts 1:11, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven.” Since Christ went to heaven in a glorified body, he will return in the same way. It is important to note that Christ will return physically because it was once popular in liberal teachings to say Christ will return spiritually in the sense that his teaching will be accepted and “an imitation of his lifestyle of love, would increasingly return to the earth.”3 However, Scripture is clear. He will physically return to the earth. “His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives,” which he originally ascended from (Zech 14:4, cf. Acts 1:11-12).

Purpose

What is Christ’s purpose in returning? What will he do when he returns?

1. When Christ returns, he will deliver Israel from the antichrist and the nations trying to destroy her; he will regather Israel and renew his covenant with her.

Zechariah 14:2-4 says,

For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to wage war; the city will be taken, its houses plundered, and the women raped. Then half of the city will go into exile, but the remainder of the people will not be taken away. Then the Lord will go to battle and fight against those nations, just as he fought battles in ancient days. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives which lies to the east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in half from east to west, leaving a great valley. Half the mountain will move northward and the other half southward…

Ezekiel 11:17-20 (ESV) describes how Christ will gather Israelites from all nations and give them their land and a new heart:

Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.’ And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

Likewise, Zechariah 12:10 and Romans 11:26-27 talk further about Israel’s salvation, as Christ will give them hearts to accept and obey him.

I will pour out on the kingship of David and the population of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication so that they will look to me, the one they have pierced. They will lament for him as one laments for an only son, and there will be a bitter cry for him like the bitter cry for a firstborn.

And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion; he will remove ungodliness from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’

2. When Christ returns, he will judge Satan by having him temporarily bound in the abyss for 1000 years.

Revelation 20:1-3 says,

Then I saw an angel descending from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a huge chain. He seized the dragon—the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan—and tied him up for a thousand years. The angel then threw him into the abyss and locked and sealed it so that he could not deceive the nations until the one thousand years were finished. (After these things he must be released for a brief period of time.)

3. When Christ returns, he will judge the unrighteous living on the earth.

In the parable of the weeds and wheat, Christ said:

As the weeds are collected and burned with fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom everything that causes sin as well as all lawbreakers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 13:40-42

Likewise, in the parable of the sheep and goats, Christ said:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be assembled before him, and he will separate people one from another like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left … Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels! For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger and you did not receive me as a guest, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

Matthew 25:31-32 and 41-43

Also, in the Parable of the Minas, Christ declared how he will return and destroy those who did not want him to be king. In Luke 19:27, he said, “But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be their king, bring them here and slaughter them in front of me!”

4. When Christ returns, he will reward the righteous living on the earth.

In Luke 19:15-19, Christ said this in a parable describing his return:

When he returned after receiving the kingdom, he summoned these slaves to whom he had given the money. He wanted to know how much they had earned by trading. So the first one came before him and said, ‘Sir, your mina has made ten minas more.’ And the king said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been faithful in a very small matter, you will have authority over ten cities.’ Then the second one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has made five minas.’ So the king said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’

Those who have been faithful in Christ’s absence, Christ will reward with various degrees of ruling in the coming kingdom. Likewise, in Luke 12:35-37, Christ said this about his return:

Get dressed for service and keep your lamps burning; be like people waiting for their master to come back from the wedding celebration, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. Blessed are those slaves whom their master finds alert when he returns! I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, have them take their place at the table, and will come and wait on them!

In a paradoxical reverse of expected events, Christ will serve his servants when he returns. This should motivate us to be faithful while Christ is gone and to be eager to serve. Christ will one day reward our service. Hebrews 6:10 says, “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name, in having served and continuing to serve the saints.”

5. When Christ returns, he will set up his kingdom on the earth.

Zechariah 14:5, 9, and 16 says,

…Then the Lord my God will come with all his holy ones with him… The Lord will then be king over all the earth. In that day the Lord will be seen as one with a single name… Then all who survive from all the nations that came to attack Jerusalem will go up annually to worship the King, the LORD who rules over all, and to observe the Feast of Tabernacles.

In fact, there seems to be a gap of seventy-five days between the second coming and the beginning of the millennium. During this time, Christ will judge Satan and unbelievers, reward the righteous, and set up his kingdom on the earth.

Where do we see these 75 days? We see this by looking at various passages that describe the second half of the tribulation, the three-and-a-half years before his second coming. Daniel 12:11-12 says, “From the time that the daily sacrifice is removed and the abomination that causes desolation is set in place, there are 1,290 days. Blessed is the one who waits and attains to the 1,335 days.” Daniel describes the time from the middle of the tribulation where the antichrist sets an image in the temple (the abomination that causes desolation, Dan 9:27; cf. Matt 24:15, 2 Thess 2:3-4) to the end as 1,290 days, but then pronounces a blessing on the one who “waits and attains to the 1,335 days.” Why is there a 45-day gap?

In addition, in Revelations 12:6, there is a smaller number of days given for the time of the second half of the tribulation. It says, “The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.” During the tribulation, Israel will be protected for 1,260 days in the wilderness. This is apparently the end of the second half of the tribulation period. But this adds another gap of 30 days—75 days altogether to reach the 1,335 days, where Daniel pronounced a blessing. If we take the 1,260 days as the time Christ comes to protect Israel and the 1,335 as the time Christ’s millennial kingdom officially begins, that means there is about a 75-day gap between the end of the tribulation and the millennium.

What is Christ doing for those 75 days before the kingdom is set up? Some have compared this to the United States presidential elections. On November 3rd, the president is elected, but it is not until January 20th that the president is inaugurated. During that 70+ day gap, the president elects his cabinet and sets in order his plans. This may be very similar to what Christ will do after his return. He defeats his enemies, resurrects and rewards believers—giving them authority to rule—and sets up the policies for his kingdom. The millennium will be discussed in greater depth in a later chapter.

Signs

In Scripture, signs are given to help us be prepared for Christ’s coming. Christ gave many of them in his Olivette discourse in Matthew 24, as he described the tribulation period which will happen on the earth before his coming.

What are some of these signs?

  • There will be a great rise in false prophets and messiahs.

In Matthew 24:4-5, 11, and 23-26, Christ said,

… Watch out that no one misleads you. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will mislead many…And many false prophets will appear and deceive many … Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe him. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. Remember, I have told you ahead of time. So then, if someone says to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe him.

  • There will be great distress on the earth including wars, famines, and earthquakes.

In Matthew 24:6-7, Christ said this:

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. Make sure that you are not alarmed, for this must happen, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these things are the beginning of birth pains.

These will be like birth pains as we approach the end times. They will happen over and over again but increasing in strength before Christ comes to judge.

  • There will be a great persecution of Christians.

In Matthew 24:9, Christ said, “Then they will hand you over to be persecuted and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of my name.”

  • There will be a great apostasy—a falling away of professing believers from the faith.

In Matthew 24:12-13, Christ said, “and because lawlessness will increase so much, the love of many will grow cold. But the person who endures to the end will be saved.” Also, Paul described this great apostasy in 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3. He said,

…we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to be easily shaken from your composure or disturbed by any kind of spirit or message or letter allegedly from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not arrive until the rebellion comes and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.

Apparently, the great distress of the day, including natural disasters, wars, persecution, false prophets, and false messiahs, will cause many believers to abandon the faith in droves.

  • There will be a great evangelistic work, as the gospel is preached to all nations.

In Matthew 24:14, Christ said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

  • There will be a rise of a powerful world-leader known as the antichrist who will seek to be worshiped as God and persecute the Jews and any others who do not follow him.

In Matthew 24:15-16, Christ said: “So when you see the abomination of desolation—spoken about by Daniel the prophet—standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains.” The abomination of desolation refers to when the antichrist breaks his seven-year peace covenant with the Jews, places an idol of himself in the Jewish temple, and commands them and everyone else to worship him. A few passages describe this event:

He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.

Daniel 9:27 (NIV)

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not arrive until the rebellion comes and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, and as a result he takes his seat in God’s temple, displaying himself as God.

2 Thessalonians 2:3-4

and, by the signs he [the false prophet] was permitted to perform on behalf of the beast [the antichrist], he deceived those who live on the earth. He told those who live on the earth to make an image to the beast who had been wounded by the sword, but still lived. The second beast was empowered to give life to the image of the first beast so that it could speak, and could cause all those who did not worship the image of the beast to be killed.

Revelation 13:14-15

  • There will be unique signs in the heavens.

In Matthew 24:29-30 Christ said,

Immediately after the suffering of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven

All these signs and more will precede Christ’s coming.

Is the Coming Imminent or Impending?

As we consider the continual New Testament challenges to “be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him,” to “stay alert, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matt 24:44, 25:13), and to live righteously because Christ is “near” (Phil 4:5) and standing “before the gates” (Jam 5:9), it seems like Christ’s coming is imminent—in that it could happen at any moment. Also, the fact that Christ’s coming is compared to a “thief in the night” seems to argue for that (cf. Rev 16:15, Matt 24:43, 1 Thess 5:2). Nobody knows when a thief is coming—a thief could strike at any time. However, when considering the signs that will precede Christ’s coming, it is clear that Christ could not come at any moment (cf. Matt 24). The gospel still needs to be preached to the nations (Matt 24:14). At the moment, most people groups in the world do not even have the Bible translated in their own language.4 Israel does not even have a temple for the antichrist to place an idol in (cf. Dan 9:27, Matt 24:15). There are many things that must happen before Christ comes. Therefore, it is better to think of Christ’s coming as impending—in that it will happen soon. All the events could happen in our life-time. And because it is impending, we should always be ready for it and encourage others to be as well.

With that said, if the second coming is a two-stage event as pretribulationists believe (cf. 1 Thess 4:16-17, Matt 24:30-31)—Christ’s coming to take his church to heaven, followed by seven years of tribulation, and then Christ coming with his church to rule—then the second coming is in fact imminent. Christ can come at any moment to take his church. Either way, Christ is coming soon, and therefore, we must eagerly desire it and be ready for it.

Applications

Since Christ is coming soon, what should we do about it? Scripture teaches many things:

1. Because Christ is returning soon, we must faithfully use our gifts to serve God and others.

In the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:19-23, Christ describes his return and rewarding of those who faithfully use their gifts in his absence:

After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled his accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came and brought five more, saying, ‘Sir, you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ The one with the two talents also came and said, ‘Sir, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more.’ His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’

Likewise, after teaching about the believers’ resurrection which will happen when Christ returns, in 1 Corinthians 15:58, Paul said: “So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” Because Christ is coming, we must always be outstanding in using and cultivating our gifts to serve others and honor God.

2. Because Christ is returning soon, we must regularly gather with believers to worship, pray, and practice the Lord’s Supper to encourage one another to be faithful in these last days.

Consider the following verses:

And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25

For the culmination of all things is near. So be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of prayer.

1 Peter 4:7

For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

1 Corinthians 11:26

3. Because Christ is returning soon, we must strive to be holy by getting rid of sin in our lives.

In 1 John 3:2-3 (ESV), John said this to the Ephesians:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Also, in the context of Christ returning to judge and renew the earth (2 Pt 3:3-4), Peter said this:

Since all these things are to melt away in this manner, what sort of people must we be, conducting our lives in holiness and godliness, while waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God?... Therefore, dear friends, since you are waiting for these things, strive to be found at peace, without spot or blemish, when you come into his presence.

2 Peter 3:11-12, 14

4. Because Christ is returning soon, we can always have hope, comfort, and encouragement, especially when enduring difficult times.

Consider the following verses:

…as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ…

Titus 2:13

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:17-18

…since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels…

2 Thessalonians 1:6-7

5. Because Christ is returning soon, we must faithfully share God’s Word to win the lost and disciple believers.

In the context of talking about Christ’s coming, Peter said this in 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” God delays Christ’s coming to judge because he desires that none should perish. Therefore, we must faithfully share the gospel so many will be saved.

In addition, Paul said this to Timothy who was pastoring the church of Ephesus:

I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the message, be ready whether it is convenient or not, reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience and instruction.

2 Timothy 4:1-2

Since Christ is coming soon, we must make disciples through faithfully teaching God’s Word.

6. Because Christ is returning soon, we must eagerly and patiently long for it.

Consider the following verses:

Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day—and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:8

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Philippians 3:20-21 (NIV)

The one who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

Revelation 22:20

Let anyone who has no love for the Lord be accursed. Our Lord, come!

1 Corinthians 16:22

You also be patient and strengthen your hearts, for the Lord’s return is near.

James 5:8

In considering our need to be eager for Christ’s coming, Wayne Grudem’s comments are challenging:

Do Christians in fact eagerly long for Christ’s return? The more Christians are caught up in enjoying the good things of this life, and the more they neglect genuine Christian fellowship and their personal relationship with Christ, the less they will long for his return. On the other hand, many Christians who are experiencing suffering or persecution, or who are more elderly and infirm, and those whose daily walk with Christ is vital and deep, will have a more intense longing for his return. To some extent, then, the degree to which we actually long for Christ’s return is a measure of the spiritual condition of our own lives at the moment.5

Conclusion

The second coming is the believers’ happy hope. It provides hope because one day all things will be made right—there will be justice, peace, and righteousness. It provides hope because there will be a reward for our labor. It provides hope because one day we will see our God face to face. We must eagerly await our coming king and his kingdom. Come, Lord! Come!

Reflection

  1. What stood out most in the reading and why?
  2. What are characteristics of the second coming?
  3. What are signs of his coming?
  4. Is the second coming imminent or impending? Why or why not?
  5. What will Christ do when he returns?
  6. What applications does Scripture give to believers from considering the second coming?
  7. What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?

Copyright © 2021 Gregory Brown

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1 Enns, Paul. The Moody Handbook of Theology (p. 403). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

2 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 1094). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

3 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 1092). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

4 Accessed 1/29/2021 from https://www.wycliffe.org.uk/about/our-impact/

5 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 1093). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

Related Topics: Eschatology (Things to Come)

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