“Second Coming” for Lexham B.B.

February 11, 2011

(Again, this is copyrighted material!)

*Second Coming (Gk erchomai, “to come”; parousia, “presence, arrival”; apokalupsis, “revelation”; epiphaneia, “appearing, manifestation”) Christ’s physical return to earth at the end of the age. The Second Coming is not spoken of in such terms in the Old Testament. It is mentioned in almost every book in the New Testament, often with an urgent sense that it could happen soon. However, it is not completely unexpected in the New Testament that Christ’s return has been significantly delayed time-wise. The Second Coming of Christ is a core doctrine of historic biblical Christianity. Although evangelical Christians all hold to a literal return of Christ, they disagree on many details related to His coming.*

!! Background from the Old Testament. Numerous prophecies in the Hebrew Bible refer to a coming Messiah, most of which assume His presence in the world, though some speak of a coming or infer a second coming. In Ps 110:1, the One called “my Lord” (i.e., the Messiah) is told by God “Sit at my right hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool” (HCSB). In the context in Ps 110, the implication is that the Messiah has been on earth (i.e., a coming) and now is in heaven. In Dan 7:13-14, “One like a son of man,” while in heaven, is “given authority to rule” (HCSB) an earthly kingdom by the Ancient of Days. Then, the Ancient of Days “comes” (LXX erchomai) to bring judgment in favor of the “saints” (Dan 7:22). In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus cites Isa 61:1-2a with the implication of two comings of the Messiah. Though it is not obvious in reading Isa 61, “the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isa 61:2a, HCSB) refers to Christ’s first coming and “the day of our God’s vengeance” (Isa 61:2b) is speaking of His second coming.

!! The Synoptic Gospels. As Jesus’ ministry progressed in Matt, Mark and Luke, He taught His disciples about His coming death, resurrection, ascension, and, finally, His second coming. After His prediction of the coming desolation of Jerusalem (i.e., in A.D. 70) in Matt 23, Jesus says, “For I tell you, you will never see me again until You say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matt 23:39, HCSB). These are the words from Ps 118:26 the crowds had shouted at the Triumphal Entry (Matt 21:9) only days before—a messianic prophecy. Thus, Jesus is saying that he would not come back to Jerusalem until He was truly recognized as the Messiah. Then, in the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24-25), the issue of a future (i.e., second) “coming of the Son of Man” is center stage (uses of both Gk erchomai and parousia; see Matt 24:3, 27, 30, 37, 39, 42, 44; 25:13, 31). The Olivet Discourse in Matt begins with the apostles’ question: “What is the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt 24:3, HCSB). In Matt 24:30, Mark 13:26, and Luke 21:27, the wording from Dan 7:13 about the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great glory (see above) is cited, looking ahead to Christ’s second coming.

!! The Gospel of John. In the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus refers to His coming again three times, as well as once at the end of the Gospel. In John 14:2-3, Jesus states to the eleven remaining apostles after Judas’ departure, “I am going away to prepare a place for you. If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (HCSB). In context, Jesus is clearly talking about Him going to heaven, then coming back from heaven at a later time. In the following verses, Jesus refers twice more to going away and coming (Gk erchomai) back (John 14:18, 28). Then, near the end of the Fourth Gospel, Jesus, in restoring Peter after his denial of Christ, says to Peter, “If I want him (i.e. the beloved disciple) to remain until I come” (i.e., again), what is it to you? As for you, follow me” (John 14:22, HCSB).

!! The Acts of the Apostles. Between Acts 1:11 and 3:19-20, it is seen that Jesus, who was on earth, in now in the presence of the Lord in heaven, but will come again physically to earth. As Jesus was ascending, an angel assured the apostles, “This Jesus, who has been taken away from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven” (Acts 1:11, HCSB). This passage is critically important, because it teaches that any ‘second coming” view that does not include a descent of Jesus’ resurrection body back to earth is unbiblical. In Acts 3:19-20, Peter challenges his Jewish hearers to repent “so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and He may send Jesus, who has been appointed Messiah for you” (HCSB).

!! The Letters of Paul. Many passages from Paul’s early to his latter Epistles refer to the hope of the second coming of Jesus Christ, showing it to be a strong emphasis in his teaching. Written as early as A.D. 50 or 51, 1 Thess contains a reference to Christ’s second coming in every chapter: 1 Thess 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:9-10. In 2 Tim, written shortly before Paul’s death, still looks forward to Jesus’ “appearing” (Gk epiphaneia; 2 Tim 1:10; 4:1, 8). In between, 2 Thess 2:8 tells that Christ will destroy the Antichrist figure with “the brightness (Gk epiphaneia) of His coming (Gk parousia)” (HCSB). In 1 Cor 11:26, Paul closes his teaching on the Lord’s Supper with these words of remembrance: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (Gk erchomai; HCSB). “Then, in 1 Cor 15:23, the apostle ties the resurrection at the end of the age to Christ “at His coming (Gk parousia)” (HCSB). 

!! The General Letters. Six of the General Epistles contain references to the second coming of Christ, including James, likely the earliest written book in the New Testament. The Epistle of James, which may have been written as early as A.D. 45, speaks of “the Lord’s coming” (Gk parousia) in Jas 5:7, 8. The Epistles of Heb (see 10:37, using Gk erchomai), 1 Pet (see 1:7, 13; 4:13, using Gk apokalupsis), 2 Pet (see 1:16; 3:4, using Gk parousia; see 3:3, using Gk erchomai), 1 Jn (see 2:28, using parousia) and Jude (see verse 14, using Gk erchomai) all clearly refer to the second coming of Christ. The reference in Jude 14 is from the pseudepigraphal work, 1 Enoch, but only implies the truthfulness of that citation, not the whole book of 1 Enoch.

!! The Book of Revelation. Rev 1-19 tells of events moving forward to the second coming of Christ, while Rev 20-22 look forward from the 1,000 years to the eternal state. The first phrase of the book, “The revelation (Gk apokalupsis) of Jesus Christ” (Rev 1:1, HCSB), is its title. The wording not only tells the reader that the book is apocalyptic literature, but also that it has been revealed by Jesus, its divine author, and that it is about Jesus “revealing” events related to His second coming. Rev 1:3 says “the time is near” for the events of the book to be fulfilled. At the end of the book, Jesus promises “I am coming quickly” (Rev 22:7, 12, 20, HCSB). The clipped citation of Dan 7:13 about the Son of Man “coming (Gk erchomai) on the clouds” in Rev 1:7 previews that Christ’s coming is going to be one of the most important themes of the Apocalypse. In Rev 14:14, “One like the Son of Man” (HCSB) is seen seated on a cloud. Rev 14:14-20 (depicting the final harvest as a wheat harvest, then grapes of wrath), Rev 16:12-14, 16-21 (describing the lead-up to the battle of Armageddon [Rev 16:16], and Rev 19:11-21 (telling of Christ’s actual descent back to earth from heaven) provide three interlocking vantage point on Jesus’ second coming. Rev 20 tells of the relationship of the kingdom and the final judgment to the second coming and Rev 21-22 describes the news heavens and earth.

!! The Imminency of Christ’s Coming. The New Testament clearly teaches the potential imminency (i.e., soonness, nearness) of Jesus’ return. The earliest New Testament writer, James, said, “The Lord’s coming is near” (Jas 5:7). Paul said, “The Lord is near” (Phil 4:5). In Rev, Jesus Himself repeatedly promises to come quickly (Rev 22:7, 12, 20). What needs to be understood, as will be seen in the next section, is that, just because Jesus could have returned very soon after these statements of the imminency of His coming was not a guarantee that He would come soon.

!! The Delay of the Parousia. Jesus has not returned over 1,900 years after the New Testament Era, but that delay was explained by the Apostle Peter. There have been those who doubted the truthfulness of the second coming of Christ, from the time of the apostles until some modern liberal theologians. Peter’s teaching anticipates such skepticism.  He answers the question of his day, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Pet 3:4). His timeless wisdom: “With the Lord one day is like 1,000 years, and 1,000 years like one day. The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:8-9, HCSB). In other words, the delay in Christ’s return is due to God patiently allowing the maximum number of people to have the opportunity to place their faith in Christ.

!! The Second Coming as a Cardinal Doctrine. Throughout church history, the Bible-believing church has held that Christ’s second coming is a foundational teaching. All major creeds and doctrinal statements of biblically orthodox Christian denominations, ministries and missions have included the idea of a literal return of Christ at the end of the age. There are full preterist groups today who claim to be evangelical, but teach that Jesus already came in judgment spiritually upon Israel in A.D. 70, and that there will be no future coming. Such a view, however, sadly ignores the words of Acts 1:11 (i.e., that Jesus would come back “in the same way” that He went to heaven: bodily).

!! The Second Coming and the 1,000 Years. There are three long-standing views on the relationship between Christ’s return (Rev 19) and the “1,000 years” mentioned in Rev 20:2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. The oldest major view in church history is that the second coming will occur before the 1,000 years. The name for that perspective is Premillennial (i.e., prior to the “millennium,” which is Latin for a thousand years. A view that dates all the way back to Augustine in the early A.D. 400s in some respects is called Amillennialism. This is the teaching that whatever earthly kingdom there will be is taking place now, through the church.  The “1,000 years” is taken as spiritual or figurative. The latest viewpoint historically is Postmillenialism. It is the idea that the “1,000 years” is a golden age in which the world will have been Christianized to a maximum degree, before Christ comes (i.e., Jesus returns after [post] the 1,000 years). Some holding the postmillennial view take “1,000 years” literally, but others do not.

!! The Second Coming and the Tribulation. Among those holding the Premillennial perspective, there are several different viewpoints on what happens prior to Christ’s return. Varied understanding of passages like Dan 7:25 and 9:27, as well as Rev 11:2, 3; 12:6, 14; and 13:5 have led to the conclusions that there will be a period of “tribulation” and/or “great tribulation” (see Dan 12:1; Matt 24:21; Rev 7:14), lasting either seven or three and a half years, just prior to the second coming of Christ. The idea that the church will be removed from the earth before Christ’s return is usually referred to as “the rapture” (from the Latin equivalent, rapturo, of the English “caught up” in 1 Thess 4:17. The view that Christ will rapture the church before the “tribulation” period is Pretribulational. The idea that the church will not be removed until just before the second coming is Posttribulational. If the “tribulation” is understood to be seven years long and the church is taken out in the middle of the period, it is a Midtribulational rapture. If the church is only promised to escape the wrath of God, it is a Prewrath rapture. The older idea that only those are who truly spiritually prepared will be taken in the rapture is called the Partial Rapture position. It has very few exponents today.

–A. Boyd Luter

!! Bibliography

Allison, Dale C. “Eschatology,” in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Eds. J.B. Green and S. McKnight. InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Allison, Dale C. The End of the Ages Has Come. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.

Aune, D.E. “The Significance of the Delay of the Parousia for Early Christianity,” in Current Issues in Biblical and Patristic Interpretation. Ed. G.F. Hawthorne. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975: 87-109.

Berkhof, Louis. The Second Coming of Christ. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953.

Beasley-Murray, G.R. Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986. 

Erickson, Millard J. “Second Coming of Christ,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984: 992-95.

Hays, J. Daniel, J. Scott Duvall and C. Marvin Pate. “Second Coming,” in the Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007: 409-12.

House, H. Wayne and Gordon Carle. Doctrine Twisting: How Core Biblical Truths are Distorted. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003. 

Kreitzer, Larry J. “Eschatology,” in the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Eds. G.F Hawthorne and R.P. Martin. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Kreitzer, Larry J. “Parousia,” in the Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments. Eds. R.P. Martin and P.H. Davids. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997: 856-75.

Luter, A. Boyd. “Interpreting the Book of Revelation,” in Interpreting the New Testament. Eds. D.A. Black and D.S. Dockery. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001.

Luter, A. Boyd. “Preterism,” in The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Eds. Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner. Eugene: Harvest House, 2008: 404-06.

MacArthur, John. The Second Coming: Signs of Christ’s Return and the End of the Age. Wheaton: Crossway, 2006. 

Moore, A.L. The Parousia in the New Testament. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1966.

Robinson, John A.T. Jesus and His Coming, Second Ed. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1979.

Rowland, Christopher. “Parousia,” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary. Gen. Ed. D.N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992: 166-70.

Rowland, Christopher. The Open Heaven. New York: Crossroad, 1982. 

Sproul, R.C. The Last Days according to Jesus: When Did Jesus Say He Would Return? Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998. 

Wenham, David. The Rediscovery of Jesus’ Eschatological Discourse. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1984.

Witherington, Ben III. Jesus, Paul, and the End of the World. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992.




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