The Promised Second Coming


Overview

Will Christ come again?

Will Christ come again?

Section 1 presents all the NT passages which state or support the idea that after his ascension to heaven, Jesus Christ (or the Son of Man or the Messiah) will come again and give a last judgement on all peoples, both living and dead.  This will be part of the end of days.

These passages clearly state the Christ was expected very soon, even while some of his followers were still alive.  The passages in Paul’s letters clearly show that Paul also expected the second coming during his lifetime, or soon afterwards.  But Christ did not come in the early centuries, and he has still not come up to the twentieth century.

Section 2 presents several arguments that an early second coming has already taken place, but none of these is convincing.   Section 3 presents two explanations offered in the NT for the delay in the second coming.  Section 4 presents three possibilities for a late second coming, all based on passages in Revelation.  And finally, Section 5 gives our conclusion, that the second coming has not happened and it unlikely to happen.


Terms Defined:

Day of judgment is a term found mainly in the NT, referring to the time when God or the Messiah (or the Son of Man) will punish the wicked and redeem the righteous.  It has a good basis in many OT passages.  The idea is that people will be judged individually in the new age, or perhaps after death, and then consigned to their respective destinies.  [Bdict, Judgement, day of, 504]

Eschatology means beliefs or teachings about last things.  It derives from eschatos, the Greek word for  ‘last.’  The idea is that the coming age will be a period of transformed existence which God will bring at the end of history. [Bdict, eschatology, 254]

Millenium, used only in Revelation, means a very long time, nominally a thousand years.

Parousia is transliteration of a Greek word which means “coming,’ ‘arrival,’ or ‘being present.’  Scholars often call the second coming of Christ / the Son of Man the parousia.  The Greek word occurs in both the Greek Septuagint OT and the NT.  The NT passages are Matt 24.3, etc; 1 Cor 15.23; 1 Thess 2.19 etc; 2 Thess 2.1, 8; James 5.7-8; 2 Pet 1.16 etc; and 1 John 2.28.   [Bdict, parousia, 742]

Revelation, Book of.  “The Greek word apokalypsis (‘revelation’) designates the contents of the book as “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place” (Rev 1.1).    The footnotes say “The insistence that the events predicted in John’s visions must soon take place frames the book (1.3; 22.6; 22.10).”  [Bible, 2088]



1. Predictions of the Second Coming in the New Testament

There are many places in the NT gospels and letters where the second coming of Jesus is discussed.  Many of these predict it will happen “soon”, even within the lifetime of some who were alive when Jesus was.  Here is a complete list of those verses, found in 14 of the 27 NT books, namely, all four gospels, Acts, Romans, 1 Cor, 1 Thess, 2 Thess, Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 1 John and Revelation.

Matt. 16:28 “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.

These two are similar to Matt 16:28:

Mark 9:1  And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power”.  

Luke 9:27 “But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

Matt. 24.34-35  “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Also in Mark 13:30-31 and Luke 21:32-33.

John 5:25  “Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live”.

John 6:54  “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.”

John 14.3 is the only place where Jesus himself says he will come again: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

In John 21.22-23, Jesus said ‘until I come’ twice…

Acts 1:11  “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Rom 13:11  “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.”

1 Cor 1:7  “so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Cor 7:29-31   “I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, [skip 30 & 31 part]  For the present form of this world is passing away.”

1 Thess 4:13-17.   “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.  For this we declare to you by the word of the lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died.  For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.”

1 Thess 5:23 “May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

2 Thess 6.13 part -15 part: “I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time.”

Heb 9:28  contains another explicit reference to a second coming:  “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

Heb 10:37 “For yet in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay.”

Jas 5:8  “Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.”

1 Pet 4:7  “The end of all things is near; therfore be serious and dicipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers.”

1 John 2:18  “Children, it is the last hour!  As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come.  From this we know that it is the last hour.”

Rev 1.3 : “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.”  The footnote says that ‘the time is near’ means the time when Christ will return to save and to judge.

Rev 3:11  God says to the Philadelphians  “I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.”

Rev 22.7  an angel, speaking on behalf of the Lamb (Christ) says “See, I am coming soon!”

The same phrase is found in Rev 22.12.

Rev 22:20.  “The one who testifies to these things says,’Surely I am coming soon’.  Amen. Come Lord Jesus!”

Matthew 25.1-13 presents the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, an allegory about our readiness for the unexpected parousia (the future coming of the Son of Man)  Verse 25.5 says the bridegroom was delayed, which represents a delay in the return of Jesus.  Verse 25.6 says that the groom arrives at midnight, an unexpected time, which represents the unknown time of the return of Jesus. It concludes with verse 25.13: “Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour [in which the Son of Man is coming].”  The words [in square brackets] are found in some ancient versions.

The 381 CE Constantinople version of the Nicene Creed says “He [Jesus] shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead; and His kingdom shall have no end.”


2. Arguments for an Early Second Coming

Two possibilities for an early second coming are based on events shortly after the resurrection.  Jesus was reported to have appeared to his disciples for forty days following his resurrection in Acts 2.1-42.  His ascension, at the pentecost, was about ten days later, at which time the Holy Spirit was manifest in the minds and hearts of his followers.  Was the forty days of appearances the second coming?  Was the appearance of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost the second coming?  [Bdict, pentecost, 770]   Neither of these are plausible because there was no end of days or final judgement.

A second argument for an early second coming is this:  Perhaps Christ did come but was not recognized.  Paul counters this belief in 2 Thess 2.1-12, where he refutes the view that the day of Jesus’ return had already arrived, and to remind the church of the numerous events that must precede it.  Once again, Christ could not have come because there were no end-of-days events.   The Christian churches have not accepted either of these ‘early second coming’ explanations.


3. Explanations Offered for the Delay in the Second Coming

3.1       The Delay is to let more Gentiles Convert

Here are some of the passages describing the need to bring the Christian message to gentiles.    The word  “nations” refers to all non-Jews, i.e. to gentiles.

Matt 28.16 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”

Mk 13.10  “And the good news [gospel] must first be proclaimed to all nations.”

Lk  21.24  “until the times of the gentiles are fulfilled.”

Acts 28: 28 “Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”

Rom 3.29 “Is he not the God of gentiles also?  Yes, of gentiles also.”

Eph 3.6 “the gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

Here are two passages that clearly argue for the delay required to let more gentiles in.

Rom 11.25-26 (part)  “I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.  And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written.”   This is echoed in the second explanation of the delay, where 2 Pet 3.9 says “The Lord . . .  is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”

3.2      The Delay is predicted by Jesus

Mark 13 tells of the future persecution of the Jews and the destruction of the Temple. After that suffering, “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.” (Mark 13.26) The phrase in single quotes is from Daniel 7.13-14, “I saw one like a human being [Aramaic Son of Man] coming with the clouds of heaven. . . . To him was given dominion and glory and kingship.”

3.3       “Soon” must be reinterpreted         

2 Peter 3.3-4:  “First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts and saying, ‘Where is the promise of his coming?  For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beinning of creation!’ ”  Peter then goes on (in 2 Peter 3:8-9)  to explain the delay by saying “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.  The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”  This is based on Psalm 90.4, a prayer of Moses, which reads “For a thousand years in your [God’s] sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.”

There would really be no limit on how long God might have to wait for literally all to come to repentance. This explanation, written circa 90 CE, is nothing more than an excuse for Christ not coming as expected.


4. Possibilities for a later Second Coming

The next three ideas come from Revelation, and are listed in the Zondervan Systematic Theology Guide [STG].  They all refer to an end-of-times millenium, which is a nominal thousand years.

Amillennialism.  There is no future millennium yet to come because the reign of Christ in Rev 20:1-10 is now being fulfilled – a variation of ideas discussed in Section 2.

Postmillenialism.  Christ will return after the millennium, in which the influence of the church gradually increased until it brought about an age of peace and righteousness on earth.

Premillennialism.  Christ will come back before the millennium.

These three options are offered because theologians cannot agree on the interpretation of the Rev 20.1-10 passage.  But all ignore the NT predictions of a second coming happening soon, as listed in Section 1 above.


5. Conclusion

After two thousand years we have waited long enough.  There is no convincing argument that a second coming of Christ is likely to happen.  Some Christian denominations have accepted that it won’t happen, or have at least downplayed the event.


References

  • Bible     Harper Collins Study Bible.  NY, NY: HarperOne an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.  Based on the New Revised Standard Version Bible, © 1989.

  • Bdict     Powell, Mark Allen, general editor.  HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed., New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011.

  • STG      Grudem, Wayne, and Erik Thoennes.  Systematic Theology a Zondervan Study Guide,   A six page plasticised summary of fundamentalist theology.  Zondervan.com, 2008.