When God made plans to create humans on Earth, He included a provision to deal with the possible entrance of sin into the world. Ever since the time of humanity’s fall into sin, God has been actively carrying out His plan of redemption. First, He promised a Savior to Adam and Eve in the garden. Then He developed the sacrificial and temple system to model the plan of salvation for our understanding. He commissioned Noah to rescue the antediluvians from destruction, and He unleashed the Flood so that all knowledge of Him would not vanish from the Earth. Later, He called Abraham as the father of the faithful to manifest His grace in the world. Centuries afterward, He brought the children of Israel out of Egypt so that they could witness more effectively for Him. Through His prophets, He continually renewed His promise of a Messiah to save us from our sins. Eventually, He sent His own Son to live as we must, to die in our place, to be resurrected on our behalf, and to ascend into heaven to minister for us.
All through history, God has worked through prophets, apostles, and reformers to keep faith alive on the Earth. In 1844, His Son entered the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary to vindicate the saints before the universe. All of these activities on our behalf culminate at one point—the second coming of Christ. Were it not for what God has already done, we would have no certainty of the Second Coming. Were it not for the Second Coming, God would not have done these things.
A Major Biblical Theme
Although the phrase “second coming” does not appear in the Bible, it is nonetheless a major theme. Scripture refers to it in many different ways. Paul alludes to Christ’s second coming (2 Tim. 4:8). Christ Himself said, “‘I will come again’” (John 14:3),1 and the Epistle to the Hebrews declares that Christ “will appear a second time” for salvation (9:28).
Though the Old Testament naturally emphasizes the first advent, it also foretells a Second Coming. “I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25–27). The psalmist said: “Our God shall come, and shall not keep silent; a fire shall devour before Him, and it shall be very tempestuous all around Him” (Ps. 50:3). Jude 14 describes the patriarch Enoch preaching that the Lord will come “with ten thousands of His saints.”
The New Testament contains numerous references to the Second Coming. “‘Let not your heart be troubled,’” Christ said, “‘you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also’” (John 14:1–3, NKJV).
The Second Coming is referred to in the New Testament in various expressions: “‘the coming of the Son of man’” (Matt. 24:27, 37, 39); “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23); simply “his coming” (2 Thess. 2:8) or “his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8); “the coming of the Lord” (James 5:7, 8); the “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:16); the “coming of the day of God” (3:12). And there are, throughout the New Testament, allusions to “‘that day’” (Matt. 7:22); “the day” (Rom. 13:12); “the day of our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:8); “the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor 5:5), and “the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).”2
Recognizing the Advent’s Nearness
In His Sermon on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21), Christ presented a number of signs that would indicate the nearness of His coming, even “‘at the doors’” (Matt. 24:33). And other New Testament writings also offer signs of the closeness of the Second Coming.
Signs would appear among the Sun, Moon, and stars (Matt. 24:29, 30); wars and disasters would afflict the human race (vss. 6, 7). There will be a time of trouble such as the human race has never experienced (Dan. 12:1). False christs and false prophets would claim to speak for God (Matt. 24:4, 5, 11, 23–27). Earthquakes, pestilence, and storms would rage across the face of the Earth (vs. 7). Lawlessness and sin would rival the days of Noah (Luke 17:26–30). People would scoff at the thought of Christ’s return (2 Peter 3:1–4). Spiritualism would spread (1 Tim. 4:1, 2).
Doubt and apostasy would arise in the church. “Preach the word! . . . For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but . . . they will turn their ears away from the truth” (2 Tim. 4:2–4). The antidote for such apostasy will be to present Scripture (vs. 2). Indeed, in the last days, understanding of the Book of Daniel would increase (Dan. 12:4). In conjunction with a renewed comprehension of Daniel will be the proclamation of a judgment-hour message (Rev. 14:7), and the “‘gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come’” (Matt. 24:14).
Christ assures us that His promise to return would not pass away. Just as the leafing of the fig tree indicated that summer was near in Palestine, so these signs indicate that the Second Coming is approaching, even at the very doors (vss. 32–35).
The second advent of Christ will be a glorious event. “‘The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God’ (1 Thess. 4:16). The Son of man ‘will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet’ (Matt. 24:30). Christ’s coming will be ‘with clouds’ (Rev. 1:7), ‘in the clouds’ (Matt. 24:30) . . . , or ‘in a cloud’ (Luke 21:27 . . .); as attended by hosts of angels (Matt. 24:31 . . . ). His coming is spoken of as glorious (Matt. 16:27; . . . 1 Peter 4:13; 5:1), and is compared to a great flash of lightning that illuminates the entire heavens (Matt. 24:27 . . .).”3 Christ will come as the King of glory (Rev. 19:16).
The second coming of Christ will have no secrecy about it. It will be by far the greatest visual and audible spectacle the Earth has ever witnessed. Every eye will see Him (Matt. 24:27, 30). The world will hear a shout of command and the sound of the trumpets (vs. 31).
The coming of the Son of man is the fulfillment of a promise for both the righteous living and dead. “The dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16, 17). Paul elaborates further, “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51, 52). The angels will gather the “‘elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other’” (Matt. 24:31), and Christ will reward the righteous (25:31–34).
Christ will end our evil age, for He is coming “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1:8, 9).
Though the Second Coming will be spectacular, we must be careful not to depersonalize it. It is Christ who is returning—not only the God of the universe who created all things. The same Jesus who ascended into heaven—our Savior and friend—will return for us (Acts 1:11). He who once dwelt among us will come back to take us home with Him (John 17:3).
Always Be Ready
But we have waited a long time. Has God forgotten His promises? Peter explored this question: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Christ gave us several parables illustrating the need to be ready whenever He arrives. If the householder had known at what time a thief would break in, he would have stayed awake and not allowed the burglar to break in (Matt. 24:43). Another man leaves a servant in charge of his household who then reasoned that because his master was delayed, there was no need to be concerned (vss. 45–49). A third parable related the story of 10 bridesmaids who waited for the bridegroom to come back from the bride’s home with her. Five of the bridesmaids were wise and took extra oil for their lamps. The other five took no additional oil. The girls slumbered while awaiting the arrival of the groom, and their lamps went out. The five foolish bridesmaids could not enter with the wedding party (25:1–12). The lesson from all these parables is “‘Watch . . . , for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming’” (vs. 13).
Is God delaying His coming to catch us off guard? Christ is returning for His own—for those who have entered a relationship with Him. Those who are living in fellowship with God are ready for His coming—in fact, heaven has already begun for them. But those who shun fellowship with God will be unprepared for His advent, because they would not be comfortable living in His presence.
The second coming of Christ is a glorious occasion, one to look forward to with expectation. The Book of Hebrews says that Christ is returning the second time for those who eagerly wait for Him (9:28). Isaiah said: “‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us’” (Isa. 25:9). Paul looked “for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Even in his time of trouble, Job exclaimed, “‘How my heart yearns within me!’” (Job 19:27). God does not want us to live in fear and trembling as we contemplate His soon return. Relationships do not thrive on fear. John assures us, “Abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence” (1 John 2:28).
Peter asks a serious question: What kind of people ought we to be in view of the second coming of Christ? He admonishes us to “be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14). Paul also emphasizes holiness: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11–14). John emphasizes that when Christ appears, “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).
God wants to restore us to an intimate relationship with Him. Sin and righteousness cannot have fellowship with one another. We can draw close to God as to a friend only when our character harmonizes with His.
What we think of God affects the way we live. This is why Christ said that salvation is knowing the “only true God” (John 17:3). Our characters mold themselves to that which we admire most. If our allegiance and admiration is for the true God, our characters will begin to reflect His. And when our characters pattern themselves after His, then our lives will harmonize with Him. Once like Him in character, we can fellowship with Him uninterrupted by the barriers of sin.
Is Christ’s likeness the basis of salvation? Yes! But not our own righteousness—His righteousness, the robe of His own righteousness that He clothes us with when we accept His blood on the Cross as our atonement for our sins. Often, we find ourselves tempted to try to earn salvation. We seek to do it our way, to give God the parameters and conditions under which He can save us. Such temptations contrast with the faith of those recorded in the biblical hall of faith, with those who lived by faith in the Word of God rather than by human might and wisdom.
God is summoning a people who are willing to live by faith in His Word and to proclaim by faith the nearness of His coming, to prepare the way of the Lord. How will you respond to God’s call to play your part in announcing the glorious reunion with Christ, our Lord and Savior? Christ says: “‘Surely I am coming quickly.’” Let us respond, “‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus!’” (Rev. 22:20).
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