You’ve heard of Harold Camping? Left Behind? More like leaving your mind behind (that was a joke in seminary).
So what are we to believe about Jesus’ 2nd Coming? Will it be a literal return? Will it be a figurative return? Will there be a “rapture” of the church? What about the resurrection? When will all this take place?
Let us begin with Jesus own words in Matthew 24 – Jesus said there would be wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, and that the disciples would be handed over to tribulation, that many would fall away during this time and that the love of most would grow cold, but that the ones who endure to the end will be saved (vv. 4-13). Jesus said the gospel would be preached to the whole world and then the end would come (v. 14). His warning to His disciples was to look for the Abomination that causes Desolation, which will be set up in the Temple (v. 15 – see also Daniel 9:27) that when you see this, flee (vv. 16-20) for the Great Tribulation is about to begin (v. 21). Jesus goes on to say many false “christs” will try to lead people astray and that the coming of the Son of Man will come like lightning (v. 27), that He will come on clouds in glory (v. 30), and He will send His angels at the sound of the great trumpet to gather together from the four ends of the earth all those who are the elect (v. 31).
Jesus was clear in this passage that there would be tribulation, Christians would exist on this earth during this time, and that He would return at the end to gather those that are His.
The letters of 1 and 2 Thessalonians are also instructive about these events. Notice in 1 Thessalonians that at the end of every chapter the topic of Jesus’ coming is mentioned. The word “coming” is important; the Greek word for coming is parousia, which “…was used to describe the festivities attendant on a monarch’s arriving for a state visit. The early Christians anticipated the Lord’s return as being no less joyous and majestic.” (Glenn Barker, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1 John. P. 328). This word used in combination with believers being “resurrected” and those who are still alive being “caught up” together to “meet” the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17) signifies there will be a rapture of sorts and that those who take part in this event will join the Lord in escorting Him back to earth for His rule and reign (see also Rev. 19 and Matt. 24:30-31).
A key word in the 1 Thessalonians 4:17 passage is “meet” – it describes a delegate going out to meet a monarch and escort him back into the city. So Christians are those who will meet the Lord as He prepares to ride His white horse into battle against the armies of the “Beast” and the “False Prophet” in the battle at the plain of Mtn. Megiddo (i.e., the Battle of Armageddon – see Revelation 19:11-21).
Those who lived in Thessalonica 2,000 years ago had heard conflicting reports about when this would happen and so the Apostle Paul wrote to them a 2nd letter to clarify what would happen surrounding these events. In chapter 2:1-4 he states that this will not happen until the apostasy happens and “man of lawlessness” is revealed (v. 3). Paul states that this man will oppose every so-called “god” or object of worship and will take his seat in the Temple displaying himself as “God” (v. 4). This passage is referring to the Anti-Christ who will claim to be the Christ (see also Matt. 24:15, Daniel 9:27, and Revelation 13 and Jesus warnings about such men in Matt. 24:23-26). In Revelation 13, the “Beast” is the Anti-Christ who will make war against the saints during the time of the tribulation for 3 ½ years (Rev. 13:5-18).
Some of the passages listed above sound like apocalyptic, allegorical language meant to be spiritualized. But many of the passages listed above are written as if these events were expected take place in time-and-space history.
The key word throughout all these passages is “coming” – it is used to describe Jesus 2nd Coming and our being gathered to Him. This was written about in the New Testament and attested to in the earliest creeds compiled by Christians to affirm the Orthodox and Apostolic Faith. Take a look at the Apostle’s Creed written in the first few centuries of the church:
The Apostle’s Creed
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended to the dead.
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.
Notice the statements, “from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead” and the idea of “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” These phrases all demonstrate to us that the historically Orthodox view is Jesus would return and that we would be raised and transformed to live in eternity with Him.
When this will happen, no one knows except God alone.
Come Lord Jesus!