Jesus' Second Coming

by Leland M. Haines

Jesus' Second Coming
Jesus Tells of His Coming
Latter-Day Events Foretold
Interpretation of Prophecy
The Jews Return to the Promised Land
The Olivet Discourse Warnings
A Warning and an Encouragement

Jesus' Second Coming

The book, Redemption Realized Through Christ, begins with the creation of Adam and Eve and the fall of man. It shows how God redeemed man from the consequence of his sins. Then it considered the call of Abraham and Israel and marveled at the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Next it dwelt on the apostles' interpretation of the redemption brought by Jesus. The story of redemption, however, did not stop at the end of the first century. There is more to follow.

After His resurrection, Jesus remained on this earth for forty days with His apostles, showing "himself alive . . . by many infallible proofs, being seen of them . . . and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3).

After this period of forty days, Jesus returned to His Father in heaven. Just before His departure, Jesus commissioned His disciples to witness

    both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. Acts 1:8-11

This message-"this same Jesus . . . shall so come" (Acts 1:11)-has been proclaimed repeatedly by the disciples. The return to earth of Jesus Christ stands at the very center of the New Testament message. This truth was not made up by the apostles but was proclaimed to them by Jesus Himself.

Jesus told His disciples about His second coming when He announced to them that He was going away to prepare a place for them. "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 unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:2, 3). Later on He told them, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you" (vv. 27, 28).

The disciples quickly grasped the meaning of His promise. During Jesus' last days in Jerusalem, they asked Him more about this second coming: "Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Matthew 24:3; cf. Mark 13:4; Luke 21:7). In response to this question, Jesus gave the "Olivet Discourse," found in Matthew 24 and 25, Mark 13, and Luke 17 and 21. In it Jesus emphasized His coming: "The Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:30). "As the days of Noe [Noah] were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be" (Matthew 24:37; cf. Luke 17:26). "Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come" (Matthew 24:42; cf. v. 44; Luke 21:36). "The Son of man shall come in his glory" (Matthew 25:31). Jesus also mentioned His coming at His trial before the high priest. "Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven" (26:64). Jesus spoke often about His second coming, showing it is an important doctrine of the Christian faith.

The second coming of Jesus is proclaimed throughout the New Testament. It is found not only in the four Gospels but also in Acts 1:11; I Corinthians 1:7; 4:5; 11:26; 15:23; Colossians 3:4; I Thessalonians 1: 10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:15-17; 5:2; II Thessalonians 1:7, 10; 2:2, 8; I Timothy 6:14; Titus 2:13; James 5:7; I Peter 5:4; II Peter 1:16; 3:4, 8-12; I John 2:28; 3:2; and Revelation 1:7; 19:11ff.; 22:12, 20. Since the second coming receives such strong emphasis, Christians should study these teachings, especially in light of the promises at the end of the Book of Revelation.

Jesus Tells of His Coming

When Jesus spoke of His second coming in Matthew 24:2, His disciples pointed out to Him the splendor of the temple buildings. Since they had spent most of their time in Galilee and only occasionally visited Jerusalem, the buildings impressed them very much. Jesus took this opportunity to tell them of coming events. "See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (cf. Mark 13:2; Luke 21:6).

Later that day, when the group was at the Mount of Olives, these words of Jesus still puzzled them, causing them to ask Jesus a three-part question. "Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Matthew 24:3; cf. Mark 13:4; Luke 21:7). The first part of this question concerned the time of the destruction of the temple; the second and third parts concerned Jesus' second coming and the events of the end times. Jesus did not give clearly defined, separate answers to the various parts of this question. Apparently the prophecies Jesus gave were to be applied to both the sooner and the later events. This dual application of prophecy follows the general pattern of much Old Testament prophecy.

The first-century Christians took Jesus' words as applying to their times. They heard the words and were saved when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70.

We are here concerned about how the things Jesus mentioned apply to His second coming. Before we look at what He said, let us consider what other prophetic sources exist and how prophetic Scripture should be interpreted.

Latter-Day Events Foretold

The events Jesus described in His Olivet Discourse are explained in greater detail in both the Old and New Testament prophecies. The major prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, and one of the minor prophets, Zechariah, all gave prophecies that have not been fulfilled. Jesus stated, "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matthew 5:18). As many Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled to the minutest detail at His first coming, so will the remaining ones be fulfilled in the latter days and at His second coming. Not "one jot or one tittle," the smallest letter or stroke, "shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (v. 18).

The New Testament also contains many prophecies about Jesus' second coming. One book of the New Testament, Revelation, is given almost solely to this theme, and other books contain numerous prophecies. In the Book of Revelation, the apostle John was shown things concerning both current and coming events. He was commanded, "Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter" (Revelation 1:19). John wrote about "the things which are" in the first three chapters. He wrote about "the things which shall be hereafter" from chapter 4 to the end of the book.

Many have found prophecy hard to understand, especially that in the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation, because of their extensive use of symbolic language. But this need not be. Daniel gave pictures of these coming events in symbolic language, but he also gave their interpretation. These interpretations are not a matter of his own reasoning or guesswork but were divinely inspired. Revelation may be different from the other New Testament books because of its symbolic language, but the symbols were not given to obscure the message. This book is a revelation of latter-day events. It is "the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass" (Revelation 1:1). Thus the purpose of this book is to reveal, not to obscure. This book also contains a promise for the reader: "Blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book" (22:7; cf. 1:3). The reader must understand the book's sayings to keep them. It is not an apocryphal book with a hidden message obscured in symbolic language that is hard, if not impossible, to understand.

Interpretation of Prophecy

Since many of the prophecies related to the latter-day events and Jesus' second coming are presented in figurative and symbolic language, it is important to establish a sound principle of interpretation before a study of prophecy is begun.

The basic principle to follow is to interpret prophetic Scriptures by the same rules used to interpret other writings. The Bible is written in ordinary language as other books are. Therefore, it should be understood by the same common-sense process by which other writings are understood. The Christian also has additional help from God in interpreting Scripture. God has given us His Spirit to teach us the truths of His Word, and His Spirit certainly does not leave us when we read prophetic passages.

A common-sense principle used in interpreting any writing is to take the literal sense of a passage unless such an interpretation involves obvious absurdities or contradictions. Literal interpretation does not imply that symbolism cannot be used. If symbolism occurs, the reader should look for a divine interpretation of that symbolism. The interpretation may be found in the immediate context or elsewhere in the book or in other books. If a divine interpretation is not given, the symbolism may remain an unsolved mystery. In such a case we should simply acknowledge we do not presently know what it means. The reader must not interpret these according to his own reasoning or speculate as to their meaning.

To understand how this principle applies, read the book of Daniel to see how the divinely given dreams were interpreted by him. The application of this principle may also be seen in Revelation. Much of the symbolism used is explained right in the book. For example, the "seven stars" are explained to be "the angels of the seven churches"; the "seven golden candlesticks" are "the seven churches" (Revelation 1:20); "the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt," is Jerusalem, where "our Lord was crucified" (11:8); "a great red dragon" is "the Devil, and Satan" (12:3, 9); the "seven heads" are "seven kings" (12:3; 17:9, 10); the "ten horns" are "ten kings" (12:3; 17:3, 12); and the "seven heads are seven mountains" and kingdoms (17:9; Daniel 2:35, 44). These candid explanations of some of the symbols remove much of the confusion that would otherwise arise in trying to understand biblical prophecy.

In the following pages we will attempt to follow this principle of interpretation in order to give a clear picture of latter-day events. As the Old Testament "prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow" (I Peter 1:10, 11), we too must search. As they could not completely understand His first coming even though they prophesied of it, we may not understand everything about His second coming by reading the prophetic writings. We should freely admit this and say we do not understand some details instead of guessing and speculating as to their meaning.

The reader may not agree with everything presented in this chapter, especially if he disagrees with the basic principle of interpretation used. If he seeks to spiritualize the prophecies instead of taking them literally, he will end up with a quite different interpretation. Hopefully the reader will still study this material to see what these prophecies tell if they are interpreted literally. It is also hoped that the reader will be as the Bereans, who "received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, [to see] whether those things were so" (Acts 17:11).

The Jews Return to the Promised Land

One of the first events to occur in the latter days is the return of the Jews to the Promised Land. Jeremiah wrote about the return, "For, lo, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah, saith the LORD: and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it" (Jeremiah 30:3). Later he wrote, "I will cause the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel to return, and will build them, as at the first. And I will cleanse them. . . . I will pardon all their iniquities. . . . And it shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and an honour before all the nations" (33:7-9).

Ezekiel also tells of this return. He relates a vision of a valley of dry bones, and how life came to the dry bones. He then was told the meaning of this vision:

    These bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts. Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Ezekiel 37:11, 12; cf. 33:10

This is a prediction that Israel's political life will be restored from an utterly hopeless situation.

Ezekiel then tells how "the word of the Lord" again came to him, and about being commanded to write on one stick Judah's name and on another stick Israel's, and to join the two sticks together. He was told, "They shall become one in thine hand" (Ezekiel 37:15, 17). When the people asked about the meaning of his action, he was told to say:

    Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: and I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all: Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols. . . . I will save them out of all their dwelling places, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God. Ezekiel 37:21-23

Ezekiel goes on to explain how "David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd; they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them" (Ezekiel 37:24). This must refer to Christ's rule since one king has not ruled Judah and Israel since the book of Ezekiel was written, nor have they observed God's statutes. Nor have the nations known "that I the LORD do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore" (v. 28).

It is obvious these prophecies have never been fulfilled. Some of the people of Judah did return after the seventy years of Babylonian captivity. Ezra and Nehemiah describe this return, but this return did not involve the ten tribes of the northern kingdom. The New Testament also bears witness to the fact that the twelve tribes as a whole were still in dispersion many years later (James 1:1).

The Olivet Discourse Warnings

The Olivet Discourse, found in three of the four Gospels (Matthew 24, 25; Mark 13; Luke 17; 21), contains Jesus' major prophecies concerning His second coming. These prophecies must occupy a central place in any study of the second coming. It provides the chronological framework into which all other prophecies must fit and upon which they must be built.

Jesus began His answer to the disciples' questions by giving them a warning. "Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many" (Matthew 24:4, 5; cf. Mark 13:5, 6; Luke 21:8). Apparently, men will be expecting Christ's return because of conditions existing at the time. This will create a danger of false prophets misleading some of Jesus' disciples by claiming they are the Christ. Jesus warned His disciples of this danger so they can remain faithful throughout the trials they will face and the deception that will abound.

Jesus next pointed out: "Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places" (Matthew 24:6, 7). Luke records that Jesus spoke here of "fearful sights and great signs . . . from heaven" (Luke 21:11). These conditions do not mean that the time of His coming has arrived. "All these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet." They are signs only of the beginning of end-time sufferings. "All these are the beginnings of sorrows" (Matthew 24:6, 8; cf. Mark 13:7, 8; Luke 21:9-11).

It is clear that many nations will be at war with one another in the latter days. We have seen that Jesus spoke of "wars and rumours of wars" (Matthew 24:6) and that "nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom" (v. 7).

There are several major prophecies about latter-day wars. The Old Testament prophets Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah referred to these. The New Testament Book of Revelation also contains prophecies of coming wars. Our understanding of how these events fit together may not be complete, but where possible we will show how the Old Testament prophecies fit into the New Testament prophecies.

A Warning and an Encouragement

Jesus explained what the beginning of sorrows will mean for His disciples: "Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake" (Matthew 24:9). Mark records additional words: "But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them" (Mark 13:9). When the disciples face these trials, they are not to be concerned about working out a defense beforehand. They are to speak "whatsoever shall be given you in that hour . . . for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost" (v. 11). Their "adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist" their words (Luke 21:15).

This persecution will be hard to avoid because many "shall betray one another, and shall hate one another" (Matthew 24:10). Brother will betray his brother, father his son, and children their parents, causing them to be put to death (Mark 13:12; Luke 21:16).

Jesus next repeated His warning about false prophets. He stated that "many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many" (Matthew 24:11). The reason many will be deceived is that "iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold" (v. 12). Not all, however, will be led astray or grow cold. Some will endure. Jesus encourages these by promising, "He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (v. 13; cf. Mark 13:13). One purpose of prophecy is to leave Christians with a knowledge of what the future holds, so they can have confidence in the outcome and remain faithful and be encouraged to endure to the end.

This is from Chapter 7 of the book, Redemption Realized Through Christ, © copyright 1997 by Leland M. Haines, Northville, MI.

We highly recommend you read this book. It may be ordered from Biblical Viewpoints publication (see below) or visit Books.


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January 29, 2001