Jesus Christ will return to the earth in glory⤒🔗
Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4
The New Testament repeatedly announces that Jesus Christ will one day be back. This will be his “royal visit,” his “appearing” and “coming” (Greek: parousia). Christ will return to this world in glory. The Savior’s second advent will be personal and physical (Matt. 24:44; Acts 1:11; Col. 3:4; 2 Tim. 4:8; Heb. 9:28), visible and triumphant (Mark 8:38; 2 Thess. 1:10; Rev. 1:7). Jesus comes to end history, to raise the dead and judge the world (John 5:28-29), to impart to God’s children their final glory (Rom. 8:17-18; Col. 3:4), and to usher in a reconstructed universe (Rom. 8:19-21; 2 Pet. 3:10-13). His execution of this agenda will be the last phase and final triumph of his mediatorial kingdom. Once these things are done, the applying of redemption against Satanic opposition, which was the specific work of the kingdom, will be over. When Paul says that Christ then “hands over the kingdom” and becomes subject to the Father (1 Cor. 15:24-28), he is not implying any diminution in Christ’s subsequent honor, but is signifying the completion of the plan for bringing the elect to heaven that the risen Son was enthroned to carry through. The elect in glory, purified and perfected, will forever honor the Lamb as the one who was able to open the book of God’s plan for the accomplishing and applying of redemption in history, and make what was planned happen (Rev. 5). In the new Jerusalem, God and the Lamb are enthroned and reign together forever (Rev. 22:1, 3). But this reigning is the ongoing servant-Lord relationship between God and the godly that follows the era of the mediatorial kingdom, rather than the continuation of that kingdom as such.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 Paul teaches that Christ’s coming will take the form of a descent from the sky, heralded by a trumpet fanfare, a shout, and the voice of the archangel. Those who died in Christ will already have been raised and will be with him, and all Christians on earth will be “raptured” (i.e., caught up among the clouds to meet Christ in the air) so that they may at once return to earth with him as part of his triumphant escort. The idea that the rapture takes them out of this world for a period before Christ appears a third time for a second “second coming” has been widely held but lacks scriptural support.
Though some of the details Paul gives have symbolic significance (the trumpet, like a military bugle, demands attention to God’s activity, Exod. 19:16, 19; Isa. 27:13; Matt. 24:31; 1 Cor. 15:52; the clouds signify God’s active presence, Exod. 19:9, 16; Dan. 7:13; Matt. 24:30; Rev. 1:7), he seems to be speaking literally, and the fact that what he describes is beyond our power to imagine should not stop us from taking his word that this is how it will be.
The New Testament specifies much that will take place between Christ’s two comings, but apart from the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (Luke 21:20, 24) the predictions point to processes rather than single identifiable events and do not yield even an approximate date for Jesus’ reappearance. The Gentile world will be summoned to faith (Matt. 24:14); Jews will be brought into the kingdom (Rom. 11:25-29, a passage that may or may not anticipate a national conversion); there will be false prophets and false Christs or antichrists (Matt. 24:5, 24; 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3). There will be apostasy from the faith and tribulation for the faithful (2 Thess. 2:3; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; Rev. 7:13-14; cf. 3:10). A seemingly unidentifiable “man of lawlessness,” about whom Paul had told the Thessalonians in oral teaching that we do not have (2 Thess. 2:5), was or is due to appear (2 Thess. 2:3-12). If the thousand-year period of Revelation 20:1-10 is actually world history between Christ’s two comings, there will be a last climactic power struggle of some sort between the world’s anti-Christian forces and the people of God (vv. 7-9). No dates, however, can be deduced from this data; the time of Jesus’ return remains completely unknown.
The return of Christ will have the same significance for Christians who will be alive when it happens as death has for Christians who die before it happens: it will be the end of life in this world and the start of life in what has been described as “an unknown environment with a well-known inhabitant” (cf. John 14:2-3). Christ teaches (Matt. 24:36-51) that it will be a tragic disaster if the parousia finds anyone in an unprepared state. Rather, the thought of what is to come should be constantly in our minds, encouraging us in our present Christian service (1 Cor. 15:58) and teaching us to live as it were on call, ready to go to meet Christ at any time (Matt. 25:1-13).
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