The Second Coming: Signs of Christ's Return and the End of the Age
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by John MacArthur
Description: God's Word assures us of the Second Coming and commands us to know the signs of the times, to remain watchful, and to always be ready for Christ's return--whenever it may be. This book is a straightforward, in-depth exploration of the key biblical texts regarding the Second Coming: most notably, Christ's longest and most important message about the end time, the Olivet Discourse.
eBook Publisher: Crossway Books, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: July 2009
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [348 KB]
Reading time: 217-304 min.
Scripture predicted a time when skeptics would mock the very notion of Christ's return: "Scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming?'" (2 Pet. 3:3-4). There is no shortage of voices raising that chorus today.
For example, one group of self-styled authorities on Scripture claims to have discovered (using the techniques of modern literary criticism) that Christ did not even actually say the great majority of things attributed to Him by the New Testament. The so-called Jesus Seminar, a group of 200 liberal Bible scholars, convened to try to reach a consensus about which sayings of Christ are "authentic." This was deemed necessary because these particular scholars had already concluded that most of the words attributed to Christ in Scripture are spurious additions to the Gospel accounts. Their collective final decisions about which sayings are authentic were made by majority vote. The Seminar's verdict was no surprise to anyone familiar with liberal theology's approach to Scripture. These "scholars" concluded that of the more than 700 sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gospels, only thirty-one are unquestionably authentic--and more than half of those are actually duplicate statements from parallel passages. So all told, according to the Jesus Seminar scholars, only about fifteen of the New Testament sayings attributed to Jesus represent words He actually said.
In addition to the few statements they accepted as authentic, the scholars of the Jesus Seminar listed several more sayings they regarded as questionable but possibly authentic. They flatly rejected more than 80 percent of the words of Christ in Scripture--including, of course, all the major passages in which Christ promised His Second Coming.
"Where is the promise of his coming?" According to the Jesus Seminar scholars, Jesus made no such promise in the first place.
That kind of hard-core skepticism under a scholarly veneer is being mass-marketed widely these days. And the doctrine of the Second Coming is a particular target. One author writes:
Jesus says: "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled."
How could Jesus have been wrong about his return? A group of bible scholars known as the "Jesus Seminar" have studied the sayings of Jesus using the most recently discovered copies of ancient biblical manuscripts, other historical writings directly related to the times of Jesus and the early Christian church, scientific writing-style analysis, and other tools. After years of intense study and debate this group has come to the general consensus that over 80% of the words attributed to Jesus in the New Testament were not his words at all, but the interpretations and additions of early believers.
It is very important to remember that nothing Jesus said was written down for at least an entire generation after his death. Stories of his words and ministry were circulated solely by word of mouth. This historical fact of the Oral Period is not disputed by any reputable bible scholar.... As difficult as it may be for bible-believers to accept, objective scholarly analysis has shown that the words of Jesus have been highly corrupted by the beliefs and words of early Christian believers.
[Footnote 1:Anthony L. Little, Faith, Reason, and the Reality of God: A Search for Honesty (Greenwich, Conn.: Empowerment, 1999), n.p.]
In the first place, that author misrepresents and grossly overstates the significance of the Jesus Seminar's work. The Seminar's findings have absolutely no "scientific" authority. They are merely the pooling of liberal opinion--little more than sheer conjecture grounded in sinful unbelief and skepticism. And it is misleading in the extreme to suggest that the liberal conclusions of the Jesus Seminar are "not disputed by any reputable bible scholar." The statement itself betrays the circular reasoning and closed-mindedness that is so typical of liberal "scholarship"; any scholar who disputes their theories is automatically regarded as not "reputable."
Nonetheless, multitudes have bought such lies--and chiefly, it seems, many clergymen. A few years ago I read about a survey given to a group of Protestant pastors at a church convention in Evanston, Illinois. Ninety percent said they have no expectation whatsoever that Christ will ever really return to earth.
The result of all this skepticism from so many scholars and clergy is that a whole segment of society regards the hope of the Second Coming as unenlightened nonsense and mindless fundamentalist fantasy. The arrogance of the scoffers has practically gained the status of conventional wisdom.
But Scripture is neither vague nor equivocal on the promise of Christ's return. A large proportion (by some accounts, as much as one-fifth) of Scripture is prophetic, and perhaps a third or more of the prophetic passages refer to the Second Coming of Christ or events related to it. It is a major theme of both Old Testament and New Testament prophecy.
And regardless of what the scoffers say, Jesus is coming. World history is barreling toward a conclusion, and the conclusion has already been ordained by God and foretold in Scripture. It could be soon, or it could be another thousand years (or more) away. Either way, God is not slack concerning His promise. Christ will return!
One ironic thing is that we live in a time when even the scoffers are in a state of rather fearful expectation. The frightening potential of worldwide destruction exists on several levels. Even the most impassioned secularists must acknowledge the very real potential that the world as we know it could end at any time--through nuclear war, a nuclear accident, an energy crisis, various ecological disasters, new killer viruses like AIDS (or worse), or even a cosmic collision of some kind. In fact, most people recognize that this world cannot exist forever. And we face constant reminders of this. For nearly the whole of the twentieth century, an unremitting string of books, articles, scientific studies, and even Hollywood productions have assaulted the public consciousness, warning us that if we do not collectively change the way we're living, we're going to go out of existence along with our little planet. In fact, the most vocal doomsayers today are not people who expect the return of Christ, but secularists who have recognized that this world and all life on it inevitably will end someday. They are right. It will end, but not because of ecological irresponsibility or human destructiveness.
How will it end? Can we know? Yes, we can. The Bible gives a very clear, direct answer. The world as we know it will end with the return of Jesus Christ. The history of the world will climax in His literal, bodily return to the earth.
This is as certain as any truth in Scripture. Here are nine reasons from Scripture by which we know that Christ is coming again:
THE PROMISE OF GOD DEMANDS IT
The Old Testament was full of Messianic promise. In fact, it's fair to say that the coming Messiah was the main focus of the Old Testament. The first hint of a Messianic Redeemer came in Genesis 3, right after Adam's fall, when God promised that the Seed of the woman would crush the serpent's head (v. 15). In the closing chapter of the final book of the Old Testament, God promised that "The Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings" (Mal. 4:2). And between those two promises, the entire Old Testament is filled with prophecies of the coming Deliverer--at least 333 distinct promises, by one count.
More than a hundred of those prophecies were literally fulfilled at the first advent of Christ. Here are some key ones:
+ Isaiah prophesied that he would be born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18, 22-25).
+ Micah foresaw that Bethlehem would be His birthplace (Mic. 5:2; Matt. 2:1).
+ The experience of Old Testament Israel graphically foreshadowed His being called out of Egypt (Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:13-15).
[Footnote 2: The primary reference of Hosea 11:1 is to the Old Testament nation of Israel, called out of Egypt. But Israel herself was a prophetic type (a symbolic prefiguring) of Christ--and therefore typologically, Israel's sojourn in Egypt prophetically foreshadowed the infant Christ's flight into Egypt. Hosea 11:1 is therefore cited as a prophecy of the infant Christ in Matthew 2:15.]
+ Isaiah foretold that He would be a descendant of Jesse (King David's father) and that He would be uniquely anointed with the Spirit of God (Isa. 11:1-5; Matt. 3:16-17).
+ Zechariah prophesied that He would enter Jerusalem riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zech. 9:9; Luke 19:35-37).
+ Psalm 41:9 predicted that He would be betrayed by a familiar friend with whom he had shared a meal (cf. Matt. 10:4).
+ Zechariah prophesied that He would be stricken and His sheep scattered, anticipating that He would be forsaken by His own closest disciples (Zech. 13:7; Mark 14:50).
+ Zechariah also foretold the exact price of Judas' betrayal (thirty pieces of silver), as well as what would become of the betrayal money (Zech. 11:12-13; Matt. 26:15; 27:6-7).
+ Isaiah foretold many details of the crucifixion (Isa. 52:14-53:12; Matt. 26:67; 27:29-30, 57-60).
+ David foretold many additional details of the tortures Christ endured at the cross, including His last cry to the Father, the piercing of His hands and feet, and the parting of his garments (Ps. 22; Matt. 27:35, 42-43, 46; John 19:23-24).
+ David also prophetically foretold that none of Christ's bones would be broken (Ps. 34:20; John 19:33).
+ And elsewhere David alluded to the Resurrection (Ps. 16:10; cf. Acts 2:27; 13:35-37).
All the prophecies dealing with the first advent of Christ were fulfilled precisely, literally. His riding on a donkey, the parting of his garments, the piercing of His hands and feet, and the vivid prophecies of His rejection by men in Isaiah 53--all these might have been interpreted symbolically by Old Testament scholars before Christ. But the New Testament record repeatedly reports that such things were fulfilled in the most literal sense, so "that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled" (Matt. 26:56; cf. 2:15; 4:14-16; 8:17; 12:17-21; 13:35; 21:4-5; 27:35; John 12:38; 15:25; 19:24, 28).
In some cases Old Testament prophecies about Christ were fulfilled with a literalism that could not have been anticipated by even the most careful Old Testament scholars. For example, Psalm 69 seems to be a lament from David while he was under attack from his enemies and in deep distress. Nothing in the Psalm itself gives us a clue that any prophecies are contained in it. In fact, in verse 5 David refers to his own foolishness and sins. So these words came from the heart of David to describe his own anguish at being hated without a cause. Yet there is a deeper, prophetic meaning. Typologically, David prefigured the Redeemer. And the New Testament indicates that certain phrases in this psalm refer to Christ in an even greater way than they referred to David. "Zeal for Your house has eaten me up" (v. 9) is shown to be a prophecy that was literally fulfilled by Christ in Mark 11:15-17 (compare John 2:14-17). Verse 21, "They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink," turns out to be a prophecy that was literally fulfilled on the cross (Matt. 27:34).
It stands to reason, then, that the remaining two-thirds of Old Testament Messianic prophecies will also be fulfilled literally. And that requires the return of Jesus Christ to this earth.
When Christ took up the scroll in His hometown synagogue at Nazareth and began to read, in God's perfect timing the scheduled reading for that week came from Isaiah 61. Luke 4:17-21 records the incident:
And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD." Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
If we compare the text with Isaiah 61, we see that Christ stopped reading abruptly in the middle of a sentence. Here's the full text of Isaiah 61:1-3:
The Spirit of the LORD God is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. (emphasis added)
The rest of the chapter from Isaiah goes on to describe the blessings of the millennial kingdom, when "the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth. So the LORD God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations" (v. 11).
Christ deliberately stopped reading mid-sentence because "the day of vengeance of our God" pertains to His second advent, not His first. Many Old Testament prophecies seemed to telescope Messianic events this same way, so that it was not always immediately obvious when one portion of a prophecy referred to the first coming of Christ, while another portion referred to His second coming. Employing the Old Testament alone, it would have been very difficult to discern any distinction between the two classes of Messianic prophecies.
But here are some familiar Old Testament prophecies about Christ that await fulfillment at His Second Coming:
Psalm 2. We know this speaks of Christ. Verse 7 is quoted several times in the New Testament and is applied to Him: "You are My Son, today I have begotten You" (cf. Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5). Yet many aspects of this psalm await future fulfillment. Verse 6 suggests an earthly reign that is yet to be realized: "Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion." The kingdom and the judgment described in verses 8-9 also have yet to be fulfilled literally: "I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter's vessel."
Isaiah 9:6-7. This familiar passage also seems to have both the first and second comings of Christ in view: "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.... "That plainly refers to His first advent, anticipating the angel's promise to Mary in Luke 1:35. But the rest of Isaiah 9:6-7 describes Him as a king in glory on David's throne:
And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever.
Christ Himself pointed to His second coming as the time when He would assume that throne in a literal sense: "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory" (Matt. 25:31, emphasis added).
Micah 4:3. This passage echoes the promise of a kingdom of peace under His rule: "He shall judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore." Again the literal fulfillment of that prophecy awaits a second advent of the Savior.
Jeremiah 23:5. Here the Word of God expressly states that the future kingdom of Christ is to be an earthly one: "'Behold, the days are coming,' says the LORD, 'that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth'" (emphasis added). He must return to establish that kingdom on earth.
Zechariah 14:4-9. Zechariah describes the Second Coming graphically:
And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west, making a very large valley; half of the mountain shall move toward the north and half of it toward the south. Then you shall flee through My mountain valley, for the mountain valley shall reach to Azal. Yes, you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Thus the LORD my God will come, and all the saints with You.
It shall come to pass in that day that there will be no light; the lights will diminish. It shall be one day which is known to the LORD--neither day nor night. But at evening time it shall happen that it will be light.
And in that day it shall be that living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and half of them toward the western sea; in both summer and winter it shall occur. And the LORD shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be--"The Lord is one," and His name one.
That describes the glorious appearing of Christ, which is yet to come, when He returns to set all things right. Nothing like that occurred at His first coming. Like much that pertains to Messianic prophecy in the Old Testament, it awaits future fulfillment at the Second Coming of Christ.
Scripture says God "cannot lie" and that He will not change His mind (Titus 1:2; Num. 23:19). What He has promised, He will do. And much of what He promised about Christ requires that the Savior return to earth in triumph in order to bring it to pass. The truthfulness of the Bible is at stake.
THE TEACHING OF CHRIST DEMANDS IT
Christ's own words also make it clear that He will return. His earthly teaching was filled with references to His Second Coming. Many of His parables spoke of it. In fact, the Gospels include entire chapters dealing with events related to the Second Coming (Matt. 24--25; Luke 21).
On the night of His betrayal Christ told the disciples, "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" (John 14:2-3). Not only is the credibility of God at stake in the Second Coming, but so is the credibility of His Son. If Jesus doesn't return He's a liar.
But His own words are a divine guarantee that He will be back. "Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar" (Rom. 3:4).
Christ, on trial for His life, defended His own deity with a bold declaration of the Second Coming in the most triumphant terms. He told the High Priest, "You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven" (Mark 14:62).
And a short time before that, as Christ had unfolded the panorama of future events to His disciples on the Mount of Olives, He told them, "As the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be" (Matt. 24:27). He added this vivid description:
"The sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."
Several of the parables Christ told to illustrate His kingdom emphasized the truth of the Second Coming. He did this "because [the disciples] thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately" (Luke 19:11). So He stressed repeatedly that the aspect of His kingdom in operation since His first coming until now is spiritual and invisible (Luke 17:20-21), whereas the visible, earthly aspect of His kingdom pertained to His Second Coming. So His parables often pictured a ruler who, having gone to a far-off country, returns to rule in person. The parable in Luke 19:12-27 expressly pictures "a certain nobleman [who] went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return" (v. 12). And upon returning, "having received the kingdom" (v. 15), he executes judgment and distributes joint rulership in his kingdom to his servants who were faithful in his absence (vv. 15-19).
Similarly, three parables in the Olivet Discourse--the parable of the two servants (Matt. 24:45-51), the parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1-13), and the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30)--all underscore the certainty of Christ's return.
Nor is that all. In the book of Revelation, Christ repeatedly said, "Surely I am coming quickly" (Rev. 22:20; cf. 2:5, 16; 3:11; 22:7, 12). The Revelation unfolds "the things which will take place after this" (1:19; 4:1). And the crown and culmination of it all is Christ's triumphant return, described in chapter 19.
So Christ has repeatedly assured us of His return. He made these promises during His earthly ministry, just before His ascent to heaven, and even in a vision to John from His throne in heaven. He wanted both friends and enemies to know that He would be back. His very credibility depends on the Second Coming.
THE TESTIMONY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT DEMANDS IT
Since "God ... cannot lie" (Titus 1:2), His promise guarantees Christ's return. Jesus is truth incarnate (John 14:6); so His teaching also infallibly confirms the fact of the Second Coming. The Holy Spirit, who is called "the Spirit of truth" (John 14:17; 15:26), also testifies of the Second Coming of Christ.
The apostle Paul wrote these words under the Holy Spirit's inspiration in Corinthians 1:4-7: "I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ."
It was the Holy Spirit who confirmed the testimony of Christ in them, and it was the Holy Spirit who gave them their expectancy for Christ's coming. Moreover, the Holy Spirit as the divine author of Scripture thereby confirms the promise of Christ's coming (2 Pet. 1:20-21).
Elsewhere Paul wrote, "Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:20). He encouraged the Colossians by saying, "When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory" (Col. 3:4). And he had much to say about the Lord's return in his epistles to the Thessalonians. Here's a sample:
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And 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
The Holy Spirit further confirmed the promise of Christ's return through the writer of Hebrews: "...so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time" (9:28).
You'll find that promise reiterated in the epistle of James: "Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand" (5:7-8).
Peter penned similar Spirit-inspired promises. Here's one: "Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 1:13). And another: "When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away" (5:4).
The Spirit also confirmed this truth through the apostle John. First John 3:2 is one of the most blessed promises in Scripture: "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."
Again and again the Holy Spirit testifies through the writers of the New Testament that Christ is coming a second time. His testimony, through the pens of the men whom He employed as instruments to write the inspired Word of God, adds a third infallible witness to that of the Father and the Son. Through the inerrant Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is still testifying that Jesus is coming.
THE PROGRAM FOR THE CHURCH DEMANDS IT
God's plan for the church also demands the return of Christ. He is currently "visit[ing] the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name" (Acts 15:14). He is gathering His elect into one great body, the church. And the church's role is to be like a pure bride for God's own Son, ready to be presented to Him at His Second Coming.
And that is precisely the imagery the apostle Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 11:2: "I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ."
Scripture repeatedly portrays Christ at His Second Coming as a Bridegroom coming to claim his bride. The apostle John's vision of heaven included a vivid description of the wedding supper:
And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, "Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready." And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!'" And he said to me, "These are the true sayings of God."
That symbolism is based on the pattern that was in vogue for Oriental weddings during New Testament times. In fact, that pattern was based on ancient traditions that reached far back into Old Testament history. Every marriage had three vital elements, each symbolized in the relationship of Christ with His church.
The bridal price. In New Testament times, marriages were arranged by parents. Parents would get together and agree by contract to have their children marry one another--sometimes before the bride and bridegroom had even met. These marriage contracts were binding, and to seal the contract, the husband-to-be or his father had to pay a bridal price or dowry. This ensured the bride's financial security. The money, though paid to the bride's father, was meant to be kept for her in case her husband died or deserted her (cf. Gen. 31:15). The bridal price also included gifts for the bride (cf. Gen. 24:53; Judg. 1:15). Once the dowry was paid, the union contract was recognized by law and could only be terminated by divorce--even before any wedding vows were exchanged and the physical union was consummated (cf. Matt. 1:18-19).
[Footnote 3: In modern times the word dowry usually conveys the idea of money or property brought by the bride to her husband at a marriage, but in biblical times the dowry was a gift bestowed by the bridegroom and his family on the bride (cf. Gen. 34:12).]
The New Testament employs this imagery to describe the relationship between Christ and the church. When He died on the cross, the price He paid with His own blood was like a legal pay ment for His marriage to His church--the dowry. Paul repeatedly referred to the church as a purchased possession of the heavenly Bridegroom. This symbolism was so vital that Paul even employed it to teach what a godly marriage should be like. He instructed husbands, "Love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:2527). Paul's farewell speech to the Ephesian elders included this charge: "Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). That was, by the way, the most costly dowry ever paid. And although the marriage has not yet been consummated, it is legally in effect and will be binding forever. That is the very thing that guarantees our security. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.
The betrothal. The betrothal in an ancient marriage was officially marked by a ceremony in which the bride and the bridegroom met in the presence of witnesses and gave gifts to each other. This ceremony would have looked very similar to a modern wedding ceremony except that it took place long before the marriage could be consummated--sometimes a year or more in advance. Then the bride and her husband-to-be would each return to their respective homes. During the period between the betrothal and the consummation of the marriage, the man was occupied with preparing a place for his bride. This usually meant building an addition or an attachment to his father's house, so that the new couple would have a secure place to begin their lives together. Joseph and Mary had entered such a betrothal before Gabriel brought her the heavenly message about the miracle of virgin conception and birth (Luke 1:26-38; Matt. 1:18-25).
Again this beautifully pictures Christ and His church. He has given her gifts (Eph. 4:8), and He has gone to prepare her a place in His Father's house (John 14:2). This entire age between His first and Second Coming is therefore like the betrothal period. The church is espoused to Christ. The bridal price has been paid; gifts have been given. The union is forever binding. But it awaits a final consummation.
The marriage feast. The final phase of a marriage occurred when the bridegroom and his friends would go to the bride's house for a marriage ceremony and a great feast. This event is depicted in the story of the marriage at Cana (John 2:1-11) and the parable of the virgins in Matthew 25:1-13.
Likewise, the marriage supper of the Lamb and His bride will signal the consummation of God's plan for the church. That feast cannot occur until Christ returns for His bride (Rev. 19:6-16). And that is precisely God's plan for the church. Therefore Christ must return.
The institution of marriage itself is a beautiful metaphor that pictures Christ's love for His church. And if He were not going to return to claim her, it would spoil the whole point. So God's program for the church demands the return of Jesus Christ.
THE CORRUPTION IN THE WORLD DEMANDS IT
Here's another reason Christ must return: to judge the world. Matthew 16:27 records Jesus' words, "The Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works." Scripture portrays the return of Christ as the "blessed hope" of the church (Titus 2:13). But for the world of unbelievers, the return of Christ is a terrifying prospect, because His coming means immediate judgment on them. In John 5:25-29 He promised this coming judgment:
"Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth--those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation."
Scripture repeatedly associates Christ's return with final, comprehensive judgment. Jude 14-15 says, "Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him."
Paul told the Thessalonian believers:
The Lord Jesus [will be] revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 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, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.
--2 THESS. 1:7-10
Scripture tells us that all judgment has been committed to Christ (John 5:22). And Scripture repeatedly portrays Him returning to earth in order to carry out that judgment. The consummate picture of this is Revelation 19:11-16:
Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
Jesus must return in order to execute just retribution on sinners and carry out the judgment He has promised.
THE FUTURE OF ISRAEL DEMANDS IT
So it is clear that God's dealings with the church and the world both necessitate the return of Christ. Did you realize His plan for Israel also demands the Second Coming?
Zechariah 12:10 includes this promise: "I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn." That salvation of Israel has not yet happened, but it will. "In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness" (13:1). The whole of Zechariah 14 goes on to detail that great day of salvation for Israel, which will occur at the Lord's return.
Romans 11:25-27 says this: "Blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: 'The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.'"
Paul was clearly describing a future reality. He was looking forward to a time when "all Israel will be saved." He pictured the people of God as an olive tree. Israel, the natural branches of the domestic tree, failed to produce fruit; so God broke the branches off and grafted in branches from a wild olive tree, representing the elect Gentiles. Apparently in Paul's day Gentiles were already being added to the church in greater numbers than Jewish converts. And Paul reminded the Gentile converts, "You, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree" (v. 17). But a time is coming when the natural branches will be grafted back into the olive tree (vv. 23-24). And Paul expressly connects that phenomenon with the return of Christ, the Deliverer who will come out of Zion (v. 26).
THE VINDICATION OF CHRIST DEMANDS IT
Here's another important reason Christ must return: It is inconceivable that the last public view the world would have of Jesus Christ would be that of a bleeding, dying, crucified criminal, covered with blood, spit, and flies, hanging naked in a Jerusalem twilight. Did you realize that after His resurrection, He never appeared in a public venue before unbelievers? Plenty of believers saw Him, touched Him, spoke to Him, and gave unanimous testimony that He was risen from the dead. But there is no record that unbelievers ever saw Him. If they did, they no doubt became believers immediately. Believers who saw Him certainly had all their doubts dispelled, as illustrated in Thomas's encounter with the risen Christ (John 20:24-29).
In 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 Paul lists those who witnessed the risen Lord: "He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time." Notice that there is not an unbeliever in that list.
So the last time the world saw him on display, He was humiliated, suffering, and hanging on the cross. His glory has not yet been displayed to the world.
But the world will see it. Scripture says, "Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time" (Heb. 9:28). "He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him" (Rev. 1:7). "As the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be" (Matt. 24:27).
A couple of important passages of Scripture set prophecies about His humiliation and His subsequent public exaltation side by side, suggesting that one cannot occur without the other. Psalm 22:16-18 prophesied in detail the treatment He would receive at the hands of those who put Him to death: "Dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots." But the climax of that same psalm anticipates the glory that will be on display when He returns to earth: "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You. For the kingdom is the LORD's, and He rules over the nations" (vv. 27-28).
Matthew 26 also sets his first-advent suffering and His SecondComing glory alongside one another. Matthew 26:67-68 describes the treatment Christ received at the hands of those who arrested Him: "They spat in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands, saying, 'Prophesy to us, Christ! Who is the one who struck You?'" They mocked Him. Played games with Him. Plucked His beard. Humiliated Him. And ultimately they executed Him. Is that how Jesus is to be remembered in the eyes of the world? Is that His last public appearance on earth?
In this very context, Jesus Himself indicated that it would not be. "The high priest ... said to Him, 'I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!' Jesus said to him, 'It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven'" (vv. 63-64). Thus the promise of future exaltation was expressed graphically by Jesus Himself, in the midst of His own humiliation.
The indignity and shame of the crucifixion took place in full view of a scoffing crowd. How public will the display of His glory be? "Every eye will see him" (Rev. 1:7). "There will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory" (Luke 21:25-27). The Savior who was humiliated and taunted and put to death in a public display of humanity's hatred of God will return as conquering Lord in view of the entire world. He must return.
THE DESTRUCTION OF SATAN DEMANDS IT
There is still another vital reason Christ must return--to vanquish the devil. Satan, though an already-defeated foe as far as Christians are concerned, still exercises a kind of dominion over this world. Three times in the Gospel of John Christ referred to the devil as "the ruler of this world" (12:31; 14:30; 16:11). In 2 Corinthians 4:4 the apostle Paul calls Satan "the god of this age." In Ephesians 2:2 he calls him "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience." And in Ephesians 6:12 he refers to Satan's hierarchy of evil spirits as "principalities ... powers ... the rulers of the darkness of this age ... spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." First John 5:19 says, "The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one."
There's a sense in which Satan still runs the world. How did he gain this power? At creation God gave dominion over all creation to Adam. But when Adam succumbed to Satan's enticements, obeying the devil rather than God, Adam in effect abdicated his place of dominion and left that authority to the devil. Satan has been the ruler of this world ever since. He has no legal right to rule. He's a usurper. Yet God allows him to remain in power.
When Christ atoned for sin, He dealt Satan the crushing blow, redeeming Adam's fallen race and destroying Satan's claim to world dominion. "Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:911). Christ is the only rightful ruler of this world, and when He returns He will overthrow and destroy Satan completely.
Revelation 5 pictures this drama in graphic terms. The apostle John describes his vision of heaven; God was seated on His throne, holding a scroll that had seven seals. The scroll also had writing on the inside and back (v. 1).
That is a description of this world's title deed. In biblical times, as is true even today, title deeds were vital records that proved who owned a piece of property. In the Old Testament era, land could not permanently change ownership. Tracts of land could be used temporarily as collateral for a loan or be given away for a period of time in payment of a debt. But land could not be sold permanently (cf. Lev. 25:23). During the Jubilee year (which occurred every fifty years) all land that had changed hands was to be returned to the family of its rightful owner (v. 10). Even between Jubilee years, those wishing to recover their family's lands could redeem their property for a fair price. Jeremiah redeemed some of his family's land by such means (Jer. 32:6-7), and he describes how the transaction was carefully recorded in a title deed:
I signed the deed and sealed it, took witnesses, and weighed the money on the scales. So I took the purchase deed, both that which was sealed according to the law and custom, and that which was open; and I gave the purchase deed to Baruch the son of Neriah, son of Mahseiah, in the presence of Hanamel my uncle's son, and in the presence of the witnesses who signed the purchase deed, before all the Jews who sat in the court of the prison.
Those signatures would have been recorded with seals. A typical title deed would have multiple seals, just like the scroll in Revelation 5. And the typical first-century reader of John's vision would have understood this scroll as a legal document, a title deed. It is, I believe, the very title deed to this earth.
No one could lawfully open a title deed except the rightful heir designated by the deed itself. That is why there was writing on the outside of the scroll. The writing on the outside was a summary of what was in the document, identifying who had the right to open it. Jewish deeds were, by law, witnessed by at least three signatures, with three seals--and sometimes more, depending on the importance of the document.
The seven-sealed scroll in Revelation 5 is clearly a document of monumental importance, and the fact that God Himself was holding the scroll while angels were loudly seeking someone worthy to open it (vv. 2-3) suggests that whoever was qualified to open the scroll must be someone very worthy indeed.
The situation seemed such a dilemma to John that he started crying: "I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it" (v. 4). But there was no question in heaven about who had authority to open that title deed. "One of the elders said to me, 'Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals'" (v. 5). Christ as Son of God was the legitimate Heir to all creation (Ps. 2:6-8; Heb. 1:1-2). And He also earned the right to the title deed of the earth because He redeemed the world from the dominion of Satan.
Having already paid the redemption-price, Christ must return to earth to establish His dominion here. Revelation 6--7 describes the opening of the seven seals, each one resulting in a unique judgment. The final seal brings utter silence in heaven, followed by seven trumpet blasts. And again each of the seven blasts unleashes a new wave of judgment (chapters 8--11). Following the trumpets, seven vials representing seven final judgment-plagues are poured out on the earth (chapter 16). Finally, after one last-ditch effort by Satan to retain his unlawful dominion over the earth, Christ Himself returns. Revelation 19 describes the scene, when He comes suddenly and destroys His enemies. In chapter 20 Satan is chained and thrown into a bottomless pit and then finally confined forever to an eternal lake of fire. With that, Christ's final victory over Satan is complete.
Scripture consistently portrays Christ's return to earth as the necessary prelude to Satan's ultimate doom. Therefore Christ must return to earth to accomplish the final destruction of His archenemy.
THE HOPE OF THE SAINTS DEMANDS IT
And here's a final reason the Lord must return to earth: Only His glorious, triumphant return can fulfill the hope of the saints. God is not in the business of giving false hope. He knows what we are waiting for. He knows the longing of our hearts. His Word gives us every reason to long for the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ--and He will not disappoint that blessed hope.
Peter saw the promise of Christ's return as a great comfort for the people of God in their times of trial--"that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 1:7).
Paul encouraged believers to have that same hope:
We ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels.
--2 THESS. 1:4-7
All true believers long for the day when Jesus Christ will return to earth. Paul characterizes all Christians as those who "love his appearing" (2 Tim. 4:8, KJV). John adds, "Now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2). In other words, the return of Christ will instantly usher in the fullness of our glorification.
For all these reasons Christ must return. We are taught throughout the New Testament to look for His coming, to long for it, and to wait patiently and expectantly for it. This has been the blessed hope of every true child of God since the beginning of the age. And the fulfillment of that hope is now closer than it has ever been.
The apostle John added these words: "And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (v. 3). This is the test of a healthy eschatology: Is your hope a sanctifying influence on your soul? Rather than getting caught up in hype and hysteria about current events and newspaper headlines, are you looking beyond the commotion of this world with the realization that you could soon meet Christ face to face, and are you preparing your heart and soul for that? Instead of despairing, as some do, over how long Christ has delayed His coming, are you filled with hope and expectation? Are you eager and watching, knowing that the time still draws nigh? That is the attitude to which Scripture calls us.
The Second Coming is not supposed to make us stop what we're doing to wait for the Lord's return. And neither should it motivate us to focus all our attention on the events and political developments of this world. Instead, it should direct our hearts toward Christ, whose coming we await--and it should prompt us to purify ourselves as He is pure.