The Second Coming of Christ
The doctrine of the return of Christ is mentioned 318 times in the 260 chapters of the New Testament, or once in about every 25 verses. Its first proclaimer was Enoch, the seventh from Adam (Jude 14), and it is also Christ's last word from the glory. His final utterance in Revelation 22:20 is "Surely I come quickly." The second coming of Christ will occur before the thousand-year (i.e. Millennium) reign of Christ. Our Lord Himself will return.
1.1 The Meaning of the word "Rapture"
The word "Rapture" (rapio in Latin, "snatch") does not itself occur in the Bible, its use in describing what takes place when the Lord Jesus returns is most appropriate. It means "a catching away"; this is clearly indicated in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 (compare John 10:28 - "pluck"; Jude 23 - "pulling"). The details are supplied in 1 Thessalonian passage 4:16-18. See also 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 and Philippians 3:20, 21. Christians will be caught up, "snatched" away from the earth scene, to meet their adorable Saviour - the Lord Jesus Christ. It will be a miraculous catching away of all living believers together with the resurrected righteous dead.
2. THE CERTAINTY OF CHRIST'S COMING
2.1 The Testimony of Jesus
"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 14:3). It has been strangely assumed by some that by this promise He referred to Pentecost, or even to the believer's death. We know that He did not mean Pentecost due to the fact that the bulk of the predictions concerning Christ's second coming were made after Pentecost (see Acts 3:20, 21; Romans 13:12; 1 Corinthians 1:7). Nor did He mean death, for this is just the opposite of the Lord's coming. That coming will undo all that death has done to the bodies of God's people for the past 6,000 years or more!
At Christ's ascension He entered heaven, where He is now preparing a place for those who trust Him. He is at the right hand of God, appearing in the presence of God and interceding for believers (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 1:3; 7:25; 9:24). He has promised that when His work of preparation is ended, He will return to receive His own unto Himself. We may rely confidently upon His words.
About 1,000 years before His birth, Christ said prophetically, "Lo, I come...to do thy will, O God" (Psalm 40:7, 8). He kept that promise at His first advent. His promise to come again is just as certain of fulfillment. Our Lord did not go into details; those details would await the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (see John 16:12, 13). He simply promised that He would return.
2.2 The Testimony of Others
"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 1:9-11). The expression "this same Jesus" identifies the returning Lord with the One who hung on Calvary's Cross and rose bodily from the dead. He will not come by proxy. Just as Isaac came out personally into the field to meet Rebekah (Genesis 24:62-67), so will Jesus return for His Church. We were assured that He would certainly return from heaven, and in the very manner in which He left for heaven.
"And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heavens must receive until the times of restitution of all things..." (Acts 3:20, 21). The second coming of Christ is an intrinsic part of apostolic preaching.
"When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory" (Colossians 3:4). The apostle Paul had no doubt that his Lord would come again.
"The Lord himself shall descend from heaven" (1 Thessalonians 4:16). This is plain teaching.
"Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ..." (Titus 2:13). Unbelievers may look backward and behold their own unforgiven sins; or inward and regret their own weakness; or outward and tremble at life's uncertainties. But believers may look upward eagerly, knowing that their blessed Saviour may appear at any moment.
"So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall be appear the second time without sin unto salvation" (Hebrews 9:28). The return of Christ is very clear.
3. THE PURPOSE OF HIS COMING
3.1 The Two Distinct Phases of the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ
The second coming of Jesus is one transcendent event but it will be in two distinct stages: (1) private; and (2) public. One reason so many people confused with regard to Bible prophecy is that they fail to distinguish between the two aspects of our Lord's return.
His first coming had both its private and public side. He came privately to Bethlehem when He was welcomed by only a few shepherds (Luke 2:1-20), wise men (Matthew 2:1-12), a Simeon (Luke 2:25-35), an Anna (Luke 2:36-38). Then He came publicly when He presented Himself as King to Jerusalem at the "triumphal entry (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-16)."
3.1.1 The Coming for Believers Privately (First Stage)
The second coming will also be in similar manner. In the first "stage," Christ will return to meet the saints in the air privately (1 Thessalonians 4:17). This is known as the "rapture." Christians will be caught up away from the earth scene to meet the Lord Jesus Christ. This stage of Christ's second coming may take place at any time now. Those who have rejected Him will be left on earth to experience the dire calamities of the great tribulation.
3.1.2 The Coming with Believers Publicly (Second Stage)
In the second "stage," our Lord will return to the earth publicly to make war, to smite the nations and to reign (Zechariah 14:1-4; Revelation 19:11-16). He will bring the saints with Him. We know this for two reasons. First, we are told that from the time of the rapture on through eternity believers will "ever be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:17); second, we are specifically informed that at the appearance of Christ in judgment they will accompany Him (Colossians 3:4; Revelation 19:14).
3.1.3 The Period in Between
The career of Anti-Christ and the dreadful, terrifying events of the great tribulation on earth will intervene between the two stages of Jesus' advent. In later lessons we shall study this appalling historical parenthesis.
3.2 The Time of the Rapture of the Saints
3.2.1 Due Caution
No man knows the exact hour of Jesus' return (Matthew 24:36, 42). History tells us that occasionally people have forgotten or ignored our Saviour's warning words. They have set dates for His return, put their affairs in order for an early departure from earth and gathered at appointed centres to meet their Lord. Informed and mature Christians always keep their affairs in order. They delight in anticipating Christ's return but they are extremely careful not to set dates.
3.2.2 The Swift Immediacy of His Coming
Jesus will come suddenly, "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" (1 Corinthians 15:52). As the lightning flash (Matthew 24:27), or an unexpected thief (Matthew 24:43), or a snare (Luke 21:35), so will Christ's coming be. Think through each of these comparisons. How rapid is the twinkling of an eye or a flash of lightning? How suddenly does a thief steal and then escape? How unexpectedly and quickly does a snare seize its unsuspecting prey?
3.2.3 Signs of the Times (Matthew 16:3)
Christians are not in darkness, that the day should overtake them as a thief (1 Thessalonians 5:4). They study prophecy and observe the kaleidoscopic movements of history. They read the signs and conclude that the Saviour's return is imminent.
3.3 The Manner of Christ's Coming
"The Lord himself shall descend from heaven" (1 Thessalonians 4:16; compare Acts 1:11). He will be no ghost, no unidentifiable spirit, no phantasm, but the Lord Jesus in person.
At the rapture, the Lord's people will hear His voice as He descends "from heaven with a shout." They will hear the archangel's majestic voice and the summoning trumpet of God (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Revelation 4:1).
When He ultimately returns to the earth, He will ride magnificently, clothed in glory, moving triumphantly to meet His foes (Revelation 19:11-16). At His first coming He arrived as a little Baby, excluded from Bethlehem's inn and cradled in a cattle stall. But when He comes the second time to wreak vengeance on the foes of God (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10), He will prove Himself to be the mighty Conqueror.
4. THE SEQUENCE OF EVENTS AT THE RAPTURE OF THE SAINTS
The Bible carefully outlines the sequence of events at the rapture of the saints. "Every man in his own order" (1 Corinthians 15:23): this is a fundamental Biblical principle.
4.1 The Resurrection of the Believing Dead
The "dead in Christ shall rise first" (1 Thessalonians 4:16) to meet their Saviour. Their spirits will already be with Christ; for when a saint dies, his spirit goes at once to be with the Lord (Philippians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:8). When Jesus returns, the bodies of believers will be transformed, made like unto the body of His glory (Philippians 3:20, 21; 1 Corinthians 15:49, 50, 52, 53), and caught up to be with Him. This is "the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:23). It is called "the resurrection of the just" (Luke 14:14), and "the resurrection of life" (John 5:29).
4.2 The Rapture of Living Believers
Then "we which are alive and remain" (1 Thessalonians 4:17), that is the generation of Christians living on earth at Jesus' return, will be transformed (1 Corinthians 15:52) and will rise to meet our Lord. God's people look forward with rejoicing to this resurrection and the rapture of living believers. Then they shall see their Lord face to face. They shall be reunited with their believing loved ones whose spirits have gone ahead to be with Christ.
4.3 Resurrection of Old Testament Saints and Tribulation Martyrs
Jewish believers from Old Testament times (Daniel 12:2) and the tribulation martyrs are to be raised at the close of the Great Tribulation (Revelation 20:4). The unbelieving dead will remain in the graves for another 1000 years (20:5). Their resurrection and judgment at the end of the Millennium is described in Revelation 20:7-15, and noted in the last phrase of Daniel 12:2.
4.4 The Resurrection of Unbelievers
This will take place over a thousand years later (Revelation 20:5, 11-15), when all who have rejected Christ will be compelled to stand before the "great white throne" and hear their verdict: guilty and doomed. No one who hears the gospel today need stand before that throne. It is not too late to trust the Saviour, to have one's sins forgiven through faith in His blood and thus to be ready to welcome Him at His appearing.
5. THE RESURRECTION OF THE SAINTS
5.1 The Fact of It
It is popular in certain circles to openly deny the teaching that men who die will rise again. But before turning to the future let us glance at the past which affords a number of concrete instances of this. In Old Teatament times the prophet Elijah raised a dead boy (1 Kings 17:17-24), as did also Elisha (2 Kings 4:32-35). Then our Lord brought back to life at least three persons: a twelve-year-old girl (Matthew 9:23-25; Mark 5:37-43), a young man (Luke 7:12-15), and Lazarus (John 11:43, 44). Christ's apostles, Peter and Paul, also raised from death two individuals: Dorcas (Acts 9:36-41) and Eutychus (Acts 20:9, 10). If we accept these facts as historically trustworthy, it should not be difficult to believe that what God has done in the past He can and will do again in the future.
Resurrection always applies to the body and never to the soul or spirit. The soul and spirit do not die, being immortal (Matthew 10:28; Luke 8:55). It is the body only that is mortal (Romans 8:11). (Note: Mortal means subject to death.) This is a most important point to remember.
Furthermore, the doctrine of resurrection accords not only with the divine revelation but also with reason. Every time we sleep and awake we are given a parable of it. Every time we plant a seed and watch that seed arise from the ground with its new body, in fresh life and beauty, we witness not only a miracle but also a parabolic sermon. Nor is there a scientist alive that can fully explain the mystery, or duplicate it! Falling into the ground and dying, the seed has mysteriously arisen out of that death and reproduced itself on a greatly multiplied scale (John 12:24; 1 Corinthians 15:36). And the fruit or flower is really the resurrection-body of the seed that has gone into the ground.
5.2 The Feature of It
Now the Bible nowhere teaches a general resurrection for all mankind. Rather, it teaches two distinct resurrections, the first of which affects all the righteous (i.e. believers), and the second the unrighteous (i.e. unbelievers). The first is of "life" and embraces "the just"; the second, of "damnation," and embraces "the unjust" (John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15). And there are at least one thousand years between them (Revelation 20:4, 5). They differ both in character and time, and must be clearly distinguished.
The first resurrection actually falls into three segments:
These are not three resurrections, but one, though experienced in three stages. This is illustrated in Israel's crop-harvest of old. The farmer first cut the sheaf of firstfruits and presented it before the Lord, after which he reaped his main harvest. But this was followed by the gathering of the gleanings by the stranger and the poor (Leviticus 23:10, 22; Deuteronomy 24:19). The firstfruits answers to the personal resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23), while the harvest corresponds to the great ingathering at the Lord's return. The subsequent rising of the dead Tribulation-martyrs answers to the gleanings.
In answer to the cynical "How?" the Paul makes use of three parables from nature (1 Corinthians 15:35-44):
5.2.1 The Vegetable Kingdom (1 Corinthians 15:35-38)
The sprouting of the planted seed that "dies" in the earth is a phenomenon that cannot be duplicated by man because of the inexplicable life-principle that the seed contains. In dying, the seed does not cease to exist but rather relives in a body that is the same, and yet different, from that which is the parent kernel. Thus there is both identity and distinction. It is man that dies, and it is as man that he will be raised. But his new body will be as different as is the flower from the seed that produced it. In fact, it will be exactly like the body of the risen Lord Jesus (Philippians 3:21; 1 John 3:2).
5.2.2 The Animal Kingdom (1 Corinthians 15:39)
Here are four types of bodies, all distinct. There is the human, the bestial, the marine, and the light, feathery body of the fowl. Each one is perfectly adapted to its environment. Obviously our present material flesh-and-blood body is suited to earthly life only, for even when our astronauts go aloft into space they have to take with them all the necessary supplies, such as atmosphere, clothing, food, etc., to maintain them. When the believer receives his resurrection body it will be the perfectly adapted clothing for his spirit.
5.2.3 The Celestial Kingdom (1 Corinthians 15:40, 41)
Heavenly bodies differ as do earthly ones in their composition, function, and glory. Each member of the solar system plays the special part assigned to it by its Creator. There is no monotonous uniformity; each is distinctive. In the first resurrection, when all believers arise at the shout of the Lord, the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God, each will receive a real body-clothing that is incorruptible, glorious, powerful, and spiritual (verses 42-44). Each one will be exactly fitted to the individual, and will be not angelic, but will be like Christ's body of glory. "For our citizenship is in heaven; whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:20).
6. THE CHURCH WILL NOT UNDERGO THE TRIBULATION PERIOD
The true Christian Church (i.e. all genuine Christians not pretenders) as the bride of Christ is not the object of Gods wrath, but of His unchanging grace, therefore she will not experience one drop of that "day of grief and desperate sorrow." "For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ. Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him" (1 Thessalonians 5:9, 10).
6.2 Jewish Disciples Will Preach the Gospel During the Tribulation Period
There will certainly be saints on earth during the great tribulation period. And these will be presecuted and some even martyred. But they will not be of the Church, which is His body, but rather Jewish (See Revelation 6:9-11; verse 10 is not a Christians prayer, Compare Matthew 5:44; Acts 7:60.)
But did not the Lord Jesus warn His own disciples of this period (Matthew 24:3-31)? Yes, He did. And were these disciples not primarily representative of the Church? We believe not. Let us remember that these disciples understood nothing of the Church at that time! This glorious revelation (i.e. mystery of the Church) awaited the Cross, the resurrection and Pentecost.
Not until then would the origin, heavenly character, purpose and destiny of the Christian assembly be declared. In the meantime, these disciples stood as representative of that godly minority of Jewry who will carry the gospel of the kingdom to Israel and the outposts of humanity in the last days (Revelation 7:1-8). Is this not made clear by a study of Matthew 10, noting especially verse 23? Here the historic and prophetic merge - a common occurrence in Biblical eschatology (prophecy).
And while the great commission (Matthew 28) applies to the gospel preachers of the Church age, it will also have an application to the Jewish evangelists of the last days. These will rejoice in the promised presence of Christ even until "the full end of the age."
These godly minority of Jewry will recognize the Lord Jesus Christ as their true Messiah after just the Rapture of Saints, therefore they have to undergo the Tribulation Period. After studying the Bible Prophecies regarding the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, they will repent their sins and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their true Messiah. Then, they will become the faithful servants of the Lord Jesus during the Tribulation Period (Revelation 7:1-8). They will spread the Gospel during the Tribulation Period. As a result of this, a lot of Gentiles will be saved during the Tribulation Period (Revelation 7:9-17).
6.3 Reasons for the Church Will Not Undergo the Tribulation Period
The Church as the body and bride of Christ will in no way participate in this awful consummation of wrath for the following reasons:
The Lord Jesus promised His own disciples in the upper room, "I will come again, and receive you unto myself (John 14:1-3)." This assurance given by the Lord to His own in the upper room is a distinct advance over the prophetic outline given during the second Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 24). In the latter address, He had spoken of His return in glorious, visible display to the mourning tribes of earth, at which time His elect on earth (i.e. Jews) would be miraculously regathered by the angels from earths corners to Israel (Matthew 24:31).
But the promise of John 14:1-3 is a selective rapture which clearly antedates the other. Of course, the Lord did not amplify this event, and we are not saying that the disciples fully understood its significance. It was among the great secrets that awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit and Pauls ministry. Some years later, this apostle wrote, "Behold, I shew 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:51, 52).
Another clear promise is Revelation 3:10, "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." If it is argued that the latter text means that the Church will be in, but kept from, this period, it is extremely difficult to see how she will escape the hour of trial that is to try the earth-dwellers. If the hour of trial is to affect these latter only, then what purpose would the Church achieve by being present? Notice that she is promised exemption from it!
Furthermore, there is the pattern of the types:
No serious Bible student will question that Enoch, Noah, Lot and Israel illustrate the true Church. Therefore, let these previews lend their weight to the conclusion that the rapture is both pre-tribulational and imminent. "We await his Son from the heavens Jesus, our deliverer from the coming wrath" (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
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