The return of Christ will be the logical and inevitable terminus of all history. The Creator, Who permitted rebellion against Himself, will “gather out of His kingdom all things that offend and them which do iniquity” (Matthew 13:41). The God who gave His Son to redeem sinful man and then saw Him shamefully crucified will see to it that His Son will be exalted in the place where He was once rejected. The Lord Jesus Christ will return. He promised His disciples, “I will come again” (John 14:3). He will come with great power and glory (Mark 13:26). He will come at a day and an hour no man can know (Matthew 25:13). He will fulfill this prediction as surely as He fulfilled an earlier one when He arose from the dead on the third day.
The first coming was literal in every detail from birth to death. The second coming will also be literal. Acts 1:11 is explicit. “This same Jesus … shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go,” said the angels as He ascended in a visible, bodily way to heaven. It will be the very same One returning in person to this earth. Such a thought makes the saints rejoice and the wicked tremble. The last prayer of the Bible utters this expectation: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).
Why must Jesus Christ return? He must fulfill the Old Testament Scriptures promising a reigning Messiah upon earth. When Jesus was upon earth, many were puzzled that He did not seize the reins of government from the Romans and establish the Messianic kingdom as they expected. The prophets wrote that He was to reign in Jerusalem (Isaiah 24:23), subdue the nations under the feet of Israel (Psalm 47:3), make Israel dominant (Zechariah 8:23), rule the world (Psalm 2:6-8; 110:1-3) and establish the throne of the kingdom forever (2 Samuel 7:13). During His earthly ministry, even devout students of the Word failed to see that two comings, not one, were prophesied in the Scriptures. First He would come as a suffering Messiah to be slain for the sins of His people. Later He would come as a reigning Messiah. The disciples were still thinking of this when they asked Him before the ascension, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). He indicated to them that this was yet future.
Distinct future events often merge in Scripture in what is called the “Prophetic perspective.” Differing events are brought together and they appear on the future horizon like distant mountain peaks that are hardly distinguishable. An example of this is in Isaiah 61:1-2 where both the first and the second comings of Christ appear together with no indication of a separation. But when Jesus reads this passage and stops at a critical point (Luke 4:18-21) we see where the first coming ends and the second is left future. This merging makes very careful study necessary in the field of prophecy and accounts for some differences of opinion among groups of believers about the exact order of future events. These events will be studied here from the point of view of the purposes of Christ’s return. These purposes are to receive His church, to rule the earth and to renew all things. See Appendix D for more detail.
Christ Comes to Receive the Church
1. The Return Of Christ For The Church. Among the several symbolic terms for the church of Christ, the believing company of all who are born again by the Spirit, is that of the Bride of Christ (Revelation 21:9). Our Savior is the great Bridegroom (Matthew 9:15; 25:1-6). He will come back to claim His Bride, which is likened unto a pure virgin (2 Corinthians 11:2). Since the church is a unity in the mind of God, the Bride must be claimed as a whole (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). Therefore the Lord will return to translate the living believers from the earth, as well as to raise the dead in Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17). This event is sometimes called “the rapture,” from the Latin word meaning “to seize,” referring to the saints being “caught up” to meet the Lord in the air (v. 17). The dead in Christ will rise first, followed by those who are still alive! Believers will receive new glorified bodies, fitted for heaven (2 Corinthians 5:1-4; Philippians 3:21). The entire event occurs within the “twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52) which involves the instant disappearance from earth of living believers.
2. The Judgment Seat Of Christ. Following the rapture of the church is the Judgment Seat of Christ (Luke 14:14; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Timothy 4:8; Revelation 22:12). It is true that salvation through the blood of Christ delivers believers from all condemnation for sin (Romans 8:1; John 5:24; Hebrews 10:17). Their sins have been paid for in full. Yet Scripture plainly teaches that there will be an evaluation of our life and service for Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11-15), resulting in eternal reward or in eternal loss. This evaluation will take place at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10). The expression “Judgment Seat” is taken from the example of the raised platform used in biblical times by an official or judge for review and reward (Acts 18:16). God is not unrighteous to forget our labor of love as believers. Therefore, crowns or rewards will be given out (1 Thessalonians 2:19; James 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Peter 5:4).
3. The Marriage Supper Of The Lamb. It has long been the custom of many peoples to hold a feast of celebration after a marriage ceremony. So it must be with Christ the heavenly Bridegroom and His Bride (Revelation 19:7-9). The marriage itself takes place in heaven, after rewards have been given.
Christ Comes to Rule the Earth
1. The Tribulation On The Earth. The word “tribulation” has the general sense of affliction, anguish and trouble. Most people, including believers, have had their share of it in life. But there is a coming time of trouble, persecution and disaster such as never has been experienced in the history of the world, nor will ever be again. It is called the Great Tribulation, and it begins when Christ takes His church out of the world. Unless the time were shortened all humanity would be exterminated (Matthew 24:21-22; Mark 13:19-20; Revelation 3:10; 7:14). There will be a worldwide judgment period that will last for seven years, being divided into two roughly equal periods (Revelation 11:2-3; 12:14; 13:5; Daniel 7:25; 12:7). The entire period is covered by a week of years (seven) in the famous Seventy Weeks Prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27). This prophecy was fulfilled as to its first 69 weeks of years stretching from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem to the time of the death of the Messiah, a period of 483 years of 360 days each by Jewish procedure of reckoning. The final week pertains to the same nation, “Daniel’s people,” which is to say, Israel. Hence it is called “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7).
The destructive nature of this period is intimated many times in the Old Testament as well as in the New. There is a wasting of the entire earth (Isaiah 24:1,3,6,19-21; 26:20-21); the sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to an appearance of blood (Joel 2:31; Revelation 6:12); distress, trouble and ruin will be on every hand (Zephaniah 1:15); God will punish Israel for her idolatry (Zephaniah 1:4); God will purify and deliver the nation (Zephaniah 3:9-13) and punish all the nations that come against her (Zephaniah 3:8; Obadiah ch. 15-17; Joel 3:16-17). The punishing judgments described under the figure of seals, trumpets and bowls (Revelation ch. 6-16) are directed against those who reject the Lamb, yet seek to flee His wrath (Revelation 6:15-17). This will be the time of the great battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:16), and the Antichrist world figure (known as the “beast”) and the “false prophet,” energized by the dragon or Satan (Revelation 16:13; 13:1-18). The false religious and commercial system under the code name “Babylon” will be destroyed (Revelation 17-18). The devil will be active in this time, especially against Israel and the saints of God (Revelation 12:12-17; 13:7). But the major source of judgment is the wrath of the Almighty God upon a wicked world which rejects His Son (Revelation 16:16-19; 11:18; 14:10,19; 15:1-7). The general purpose of this period is one last call for the people of the world to repent of their sins. The specific purpose, however, is to prepare Israel for Messiah’s public coming when He will be mourned by the nation that pierced and rejected Him (Zechariah 12:10).
2. The Return Of Christ With The Church. Where is the church during the period stated above? The Bride has been kept from that hour of trial which engulfed the whole earth (Revelation 3:10). God has not appointed the church to wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9) and the Tribulation period is supremely the hour of His great wrath upon earth. At the end of these seven years of tribulation, the Lord Jesus will return visibly, spectacularly from the skies to the earth (Matthew 24:26-30). His Bride will follow Him (Jude 14; 1 Thessalonians 3:13), as will the angels of God (2 Thessalonians 1:7). His feet will touch down on the very spot where He ascended to heaven, the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4). There will be great judgment upon rejectors of the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). He will overthrow the Antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:8). Both the beast and the false prophet will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20-21). Satan will be bound in the abyss for the next 1000 years (Revelation 20:2-3). Israel will be saved (Romans 11:25-27; Acts 15:16; Zechariah 14:1-20; 12:7-9). He will judge the nations, especially on the basis of their treatment of Christ’s brethren (Matthew 25:31-46). There will be a selective removal of people from the earth (Luke 17:34-37). The martyrs of the Tribulation will be raised (Revelation 20:4-5). The Old Testament saints will be raised (Daniel 12:1-2).
3. The Earthly Kingdom Established. The kingdom of God or Christ is that over which He reigns and where He is accepted as rightful ruler. One can enter that kingdom at present by receiving Christ as Lord and Savior, and rightful King, and being born again into the family of God (John 3:3-5). Thus we can become part of His eternal kingdom over which He has always ruled (Psalm 10:16; 29:10; Jeremiah 10:10; Lamentations 5:19). But the kingdom of the world must become the kingdom of Christ in the future so that He may rule the earth (Revelation 11:15; Zechariah 14:9). He will demonstrate His perfect government upon the earth where once He was rejected. This period of government will last for 1000 years (Revelation 20:2-6). This 1000-year period is often called the “millennium,” after the Latin expression for “1000 years.” The world has yet to experience the following millennial conditions: war will be ended and weapons will be converted to agricultural instruments (Micah 4:3-4; Isaiah 2:4); the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14; Isaiah 11:9); sorrow will be gone (Isaiah 25:8), replaced by lasting joy (Isaiah 51:11; Jeremiah 31:12); violence will be gone even from the animal kingdom (Isaiah 65:25); a man of one hundred years of age will be considered a youth (Isaiah 65:20).
The Lord Jesus is rightfully the King of the Jews and He will rule over them on earth. Israel will occupy the now disputed holy land from the Nile to the Euphrates (Genesis 15:18; Ezekiel 36:28; 37:25-28) and will live as a holy people under the Lord. They will be a blessing to the nations and will be supreme over them (Zechariah 8:13,22-23; Romans 11:12-15). Jerusalem will be the world capital (Isaiah 2:2-3; Jeremiah 3:17). The world will come to pay homage to the Lord in that city (Zechariah 14:16-21). He will rule the nations with a rod of iron, or absolute strictness (Revelation 19:15). His dominion will be worldwide. The righteous will flourish (Psalm 72:7-11). The heavenly Jerusalem, associated with the church, will hover over the earth (Revelation 21:1-2). The Temple will once again be rebuilt upon earth (Ezekiel 40:1—46:24). All creation will be delivered from corruption caused by sin and be gloriously beautiful (Romans 8:19,21).
Christ Will Renew All Things
1. The Final Earthly Rebellion And Judgment. It is difficult to see how sin and rebellion could develop, even in the human heart, under such ideal conditions as listed above. Yet God will demonstrate once again during the millennial period that “the heart is deceitful … and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). God will give permission for those who have been born in the millennial generation, but have not yielded their hearts to Christ the King, to turn from Him. The arch-enemy of God will be released temporarily from the abyss to help them. “When the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:7-10). This terrifying event demonstrates that God ever judges the wicked, that all will not be saved, and that eternal punishment has no point of termination.
2. The Great White Throne Judgment. The unregenerate leave this life and go directly to a place of torment (Luke 16:22-24), just as the righteous die and go to be with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). Our final destiny is sealed by our response to the Lord and the gospel (John 3:18). The righteous will not come into condemnation for their sins (John 5:24). It is after the wicked die that they must come into judgment (Hebrews 9:27). This judgment is described in Revelation 20:11-15 and takes place after the final earthly rebellion. Those whose names were never written in the Book of Life are summoned before a “great white throne” to be judged of God. They will see and hear of their sins from birth to death written in the records of God. They are then cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death. This ought to make everyone outside of Christ tremble.
3. The Eternal State. Scripture now looks beyond judgment to the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21:1; 2 Peter 3:13; Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; cf. Matthew 24:35; Hebrews 1:10-12). Christ will subject everything to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). Righteousness will dwell forever in this eternal kingdom. The Lord guaranteed Israel that their land and existence as a nation would be forever. This demands an eternal earth for fulfillment. (The church of Christ has its promises in the realm of the heavenly.) The section between Revelation 21:9 and 22:7 is debated by many as to whether it speaks of the New Jerusalem during the millennial period or during the eternal state mentioned above. Whether or not the heavenly city exists above earth during the millennial period, it is clear that the conditions described endure forever. Although its beauty is described in earthly terms, the splendor is evidently beyond any human conception. Here, at the New Jerusalem, God will dwell amidst His people.
Every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ needs to live this brief present existence in the light of the realities of the eternal perspective outlined above. To live for now and not for Christ and eternity’s values, is an act of unbelief. For this reason the Second Coming of Christ is constantly held before believers as an incentive for holy living (Titus 2:12-13; Jude 20-21). The earliest saints were taught to wait eagerly and expectantly for the return of the Lord as something that might occur at any time (1 Corinthians 1:7; Philippians 3:20; 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:6; James 5:9; 2 Timothy 4:8; 1 John 2:28; Revelation 3:3). The last prayer of the Bible appeals to the Lord Jesus to come quickly (Revelation 22:20). The Lord Jesus asked the question, “When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). Will He find you living the life He has called you to live and eagerly anticipating His return?
He Will Come Again
l. The first coming of Christ refers to the 33 years Christ lived and walked on the earth. The “second coming” points to the time when He will return. In Scripture, the two comings are often merged. Distinguish between the two in the following passages:
Isaiah 9:6-7 Micah 5:2-4
Isaiah 52:14-15 Zechariah 9:9-11
Isaiah 61:1-2 Luke 1:31-33
Psalm 34:15-16 Hebrews 9:26,28
2. What was one of the reasons that Jesus ascended into heaven (John 14:2)? What two promises did Jesus make (v. 3)?
3.Christ’s return for the saints is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. List in chronological (time) order the events as they will take place.
4.How do the “days of Noah” compare with the events leading up to the revelation (the return of Christ with His saints)? Compare Matthew 24:37-39 with Genesis 6:1-12.
5.Contrast the believer’s attitude toward the Lord’s return with the attitude of the scoffer (Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 3:3-4). How do people respond today?
6.What reason does Paul give in 2 Timothy 4:6-8 for a Christian to look for Christ’s coming (v. 8)? Why would this be an incentive for godly living?
7.One of the events that will take place after Christ’s return for His saints is the Judgment Seat of Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:9-10, how does Paul use the Judgment Seat of Christ as an incentive for godly living?
8.Further amplification of the Judgment Seat of Christ is given in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15. What is on trial here (v. 13)?
What two possibilities are presented in vv. 14-15?
Does this mean that a Christian could be lost (v. 15b)?
9. What attitudes/actions are suggested in the following verses in connection with the believer’s preparation for the Lord’s return?
1 John 3:2-3
1 Thessalonians 1:10
1 Corinthians 15:58
10. Write a brief paragraph describing the changes you would like to make in your Christian life in view of the Lord’s return and the Judgment Seat of Christ.