Second Coming

The teaching that Christ will return in glory to judge the living and the dead and to terminate history. The main Christian traditions, while holding that Christ's words predict the certainty of a final judgment and the replacing of the present order by the eternal state, yet have opposed speculation as to the exact manner and time of the coming. Many believers, however, have advocated a more detailed plan of the event and believe that there will be a reign of Christ on earth for a long period, the Millennium, before the last judgment. They feel that the coming of Christ will be followed by a binding of Satan and the resurrection of the saints, who will join Him in a temporal kingdom when He reigns on earth. At this time the prophetic statements of the OT which indicate that there will be a kingdom of peace, plenty, and righteousness are to be fulfilled (such as Isa. 11).

The early church holding this premillennial view looked for the imminent return of Christ as witnessed by the writings of Papias, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Methodus, Commodianus, and Lactantius. When the Christian Church was given a favored status under Emperor Constantine (fourth century), the Millennium was reinterpreted. This amillennial view was presented most clearly in the work of Augustine, who taught that the 1,000-year period is no literal piece of history; it is a symbolic number coextensive with the history of the church on earth between the resurrection of Christ and His return. Hence there is to be no millenial reign of Christ either before or after His second coming. Throughout the Middle Ages the Augustinian view held sway except for the teaching of isolated individuals such as Joachim of Fiore.*

In the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries premillennial teaching about the second coming of Christ was emphasized once again by men such as J.H. Alsted* and Joseph Mede,* and it encouraged many of the participants in the English Civil Wars of the 1640s. At the close of the seventeenth century the development of postmillennial views and the growth of Enlightenment thought led to a decline of premillennialism. Daniel Whitby* and other postmillennialists believed that the return of Christ would not occur until the kingdom of God had been established by the church in human history. Thus Christ will triumph through the church and after this golden age will return to raise the dead, judge the world, and inaugurate the eternal order.

During the nineteenth century there was a revival of premillennialism which has continued to the present. A new element, Dispensationalism, added through the Plymouth Brethren* movement, held that the references to the Second Coming in Scripture are primarily concerned with the fate of restored Israel in the last days and not with the church. This interpretation of the Second Coming has become prominent among evangelicals in the twentieth century through the work of men such as W.E. Blackstone,* C.H. MacIntosh, Harry Ironside,* A.C. Gaebelein,* C.I. Scofield* (and the Scofield Reference Bible), John F. Walvoord, and most recently Hal Lindsey.

J.A. Seiss, The Last Times, or Thoughts on Momentous Themes (1878); D.H. Kromminga, The Millennium in the Church (1945); L.E. Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers (4 vols., 1946-54); E.L. Tuveson, Millennium and Utopia (1949); G.E. Ladd, Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God (1952); L. Boettner, The Millennium (1958); C.B. Bass, Backgrounds to Dispensationalism (1960).

SECOND COMING, the future return of Christ to the earth. A prominent doctrine of Christology, the predicted Second Advent of Christ is implied in hundreds of OT prophecies of future judgment on the world and a coming kingdom of righteousness on earth and is explicitly detailed in major NT passages. The last book of the Bible, the Revelation of Jesus Christ, refers specifically to His Second Coming itself (ch. 19), and the millennium and future state which follows (20-22).

General OT references.

Second Coming in the Psalms.

The Second Coming of Christ is linked with the moral struggle between God and His creatures. Psalm 2 for instance, after picturing the world’s rejection of the sovereignty of God, declares God’s purpose, “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.” In the vv. which follow, the decree of God is stated concerning His purpose to place His Son over the nations, to subdue the nations “with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (2:9). On the basis of God’s intention to make His Son the King of the earth, the exhortation to earthly kings is “serve the Lord with fear, with trembling kiss his feet” (2:11). The conclusion is reached “Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (2:12). This psalm is typical of the OT passages relating to the Second Coming. The event itself is assumed, but the results are detailed.

Psalm 24 is another great passage dealing with Christ’s coming as “the King of glory.” The gates of Jerusalem are exhorted to open to this King when He comes. His rule on the earth is based on the promise of Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.”

Another complete presentation of the Second Coming of Christ and its result is found in Psalm 72, presented in the form of a prayer, but describing the certain results of Christ’s return. His dominion is described as “from sea to sea” (72:8). Kings and nations are described as serving Him (72:11). Psalm 72 ends with the prayer, “May his glory fill the whole earth!” Although in the form of an inspired prayer, it clearly anticipates fulfillment.

Second Coming in the Prophets.

The major prophets take up the same theme of the coming of the Lord to reign. A familiar text is Isaiah 9:6, 7 where it declares, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom” (vs. 7). The rule of the Messiah on earth is described in Isaiah 11 as one of complete righteousness and justice, of tranquility in nature, with universal knowledge of the Lord. Isaiah prays for the coming of the Lord (Isa 64:1), “O that thou wouldest rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at thy presence.” Isaiah’s great prophecy concludes in chs. 65; 66 with a description of the reign of Christ on earth and the judgments which relate to it.

Jeremiah speaks of the results of the Lord’s coming when the Son of David “shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer 23:5). The judgments and tribulation which precede the Second Coming are followed by the deliverance of Israel according to Jeremiah 30; 31, and many other prophecies in Jeremiah deal with the ultimate triumph of God during the reign of Christ. The presentation of the right to rule over the earth following His Second Coming is described in Daniel 7:13, 14, where the Son of man is given dominion over the entire earth and an everlasting kingdom.

One of the most specific references to the Second Coming in the OT is in Zechariah 14:3-5. The Lord is described as fighting in defense of Israel, and the statement is made, “On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley; so that one half of the Mount shall withdraw northward, and the other half southward.” The revelation goes on to picture that “the Lord will become king over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be one and his name one” (Zech 14:9).

General NT references.

The Second Coming in the gospels.

The Second Coming in Jude.

The Epistle of Jude presents the Second Coming as a time of judgment, quoting Enoch, “Behold, the Lord came with his holy myriads, to execute judgment on all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness which they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (vv. 14, 15). As in Matthew 24, the Second Coming is declared in Jude to be a distinct event, one in which the holy angels will participate and culminating in dramatic judgment upon the wicked.

The Second Coming in the Revelation.

John opens his presentation of the Second Coming with the words, “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war” (Rev 19:11). That he is none other than Christ Himself is made clear from the title, “The Word of God” (v. 13) and “King of kings and Lord of lords” (v. 16). His appearance is most awesome. “His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems” (v. 12). His robe is dipped in blood (v. 13), and He is followed by the hosts of heaven, clad in white linen, mounted on white horses (v. 14). Out of the mouth of Christ “issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations” and it is predicted “he will rule them with a rod of iron” (v. 15). His coming signals His intention to “tread the wine press of the fury and wrath of God the Almighty” (v. 15).

This awe-inspiring scene is attended by the invitation of the angel to the birds of heaven to eat the flesh of men and beasts slain in the great battle which follows. The armies of the world gathered in the Holy Land at that time in the final great world conflict are destroyed. The beast or world political leader, and the false prophet, the world religious leader, who had dominated the preceding period are thrown alive in the lake of fire (vv. 19, 20). The armies themselves are slain by the sword issuing from the mouth of the rider (v. 21). In what would naturally be considered subsequent action in ch. 20, Satan is bound, the martyred dead of the preceding period are resurrected, judgment is given, and the thousand-year reign of Christ follows (Rev 20:1-4). If Scripture is taken in its normal sense, it yields a dramatic picture of this tremendous event which will judge wickedness and unbelief, deliver those trusting in the Lord, and inaugurate a kingdom of righteousness and peace on earth. The non-literal view of the Second Advent as a present spiritual crisis, or as fulfilled at death by a coming of Christ has never been considered an orthodox view.

The rapture of the Church.

In addition to major passages dealing with the Second Advent are prophecies of a rapture or catching up of believers in Christ to meet the Lord in the air. The coming of Christ for His own was mentioned by Christ in the Upper Room when He declared to His disciples, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2, 3).

This simple revelation is later amplified by Paul (1 Thess 4:13-18). At the coming of Christ for His Church, it is declared that God will bring with Him the souls of Christians who had died, in order that their bodies might be resurrected from the grave. The dramatic event is described, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first, then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:16-18). In 1 Thessalonians 5, this event is declared to be one which will come without warning to the unbelieving world, but one which believers in Christ should anticipate.

A parallel revelation of this event is given in 1 Corinthians 15:51-58. Here it is plainly declared that all Christians will not die, but at the coming of the Lord all will be changed—the living translated and given new bodies, and the dead in Christ resurrected (1 Cor 15:51, 52). The new bodies which believers will receive are declared to be imperishable, immortal or deathless. According to 1 John 3:2, they will be like the resurrection body of Christ and hence sinless. This hope of the coming of the Lord was held out as an imminent possibility to early Christians.

Because of certain similarities in describing the rapture and the Second Coming of Christ to the earth, prob. the majority view, esp. of amillenarians and postmillenarians, is that the rapture is a phase of the Second Coming of Christ and occurring at the same time. Many premillenarians, however, hold that the rapture occurs some years before the formal Second Advent to the earth. Usually a seven-year period, referred to in Daniel 9:27, in addition to certain other events, is placed between the rapture and the Second Advent to the earth. A compromise view held by relatively few interpreters is midtribulationism which places the rapture forty-two months before the Second Advent, i.e., before the great tribulation. Generally, interpreters distinguishing Israel and the Church, and who interpret prophecy literally, tend toward pretribulationism. For arguments “pro and con,” see Walvoord, The Rapture Question (1957); Alexander Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ, n.d.; George E. Ladd, The Blessed Hope (1956).

The Early Church Fathers interpreted Scripture as teaching the rapture as possible any moment. Because they mistakenly identified their sufferings as those of the great tribulation, they did not distinguish the rapture itself from the Second Advent to the earth. Pretribulationists emphasize the imminency and deny that the rapture and the Second Advent are the same event. Modern posttribulationists usually deny imminency in the sense of daily expectation, and combine the rapture and the Second Advent to the earth as one event.


Within orthodoxy, regardless of details of the time of prophetic fulfillment, a personal, visible, bodily, Second Coming of Jesus Christ has been considered the normal interpretation of prophecy from the 1st cent., and its denial has never been the orthodox interpretation. Generally speaking, those who affirm a literal first advent, a virgin birth of Christ, a literal death and resurrection of Christ also hold to a literal Second Advent.


R. Anderson, The Coming Prince (1915); W. E. Blackstone, Jesus Is Coming (1917); L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, IV, 305-307 (1947); L. Berkhof, The Second Coming of Christ (1953); R. Pache, The Return of Jesus Christ (1955); J. F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (1959), 263-275; J. D. Pentecost, Things To Come (1961), 370-426.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)



See also

  • [[Eschatology

  • Parousia