I. The Second Coming of Christ
While the prophets do not clearly distinguish a twofold coming of Christ, the Lord Himself and the apostles make it abundantly clear that the first coming will be followed by a second. Jesus referred to His return more than once towards the end of His public ministry, Matt. 24:30; 25:19,31; 26:64; John 14:3. At the time of His ascension angels pointed to His future return, Acts 1:11. Moreover, the apostles speak of it in numerous passages, Acts 3:20,21; Phil. 3:20; I Thess. 4:15,16; II Thess. 1:7,10; Tit. 2:13; Heb. 9:28. Several terms are used to denote this great event, of which the following are the most important: (1) apocalupsis (unveiling), which points to the removal of that which now obstructs our vision of Christ, I Cor. 1:7; II Thess. 1:7; I Pet. 1:7,13; 4:13; (2) epiphaneia (appearance, manifestation), a term referring to Christ’s coming forth out of a hidden background with the rich blessings of salvation, II Thess. 2:8; I Tim. 6:14; II Tim. 4:1,8; Tit. 2:13; and (3) parousia (lit. presence), which points to the coming that precedes the presence or results in the presence, Matt. 24:3,27,37; I Cor. 15:23; I Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; II Thess. 2:1-9; Jas. 5:7,8; II Pet. 1:16; 3:4,12; I John 2:28.
A. THE SECOND COMING A SINGLE EVENT.
Present day dispensationalists distinguish between a twofold future coming of Christ, though they sometimes seek to preserve the unity of the idea of the second coming by speaking of these as two aspects of that great event. But since these two are in reality represented as two different events, separated by a period of several years, each having a purpose of its own, they can hardly be regarded as a single event. The first of these is the parousia or simply “the coming,” and results in the rapture of the saints, sometimes represented as a secret rapture. This coming is imminent, that is, it can occur at any moment, since there are no predicted events which must precede its occurrence. The prevailing opinion is that at this time Christ does not come down to earth, but remains in the upper air. Those who die in the Lord are raised from the dead, the living saints are transfigured, and together they are caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Hence this coming is also called the “coming for His saints,” I Thess. 4:15,16. It is followed by an interval of seven years, during which the world is evangelized, Matt. 24:14, Israel is converted, Rom. 11:26, the great tribulation occurs, Matt. 24:21,22, and Antichrist or the man of sin will be revealed, II Thess. 2:8-10. After these events there is another coming of the Lord with His saints, I Thess. 3:13, which is called “the revelation” or “the day of the Lord,” in which He comes down to earth. This coming cannot be called imminent, because it must be preceded by several predicted events. At this coming Christ judges the living nations, Matt. 25:31-46, and ushers in the millennial kingdom. Thus we have two distinct comings of the Lord, separated by a period of seven years, of which the one is imminent and the other is not, the one is followed by the glorification of the saints, and the other by the judgment of the nations and the establishment of the kingdom. This construction of the doctrine of the second coming is very convenient for the dispensationalists, since it enables them to defend the view that the coming of the Lord is imminent, but is not warranted by Scripture and carries with it un-Scriptural implications. In II Thess. 2:1,2,8 the terms parousia and “day of the Lord” are used interchangeably, and according to II Thess. 1:7-10 the revelation mentioned in verse 7 synchronizes with the parousia which brings the glorification of the saints of which the 10th verse speaks. Matt. 24:29-31 represents the coming of the Lord at which the elect are gathered together as following immediately after the great tribulation mentioned in the context, while according to the theory under consideration it should occur before the tribulation. And. finally, according to this theory the Church will not pass through the great tribulation, which is represented in Matt. 24:4-26 as synchronizing with the great apostasy, but the representation of Scripture in Matt. 24:22; Luke 21:36; II Thess. 2:3; I Tim. 4:1-3; II Tim. 3:1-5; Rev. 7:14 is quite different. On the basis of Scripture it should be maintained that the second coming of the Lord will be a single event. Happily, some Premillenarians do not agree with this doctrine of a twofold second coming of Christ, and speak of it as an unwarranted novelty. Says Frost: “It is not generally known, and yet it is an indisputable fact that the doctrine of a pretribulation resurrection and rapture is a modern interpretation — I am tempted to say, a modern invention.”[The Second Coming of Christ, p. 203.] According to him it dates from the day of Irving and Darby. Another Premillenarian, namely, Alexander Reese, puts up a very strong argument against this whole idea in his work on The Approaching Advent of Christ.
B. GREAT EVENTS PRECEDING THE PAROUSIA.
According to Scripture several important events must occur before the return of the Lord, and therefore it cannot be called imminent. In the light of Scripture it cannot be maintained that there are no predicted events which must still come to pass before the second coming. As might be expected in view of what was said in the preceding, Frost, in spite of his dispensationalism, rejects the doctrine of imminence. He prefers to speak of the coming of Christ as “impending.” Support for the doctrine of the imminence of the return of Christ is found in Scripture statements to the effect that Christ is coming after “a very little while,” Heb. 10:37; or “quickly,” Rev. 22:7; in exhortations to watch and wait for His coming, Matt. 24:42; 25:13; Rev. 16:15; and in the fact that Scripture condemns the person who saith, “My Lord tarrieth” (or, “delayeth his coming”), Matt. 24:48. Jesus did indeed teach that His coming was near, but this is not the same as teaching that it was imminent. In the first place it should be borne in mind that in speaking of His coming, He does not always have in mind the eschatological coming. Sometimes He refers to His coming in spiritual power on the day of Pentecost; sometimes to His coming in judgment in the destruction of Jerusalem. In the second place He and the apostles teach us that several important events had to occur before His physical return at the last day, Matt. 24:5-14,21,22,29-31; II Thess. 2:2-4. Therefore He could not very well regard and represent His coming as imminent. It is evident also that, when He spoke of His coming as near, He did not mean to represent it as immediately at hand. In the parable of the pounds He teaches that the Lord of the servants came to reckon with them “after a long time,” Matt. 25:19. And the parable of the pounds was spoken for the very purpose of correcting the notion “that the kingdom of God should immediately appear,” Luke 19:11. In the parable of the ten virgins the bridegroom is represented as “tarrying,” Matt. 25:5. This is in harmony with what Paul says in II Thess. 2:2. Peter predicted that scoffers would arise saying, “Where is the day of His coming?” And he teaches his readers to understand the predictions of the nearness of the second coming from the divine point of view, according to which one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day, II Pet. 3:3-9. To teach that Jesus regarded the second coming as immediately at hand, would be to represent Him as in error, since almost two thousand years have already elapsed since that time. Now the question can be raised, How can we then be urged to watch for the coming? Jesus teaches us in Matt. 24:32,33 to watch for the coming through the signs: “when ye see all these things, know ye that He is nigh.” Moreover, we need not interpret the exhortation to watch as an exhortation to scan the heavens for immediate signs of the Lord’s appearance. We should rather see in it an admonition to be awake, to be alert, to be prepared, to be active in the work of the Lord, lest we be overtaken by sudden calamity. The following great events must precede the coming of the Lord.
1. THE CALLING OF THE GENTILES. Several passages of the New Testament point to the fact that the gospel of the Kingdom must be preached to all nations before the return of the Lord, Matt. 24:14; Mark 13:10; Rom. 11:25. Many passages testify to the fact that the Gentiles will enter the Kingdom in goodly numbers during the new dispensation, Matt. 8:11; 13:31,32; Luke 2:32; Acts 15:14; Rom. 9:24-26; Eph. 2:11-20, and other passages. But those indicated above clearly refer to the evangelization of all nations as the goal of history. Now it will hardly do to say that the gospel has already been proclaimed among all peoples, nor that the labors of a single missionary in each one of the nations of the world would meet all the requirements of the statement of Jesus. On the other hand it is equally impossible to maintain that the words of the Saviour call for the preaching of the gospel to every individual of the different nations of the world. They do require, however, that those nations as nations shall be thoroughly evangelized, so that the gospel becomes a power in the life of the people, a sign that calls for decision. It must be preached to them for a testimony, so that it can be said that an opportunity was given them to choose for or against Christ and His Kingdom. These words clearly imply that the great commission must be carried out in all the nations of the world, in order to make disciples of all nations, that is, from among the people of all those nations. They do not justify the expectation, however, that all the nations will as a whole accept the gospel, but only that it will find adherents in all the nations and will thus be instrumental in bringing in the fulness of the Gentiles. At the end of time it will be possible to say that all nations were made acquainted with the gospel, and the gospel will testify against the nations that did not accept it.
It will readily be understood from what we said in the preceding that many dispensationalists have quite a different view of the matter. They do not believe that the evangelization of the world need be, nor that it will be, completed before the parousia, which is imminent. According to them it will really begin at that time. They point out that the gospel indicated in Matt. 24:14 is not the gospel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ, but the gospel of the Kingdom, which is quite different, the good news that the Kingdom is once more at hand. After the Church has been removed from this earthly scene, and with it the indwelling Holy Spirit has gone — which really means, after Old Testament conditions have been restored —, then the gospel with which Jesus began His ministry will again be preached. It will be preached at first by those who were converted by the very removal of the Church, later on perhaps by converted Israel and a special messenger,[Blackstone, Jesus is Coming, p. 233.] or, particularly during the great tribulation, by the believing remnant of Israel.[Scofield’s Bible, pp. 1033,1036; Rogers, The End from the Beginning, p. 144; Feinberg, Premillennialism or Amillennialism, pp. 134,135.] This preaching will be wonderfully effective, far more effective than the preaching of the gospel of the grace of God. It is during this period that the 144,000 and the great multitude which no man can number of Rev. 7 will be converted. And in that way the prediction of Jesus in Matt. 24:14 will be fulfilled. It should be remembered that this construction is one which the older Premillenarians did not accept, which is even now rejected by some present day Premillenarians. and which certainly does not commend itself to us. The distinction between a twofold gospel and a twofold second coming of the Lord is an untenable one. The gospel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ is the only gospel that saves and that gives entrance to the Kingdom of God. And it is absolutely contrary to the history of revelation, that a reversal to Old Testament conditions, including the absence of the Church and of the indwelling Holy Spirit, should be more effective than the preaching of the gospel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
2. THE CONVERSION OF THE PLEROMA OF ISRAEL. Both the Old and the New Testament speak of a future conversion of Israel, Zech. 12:10; 13:1; II Cor. 3:15,16, and Rom. 11:25-29 seems to connect this with the end of time. Premillennialists have exploited this Scriptural teaching for their particular purpose. They maintain that there will be a national restoration and conversion of Israel, that the Jewish nation will be re-established in the Holy Land, and that this will take place immediately preceding or during the millennial reign of Jesus Christ. It is very doubtful, however, whether Scripture warrants the expectation that Israel will finally be re-established as a nation, and will as a nation turn to the Lord. Some Old Testament prophecies seem to predict this, but these should be read in the light of the New Testament. Does the New Testament justify the expectation of a future restoration and conversion of Israel as a nation? It is not taught nor even necessarily implied in such passages as Matt. 19:28, and Luke 21:24, which are often quoted in its favor. The Lord spoke very plainly of the opposition of the Jews to the spirit of His Kingdom, and of the certainty that they, who could in a sense be called children of the Kingdom, would lose their place in it, Matt. 8:11,12; 21:28-46; 22:1-14; Luke 13:6-9. He informs the wicked Jews that the Kingdom will be taken from them and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof, Matt. 21:43. And even when He speaks of the corruptions which in course of time will creep into the Church, of the troubles it will encounter, and of the apostasy which will finally ensue, He does not hint at any prospective restoration and conversion of the Jewish people. This silence of Jesus is very significant. Now it may be thought that Rom. 11:11-32 certainly teaches the future conversion of the nation of Israel. Many commentators adopt this view, but even its correctness is subject to considerable doubt. In the chapters 9-11 the apostle discusses the question, how the promises of God to Israel can be reconciled with the rejection of the greater part of Israel. He points out first of all in the chapters 9 and 10 that the promise applies, not to Israel according to the flesh, but to the spiritual Israel; and in the second place that God still has His elect among Israel, that there is among them still a remnant according to the election of grace, 11:1-10. And even the hardening of the greater part of Israel is not God’s final end, but rather a means in His hand to bring salvation to the Gentiles, in order that these, in turn, by enjoying the blessings of salvation, may provoke Israel to jealousy. The hardening of Israel will always be only partial, for through all the succeeding centuries there will always be some who accept the Lord. God will continue to gather His elect remnant out of the Jews during the entire new dispensation until the fulness (pleroma, that is, the number of the elect) of the Gentiles be come in, and so (in this manner) all Israel (its pleroma, that is, the full number of true Israelites) shall be saved. “All Israel” is to be understood as a designation, not of the whole nation, but of the whole number of the elect out of the ancient covenant people. Premillenarians take the 26th verse to mean that, after God has completed His purpose with the Gentiles, the nation of Israel will be saved. But the apostle said at the beginning of his discussion that the promises were for the spiritual Israel; there is no evidence of a change of thought in the intervening section, so that this would come as a surprise in 11:26; and the adverb houtos cannot mean “after that,” but only “in this manner.” With the fulness of the Gentiles the fulness of Israel will also come in.
3. THE GREAT APOSTASY AND THE GREAT TRIBULATION. These two may be mentioned together, because they are interwoven in the eschatological discourse of Jesus, Matt. 24:9-12,21-24; Mark 13:9-22; Luke 21:22-24. The words of Jesus undoubtedly found a partial fulfilment in the days preceding the destruction of Jerusalem, but will evidently have a further fulfilment in the future in a tribulation far surpassing anything that has ever been experienced, Matt. 24:21; Mark 13:19. Paul also speaks of the great apostasy in II Thess. 2:3; I Tim. 4:1; II Tim. 3:1-5. He already saw something of that spirit of apostasy in his own day, but clearly wants to impress upon his readers that it will assume much greater propcrtions in the last days. Here again present day dispensationalists differ from us. They do not regard the great tribulation as a precursor of the coming of the Lord (the parousia), but believe that it will follow “the coming,” and that therefore the Church will not pass through the great tribulation. The assumption is that the Church will be “caught up,” to be with the Lord, before the tribulation with all its terrors overtakes the inhabitants of the earth. They prefer to speak of the great tribulation as “the day of Jacob’s trouble,” since it will be a day of great trouble for Israel rather than for the Church. But the grounds which they adduce for this view are not very convincing. Some of them derive whatever force they have from their own preconceived notion of a twofold second coming of Christ, and therefore have no meaning whatsoever for those who are convinced that there is no evidence for such a twofold coming in Scripture. Jesus certainly mentions the great tribulation as one of the signs of His coming and of the end of the world, Matt. 24:3. It is of that coming (parousia) that He is speaking throughout this chapter, as may be seen from the repeated use of the word parousia, verses 3,37,39. It is only reasonable to assume that He is speaking of the same coming in verse 30, a coming which according to verse 29 will follow immediately after the tribulation. This tribulation will affect also the elect: they will be in danger of being led astray, Matt. 24:24; for their sakes the days of agony will be shortened, verse 22; they will be gathered out of all quarters of the world at the coming of the Son of Man; and they are encouraged to look up when they see these things come to pass, since their redemption draweth nigh, Luke 21:28. There is no warrant for limiting the elect to the elect of Israel, as the Premillenarians do. Paul clearly represents the great falling away as preceding the second coming, II Thess. 2:3, and reminds Timothy of the fact that grievous times will come in the last days, I Tim. 4:1,2; II Tim. 3:1-5. In Rev. 7:13,14 saints in heaven are said to have come out of the great tribulation, and in Rev. 6:9 we find such saints praying for their brethren who were still suffering persecution.[For further defense of the position that the Church will pass through the tribulation, we refer to the works of two Premillenarians, namely. Frost, The Second Coming of Christ, pp. 202-227; Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ, pp. 199-224.]
4. THE COMING REVELATION OF ANTICHRIST. The term antichristos is found only in the Epistles of John, namely, in I John 2:18,22; 4:3; II John 7. As far as the form of the word is concerned, it may describe (a) one who takes the place of Christ; then “anti” is taken in the sense of “instead of”; or (b) one who, while assuming the guise of Christ, opposes Him; then “anti” is used in the sense of “against.” The latter is more in harmony with the context in which the word occurs. From the fact that John uses the singular in 2:18 without the article, it is evident that the term “antichrist” was already regarded as a technical name. It is uncertain, whether John in using the singular had in mind one paramount Antichrist, of which the others to which he refers were merely harbingers or forerunners, or simply meant to personify the principle embodied in several antichrists, the principle of evil militating against the Kingdom of God. Antichrist clearly does represent a certain principle, I John 4:3. If we bear this in mind, we shall also realize that, though John is the first to use the term “antichrist,” the principle or spirit indicated by it is clearly mentioned in earlier writings. Just as there is in Scripture a clearly marked development in the delineation of Christ and of the Kingdom of God, so there is also a progressive revelation of antichrist. The representations differ, but increase in definiteness as God’s revelation progresses.
In the majority of the Old Testament prophets we see the principle of unrighteousness working in the ungodly nations which show themselves hostile to Israel and are judged by God. In the prophecy of Daniel we find something more specific. The language used there furnished many of the features of Paul’s description of the man of sin in II Thessalonians. Daniel finds the wicked, ungodly principle embodied in the “little horn,” Dan. 7:8,23-26, and describes it very clearly in 11:35 ff. Here even the personal element is not altogether wanting, though it is not entirely certain that the prophet is thinking of some particular king, namely, Antiochus Epiphanes, as a type of Antichrist. The coming of Christ naturally calls forth this principle in its specifically anti-Christian form, and Jesus represents it as embodied in various persons. He speaks of pseudoprophetai and pseudochristoi, who take position against Him and His Kingdom, Matt. 7:15; 24:5,24; Mark 13:21,22; Luke 17:23. In order to correct the erroneous view of the Thessalonians, Paul calls attention to the fact that the day of Christ cannot come, “except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.” He describes this man of sin as “he that opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God,” I Thess. 2:3,4. This description naturally reminds us of Dan. 11:36 ff. and clearly points to Antichrist. There is no good reason for doubting the identity of the man of sin, of whom Paul speaks, and the Antichrist mentioned by John. The apostle sees the “mystery of lawlessness” already at work, but assures his readers that the man of sin cannot come forth until that which (or, “he that”) restraineth is taken out of the way. When this obstacle, whatever it may be (it is variously interpreted), is removed, he will appear “whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,” verses 7-9. In this chapter the personal element is presupposed throughout. The book of Revelation finds the anti-Christian principle or power in the two beasts coming up out of the sea and out of the earth, Rev. 13. The first is generally thought to refer to governments, political powers, or some world-empire; the second, though not with the same unanimity, to false religion, false prophecy, and false science, particularly the first two. This opponent, or opposing principle, John in his epistles finally calls “Antichrist.”
Historically, there have been different opinions respecting Antichrist. In the ancient Church many maintained that Antichrist would be a Jew, pretending to be the Messiah and ruling at Jerusalem. Many recent commentators are of the opinion that Paul and others mistakenly thought that some Roman emperor would be Antichrist, and that John clearly had Nero in mind in Rev. 13:18, since the letters in the Hebrew words for “emperor Nero” are exactly equivalent to 666, Rev. 13:18. Since the time of the Reformation many, among whom also Reformed scholars, looked upon papal Rome, and in some cases even on some particular Pope, as Anti-Christ. And the papacy indeed reveals several traits of Antichrist as he is pictured in Scripture. Yet it will hardly do to identify it with Antichrist. It is better to say that there are elements of Antichrist in the papacy. Positively, we can only say: (a) that the anti-Christian principle was already at work in the days of Paul and John according to their own testimony; (b) that it will reach its highest power towards the end of the world; (c) that Daniel pictures the political, Paul the ecclesiastical, and John in the book of Revelation both sides of it: the two may be successive revelations of the anti-Christian power; and (d) that probably this power will finally be concentrated in a single individual, the embodiment of all wickedness.
The question of the personal character of Antichrist is still a subject of debate. Some maintain that the expressions “antichrist,” “the man of sin, the son of perdition,” and the figures in Daniel and Revelation are merely descriptions of the ungodly and anti-Christian principle, which manifests itself in the opposition of the world to God and His Kingdom, throughout the whole history of that Kingdom, an opposition sometimes weaker, sometimes stronger, but strongest toward the end of time. They do not look for any one personal Antichrist. Others feel that it is contrary to Scripture to speak of Antichrist merely as an abstract power. They hold that such an interpretation does not do justice to the data of Scripture, which speaks, not only of an abstract spirit, but also of actual persons. According to them “Antichrist” is a collective concept, the designation of a succession of persons, manifesting an ungodly or anti-Christian spirit, such as the Roman emperors who persecuted the Church and the Popes who engaged in a similar work of persecution. Even they do not think of a personal Antichrist who will be in himself the concentration of all wickedness. The more general opinion in the Church, however, is that in the last analysis the term “Antichrist” denotes an eschatological person, who will be the incarnation of all wickedness and therefore represents a spirit which is always more or less present in the world, and who has several precursors or types in history. This view prevailed in the early Church and would seem to be the Scriptural view. The following may be said in favor of it: (a) The delineation of Antichrist in Dan. 11 is more or less personal, and may refer to a definite person as a type of Antichrist. (b) Paul speaks of Antichrist as “the man of sin” and “the son of perdition.” Because of the peculiar Hebrew use of the terms “man” and “son” these expressions in themselves may not be conclusive, but the context clearly favors the personal idea. He opposes, sets himself up as God, has a definite revelation, is the lawless one, and so on. (c) While John speaks of many antichrists as already present, he also speaks of Antichrist in the singular as one that is still coming in the future, I John 2:18. (d) Even in Revelation, where the representation is largely symbolical, the personal element is not lacking, as, for instance in Rev. 19:20, which speaks of Antichrist and his subordinate as being cast into the lake of fire. And (e) since Christ is a person, it is but natural to think that Antichrist will also be a person.
5. SIGNS AND WONDERS. The Bible speaks of several signs that will be harbingers of the end of the world and of the coming of Christ. It mentions (a) wars and rumours of wars, famines and earthquakes in various places, which are called the beginning of travail, the travail, as it were, of the rebirth of the universe at the time of the coming of Christ; (b) the coming of false prophets, who will lead many astray, and of false Christs, who will show great signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, even the elect; and (c) of fearful portents in heaven involving sun, moon, and stars, when the powers of the heavens will be shaken, Matt. 24:29,30; Mark 13:24,25; Luke 21:25,26. Since some of these signs are of a kind which repeatedly occur in the natural order of events, the question naturally arises in what way they can be recognized as special signs of the end. Attention is usually called to the fact that they will differ from previous occurrences in intensity and extent. But, of course, this does not entirely satisfy, because those seeing such signs can never know, if there be no other indications, whether the signs which they are witnessing may not be followed by other similar signs of even greater extent and intensity. Therefore attention should also be called to the fact that there will be, when the end is near, a remarkable conjunction of all these signs, and that the natural occurrences will be accompanied with supernatural phenomena, Luke 21:25,26. Jesus says: “When ye see all these things, know that He is nigh, even at the doors.” Matt. 24:33.
C. THE PAROUSIA OR THE SECOND COMING ITSELF.
Immediately after the portents just mentioned “the sign of the Son of Man shall be seen coming on the clouds of heaven,” Matt. 24:30. In connection with this the following points should be noted:
1. THE TIME OF THE SECOND COMING. The exact time of the coming of the Lord is unknown, Matt. 24:36, and all the attempts of men to figure out the exact date proved to be erroneous. The only thing that can be said with certainty, on the basis of Scripture, is that He will return at the end of the world. The disciples asked the Lord. “What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” Matt. 24:3. They link the two together, and the Lord does not intimate in any way that this is a mistake, but rather assumes the correctness of it in His discourse. He represents the two as synchronizing in Matt. 24:29-31,35-44: comp. Matt. 13:39,40. Paul and Peter also speak of the two as coinciding, I Cor. 15:23.24; II Pet. 3:4-10. A study of the concomitants of the second coming leads to the same result. The resurrection of the saints will be one of its concomitants, I Cor. 15:23, I Thess. 4:16, and Jesus assures us that He will raise them up at the last day, John 6:39,40.44,54. According to Thayer, Cremer-Koegel, Walker, Salmond, Zahn, and others, this can only mean the day of the consummation, — the end of the world. Another one of its concomitants will be the judgment of the world, Matt. 25:31-46, particularly also the judgment of the wicked, II Thess. 1:7-10, which Premillenarians place at the end of the world. And, finally, it will also carry with it the restoration of all things, Acts 3:20,21. The strong expression “restoration of all things” is too strong to refer to anything less than the perfect restoration of that state of things that existed before the fall of man. It points to the restoration of all things to their former condition, and this will not be found in the millennium of the Premillenarians. Even sin and death will continue to slay their victims during that period.[Cf. Thayer, Cremer-Koegel, Weiss, Bib. Theol. of the N. T., p. 194, note.] As was pointed out in the preceding, several things must occur before the Lord’s return. This must be borne in mind in the reading of those passages which speak of the coming of the Lord or the last day as near, Matt. 16:28; 24:34; Heb. 10:25; Jas. 5:9; I Pet. 4:5; I John 2:18. They find their explanation partly in the fact that, considered from the side of God, with whom one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day, the coming is always near; partly in the Biblical representation of the New Testament time as constituting the last days or the last time; partly in the fact that the Lord in speaking of His coming does not always have in mind His physical return at the end of time, but may refer to His coming in the Holy Spirit; and partly in the characteristic prophetic foreshortening, in which no clear distinction is made between the proximate coming of the Lord in the destruction of Jerusalem and His final coming to judge the world. Sectaries have often made the attempt to fix the exact time of the second coming, but these attempts are always delusive. Jesus says explicitly: “But of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only,” Matt. 24:36. The statement respecting the Son probably means that this knowledge was not included in the revelation which He as Mediator had to bring.
2. THE MANNER OF THE SECOND COMING. The following points deserve emphasis here:
a. It will be a personal coming. This follows from the statement of the angels to the disciples on the Mount of the Ascension: “This Jesus, who was received up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye beheld Him going into heaven,” Acts 1:11. The person of Jesus was leaving them, and the person of Jesus will return. In the system of present day Modernism there is no place for a personal return of Jesus Christ. Douglas Clyde Macintosh sees the return of Christ in “the progressive domination of individuals and society by the moral and religious principles of essential Christianity, i.e. by the Spirit of Christ.”[Theology as an Empirical Science, p. 213.] William Newton Clarke says: “No visible return of Christ to the earth is to be expected, but rather the long and steady advance of His spiritual Kingdom. . . . If our Lord will but complete the spiritual coming that He has begun, there will be no need of a visible advent to make perfect His glory on the earth.”[Outline of Christian Theology, p. 444.] According to William Adams Brown “Not through an abrupt catastrophe, it may be, as in the early Christian hope, but by the slower and surer method of spiritual conquest, the ideal of Jesus shall yet win the universal assent which it deserves, and His spirit dominate the world. This is the truth for which the doctrine of the second advent stands.”[Christian Theology in Outline, p. 373.] Walter Rauschenbusch and Shailer Mathews speak in similar terms of the second coming. One and all, they interpret the glowing descriptions of the second coming of Christ as figurative representations of the idea that the spirit of Christ will be an ever-increasing, pervasive influence in the life of the world. But it goes without saying that such representations do not do justice to the descriptions found in such passages as Acts 1:11; 3:20,21, Matt. 24:44; I Cor. 15:22; Phil. 3:20; Col. 3:4; I Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15-17; II Tim. 4:8; Tit. 2:13; Heb. 9:28. Modernists themselves admit this when they speak of these as representing the old Jewish way of thinking. They have new and better light on the subject, but it is a light that grows rather dim in view of the world events of the present day.
b. It will be a physical coming. That the Lord’s return will be physical follows from such passages as Acts 1:11; 3:20,21; Heb. 9:28; Rev. 1:7. Jesus will return to earth in the body. There are some who identify the predicted coming of the Lord with His spiritual coming on the day of Pentecost, and understand the parousia to mean the Lord’s spiritual presence in the Church. According to their representation the Lord did return in the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and is now present (hence parousia) in the Church. They lay special emphasis on the fact that the word parousia means presence.[This interpretation is found in Warren’s The Parousia of Christ, and in J. M. Campbell’s The Second Coming of Christ.] Now it is quite evident that the New Testament does speak of a spiritual coming of Christ, Matt. 16:28; John 14:18,23; Rev. 3:20; but this coming, whether to the Church on the day of Pentecost or to the individual in his spiritual renewal, Gal. 1:16, cannot be identified with what the Bible represents as the second coming of Christ. It is true that the word parousia means presence, but Dr. Vos correctly pointed out that in its religious eschatological usage it also means arrival, and that in the New Testament the idea of arrival is in the foreground. Moreover, it should be borne in mind that there are other terms in the New Testament, which serve to designate the second coming, namely apokalupsis, epiphaneia, and phanerosis, every one of which points to a coming that can be seen. And, finally, it should not be forgotten that the Epistles refer to the second coming repeatedly as an event that is still future, Phil. 3:20; I Thess. 3:13; 4:15,16; II Thess. 1:7-10; Tit. 2:13. This does not fit in with the idea that the coming was already an event of the past.
c. It will be a visible coming. This is intimately connected with the preceding. It may be said that, if the coming of the Lord will be physical, it will also be visible. This would seem to follow as a matter of course, but the Russellites or Millennial Dawnists do not seem to think so. They maintain that the return of Christ and the inauguration of the millennium took place invisibly in 1874, and that Christ came in power in 1914 for the purpose of removing the Church and overthrowing the kingdoms of the world. When the year 1914 passed by without the appearance of Christ, they sought a way of escape from the difficulty in the convenient theory that He remained in hiding, because the people do not manifest sufficient repentance. Christ has come, therefore, and has come invisibly. Scripture does not leave us in doubt, however, as to the visibility of the Lord’s return. Numerous passages testify to it, such as Matt. 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27; Acts 1:11; Col. 3:4; Tit. 2:13; Heb. 9:28; Rev. 1:7.
d. It will be a sudden coming. Though the Bible teaches us on the one hand that the coming of the Lord will be preceded by several signs, it teaches on the other hand in an equally emphatic manner that the coming will be sudden, will be rather unexpected, and will take people by surprise, Matt. 24:37-44; 25:1-12; Mark 13:33-37; I Thess. 5:2,3; Rev. 3:3; 16:15. This is not contradictory, for the predicted signs are not of such a kind as to designate the exact time. The prophets pointed to certain signs that would precede the first coming of Christ, and yet His coming took many by surprise. The majority of the people paid no attention to the signs whatsoever. The Bible intimates that the measure of the surprise at the second coming of Christ will be in an inverse ratio to the measure of their watchfulness.
e. It will be a glorious and triumphant coming. The second coming of Christ, though personal, physical, and visible, will yet be very different from His first coming. He will not return in the body of His humilation, but in a glorified body and in royal apparel, Heb. 9:28. The clouds of heaven will be His chariot, Matt. 24:30, the angels His bodyguard, II Thess. 1:7, the archangels His heralds. I Thess. 4:16, and the saints of God His glorious retinue, I Thess. 3:13; II Thess. 1:10. He will come as King of kings and Lord of lords, triumphant over all the forces of evil, having put all His enemies under His feet, I Cor. 15:25; Rev. 19:11-16.
3. THE PURPOSE OF THE SECOND COMING. Christ will return at the end of the world for the purpose of introducing the future age, the eternal state of things, and He will do this by inaugurating and completing two mighty events, namely, the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment, Matt. 13:49,50; 16:27; 24:3; 25:14-46; Luke 9:26; 19:15,26,27; John 5:25-29; Acts 17:31; Rom. 2:3-16; I Cor. 4:5; 15:23; II Cor. 5:10; Phil. 3:20,21; I Thess. 4:13-17; II Thess. 1:7-10; 2:7,8; II Tim. 4:1,8; II Pet. 3:10-13; Jude 14,15; Rev. 20:11-15; 22:12. In the usual representation of Scripture, as already intimated in the preceding, the end of the world, the day of the Lord, the physical resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment coincide. That great turning point will also bring the destruction of all the evil forces that are hostile to the Kingdom of God, II Thess. 2:8; Rev. 20:14. It may be doubted, whether anyone would have read the relevant passages in any other way, if Rev. 20:1-6 had not been set up by some as the standard by which all the rest of the New Testament must be interpreted. According to Premillenarians the second coming of Christ will primarily serve the purpose of establishing the visible reign of Christ and His Saints on earth, and of inaugurating the real day of salvation for the world. This will involve the rapture, the resurrection of the righteous, the wedding of the Lamb, and judgments upon the enemies of God. But other resurrections and judgments will follow at various intervals, and the last resurrection and final judgment will be separated from the second coming by a thousand years. The objections to this view have partly been given in the preceding and will partly be mentioned in the following chapters.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY: Why cannot the term parousia simply be rendered ‘presence’ wherever it is found? In what different senses does the Bible speak of the coming of Christ? How should Matt. 16:28; 24:34 be interpreted? Does the discourse of Jesus in Matt. 24 speak of a single coming? Does the doctrine of the national restoration of the Jews necessarily involve the doctrine of the millennium? Do the following passages teach such a restoration: Matt. 23:39; Luke 13:35; 21:24; Acts 3:6,7? Does Daniel refer to Antiochus Epiphanes as a type of Antichrist in Dan. 11:36 ff.? How are the beasts of Rev. 13 related to Antichrist? Should the man of sin, of which Paul speaks, be identified with Antichrist? What is the restraining power which is mentioned in II Thess. 2:6,7? Did the apostles teach that the Lord might return during their lifetime? Does the New Testament warrant the idea that the phrase “the end” or “the end of the world” simply means ‘the end of the age’?
LITERATURE: Bavinck, Dogm. IV, pp. 712-753; Kuyper, Dict. Dogm., De Consummatione Saeculi, pp. 117-245; Vos. Geref. Dogm. V, Eschatologie, pp. 22-23; id., Pauline Eschatology, pp. 72-135; Hodge, Syst. Theol. III, pp. 790-836; Pieper, Christl. Dogm. III, pp. 579-584; Valentine, Chr. Theol. II, pp. 407-411; Schmid, Doct. Theol. of the Ev. Luth. Church, pp. 645-657; Strong, Syst. Theol., pp. 1003-1015; Pope, Chr. Theol. III, pp. 387-397; Hovey, Eschatology, pp. 23-78; Kliefoth, Eschatologie, pp. 126-147, 191-225; Mackintosh. Immortality and the Future, pp. 130-148; Kennedy, St. Paul’s Conceptions of the Last Things, pp. 158-193; Salmond, The Chr. Doct. of Immortality, pp. 241-251; Snowden, The Coming of the Lord, pp. 123-171.