The Second Coming of Christ - the Return of Christ to Earth

There are over 300 references to the return of Jesus Christ in the New Testament

Jesus Himself said He is coming back
- unexpectedly:

"... the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven ... and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory ... therefore ... be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." [ Mat 24.30, 44 ]

When does Christ return?

Where will Christ return?

Why does Christ return?

What is the 'rapture'?

What happens to those LEFT BEHIND?


What happens to those left on earth after the removal (rapture) of the church?

Many Bible scholars see a 7-year period of severe trouble for the world, just before Christ's Second Coming. During this time they hold that the true Christian church is absent from the world scene, having been called up 'to meet the Lord in the air' (see the reasoning opposite). So what happens to those people 'left behind'? Putting many prophecies together suggests the following scenario:

  • During this 7-year period, in the absence of the true church, the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God is preached by an angel (Rev 14.6,7). It seems many will then recognise the truth of the Gospels and come to believe in Christ. They are 'sealed by God' as His people prior to the 'trumpet and bowl' judgements about to come upon the earth (Rev 7.3). The seal also protects some of them through such judgements (Rev 9.4) although many will be martryed because of their faith in Jesus (Rev 6.9,11, 7.14, 13.7,10, 14.12). These are the very last believers to be 'reaped from the earth' before Christ comes back to earth (Rev 14.14-16).
  • The removal of the true church enables a political and military dictator to emerge on the world scene (2 Thes 2.8). This person will be lawless and driven by Satanic powers such that the world will be deceived (Rev 13.3). He is the 'beast' of Rev 13.1-10 and will probably rule a revived Roman Empire based in Europe. He is given Satanic authority to 'make war' for 42 (lunar) months (Rev 13.5). Some see Rev 6 as symbolic of the beast: he comes in as a false leader with great (Satanic) power to conquer nations by military power (Dan 11.36-45). The result, as in all wars, is worldwide famine and death (Rev 6.5-8), followed by persecution of new believers (see above). This is the time of the 'seals' of Revelation.
  • At the start of the 7-year period, this dictator will make a 7-year covenant with (largely unregenerate) Israel, to 'protect' her (Dan 9.27). But this will be deception and after 3.5 years he will break this agreement and invade Israel. This is the time of 'the abomination of desolation' and severe persecution of the people of Israel (Mat 24.15-22)(Jer 30.7).

    Pray for Israel

    Image: Cool Christian Graphics

  • Although the true church has been removed, an apostate church remains on earth, probably headed by the Papacy at Rome. It will be an amalgam of faiths (multifaith). Many associate the leadership of this church with 'the beast out of the earth' (Rev 13.11-18) or the Antichrist (certainly Wycliffe, Luther, Calvin and Wesley associated the Papacy with the Antichrist). This is the 'false prophet' of Rev 16.13.
  • The first beast of Rev 13, the world dictator, exalts himself 'above every so-called god ... displaying himself as being God' (2 Thes 2.3,4)(Rev 13.15)(Dan 11.36). So everyone is forced to worship an image of him and those who refuse are killed (Rev 13.14,15). The Antichrist also forces everyone to have an electronic ID for buying and selling (Rev 13.16-18). God warns the world through another angel of the dangers of receiving this ID or 'mark' (Rev 14.9-11). Here again is severe suffering for those who have recently come to Christ (Rev 14.12,13).
  • The last 7 years before Christ returns sees the destruction of the apostate church (the 'great whore' of Rev 17.1). Since the world dictator exalts himself as God, it seems he and the end-time world system will no longer tolerate the existence of some form of ecclesiastical system that still points to Christ (Rev 17.15-18). The false church is rapidly destroyed.
  • Prophecy indicates that, perhaps towards the end of the 7 year period, there will be a sudden worldwide economic collapse ('in one hour', Rev 18.17). Even now such collapse is conceivable given increasing national debt, a world trading system linked by fast data communications, and cyber terrorism.
  • Clearly, the world will be in chaos and fear under the brief reign of the world dictator. But there is more, much more. As discussed, prophecy indicates that the true church has been removed from the world scene at this point in time. God promises to protect her from His coming judgements upon the earth - His 'hour of testing' (Rev 3.10). The true church is supernaturally protected from the coming wrath of God, just as Noah was separated from a sinful world and protected from the Flood. So the world is now ripe for judgement - and the dictator's kindgom is about to be taken away (Dan 7.26).

    This is the time spanned by the trumpets and bowls of Revelation, a time of judgement of the nations, when the sun is darkened, asteroids hit the earth, the earth is burned, a massive earthquake occurs, and demons are released (more detail at The Last Days). Do you really want to be there?
  • Despite world turmoil, a remnant from the tribes of Israel survives and goes into the Millennium (Zech 13.8,9). But before this they attract the anger of the nations. Here we see the end-time world ruler, the beast, leading the kings of the earth against Christ and His army. This end-time invasion of Israel appears to involve all nations (Zech 14.2) and all world leaders (Rev 19.19). It is the infamous end-time war of Armageddon (Rev 16.16). It is the time when God strengthens and protects Israel (Zech 12.1-12) and the time when Israel finally recognises their Messiah, Jesus (Zech 12.10-14)(Rom 11.26).

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World events and prophecy indicate that Christ's return is imminent. This article explains the dramatic events surrounding His return. We ask, 'What happens to believers when they are taken from the earth (the 'rapture') and 'What happens to those left behind?'
To answer this it is logical to take prophetic interpretations that agree closely with reality i.e. with historical events and with what we observe today.

When is Christ Coming?

Jesus said 'No one knows the day or the hour' (Mat 24.36), but He gave timeline indicators. To the worldwide church He said:

"And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world ... and then the end (of the age) will come." (Mat 24.14)

Jesus said times will be hard for believers just before He comes. They will be brought before courts, some will be imprisoned and some will be martyred, as in many countries today (Lk 21.12-19). Persecution will have spread to all nations - there will be no escape and many will fall away from the faith (Mat 24.9,10). His message to the end-time church is 'hang on in there'! (Mat 24.13)

And to those living in Israel at the end of the age Jesus said:

"... when you see the 'abomination of desolation' (Dan 9.27) spoken by Daniel the prophet standing in the holy place ... then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains." (Mat 24.15,16)

In order to study His Second Coming in detail we need to examine Daniel's prophecy that Jesus refers to:

"Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make an atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place" (Dan 9.24).

The 'people' here are Daniel's people, Israel. The 'seventy weeks' refers to a period of 490 years (with 1 week = 7 lunar years, each of about 360 days). To be compatible with historical and modern-day events, many take the futurist view and see an unspecified time period between the end of week 69 and the start of week 70, with week 70 imminent. For a detailed justification for this prophetic interpretation, see Daniel's 70th Week.

The significant point is that at the end of Week 70, all visions and prophecy have ceased, 'everlasting righteousness' has been established on earth, and 'the holy place' (Christ's temple in Jerusalem) has been 'anointed'. Christ will have arrived! The Second Coming of Christ is therefore strongly associated with Daniel's 70th week, a period of 7 (360 day) years or 2520 days.

The Rapture of the Church

The term 'church' in the NT, from Matthew to Revelation, is from the Greek 'ekklesia', meaning 'a called out group'. It is this special group of born-again believers in Christ that concerns us here. It comprises both believing Gentiles and believing Jews, as well as all those who have died (are asleep) in Christ. Most Christians accept that born-again believers will be removed from the earth around the time of Christ's Second Coming (the so-called 'rapture'). Paul puts it like this:

"Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord." (1 Thes 4.17)

Above the Clouds with Christ

Believers will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thes 4.17)
Public Domain Image (Palmer Jim)

The Greek for 'meet' here is apantesis, meaning 'a friendly encounter'. Jesus appears to say the same thing:

"Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill, one will be taken, and one will be left". (Mat 24.40,41).

Here, the Greek word for 'taken' is paralambano, which means 'to take into close association with oneself', in a positive sense. The Greek word for 'left' is aphiemi and means 'to leave, forsake, omit or lay aside'. So just as Noah was taken out of the world before the judgement of the Flood (see Mat 24.37), so believers will be taken from the earth before God judges the world. Wesley interprets Mat 24.40 as 'One is taken into God's immediate protection: and one is left to share the common calamities' (see 'Will You be Left Behind?', opposite). Also note that:

  • Jesus says to the Churches in Revelation that this event happens quickly - 'in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye' (1 Cor 15.52) - after which Christ's followers receive rewards:
  • "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me ..." (Rev 22.12)
  • Christ meets His church 'in the clouds'. At this point in time there is no mention of Christ descending to earth.

These texts suggest that Jesus returns for His church (the 'rapture') before He actually returns to earth at the end of Week 70 to start His Millennial reign.

Timing of the Rapture

There are Pretribulation, Midtribulation and Postribulation viewpoints regarding the timing of the rapture, depending upon whether the rapture is placed at the start, midway, or end of Daniel's 70th Week, respectively. Note that the whole of Week 70 (7 years) is a time of enhanced tribulation since the Antichrist has at last been revealed. Those who come to accept Christ after the rapture will suffer persecution from the Antichrist (Rev 13.7,10 Rev 14.12,13). He will also cause Israel to suffer 'great tribulation' (Mat 24.21) in the last 3.5 years - the time of Jacob's Trouble (Jer 30.7). Although controversial, there is a strong case for placing the rapture at the start of Week 70 (Pretribulation view), before this time of tribulation:

  • The church is told to look for the return of Christ, not the appearance of the Antichrist. If the church experiences the appearance of the Antichrist, then she will know when Christ returns to earth i.e. within 7 years. But the timing of the Second Coming is not revealed and Christ returns unexpectedly (Mat 24.44).
  • We read that 'When Christ appears ... then you (believers) will also appear with Him in glory" (Col 3.4). This verse implies that believers have first been taken up to Christ, rather than being caught up and then immediately returning with Christ (Postribulation view).
  • In Mat 24.40,41 and Lk 17.34,35, the implication is that believers are working within a normal social environment alongside unbelievers, enabling them to preach the gospel with some freedom. This is not compatible with severe persecution under the Antichrist, and so supports the idea of a Pretribulation rapture.
  • The 'man of lawlessness' (the first 'beast' of Rev 13) is only revealed once a 'restraining power' is 'taken out of the way' (NKJV) (2 Thes 2.7,8). Some believe this restraining power was Rome, but this cannot apply to the future scenario discussed here. Also, since the coming of the 'lawless one' is empowered by Satan (2 Thes 2.9), it seems the only power capable of restraining him is the power of the Holy Spirit, link. Since believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, then removal of both church and Spirit at the start of Week 70 would seem to release both beasts of Rev 13, together with great Satanic activity. Alternatively, if the Holy Spirit simply 'steps aside' then the Spirit is still present on earth to convict those who are saved - and persecuted - in the subsequent tribulation (Rev 13.7).
  • Jesus tells His followers to 'keep on the alert' and to pray that they are accounted worthy to 'escape all these things' (Lk 21.36). The implication is that believers escape all the world chaos created by the man of lawlessness (the world dictator). Certainly they escape God's wrath on the earth poured out during the latter part of Week 70 (Rev 3.10).
  • The church seems to be absent from the awful (tribulational) events in the book of Revelation. From Rev 4-18 the 'church' (as a body of believers for all time) is not mentioned. We have to fast-forward to Rev 19.7-9 (at the end of the 7-year tribulation period) before we again hear of the church. This time the church is seen as the bride of Christ and we have a vision of the marriage supper of the Lamb.
  • Once the first 'beast' of Rev 13 appears (the man of lawlessness, the end-time world dictator), he blasphemes against God and against those who dwell in heaven (Rev 13.6). Who are the latter? Revelation 12.12 distinguishes between those who dwell in heaven (and are rejoicing) and those who dwell on earth (and suffer 'woe'). It seems some have escaped the grasp of this despicable person, and these could well be the raptured church rejoicing in heaven.

For these reasons we prefer the Pretribulation (or possibly Midtribulation) view of the rapture as opposed to the Postribulation view. In other words, the true church (as distinct from the apostate church) is removed from the earth at the start or middle of the 70th Week.

The First Resurrection

The rapture involves all faithful believers, both past and present. Certainly the true church is part of this dramatic event; believers past and present are resurrected to 'always be with the Lord' (1 Thes 4.17). This includes the millions who were martyred for their faith over the ages. But other saints also take part in the first resurrection. Daniel refers to those in Israel who suffer in the great tribulation (Jacob's Trouble, Jer 30.7), and to those OT saints who have died:

"And there will be a time of distress ... at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake ...(Dan 12.1,2)"

In fact, all martyrs of Daniel's 70th Week (those who come to Christ and suffer under the Antichrist) have part in the first resurrection:

"... and those who had not worshipped the beast ... and had not receieved the mark ... they came to life ... this is the first resurrection." (Rev 20.4,5)

So it seems there will be many faithful saints past and present in the first resurrection; it is not just the church. The saints are those gathered from every tribe and tongue and people and nation throughout the ages (Rev 5.9,10). And all these will return with Christ to reign with Him:

This is the time of 'the redemption of the body' (Rom 8.23), the time when 'the perishable body is raised an imperishable body', the time when 'the natural body is raised a spiritual body' (1 Cor 15.42-44). This is the first resurrection:

"... in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet ... the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed ... this mortal must put on immortality (1 Cor 15.52,53)
"Blessed and holy is the one who has part in the first resurrection ... they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years" (Rev 20.6)

The Bride and the Marriage of the Lamb

Taking the Pretribulation view, the resurrected saints are with Christ in heaven during Daniel's 70th Week (a 7-year period). This is the time of rewards for the saints (see also Rev 22.12):

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed (rewarded) for his deeds in the body ..." (2 Cor 5.10)

Judgment implies a time of testing the works of the saints (1 Cor 3.10-15) - was all work done under the direction of the Lord? The test is one of quality not quantity and appears to determine the authority of a believer in the Messianic Kingdom (Lk 19.11-27). Having been rewarded and perfected, the saints are now clothed in 'fine linen, bright and clean' (symbolising their righteous acts) as a bride ready for her husband (Rev 19.7,8).

There is much debate about who is included in the 'bride'. For over fifteen hundred years the NT Church has been identified as the bride, although, as implied above, this view may well be too narrow. As discussed, the first resurrection involves not only the raptured (true) church, but also OT saints (Daniel's people) and saints martyred by the Antichrist after the rapture. So the bride must include all these 'perfected saints', anyone with their name in the Lamb's Book of Life (Rev 21.27), anyone who is worthy to be part of the New Jerusalem (Rev 21).

There is also debate about the 'marriage supper of the Lamb' (Rev 19.7-9) - when is it? Some see it occurring only when God creates a new heaven, a new earth and the New Jerusalem:

"And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband." (Rev 21.2)

The implication here is that the bride is not yet married to the Lamb. But in the NT, the word bride is from the Greek numphe which could also be translated 'a young married woman'. For example:

"Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife' (Rev 21.9)

So others see the marriage and wedding feast taking place in heaven during Daniel's 70th Week, before Christ returns to earth. This follows if Rev 19 is assumed to be in time-sequence. After the marriage (Rev 19.7-9) the bride, clothed in 'fine linen, white and clean' follows Christ as His army in heaven (Rev 19.11-16). Again this is understandable since the saints are to return with Christ and reign with Him on earth, and surely only perfected saints married to Christ could do this.

The Return of Christ and the Millennial Age

Revelation 19.11-21 gives a dramatic vision of Christ's return to earth at the end of Daniel's 70th Week. Christ comes as King to judge and rule the nations, and with Him come the armies of heaven:

"... and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war ... and the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him ..." (Rev 19.11,14)
Jesus comes back "with all His saints" (1 Thes 3.13).
"Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones." (Jude 14)
"Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye shall see Him ..." (Rev 1.7)

Christ Comes on the Clouds

"They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with power and great glory" (Mat 24.30)
Public Domain Image (C.E.Price)

Note the plural 'armies'. Jesus said He will return 'with all the holy angels' (Mat 25.31), but there are other armies comprised of perfected saints dressed in fine linen, white and clean. The world dictator (the war-like beast of Rev 13.1-10), the Antichrist (the false prophet of Rev 13.11-18), along with the armies of the earth are all defeated. This marks the start of the Millennial reign of Christ on earth:

"In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives ... in the front of Jerusalem ... and the Lord will be King over all the earth ... (Zech 14.4,9)

Since these saints now have immortal bodies, like the body of Jesus, we might ask 'Exactly how do they reign over human (mortal) beings?' The Millennial scenario appears paradoxical to say the least! On the one hand we have the remnant nations and national Israel - all 'in the flesh' - whilst on the other hand it now appears that earth's ranks are to be swelled by millions of immortal beings! A clue might be in Jesus's comment on marriage:

"... but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead ... are like angels ..." (Lk 20.35,36)

It seems the saints operate like ministering angels in the Millennium. During the Millennium they reign over the people of the earth as priests of God and of Christ (Rev 5.10), but their true home will eventually be the New Jerusalem in the new earth. In conclusion, we can say that the Millennium is essentially Jewish, reigned over by Christ and His resurrected saints. For more detail see The Millennial Reign of Christ.

John 14.1

Image: Cool Christian Graphics

The following video summarises what we have just discussed.
It gives hope for the true end-time church:

Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Bible