The Second Coming of Christ – the Return of Christ to Earth
There are over 300 references to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in the New Testament
Jesus said His Second Coming to earth would surprise the world:
“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” [ Matthew 24:30,44 ]
Matthew chapter 24 gives some major prophetic signs. When we relate these and other prophecies to world events today it is clear that Christ’s return is imminent. This article explains the dramatic events surrounding His return. We ask,
2. What happens at Christ’s return?
3. How does Christ return?
4. Why does Christ return?
To answer these questions it is logical to take prophetic interpretations that agree closely with reality. Here we take the “pretribulation view” of Christ’s return since this fits well with historical events and with observations today.
1. When does Christ Return?
What are the Signs?
Jesus said “No one knows the day or the hour” (Matthew 24:36). But He gave end-time signs and He tells those who follow Him to “Watch” for these signs. Jesus said: “When you see all these things know that it (His coming) is near – at the doors” (Matthew 24:33).
Let’s look at a few of these signs: For example, to the worldwide church Jesus said:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world … and then the end (of the age) will comeMatthew 24:14
This is happening today via the internet, satellite TV and short-wave radio. The Bible is now available in whole or in part to some 98% of the world’s population thanks to technology and Bible translators.
Jesus also said times will be hard for believers just before He comes. Some will be brought before courts, some will be imprisoned and some will be martyred (Luke 21:12-19). Today Persecution of believers is intense across much of the 10/40 window making Christianity the world’s most persecuted faith:
The persecution of Christians in parts of the world is at near “genocide” levels [BBC News, 2019]. One Christian is martyred every five minutes [Christianity Today, 2015]
It seems few will escape and many will fall away from the faith (Matthew 24:9-10). His message to the end-time church is “hang on in there” (Matthew 24:13).
And to those living in Israel at the end of the age Jesus said:
… when you see the ‘abomination of desolation’ (Daniel 9.27) spoken by Daniel the prophet standing in the holy place … then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountainsMatthew 24:15-16
This prophecy refers primarily to the ‘great tribulation’ of regathered Israel in the last few years of this age. In fact, regathered Israel is one of the major end-time signs. Over the past 100 years Israel’s Jewish population has risen by some 8,000%. After the regathering an “abominable person” will then invade their land.
In Matthew 24 verse 15 Jesus is referring to Daniel’s well-known 70-week prophecy:
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 placeDaniel 9:24
The ‘people’ here are Daniel’s people, the nation of Israel. Seventy weeks refers to a period of 490 years (1 week = 7 lunar years, each of about 360 days). To be compatible with historical and modern-day events, many take the Futurist View of prophecy (as opposed to the Historicist View) and see an unspecified time period between the end of week 69 and the start of week 70. Week 70 seems imminent when measured on a prophetic timescale.
The Futurist View can be seen in several contexts, namely the Pretribulation, Midtribulation and Postribulation views. These views see “the great tribulation” of prophecy from different perspectives. Here we take the popular Pretribulation view. 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.
2. What Happens at Christ’s Second Coming?
Is the true church taken before Christ comes?
Taking the popular Pretribulation view of prophecy, it might be better to ask “What happens during Christ’s Second Coming”? The Pretribulation view suggests that a lot happens over a short period of time (probably seven years) with the actual Second Coming – Christ’s actual return to earth – placed at the very end of Week 70. A mysterious event (the so-called ‘rapture) takes place before Christ’s return to earth.
The term ‘church’ in the New Testament 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.
Many evangelical Christians accept that born-again believers will be removed from the earth around the time of Christ’s Second Coming. It is a mystery or hidden truth (1 Corinthians 15:51) and is often referred to as “the 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 Thessalonians 4:17
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”.Matthew 24:40-41
Here, the Greek word for ‘taken’ is “paralambano”. It 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’. It appears that believers will be taken from the earth before God judges the world. They will be taken just as Noah was taken out of the world before the judgement of the Flood (see Matthew 24:37).
John Wesley interprets Matthew 24:40 like this:
One is taken into God’s immediate protection: and one is left to share the common calamities [Wesley Notes]
Will YOU be left behind?
(see the sidebar for a summary of Wesley’s ‘common calamities’)
The First Resurrection – Immortality
The rapture is the time of “the redemption of the body” (Romans 8:23). It is the time when “the perishable body is raised an imperishable body”. It is the time when “the natural body is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 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 Corinthians 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 (Revelation 20:6)
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 Thessalonians 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, Jeremiah 30:7), and to those Old Testament 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 …Daniel 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 received the mark … they came to life … this is the first resurrectionRevelation 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 people group and nation throughout the ages (Revelation 5:9-10). And all these will return with Christ to reign with Him.
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 true followers of Christ:
For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed (rewarded) for his deeds in the body … (2 Corinthians 5:10)
Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me (Revelation 22.12)
Judgement implies a time of testing the works of the saints (1 Corinthians 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 (Luke 19:11-27).
If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward (1 Corinthians 3:14)
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 (Revelation 19:7-8).
Who is the Bride?
There is much debate about who is included in the ‘bride’. For over fifteen hundred years the New Testament Church has been identified as the bride. However, as implied above, this view may well be too narrow. The first resurrection involves not only the raptured (true) church, but also Old Testament saints (Daniel’s people). It also involves saints martyred by the Antichrist after the rapture.
So the bride includes all these ‘perfected saints’, anyone with their name in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 21:27). It includes anyone who is worthy to be part of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21).
When is the Marriage of the Lamb?
There is also debate about the ‘marriage supper of the Lamb’ (Revelation 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 husbandRevelation 21:2
This text implies that the bride is not yet married to the Lamb. But in the New Testament, 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 wifeRevelation 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 assumes that Revelation 19 is in time-sequence). After the marriage (Revelation 19:7-9) the bride, clothed in ‘fine linen, white and clean’ follows Christ as His army in heaven (Revelation 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 Rapture in Context
The important point is this: in 1 Thessalonians 4 verse 17 Christ meets His church “in the clouds”. There is no mention of Jesus descending to earth at this point in time. These texts suggest that Jesus returns for His church before He actually returns to earth at the end of Week 70 to start His Millennial reign.
In other words, what is commonly understand to be ‘the rapture of the church’ occurs before what is commonly understood to be Christ’s Second Coming to earth. This view can also be seen from a careful reading of Matthew 24:36-44).
See APPENDIX for more detail
3. How does Christ Return?
When Jesus actually returns to this earth at the end of Week 70 He returns to Jerusalem:
And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two …Zechariah 14:4
He returns to remove the godless World Government and establish a theocracy based in Jerusalem:
In that day it shall be that living waters shall flow from Jerusalem … And the LORD shall be King over all the earth.Zechariah 14:8-9, emphasis added
The Armies of Christ
Revelation 19:11-21 gives a dramatic vision of Christ’s return to earth at the end of Daniel’s 70th Week. He comes with the armies of heaven:
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 … (Revelation 19:11,14)
Jesus comes back “with all His saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:13)
Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones (Jude 14)
When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne (Matthew 25:31)
In short, Jesus returns, not only with His holy angels, but also with armies of perfected saints dressed in fine linen, white and clean. The world dictator (the war-like beast of Revelation 13:1-10), the Antichrist (the false prophet of Revelation 13:11-18), along with the armies of the earth are all defeated.
This is the actual ‘Second Coming’ as most people understand it. But sadly many stop there and fail to study the reasons for the Second Coming. They fail to study the Millennial Age.
4. Why does Christ Return? Why the Second Coming?
The Millennial Age
Why would God plan a ‘Millennial’ dispensation? Is it like the ‘coming of age’ of God’s creation? Does it represent the last (the 7th) and best stage of man’s struggle through progressive spiritual phases and revelations? It seems so. The implication is that this dispensation it is not perfect and falls short of the glory of life in the New Earth described on Revelation 21. Some reasons for a Millennial age are as follows:
- To exalt Christ amongst the nations and to usher in His kingdom upon the earth (Zechariah 14:9). As Christ taught: ‘Your kingdom come … on earth’
- To provide a forum for the fulfilment of the unconditional covenants: Abrahamic, Davidic, Palestinian and New Covenants: Israel becomes a great nation, Christ sits on David’s throne, the land of Israel becomes very fruitful and God writes His Law on the hearts of both Jew and Gentile
- To restore Israel to her intended place as His servant and witness amongst the nations (Isaiah 43:10)
- To provide a period of perfect communion between the saints of the first resurrection and their Lord (Revelation 20:4-6)
- To enable millions of Gentiles to come to know the Lord. The Lord’s people will not only be Israel, rather, they will come from many nations (Zechariah 2:11)
- To provide a ‘day of rest’ for nature. Not only will people be in near-perfect communion with the Lord, but also will nature. It is probable that imperfect aspects of nature, such a drought, locust, earthquake and flood will be removed (except when ordained as judgement on a nation). Nature will be at peace (Romans 8:21)
The Millennial Temple
Many see Ezekiel 40-48 as describing the new or third Jewish temple in Jerusalem. According to Ezekiel it will be much larger than Herod’s Temple and it is from here that Christ will reign. The Gentile nations will go up to Jerusalem to worship Him there and keep the Jewish “Feast of Tabernacles” (Zechariah 14:16).
A Mystery: Do Mortals and Immortals Coexist?
Jesus promised His disciples that in the resurrection they would “sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:30). It seems that at this time the resurrected saints are made like kings and “reign on the earth” with Christ (Revelation 5:10).
But 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:
Those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead … are like angelsLuke 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 (Revelation 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 (it is focussed on Jerusalem) and reigned over by Christ and His resurrected saints. For more detail see The Millennial Reign of Christ.
The following video summarises what we have just discussed.
It gives hope to the true end-time church:
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 (Revelation 13:7,10 and Revelation 14:12-13). He will also cause Israel to suffer ‘great tribulation’ (Matthew 24:21) in the last 3.5 years – the time of Jacob’s Trouble (Jeremiah 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. Consider the following points:
- The church is told to look for the return of Christ. She is not told to look for 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 (Matthew 24:44)
- We read that ‘When Christ appears … then you (believers) will also appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 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 Matthew 24:40-41 and Luke 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 Revelation 13) is only revealed once a ‘restraining power’ is ‘taken out of the way’ (NKJV) (2 Thessalonians 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 Thessalonians 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 Revelation 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 (Revelation 13:7)
- Jesus tells His followers to ‘keep on the alert’ and to pray that they are accounted worthy to ‘escape all these things’ (Luke 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 (Revelation 3:10)
- The church seems to be absent from the awful (tribulation) events in the book of Revelation. From Revelation 4-18 the ‘church’ (as a body of believers for all time) is not mentioned. We have to fast-forward to Revelation 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 (Revelation 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 many 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.
For more detail see The Rapture.
Some see the rapture as symbolised by the Jewish Feast of Trumpets. They argue that the church age is symbolised by the time interval between the Spring feast of Pentecost and the Autumn Feast of Trumpets. More at A Jewish View.