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In that day they will say, Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.
– Isaiah 25: 9 –
JESUS INTENDED HIS DISCIPLES to understand that for some purpose, in some manner, and at some time, He would come again. Though at His departure He had promised to be with them always, and through His Spirit and Word has indeed guided and comforted the Church, He certainly referred to a future personal coming.
But the Lord gave no explicit information as to the duration of His absence and the likely date of His return, saying that only the Father knew such things (Matthew 24: 36). In the decades immediately following the First Advent, the sense of expectation kept the disciples ever watchful for the signs of His appearing, and some speculated even in those early years that He had actually returned already (2 Thessalonians 2: 1-4). Anticipation of this staggering event has exercised the minds of Christ’s followers in all generations throughout the Christian era.
In past times some gloom and apprehension clouded the subject when confusion arose between the Second Advent and the Last Judgement. The purpose of the Lord’s return was believed to be the gathering of the faithful to be with Him in Heaven, while all others would be immediately condemned. Mediaeval theology constrained this event into a single twenty-four hour day, a prospect of horror for the vast majority, instead of the joyful anticipation expressed prophetically by King David (Psalm 96: 10-13):
Say among the nations, The LORD reigns. . . he will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad . . . . Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.
Another curious misconception is that the conversion of sinners to the Christian life is itself a progressive coming of the Lord, which will continue until the entire world is converted. There is little evidence to support this theory. On the contrary, we see the world departing from the faith and the Apostle Paul’s forecast of conditions among mankind at the time of Christ’s return describes exactly the increasingly degenerate character of human society as we see it at the present time: ‘There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of good.’ (2 Timothy 3: 1-3).
We are living in a time of great enlightenment, with every resource available to help us exercise our God-given reasoning faculties as we search the Scriptures to lead us to a deeper understanding of the Divine mind. The Second Advent should be seen as a particular stage in the outworking of God’s purpose, playing a vital part in the progress of the human race towards the Divine ideal and the Divine image.
Too often the Second Advent is thought of in terms of the moment of arrival of our Lord from the right hand of the Majesty on high, to take for Himself His great power and commence His reign. Yet our Lord’s First Advent was evidently a period, in particular the years of His ministry from the age of thirty until His death on the cross (three years and a half). Logically, then, Christ’s presence with mankind before and during the whole period of the Messianic Age is equally a part of His Second Advent. But why the hiatus between the two Advents?
While the early Church lived in constant expectation of their Lord’s return, remembering His promise that ‘if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am’, so also Christians for centuries since have prayed ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’, presumably expecting that the King would be present when that prayer was answered (John 14: 3; Matthew 6: 10).
From one standpoint it may be argued that the Kingdom of Christ is being established incrementally in that the centuries-long preaching of the Gospel gathered an assembly of dedicated believers who, as members of the body of Christ, after their resurrection share with their Lord in the restitution work of the next age. They are said to be ‘asleep’ during the long interval between Christ’s First and Second Advents (1 Thessalonians 4: 14).
We may be sure that all is going according to plan. The Saviour’s message to the people during the First Advent focused chiefly on the coming Kingdom of God, then distant. His exhortations to repentance for sin and to righteous living stirred many Jews to re-establish their relationship with their God. Jesus’ ministry of healing foreshadowed the restoration in the coming Kingdom to health and vitality, to physical and mental fitness, the attributes of perfect humanity, forfeited on account of sin. The significance of this public ministry was and still is lost to the vast majority, but the seed has been sown.
The Saviour’s ministry to His more intimate disciples touched on many of the more complex truths concerning the Divine purpose – for themselves and for the world, though they were often unable to grasp His meaning. Their fuller enlightenment came after their baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. They learned then that the necessity – and the certainty – of the Second Advent was integral to the Creator’s original intention that mankind should eventually take their destined place on earth as loyal and noble citizens, in His own image and likeness, with dominion over their given environment and all it embraced. And they grasped the amazing detail that as the Lord’s brethren they were destined to share with Him in the great mediatorial work of the Second Advent – to be Kings and Priests with Him in administering the long-promised blessings to mankind.
The Second Advent is the necessary and logical sequel to the First. The 2,000 years between has not only allowed the Gospel message to develop the Christian Church, but it has also planted in the minds of many others the realisation that eternal life can come only through Christ. Belief, even without full commitment to the will of God in this life, must give such people a better start under the conditions of the Kingdom of Christ, and they will in their millions bend their efforts under His direction to the great evangelical work of that age.
A Heavenly Inheritance
Events originating in the Heavenly sphere, beyond the range of human perception, are viewed by us at present only dimly – as the Apostle Paul says: ‘Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror’ (1 Corinthians 13: 12). There are Divinely directed events we can neither conceive nor understand, and to a great extent we have to visualise the spiritual within the limitations of the natural world.
The teachings of evolution for more than a century have failed to eradicate the belief – sometimes a mere instinct only – that there is a spiritual world outside our material environment. Its location is no longer supposed to be somewhere ‘up there’ in the sky, not all that far away, and the most intelligent concept is that a vast world exists, separated from our material world not primarily by distance, but being in another, different, dimension, or on another wavelength.
While not doubting the existence of that Heavenly sphere, it was to the Lord’s disciples an amazing prospect that they themselves would in due time join Him in a Heavenly home (John 14: 2, 3). To the extent they could grasp it, they would have realised that human bodies, designed for life on earth, must undergo a dramatic change in order to inhabit the abode of ‘the high and lofty One’ (Isaiah 57: 15).
An Earthly Inheritance
Human nature cannot inherit the Kingdom of God in its Heavenly, spiritual, aspect (1 Corinthians 15: 50). At their creation Adam and Eve were not offered a Heavenly inheritance as a reward for obedience, but were instructed to increase in number, to fill the earth and to subdue it (Genesis 1: 28). As human images of the Divine Creator, enduring life was their proper expectation, and had they remained obedient the human family would have reigned over a perfected earth. The failure of our first parents to abide by the reasonable conditions laid upon them explains the utterly different experience of all humanity, subsequently, as death took its dreadful toll generation after generation.
The complexity of God’s plan to rescue the dying race is the great epic told in the Bible, the essence being the death of His Son as a Ransom for Adam and his entire offspring. Jesus’ sacrificial death concluded His First Advent, and the world has waited for nearly two millennia for their release from the grave and their uplift to the noble status of children of God on the human plane.
As the Apostle Paul puts it, the ‘groaning’ creation eagerly awaits their deliverance from bondage, and for the Christ – the sons of God – to be revealed (Romans 8: 19-22). In other words, whether or not they are conscious of the fact, earth’s millions are earnestly crying out for the Second Advent of their Redeemer, who was once the man Christ Jesus, and they are waiting for His Kingdom to come on earth.
Accepting that the earthly creation cannot penetrate the realm of the spiritual, the question arises, How will this world’s inhabitants, flesh and blood, earthly beings, see the Lord in His Second Advent? Put to death in the flesh, He was raised to the right hand of the Heavenly Father, partaking of the Divine nature. His human body had been offered as a Ransom to redeem the stricken human race from the death sentence.
After the crucifixion the disciples could not see the resurrected Jesus, although for forty days He was still present with them, occasionally revealing Himself in human form, as a gardener, a stranger, or in some other unfamiliar guise. Only in this manner could they communicate with their risen Lord. After the forty days they saw Him no more. His First Advent mission accomplished, He ascended to that other world, to minister thereafter through the holy spirit to the needs of those who would become His body members, His Bride, His Church.
The popular idea that the Lord will descend in a sensational blaze of publicity is based on a misunderstanding of the Bible, a literal interpretation of figurative passages, such as parables, symbols, and dark sayings. Jesus had said, ‘Before long, the world will not see me any more, but you will see me’ (John 14: 19). No fanfare of literal trumpets herald His arrival, no pyrotechnics in sun, moon and stars – nothing for the natural vision to register. A careful examination of the Scriptures reveals the fact that our Lord in His Return would be invisible to men’s natural sight, but that His presence (Greek, parousia), would be demonstrated by the signs of the times.
That is why Jesus emphasised the importance of watching on the part of those who would be eagerly waiting for Him, and why He likened His coming to that of a thief in the night – a quiet, ostentatious entry, known only to those who anticipated it and were paying attention. ‘But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him’ (Matthew 24: 43, 44).
There is Scriptural evidence that the Second Advent begins during a time of great social turmoil on earth. Of necessity, much is told in dramatic, symbolic terms, revealing no guide as to the lapse of time until the Lord would come back. But the prophet Isaiah, giving a graphic vision of the coming Kingdom on earth, places it in ‘the last days’ (Isaiah 2: 2, 3).
It is Israel’s portion and privilege under the Christ to bring blessing to all families of the earth (Genesis 12: 2, 3). That people’s regathering to the Holy Land was clearly taught in Scripture, and since 1948 the world has witnessed the fulfilment of this prophecy. Though the necessary national recognition and acceptance of their Messiah has not yet sunk in for most Jews, the fact that after 2,000 years Israel is once again among the community of nations is significant to the watchers – another evidence that the days in which we live are the early days of Christ’s Second Advent.
Bible chronology demonstrates that man’s history is only a little over 6,000 years from the creation of Adam (though the earth itself is probably thousands of millions of years old). Following the generations of enmity between God and man, and between man and his fellows – a wearying experience – peace cannot come without further upheaval and strife, as the forces of evil are challenged and overthrown. The achieving of perfect peace will indeed be a process, and will take much of Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom to complete.
The forces of evil are led by the great Adversary,Satan, who will struggle to hold on to his influence and do all in his power to resist the incoming Kingdom. The overthrow of this usurper must therefore be a primary objective of the rightful Heir to the Kingship of earth, our Lord Jesus, addressed prophetically in Psalm 2: 8: ‘Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.’
Speaking symbolically of the eviction of Satan, the unlawful incumbent at present ruling the nations, Jesus referred to him as the ‘strong man’ who must be bound before his goods and house can be taken (Mark 3: 26, 27). Their leader captive, the consequent power struggles among the servants of Satan – the house divided – will precipitate the downfall of his vast and malicious organization.
Due to increasing mobility and ease of communication, society is in a restless condition, and we see the preparatory stages of the overthrow of the kingdoms of this world. We are bombarded with daily exposures of evil deeds, political intrigues, social injustice, financial deceptions, and religious hypocrisies. Foretelling the conditions of our day – distress of nations, men’s hearts failing them for fear of those things coming upon the earth – our Lord in prospect spoke to us who are living through these experiences: ‘When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near’ (Luke 21: 25-28).
Now is the time of judgement upon the world’s powers, which are accounted unworthy to continue. The severest part of the tribulation – Armageddon – is yet to come. The graphic descriptions of this battle relate to the overthrow of the satanic powers that have manipulated mankind from Eden to the present day. It is the binding of that ‘strong man’, culminating in his incarceration in the ‘bottomless pit’ described in Revelation 20: 1-3. Here again, while the symbolic language precludes an exact interpretation of the methods employed during this phase of the judgement process, there is sufficient evidence in world conditions to indicate that the powers of evil are now being mightily challenged by Christ.
This aspect of the judgement is not upon people individually. They are already under condemnation as children of Adam, and they have yet to experience the discipline and the opportunities of the Messianic Age. As the Kingdom is established on the earth and Christ’s mediatorial work begins, the righteous will be raised to take up the reins of government under Heaven’s direction.
The Bible has much more to tell us about the recovery of mankind after their long experience of sin and death, although details of the practical outworking of that Millennial Kingdom are not specified. Meanwhile, we live still in an age of faith, confident that the time will surely come when the great love of the Father and the Son will be universally discerned and accepted. And mankind will declare,
Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.
Copyright May 2009 by ukbiblestudents.co.uk You may freely reproduce this article in whole or in part, but please let us know if you do.