Editors' note: This is the third installment in a series exploring key doctrines of the Christian faith, and their practical ramifications for everyday life. Earlier in this series:
“Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.” So goes the well-known memorial acclamation. But sometimes we don't think much about the third of these three declarations. Where does Christ's second coming fit in with his first coming? And how does it shape our life and hope now?
To explore the doctrine of Christ's second coming, and its practical ramifications, I corresponded with TGC Council member Sam Storms, lead pastor for preaching and vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and author of (among many other books) Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative.
What exactly is the second coming of Christ? How does it relate to his first coming?
The second coming of Jesus Christ is the personal (he won’t send an angel in his place), visible (every eye will see him), physical (he will come in the body in which he was crucified, raised, and glorified) return of Jesus to this earth to consummate the salvation of his people (Phil. 3:20-21; Heb. 9:28; 1 John 3:1-3), to be glorified in them (2 Thess. 1:10), and to inflict vengeance on those who have defied him and the gospel of grace (2 Thess. 1:8). At his first coming Jesus came as a suffering servant, a sacrificial lamb, “to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26), and to inaugurate the kingdom rule of God. We read in Hebrews 9:28 that he “will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” and to consummate the kingdom in its fullness.
What would you say are two or three of the greatest misconceptions about the second coming of Christ among Christians today?
In spite of our Lord’s unmistakable declaration that “no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son” (Matt. 24:36) when his return will occur, some continue to set dates or allegedly discern the times in order to pin down the precise moment of his coming. This simply needs to stop. Although it certainly sells books, nothing brings more reproach on the church of Jesus Christ than these ill-conceived efforts to predict the time of his return.
Another misconception is that Christ will return at a time of cosmic upheaval, social disruption, and global chaos, such that everyone will be looking toward heaven, fully prepared for his appearing. But Jesus himself said that “as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:37). In other words, before the flood people were “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (Matt. 24:38), which is to say, they were carrying on blissfully in the routines of life, largely unaware of any impending disaster. Such will also be the case when Christ comes again.
Finally, I realize this is a controversial point, on which many readers will disagree, but the second coming is a singular event, not two comings separated by a seven-year tribulation. It is true, of course, that when he returns those believers who are alive on earth “will be caught up . . . to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:17). However, this is not a pre-tribulation “rapture” but the final resurrection and glorification of all God’s people.
In the Bible, what practical import is Christ's second coming supposed to have on the way Christians live? Can you give some examples?
Peter asks us “what sort of people” ought we to be “in lives of holiness and godliness,” given the reality of the impending return of Christ and the judgment that will befall his earth? (2 Pet. 3:11-13). And John obviously believed that “everyone who thus hopes in him [i.e., in Christ and his return] purifies himself” as Christ is pure (1 John 3:1-3). But perhaps the most explicit challenge to us in terms of the practical implications of Christ’s coming is found in 1 Peter 4:7-9. The “end of all things is at hand,” Peter says. But don’t quit your job or run to the mountains or abandon your family and church. Instead, “be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly” and “show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
For those involved in pastoral counseling, when might Christ's second coming be a useful doctrine to which to refer? What particular sins or struggles might be helpfully engaged with this doctrine?
One of the glorious truths about the second coming is that it will result in the final redemption and glorification of our bodies. Paul talks about this explicitly in Philippians 3:20-21. When Christ returns he “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:21). People who struggle with particular sinful habits of the flesh, whether it be lust or drunkenness or pornography or other low-grade, daily addictions, can find special encouragement in knowing that God cares about their body and will one day completely set them free from every sinful impulse and passion. Knowing that “our citizenship is in heaven and from it we await a Savior” (Phil. 3:20a) and that God’s ultimate goal for our physical frame is to make us like his Son can greatly serve to empower and motivate us to exercise self-control through the Spirit who indwells every believer.
How might Christ's second coming encourage or stabilize Christians living in a hostile culture of suffering for their faith in Christ?
One of the things that most helps those who are suffering is the rock-solid confidence and assurance from God that one day he will put all things to rights. He will vindicate truth on behalf of those who have been slandered. He will exact vengeance on those who have oppressed and persecuted the church. He will greatly and lavishly reward those who have persevered through the worst that Satan can inflict (Rev. 2:10).
Can you recommend any resources for further studying Christ's second coming?
Without wanting to appear self-serving, I should probably recommend my own book, Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative. Anthony Hoekema’s excellent treatment of eschatology, The Bible and the Future, should also be consulted. And Biblical Eschatology, by Jonathan Menn, is a comprehensive survey of all the options.