The Return of Our Lord Jesus
The poet T. S. Eliot began a poem with the line: “In my beginning is my end.” However succinct, his words carry a powerful truth. In origins exist endings. We see echoes of this reality in our name, Seventh-day Adventist, which carries two basic biblical teachings: “Seventh day,” for the Sabbath of the Ten commandments, a weekly memorial of the six-day Creation of life on earth; and “Adventist,” pointing to the second coming of Jesus, in which all the hopes and promises of Scripture, including the promise of eternal life, will find their fulfillment.
However distant in time the Creation of the world (our beginning) is from the second coming of Jesus (our end, or at least the end of this sinful existence), these events are linked. The God who created us (John 1:1–3) is the same God who will return and, in an instant, “in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:52, NKJV), will bring about our ultimate redemption. In our beginning, indeed, we find our end. This week, we will talk about the final of all final events, at least as far as our present world is concerned: the second coming of our Lord Jesus.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, June 30.
However much we tend to think of the second coming of Jesus as a New Testament teaching alone, that’s not true. Of course, only after the first coming of Jesus—after His death, resurrection, and ascension— were we given a fuller and richer revelation of the truth surrounding the Second Coming. But as with so much else in the New Testament, the Old Testament reveals hints and shadows of this crucial truth long before it will happen. With the doctrine of the second coming of Jesus, the New Testament authors didn’t reveal a new truth; instead, they greatly enhanced a truth that already had been revealed in the Bible. Only now, in light of the crucified and risen Savior, can the promise of the Second Coming be understood and appreciated more fully.
There is no question that the “day of the Lord” will be a day of destruction and sorrow and turmoil for the lost. But it is also a day of deliverance for all of God’s people, those who are “found written in the book” (see also Phil. 4:3, Rev. 3:5, 13:8). This theme—that of the “day of the Lord” as a time of judgment against the wicked but also a time when God’s faithful are protected and rewarded—is found first in the Old Testament. For instance, although some will face the “Lord’s fierce anger,” those who heed the call to “seek righteousness” and “seek humility” will “be hidden / In the day of the Lord’s anger” (Zeph. 2:1–3, NKJV).
Although many Jews in the time of Jesus expected the Messiah to overthrow the Romans and establish Israel as the most powerful nation of all, that’s not what the advents of Jesus, either the first or second, were to be about. Instead, God had something so much bigger in store for His faithful people than just a rearrangement of the old sinful and fallen world.
Perhaps nothing else in the Old Testament reveals as clearly as does Daniel 2 the truth that the new world does not grow out of the old one, but instead is a new and radically different creation.
Daniel 2 shows the rise and fall of four great world empires— Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece, and then finally Rome, which then breaks up into the nations of modern Europe. However, the statue that Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream (symbolizing the succession of these four major world powers) ends in a spectacular way. It does so in order to show the great disconnect between this world and the one that will come after the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.
These verses leave little ambiguity about what happens when Jesus returns. In Luke 20:17, 18, Jesus identified Himself with this stone, which crushed to powder all that was left of this world. The Aramaic of Daniel 2:35 says that after the gold, silver, clay, iron, and bronze were crushed, they “became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them.” That is, nothing is left of this old world after Jesus returns. Meanwhile, the stone that destroyed all trace of this old world “became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.” And this kingdom, which arises as a result of the Second Coming, is one that “ ‘shall never be destroyed,’ ” and “ ‘it shall stand forever’ ” (Dan. 2:44, NRSV).
In other words, only one of two endings awaits every human being who has ever lived on this planet. Either we will be with Jesus for eternity, or we will disappear into nothingness with the chaff of this old world. One way or another, eternity awaits us all.
Describing his beliefs about the origins of our universe, a lecturer explained that about 13 billion years ago “an infinitely dense tiny mass popped out of nothing, and that mass exploded, and from that explosion our universe came into existence.” Just how this “infinitely dense tiny mass” could just pop out of nothing, the lecturer didn’t say. He just assumed, by faith, that it did.
Now as we noted in the introduction to this week’s lesson, in our origins we find our endings. This is why, according to this lecturer, our endings aren’t too hopeful, at least in the long run. The universe, created from this “infinitely dense tiny mass,” is doomed to eventual extinction, along with all that is in it, which includes humanity, of course.
In contrast, the biblical concept of our origins is not only much more logical than this view but also much more hopeful. Thanks to the God of origins, our long-term prospects are very good. We have so much to be hopeful for in the future, and this hope rests on the promise of Jesus’ second coming.
Although Paul is soon to be executed, he lives in assurance of salvation and the hope of Christ’s return, which Paul calls “His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8, NKJV). A “crown of righteousness” awaits him, certainly not his own righteousness (1 Tim. 1:15) but the righteousness of Jesus, upon which Paul knows his hope in the promise of the Second Coming rests. Regardless of his immediate circumstances, which are dismal at best (in jail, waiting to be executed), Paul knows his long-term prospects are very good. And that is because he is looking at the big picture, not focusing only on the immediate situation.
However central and crucial the Second Coming is, according to the Bible, not all Christians see the event as a literal, personal return of Jesus Himself. Some argue, for instance, that the second coming of Jesus occurs not when Christ Himself returns to earth but when His Spirit is made manifest in His church on earth. In other words, Christ’s second coming is accomplished when the moral principles of Christianity are revealed in His people.
How thankful we can be, however, that this teaching is false. If it were true, what long-term hope would we really have?
“The firmament appears to open and shut. The glory from the throne of God seems flashing through. The mountains shake like a reed in the wind, and ragged rocks are scattered on every side. There is a roar as of a coming tempest. The sea is lashed into fury. There is heard the shriek of a hurricane like the voice of demons upon a mission of destruction. The whole earth heaves and swells like the waves of the sea. Its surface is breaking up. Its very foundations seem to be giving way. Mountain chains are sinking. Inhabited islands disappear. The seaports that have become like Sodom for wickedness are swallowed up by the angry waters. Babylon the great has come in remembrance before God, ‘to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.’ ”—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 637.
The return of Jesus will be such a massive event that it literally will bring the world as we know it to an end. When it happens, everyone will know it, too. What Jesus accomplished for us at the first coming fully will be made manifest at the second.
Before raising His friend Lazarus from the tomb, Jesus uttered these words: “ ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live’ ” (John 11:25, NKJV). But rather than just asking people to take His word about such an incredible claim, He then proceeded to raise Lazarus, who had been dead long enough for the corpse to start stinking, from death (John 11:39).
Those who believe in Jesus do, indeed, die. However, as Jesus said, though they may die, they will live again. This is what the resurrection of the dead is all about. And this is what makes the second coming of Jesus so central to all our hopes.
The great hope of the Second Coming is that the resurrection from the dead that Jesus Himself experienced will be what His faithful followers of all the ages will experience, as well. In His resurrection they have the hope and assurance of their own.
The faithful ones alive when Jesus returns will retain a physical body, but not in its present state. It will be supernaturally transformed into the same kind of incorruptible body that the ones raised from the dead will have, as well. “The living righteous are changed ‘in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.’ At the voice of God they were glorified; now they are made immortal and with the risen saints are caught up to meet their Lord in the air.”—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 645.
Further Thought: The second coming of Jesus isn’t the epilogue, the appendix, or the afterword to the sad story of human sin and suffering in this fallen world. Instead, the Second Coming is the grand climax, the great hope of the Christian’s faith. Without it, what would we have? The story of humanity just would go on and on, one miserable scene after another, one tragedy after another, until it all ends in death. Apart from the hope that Christ’s return offers us, life is, as William Shakespeare wrote, “a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing.” And yet, we have this hope because the Word of God confirms it for us, again and again. We have this hope because Jesus ransomed us with His life (Mark 10:45), and Jesus is indeed coming back to get what He paid for. The stars in the heavens don’t speak to us of the Second Coming. The birds chirping in the trees don’t herald it. In and of themselves, these things might point to something good, something hopeful, about reality itself. But they don’t teach us that one day, when Jesus returns, “the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:52, NKJV). They don’t teach us that one day we will look up and “ ‘see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven’ ” (Mark 14:62, NKJV). No, we know these things because they have been told to us in the Word of God, and we trust in what the Word promises us.