Many churches understand and teach that Jesus Christ will return. Far fewer know why He will return and what will happen when He arrives.
As we approach the year 2000, some observers expect to see the greatest American religious revival of this century, if not in the history of the United States.
A range of opinion about what the coming years will bring exists among theologians and observers of religion in the United States and other Western Christian societies. Some believers of the Bible speculate whether the year 2000 will mark the return of Jesus Christ.
Between now and the last year of both the 20th century and the second millennium, you will see a steady flow of material from religious circles pondering whether we are about to witness the second coming.
Meanwhile we see a growing movement among Messianic Jews. In a world of Judaism that rejects Jesus Christ, several hundred thousand Jews do accept Him as the promised Messiah and anticipate His return, possibly within the decade. Other Jews, who don't accept Jesus, still look forward to a Messiah, a conquering champion who will come to restore Israel to its former greatness and at last bring peace. They base their beliefs on hundreds of prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament.
Many scholars recognize the pattern of the week established at creation and enshrined in the Ten Commandments: six days of human labor followed by the Creator's seventh day of rest. They see that the Bible speaks of a 1,000-year reign of Jesus Christ, a Sabbath rest for mankind (Revelation 20:1-6; Hebrews 4:1-11).
They are familiar with the Bible chronology that shows 4,000 years before the time of Christ and another 2,000 years since then, indicating that we are approaching 6,000 years of biblically recorded human history. They wonder whether God's weekly pattern will also extend to human history—whether God has made six millennial days for mankind and one millennial Sabbath for Himself and His purpose. If so, man's six millennial days are seen to be rapidly drawing near their end.
A loaded question
In this curious mix of expectation and apprehension, of some Christians anticipating the imminent second coming and Jews looking forward to the Messiah, a fundamental question emerges for believers in Jesus' return: Why will He return?
The answer isn't mystical or obscure. In fact, it's quite plain when we just look. The Bible gives the answer, although it's not popularly accepted.
God inspired the prophet Hosea to write: "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you . . ." (Hosea 4:6).
Here we see an important principle at work. God cuts off understanding when we cut off our willingness to understand. This is the straightforward message of Hosea 4:6. God says people are destroyed for lack of knowledge . Why do they lack knowledge? Because they have rejected knowledge. The problem isn't that the knowledge is not available or that it's unclear; it is that the knowledge is rejected .
Biblical description of Christ's return
Throughout the Bible, scripture after scripture describes Christ's return. These verses reveal what will happen when Christ ultimately returns to earth.
Jesus Himself said His second coming is certain. After describing the earth-shaking events that will precede His return, He adds: "Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matthew 24:30-31).
The apostle Paul further describes this gathering of the elect: "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 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 4:16-17).
Paul explains that at Christ's return "the dead in Christ will rise first." Accompanying them will be those "who are alive and remain": the faithful followers of Christ who are alive at that time. What else happens at the time of this resurrection, and what happens to Christ's followers who are still alive?
Paul gives more details in 1 Corinthians 15. "Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed , in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable , and we shall be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality" (verses 50-53, New American Standard Bible, emphasis added throughout).
Paul is clear about this resurrection: The dead are to be raised imperishable, and Christ's faithful followers who are alive at the time will be changed. God will instantaneously transform them from perishable to imperishable, mortal to immortal. Those in this resurrection, and those who are "changed," will be "raised in incorruption," "raised in power," "raised a spiritual body" (verses 42-44, New King James Version). God gives them eternal life at Christ's return , not before His return.
Kingdom of God on earth
Notice what the apostle John says about this event: "Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years" (Revelation 20:6). He adds that God makes those in this resurrection "a kingdom of priests to serve our God, and they shall rule on earth" (Revelation 5:10, Today's English Version).
Why doesn't Christianity embrace the biblical picture of a kingdom coming to earth, introduced at the return of Christ with the sound of the last trumpet? Why is this not commonly taught in churches?
The people who will be resurrected to eternal life at that time will rule on earth , not in heaven! Why? Because the Kingdom of God is established on earth at Christ's return. Notice Revelation 11:15: "Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!'"
According to John, this happens when the seventh angel sounds his trumpet. This is the same "great sound of a trumpet" of which Christ spoke, as we read earlier. It is the same "trumpet of God" and "last trumpet" that Paul said will accompany the dramatic raising of the dead and transformation of the living faithful followers of Christ to immortal spirit life, as we also read. This mighty blast announces that the Kingdom of God—the heart and core of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:14-15)—has at last become a reality.
The truth lost
This and similar scriptures have been in the Bible for 2,000 years or more. It is not terribly difficult to understand them. Some have even become part of popular culture. For many years singers have referred to the time of the second coming as "when Gabriel blows his horn." This and similar references are understood from the many mentions of the trumpet sound that will accompany Christ's return.
Why doesn't Christianity embrace the biblical picture of a kingdom coming to earth , introduced at the return of Christ with the sound of the last trumpet? Why is this not commonly understood or taught in churches?
It isn't that it cannot be seen in Scripture. It comes down to the simple fact that people do not wish to embrace it .
Read what the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopaedia of Religious Knowledge says about the Kingdom of God: "According to Scripture, the kingdom of God in its real and ultimate constitution does not belong to the present age, is not the result of a simple, natural, process of cosmic development. It is a kingdom from heaven, manifesting itself in a world of sin,—a fountain of life gushing out into the desolation of death; and its object is to shape human life according to the divine image in Christ.
"It develops itself in conflict with a false kingdom and religion, whose head is the prince of the world. Before Christianity or Christ finally overcomes the false and opposing elements, a consummation of the kingdom of God cannot be said to have taken place. This will happen in consequence of a great crisis,—the destruction of the false church, the anti-Christian power of this world. Then a kingdom of righteousness and peace shall be established, all the powers of darkness being dispelled, and Satan bound; and the millennial kingdom . . . will begin, which is only the prelude of the absolute consummation of the kingdom of God, when God shall be all in all . . ." (Vol. II, The Christian Literature Co., New York, 1889, p. 1246).
These statements correctly explain what the Bible teaches about the Kingdom of God. Such knowledge and understanding are available. However, many times the lack of understanding comes from a wrong motive —recognized or unrecognized—that blinds the mind. Among traditional Christians, could something be blocking this understanding of God's Kingdom?
In Protestant theology, belief in the return of Christ could be compared to a vestigial organ. In scientific terms, a vestigial organ is a part of the body that is believed by biologists to have once had a specific function, but now no longer serves a useful purpose.
What, then, will be the purpose of Christ's return? What good will it do?
Different views of the resurrection
Conventional theology has no good reason or explanation for Christ's return and a resurrection. After all, if you and I possess an immortal soul, why do we need a resurrection? You can't bring back to life something that doesn't die. So why do you need a resurrection when there's nothing to resurrect?
If we are judged at the instant of death and the immortal soul is consigned to heaven or hell, why would we need a resurrection? The body is buried and decays; the soul continues. What, then, is the useful purpose in reviving the body later?
These questions illustrate only a few of the problems with traditional explanations. Revelation 20:11-13 shows clearly that many resurrected people will be judged after Christ's return, not at their moment of death when this life is over. If immortality is inherent within us, why wait hundreds or even thousands of years after death for the judgment? To resolve this and other contrasts between their teachings and the Bible, early theologians came up with limbus patrum, limbus infantum and various other forms of limbo, or purgatory—none of which is found in the Bible.
Where, in these traditional teachings, is there a need for the Kingdom of God? Where is the need for the return of Jesus Christ?
It is fascinating to read theologians' explanations for the reason for the return of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of the dead in view of their beliefs about the immortal soul. At best they feebly attempt to force something that cannot be denied make some sense in their structure of beliefs. The most sensible view—although it makes little sense—is that the body died and the soul lived, and, since they both did good or bad together, the resurrection is to reunite them to either enjoy heaven together or suffer in hell together.
Views of the Kingdom of God
The Roman Catholic Church constructed a theology that made it the Kingdom of God, thereby fulfilling the coming of the Kingdom in itself. In doing so, it removed the need for Christ's return to establish a kingdom. The Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia , continuing with its explanation of the Kingdom of God, explains: "In an earlier period this kingdom was identified with the Church. The Roman Catholics regarded it as the visible Church, ruled by a visible representative of Christ . . ." (p. 1246). Catholic theology made the church the Kingdom of God, with the vicar (one who sits in the place of) of Christ, the pope, as the head of that supposed kingdom.
The leaders of the Reformation took an opposing view to the Catholic Church's claim to be the Kingdom of God. They developed a new interpretation. As Schaff-Herzog explains: "The Protestants, looking upon its ideal side, regarded it [the Kingdom] as the Christian institution of salvation." So the Kingdom of God came to be defined not as a church, but as salvation. If one accepted Christ, he was considered to be in a saved condition. If he were saved, he was considered to be part of the Kingdom. The collective group of saved believers became the Kingdom of God.
The encyclopedia continues: "But the more recent theology has given to the idea [of the Kingdom of God] a broader significance; namely, that it designates redeemed humanity with its divinely revealed destiny manifesting itself in a religious communion or the Church, a social communion or the State, and an aesthetic communion, expressing itself in forms of knowledge and art" (ibid.).
This was written in the late 1800s. By that time the Kingdom of God had been further redefined; now it was community, church and state combined with the development of the arts and aesthetics so that all things beautiful and good flowed together and melded to make up the Kingdom—a rather ethereal definition of the Kingdom of God.
Overlooking the obvious
Bible scholars have identified more than 300 prophecies of the first coming of Jesus Christ in the writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the other prophets. But how can churches preach about those 300 prophecies, yet miss the hundreds of additional scriptures that teach us about Christ's second coming and the establishing of God's Kingdom?
How can some ignore, as they preach that the Kingdom of God is already here, Isaiah's statement that a time will come when a lion and a wolf will lie down with a lamb and a calf, and a child will lead them? (Isaiah 11:6). In today's world, children who lead lions are eaten by lions. Lambs who dwell with wolves become food for wolves. Children who play near nesting places of cobras are bitten by cobras and die, unlike the promise in Isaiah's prophecy (verse 8).
The Kingdom of God is not already here. The knowledge of God does not fill this earth "as the waters cover the sea" (verse 9). The world is not a place of peace, and peace does not reign on God's "holy mountain" (verse 9). Jerusalem has been a city of violence ever since the days of Isaiah. The prophecies of the Kingdom of God do not fit our day.
In rejecting the understanding of Jesus Christ's return to earth to rule as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16), modern Christianity also unwittingly rejects the very message that He brought: the gospel, or good news , of the coming Kingdom of God (Luke 4:43; 8:1; 9:11).
We see the basic message of Scripture through the pages of the Bible. The world is not a good place, and it will never be a good place until Christ comes and makes it so. In spite of the best efforts of humanity, the best product that humans can create is a temporary and uneven peace. We see the atrocities continue among the Bosnians and Serbs, Kurds and Iraqis, Hutus and Tutsis. There can be no such thing as world peace as long as mankind rules the world.
Why God will intervene
Another part of that basic biblical message is that God loves people enough to have given His Son for them. But it would be a grievous error to confuse His love with tolerance of sin. God's Word makes plain that He will not tolerate sin forever. God has made it plain throughout His Word that He is patient and forgiving. He has made it equally plain that His patience does have a limit. We have a God who loves us dearly, so dearly that He gave His Son, His most precious possession, for us. But it is foolish to mistake that patient, forgiving love for a blind indulgence. God has made it plain throughout His Word that the day will come when His forbearance reaches its end.
His early disciples wondered, as we do, about the return of their Master. "Tell us," they said, "When will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3). Christ's reply must have stunned them. The signs of His coming would not be pleasant, He said. "It will be a time of great distress; there has never been such a time from the beginning of the world until now, and will never be again. If that time of troubles were not cut short, no living thing could survive . . ." (verses 21-22, New English Bible).
No part of the Word of God is free from the simple, blunt statements that God's forbearance of sin will one day end and He will intervene to stop it. As Jesus said, He must intervene to save us from ourselves, to keep mankind's sin, anger and hatred from erasing all life. Such is the world humanity has built as the result of rejecting God's knowledge.
But there is a hope-filled conclusion to the matter. God has always provided mankind with an optimistic view of the future. No matter how dreadful the message of the prophets, they always included the ultimate good news of God's answers to man's problems.
Christ revealed God as a loving Father to us, His children. A parent will put up with a child's arrogance, rebellion and hostility for only so long before correcting him. That does not mean the parent hates the child; it shows he wants the best for his son or daughter. We are God's children. That He must chastise us does not mean that He does not love us as dearly as it is possible to love us. But that love does not mean that He ignores our wrongdoing.
God gives the ultimate answer for the problems of mankind. That answer is in the messages of the biblical prophets, the heart of Jesus Christ's teaching and the writings of the apostles. It is the coming of the Kingdom of God. GN