Question: A recent Bible Talk touched on the end times, but I'd like to know more about Jesus' return to earth. What else does the Bible say about the second coming?
Discussion: The Bible might not use that particular phrase, yet numerous scriptures refer to the second coming of Christ. As previously mentioned, Jesus himself talked about this in Mark 13 and Matthew 24 and 25. For example, in Matthew 24:23-27, He said, "If anyone says to you then, 'Look, here is the Messiah!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will arise, and they will perform signs and wonders so great as to deceive, if that were possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told it to you beforehand. So if they say to you, 'He is in the desert,' do not go out there; if they say, 'He is in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. For just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be" (New American Bible.)
Living, as I do, in the "lightning capital of the world," I can personally testify to the fact that lightning can be seen. It's clearly visible to any eye that happens to be looking, but it's also noticeable through closed eyelids, unless, perhaps, a person is totally blind. If so, thunder provides percussion to assure the one who hears that, yes, a storm has arrived. If, though, a deceptive person pretended to make lightning or try to be lightning, you would immediately recognize that ridiculous attempt at mimicry. Just as obviously, Jesus wants us to take comfort in knowing that when he comes again, we will certainly know.
Presenting that thought another way, Jesus went on to say, "Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather" (Matthew 24:28, NAB.) Living in the "boonies," I can personally attest to the fact that a dead animal will indubitably draw a bunch of buzzards. Since Jesus knew this too, he used that rather graphic example to illustrate that some things cannot or will not be mistaken, and that's how his second coming will be: unmistakable. Less obviously perhaps, the gathering of vultures also points to the likelihood that unbelievers or those previously "dead" to Christ will be aware of his coming.
Those examples point appropriately to the sky, as does another event that occurred after Jesus' death and resurrection but just before he ascended into heaven. According to the Gospel researcher-writer, Luke, the incident recorded in Acts 1:6-11 (NAB) went like this: "When they had come together, they asked him [Jesus], 'Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?' He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.' And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.'"
Most likely, the Apostles wanted to know what would happen next, but Jesus had already anticipated that question in Matthew 24:29-31: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other" (NAB.)
That sounds a little scary! Perhaps the Apostles thought so too, but again, Jesus must have expected this reaction because he told his followers, including us: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be" (John 14:3, NAB.)
Much more has been written about the second coming than this column can adequately address, so we might simply consider the purpose of Christ's return. As Jesus himself said, he wants us with him, "…so that where I AM you also may be." The Great I AM wants our company. Jesus Christ wants to come back to get us, not in fear but in love.
In a faith-boosting, fear-squelching, love-bringing letter to the early Church, I John 3:1-2 gave the first Christians promising words that also instruct, edify, and reassure us: "See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." Hallelujah!