Some believers today believe that New Testament prophecies concerning the Second Coming of Christ, were merely symbolic. Preterists, in particular, believe that all the New Testament prophecies were fulfilled during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe roughly the same thing, except they believe the destruction in World War 1 precipitated the invisible return of Jesus Christ. The problem with treating vast portions of the New Testament as though they were symbolic or figurative is that there are very, very strict warnings given at the end of the Book of Revelation for those who do such things.
Revelation 22:18–19 “18 I testify to everyone who hears the prophetic words of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book. 19 And if anyone takes away from the words of this prophetic book, God will take away his share of the tree of life and the holy city, written in this book.”
Some people believe this curse applies only to the Book of Revelation. Others believe the whole Bible is included in this curse. I believe both apply. Either way, I want to teach only what the Bible teaches, and the beginning place concerning New Testament prophecy is to find out what was believed at the time of it’s writing and through the first few centuries.
Were early believers expecting a symbolic Return of the Lord Jesus or did they believe it was an eminent, visible Return? The answer is pretty simple. They believed what the New Testament said about it.
Early believers were expecting a visible return where every eye will see Him.
Revelation 1:7 “Look! He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, including those who pierced Him. And all the families of the earth will mourn over Him. This is certain. Amen.”
Acts 1:11 “They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven.””
Jesus’ return will be both visible and audible, heard and seen by all the peoples of the earth
Matthew 24:27–31 “27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the carcass is, there the vultures will gather. 29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days: The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not shed its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the celestial powers will be shaken. 30 “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the peoples of the earth will mourn; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” 31 “He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.”
His visible return will be in the future.
Matthew 26:64 ““You have said it,” Jesus told him. “But I tell you, in the future you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.””
His visible return will be marked by natural disasters that are unmistakable because they have never occurred before in the history of the world.
Mark 13:24–27 “24 “But in those days, after that tribulation: The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not shed its light; 25 the stars will be falling from the sky, and the celestial powers will be shaken.
26 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 He will send out the angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”
His visible return will be followed by a time of judgment where everyone who has ever lived will see Him seated at the right hand of God.
Mark 14:62 ““I am,” said Jesus, “and all of you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.””
Philippians 2:10–11 “10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow— of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth— 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Revelation 1:7 …every eye will see Him, including those who pierced Him….
His visible return will be accompanied by signs in the sun, moon, and stars. It will cause anguish on the earth.
Luke 21:25–28 “25 “Then there will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars; and there will be anguish on the earth among nations bewildered by the roaring sea and waves. 26 People will faint from fear and expectation of the things that are coming on the world, because the celestial powers will be shaken. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near!””
Those who are still alive at the end of the tribulation period, will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. But the dead in Christ, (those who have fallen at the battle of Armageddon) will rise first.
1 Thessalonians 4:15–18 “15 For we say this to you by a revelation from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly have no advantage over those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Worldwide audible sounds associated with Christ’ return.
1) A shout from Jesus.
2) The archangel’s voice.
3) the Trumpet of God.
The visible return of Christ will be preceded by seven years by the Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the church. This will be an unexpected event that will catch the world by surprise, and begin the Tribulation Period.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-10 1 About the times and the seasons: Brothers, you do not need anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know very well that the Day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 When they say, “Peace and security,” then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains come on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you, brothers, are not in the dark, for this day to overtake you like a thief. 5 For you are all sons of light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or the darkness. 6 So then, we must not sleep, like the rest, but we must stay awake and be serious. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, we must be serious and put the armor of faith and love on our chests, and put on a helmet of the hope of salvation. 9 For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.”
The Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church begins God’s final seven-year countdown. The removal of the church is invisible and sudden. At the end of 7 years, the Second Coming of Christ, is visible and audible.
Revelation 3:10 “Because you have kept My command to endure, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is going to come over the whole world to test those who live on the earth.”
Jesus’ return will be visible. The idea that Jesus could return invisibly, and or without being seen was being taught by two men, Hymenaeus and Philetus. It was called heresy by Paul.
2 Timothy 2:15–18 “15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. 16 But avoid irreverent, empty speech, for this will produce an even greater measure of godlessness. 17 And their word will spread like gangrene; Hymenaeus and Philetus are among them. 18 They have deviated from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and are overturning the faith of some.”
This passage teaches us two things.
1) First century Christians were expecting to see the visible, bodily return of the Lord Jesus Christ. They expected to see him with their own eyes.
2) Hymenaeus and Philetus were teaching the the resurrection has already taken place. In other word, they were teaching an invisible return of the Lord Jesus Christ. This was seen as heresy.
Not only was it heresy, it was a bad enough heresy for Paul to pray one of the most destructive prayers in the entire bible. Paul had prayed for Hymenaeus’ physical body to be destroyed.
1 Timothy 1:18–20
“18 Timothy, my son, I am giving you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies previously made about you, so that by them you may strongly engage in battle, 19 having faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and have suffered the shipwreck of their faith. 20 Hymenaeus and Alexander are among them, and I have delivered them to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme.”
Earlier, in 1 Tim. Paul mentioned Hymenaeus for the first time. He encourages Timothy to do battle false teachers like Hymenaeus. Paul even goes so far as to say that he has delivered them to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme. In other words, Paul has prayed for their physical destruction.
We have further instruction as to what exactly Paul meant when he said he had delivered Hymenaeus to Satan.
1 Corinthians 5:4–5 HCSB “4 When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus with my spirit and with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 turn that one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord.”
In the days of the formation of the New Testament before the Holy Written Word was widely available, it was evidently common for believers to deal with heresy by praying for the destruction of the heretic. He encouraged the Corinthian believers to do exactly that. Evidently Hymenaeus received just that treatment for taking it upon himself to teach that the Resurrection had happened already…invisibly.
Believers at the time expected to see Jesus when He returned.
The expectation that Jesus would be seen visibly returning to set up His kingdom was a subject regularly talked about in the New Testament and when it didn’t happen immediately believers began to question the Apostles about when His return would happen. Peter wrote about it in detail.
2 Peter 3:1–13 HCSB “1 Dear friends, this is now the second letter I have written to you; in both letters, I want to develop a genuine understanding with a reminder, 2 so that you can remember the words previously spoken by the holy prophets and the command of our Lord and Savior given through your apostles. 3 First, be aware of this: Scoffers will come in the last days to scoff, living according to their own desires, 4 saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? Ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they have been since the beginning of creation.” 5 They willfully ignore this: Long ago the heavens and the earth were brought about from water and through water by the word of God. 6 Through these waters the world of that time perished when it was flooded. 7 But by the same word, the present heavens and earth are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
8 Dear friends, don’t let this one thing escape you: With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9 The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.
10 But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief; on that day the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth and the works on it will be disclosed. 11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, it is clear what sort of people you should be in holy conduct and godliness 12 as you wait for and earnestly desire the coming of the day of God. The heavens will be on fire and be dissolved because of it, and the elements will melt with the heat. 13 But based on His promise, we wait for the new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will dwell.”
As Peter is addressing their doubts and questions, it is immediately very obvious that Peter is not expecting an invisible return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as the other scriptures above have said, Jesus’ return will be accompanied by the total destruction of the earth, only this time by fire. It is compared to God’s destruction of the earth by water during Noah’s time. In no way can Peter’s description of the Jesus’ return be anything less than a worldwide cataclysmic event that completely destroyed the world. In no way, can the destruction of Jerusalem or any other events since then be considered to fulfill what Peter’s prophecies predict.
Peter says the return of Jesus’ Christ will not only visible and unmistakable, it will be accompanied by the complete destruction of the surface of the planet. This will occur in preparation for the New Heaven and New Earth.
The Trumpets in the book of Revelation, correspond perfectly with Paul’s description of the visible return of Jesus Christ at the end of the Book of Revelation. Paul also describes Jesus visibly returning at the end of the Battle of Armageddon.
1 Corinthians 15:50–57 “50 Brothers, I tell you this: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and corruption cannot inherit incorruption.
51 Listen! I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed. 53 For this corruptible must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal must be clothed with immortality. 54 When this corruptible is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place: Death has been swallowed up in victory. 55 Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting? 56 Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”
Why is the visible return of Jesus Christ so important? For one, many passages of the New Testament have to be discounted or even ignored if there was an invisible return of Jesus at some point in the past. Second, God’s final solution for sin, death, disease, despair, and depression is marked by the whole world seeing Jesus coming with the clouds. If God has plainly established this moment as something we should look forward to, then why would we give these beautiful passages up? Death has been swallowed up in victory. Death where is your victory? Death, where is your sting? This moment is ushered in by the visible return of the Lord of Life. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!