Few doctrines of the Bible receive more attention among evangelicals today than the second coming of Christ. And since His return is a foundational doctrine of the historic Christian faith, it well deserves our notice.
Unfortunately though, the second advent is more deeply loved and firmly believed than biblically understood. We tend to have a “zeal without knowledge” in approaching this doctrine. This is tragic in that properly comprehending it is vitally important for framing a Christian worldview. After all, it exalts the consummate glory of His redemptive victory, completes the sovereign plan of God for history, and balances a full-orbed theology of Scripture.
Our Prophetic Mis-focus
Before pointing out how the second coming is so important to these worldview issues, we must be alert to two contemporary errors that put the doctrine out of focus: dispensationalism and hyper-preterism. The great majority of evangelicals today are dispensationalists who have what Jay E. Adams has called “prophetic diplopia” (diplopia is an eye problem causing double vision). A newer view (no pun intended) of the second coming is hyper-preterism, which involves “prophetic myopia” (near-sightedness). Let me explain these presbyopia (loss of focusing ability) problems.
Prophetic Diplopia. The Bible only speaks of two comings of Christ: His incarnational first coming in humiliation and His consummational second coming in exaltation. According to Scripture His second coming is just that, a second coming: “he will appear a second time” (Heb. 9:28). The angels certainly do not mention two future comings (Acts 1:11). The Bible never speaks of a “third coming.”
However, dispensationalists believe He will come again and again. This view is diplopic in that they hold He will return seven years prior to the final advent secretly to resurrect deceased saints and rapture living believers out of the world. Oddly enough, this “secret rapture” theory is based on the noisiest verse in Scripture: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16). How could such a dramatic event be “secret”? After all, the angels speak only of one future coming which is a visible event: “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11b).
The secret rapture is diplopic in separating by 1007 years the resurrection of believers from that of non-believers (contrary to: John 5:28–29; Acts 24:15) and by removing the resurrection from the end of history (contrary to: John 6:39, 44; 11:24; 1 Cor. 15:21–25). Such diplopia impairs our biblical foresight.
Prophetic Myopia. A new view afflicting our eschatological vision suffers from prophetic near-sightedness. Hyper-preterists teach that Christ’s second coming was to occur in the near future soon after His ascension (contrary to: Matt. 25:5, 14, 19; Acts 1:7; 2 Peter 2:4, 8–9). They also believe (along with dispensationalists) that He comes secretly. But in their case they teach that He returned in the first century.
Our Prophetic Refocus
The glorious second coming impacts our worldview in numerous ways, three of which I mentioned above and will now discuss.
First, the second coming exalts the victory of Christ in redemption. When Christ came in the incarnation, it was to suffer in humiliation by dying for the sins of His people: “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8; compare with Matt. 1:21; Luke 19:10). But Scripture does not leave Him on the cross or in the tomb; it teaches His consequent glorification through four steps: resurrection, ascension, session, and return.
Christ’s return in glory is necessary to complete His redemptive victory, for then He returns as an all-conquering Redeemer-king. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9–11). But as Hebrews notes: “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him” (Heb. 2:8b). So then, Christ’s second coming is necessary in conclusively demonstrating His redemptive victory for all to see.
Second, the second coming completes the plan of God for history. Though Christ legally secured the defeat of sin, death, and the devil in the first century, all three evils remain with us (Rom. 7:18–25; 1 Peter 5:8–9). They have been vanquished legally before the judicial bar of God (Col. 1:13–14; 2:13–15). They are being vanquished historically through the continuing progress of the Gospel (Acts 26:18; 1 Cor. 15:20–23). They will be vanquished eternally at the second advent of Christ (Rom. 8:18–25; Rev. 20:10–15).
Third, the second coming balances the theology of God in Scripture. This glorious doctrine not only finalizes Christ’s redemptive victory (pouring eternal glory on His redeeming love) and completes the plan of God (demonstrating divine wisdom in His creational plan). But it also provides us with a full-orbed system of doctrine balancing out majestic biblical truths. Were it not for the second advent:
- We would have a creation (Gen. 1:1; Heb. 11:3) without a consummation (Acts 3:20–21; Rev. 20:11), resulting in an open-ended universe (1 Cor. 15:23–24; 2 Peter 3:3–4).
- We would have a world eternally groaning (Rom. 8:22; 2 Cor. 5:1–4), without any glorious perfection (Rom. 8:21; 2 Peter 3:12–13).
- We would have a Savior quietly departing (Luke 24:50–52; 1 Cor. 15:5–8), without any victorious demonstration (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:10–11).
- We would have a redemption spiritually focused (Rom. 8:10; Eph.1:3), without a physical dimension (Rom. 8:11; 1 Thess. 4:13–18).
- We would have a Redeemer bodily ascended (Acts 1:8–11; Col. 2:9), without any physical family (1 Cor. 15:20–28; Phil. 3:20–21).
- We would have a gospel continually necessary (Matt. 28:19; Acts 1:8), without any final completion (Matt. 28:20; 1 Cor. 15:24).
Truly, the second coming is a “blessed hope” upon which we must carefully focus.