Vol. 5, No. 7
~ Page 12 ~
Jacob, a 147-year-old patriarchal prophet, on his deathbed in Egypt, about 1706 B.C., foretold the coming of Christ: "The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until the Peacemaker [Shiloh] comes, and him the peoples will obey" (Genesis 49:10). The Scriptures set forth seven comings of Christ:
One night, "not far from the end of B.C. 5 or the beginning of B.C. 4" (Stevens and Burton), an angel was dispatched from heaven to appear in the sky near Bethlehem with an announcement that startled shepherds, "Today in the city of David a Savior is born" (Luke 2:11). Jesus "had appeared in flesh" (1 Timothy 3:16), destined to live about 34 years.
"Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his teaching" (Luke 3:23). After he had selected twelve apostles, he sent them to preach in "the cities of Israel," telling them that their task would not be completed before "they would see the Son of man coming in his kingdom" (Matthew 10:23; 16:28). Jesus was not a king during his 34 years on the earth. But after he had returned to heaven, on Sunday, May 28, A.D. 30 (Pentecost Day), he was crowned "King of kings" (Acts 2:30; Hebrews 1:8-9; 1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14), with authority to reign "until he has placed all enemies under his feet" (1 Corinthians 15:25-26).
But on that memorable Sunday, May 28, A.D. 30, Jesus' coronation day in heaven, the apostles did not actually see Jesus "coming in his kingdom," but apparently the first act of his administration was to send a sound from heaven "like a rushing, violent wind, filling the whole house where they were sitting (Acts 2:2) and to send tongues "like fire" resting "on each one of" the apostles (Acts 2:3). And they proceeded to preach that Jesus "has been exalted to the right hand of God" and "has received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, and has poured out what you see and hear" (Acts 2:33). God had told Jesus, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool" (Acts 2:34-35). "The last enemy he destroys is death" (1 Corinthians 15:26). Then he will deliver the kingdom back to God, the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24).
Jesus' third coming is also invisible, non-sensuous, but very real. Every sinner, arising sinless from the water of his baptism, has a heavenly visitor; into his heart, God sends "the Spirit of his Son" (Galatians 4:6; cf. John 14:23). Thereafter, as long as he behaves himself, he rejoices in saying, "It is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). Christ in him is his "hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).
Jesus' fourth coming is also invisible: on the first day of the week he comes spiritually to partake of the Lord's Supper with Christians all over the world, as he had promised: "I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom" (Matthew 26:29).
Jesus fifth coming is also invisible at the family altar, as he had promised: "where two or three have assembled in my name, I am in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). A placard on a living room wall expresses the glorious truth:
Christ is the head of this house,
The silent listener to every conversation,
The unseen Guest at every meal.
The sixth coming, like the second, third, fourth and fifth, is invisible, but may have visible effects. The Spirit of Christ, sent on the day of a sinner's baptism to dwell in the new Christian's heart (Galatians 3:26-4:6), cannot tolerate lukewarmness or fornication or idolatry (Revelation 2:20; 3:16). A Christian so living is "sensual, having not the Spirit [of Christ]" (Jude 19), and "if any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Romans 8:9).
However, Jesus still loves backsliders, and he comes again to them invisibly as a reprover and corrector, trying to touch their hearts, hoping they will repent:
"I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place, unless you repent. . . . Repent! And if not, I am coming soon, and I will make war against [fornicators and idolaters] with the sword of my mouth. . . . I will come as a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you" (Revelation 2:5, 14-6; 3:3).
No one thinks that Jesus came personally to effect this discipline, but certain it is that he was back of it, whatever it was, visible or invisible. And certain it is that Jesus still wanted the backsliders saved, and he assured them that, if they would repent, he would again live in their bodies as a guaranty of heaven: "Behold! I stand at the door and knock: if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and I will dine with him, and he with me!" (Revelation 3:20).
The seventh coming of Christ will be only "the second" visible appearance (literally, "he will be seen," ophthesetai, Hebrews 9:28). On that "great and glorious day," the most important in all the world's history, "every eye will see him, and even those who pierced him" (Acts 2:20; Revelation 1:7), a day God has selected "in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he has ordained" (Acts 17:31).
On that day "all of us must appear before Christ's judgment seat, that each one may receive the things he did in the body whether good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10). On that day, the wicked "will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into everlasting life" (Matthew 25:46).
Many people say that Jesus will return to Jerusalem and gather all the Jews back to their homeland. They do not realize that in "the new covenant" there "is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is over all" (Romans 10:12; Hebrews 8:8). Now "the circumcision" are they who "boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh" (Philippians 3:3). In the new covenant, "circumcision is of the heart in the spirit, not in the letter" (Romans 2:29).
Many people say that Jesus will return to Jerusalem and set up an earthly kingdom for 1000 years. If he does, he will have to apologize to governor Pilate, for Jesus told him, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).
People were wrong who thought that Jesus' second visible coming would be in the first century. I, too, get that impression from Jesus' words that "immediately after the tribulation (Jerusalem' destruction in 70 A.D.) . . . they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:29-30).
Jesus' use of the word "immediately" [eutheos, Matthew 24:29] poses a problem for my finite mind, but the Scriptures remind me that I should "forget not this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day," and that "The Lord is not slack concerning is promises, as men count slackness" (2 Peter 3:8-9). In more than one way, I learn that the Lord sees "not as man sees" (1 Samuel 16:7).
Finite minds, reading what Peter wrote in the first century, have trouble with his saying that "the end of all things is at hand" (1 Peter 4:7). Likewise, they have difficulty with a first century writer saying that "it is the last hour" (1 John 2:18). Similarly, as men count time, a first century announcement that "the coming of the Lord is at hand" could not be true (James 5:8).
But I learn that, as the Lord looks at time, two thousand years or more are "a very little while" (Hebrews 10:37). I learn that I must make an adjustment to understand how Jesus could say, "I come quickly" (tachu, Revelation 22:7, 12, 20) about his second visible coming. It must be that, from the Lord's viewpoint, only two high points in history remained after his death and resurrection, namely, the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and the coming of the Son of man.
Concerning the time of the second visible coming, a popular TV preacher says that "over 20 signs of Christ's second coming have been revealed; there is one left" (Mark Finley). But Jesus said that there is no sign that announces his next and last coming, and that he himself did not know the date of his coming:
"No one knows about the day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. . . Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know what day your Lord will come. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of man will come at an hour when you do not expect him" (Matthew 24:36, 42-44).
Jesus carried the thief illustration into the book of Revelation: "Behold, I come like a thief" (16:15). Paul and Peter used the same illustration (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2; 2 Peter 3:10). It follows then, that if the owner of the house can figure out when the thief is coming, then a preacher can figure out when Jesus is coming. Many have tried it, and many are still at it.