On Christ’s Second Coming

The Second Coming of Christ is a wonderful and repeatedly taught doctrine of Scripture. But with all biblical teachings, it is capable of being misused and abused. We have seen that just recently with yet another false prophet claiming that the end of the world is about to occur.

I have written before about the latest nutter, Harold Camping, and his moronic claims that May 21 was to have been judgment day. Of course, unless I have missed something big time, May 21 has come and gone, and things are just the same.

The problem is, these false prophets have a very corrosive influence on both believers and non-believers. Any believer who is taken in by these false prophets, only to discover that they were duped, can easily decide to abandon the faith altogether.

And nonbelievers simply laugh at the church, as they are given further ammunition to ridicule and reject the Christian faith. So it is doubly diabolical when these false prophets come on the scene and spout their deceptive lunacy. They will one day face the music for their deceit and deception.

So what then is the biblical teaching on the return of Christ? While there are some details which believers can differ on, hopefully all Christians can agree on several basics here. One is the fact that Jesus is in fact coming again, and it will be a bodily return of Christ to earth. This return will be manifest to everyone. Plenty of passages speak to this:

John 14:3: And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
Acts 1:11: “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
1 Thess 4:16: For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
Heb 9:28: so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
1 John 3:2: Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
Rev 1:7: “Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen.

Also, Scripture teaches that his coming will be sudden and quite unexpected. We simply do not know when it will be:

Matt 24:36: But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Matt 24:44: So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Mark 13:33: Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.
1 Thess 5:2: for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

Finally, we should all look forward to his return. Indeed, it is our blessed hope:

Phil 3:20: But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,
Titus 2:13: while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,
Rev 22:20: He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Of course plenty of discussion emerges as to whether there are various signs or indicators of his return. I will not here go into all those debates. Suffice it to say that the position all biblical Christians should hold to is nicely expressed in Luke 19:13 when Jesus said, “Occupy till I come” (KJV). That is, we are to be busy with the work of the Kingdom, and not get bogged down in date-setting and eschatological speculation.

The Rapture

It is not my intention here to offer a full-fledged discussion of the rapture theory. It happens to be an area where Christians can and do disagree. I just wish to make a few introductory points about it here. Briefly stated, those who hold to the idea of the rapture argue that believers will be snatched away (raptured) from earth, just prior to Christ’s actual return.

The first thing to note about this belief is that it is relatively new. It only first made an appearance in the 18th century and did not receive major development until the 19th century. It was in the early 1800s that people like John Nelson Darby especially promoted both the premillennial rapture theory and dispensationalism.

Indeed, the rapture view is often tied in with dispensational teaching. And it is associated only with the premillennial viewpoint. Those who are not premillenialists do not even entertain the idea of the rapture. The various theories about the millennium I have discussed elsewhere:

Many pretrib dispensationalists followed on from Darby, and made this teaching a major belief system for American evangelicals. Many such teachers came on the scene, including Scofield, Gaebelein, Torrey, Gray, Ironside, Chafer, and many others.

And there have been plenty of permutations of this as well. There is the older hyper-dispensationalism of people like Bullinger, O’Hair and Stam, as well as the newer, less severe, formulations such as progressive dispensationalism, as represented by people like Blaising and Bock.

Also, the term itself is not a biblical term. It comes from the Latin rapio (to seize, snatch, carry away). It is an inference from certain texts, chief of which are 1 Thess 4:16-17 and 1 Cor 15:51-54. Of course, one need not read these texts in such a manner, and plenty of debate centres of such passages.

While perhaps most evangelical Christians are premillennial, not every premillenialist holds to the rapture theory. And not every premillennialist is a dispensationalist. Indeed, even amongst those who are, there is a very large variety of viewpoints. Some of them are pre-tribulation rapture proponents. Some however are mid-tribulation advocates.

Others are post-tribulation aficionados, and there are even some who hold to a partial-rapture theory. For those not in the know, the tribulation is taken to be a seven year period of intense persecution, just before Christ returns and establishes his millennial kingdom (according to the pre-mil scheme of things that is).

So the debate among advocates of the rapture is whether believers will experience none of the tribulation, some of the tribulation, or all of the tribulation. Many gallons of ink have been spilled on these debates, and at one time I was fully into the pre-mil, pre-trib position.

Now however I am more open to the other major options as well. I think a case can also be made for amillennialism, and even postmillennialism. So I have had a bit of a shift over the decades as to where I stand on these particular matters of eschatology.

In conclusion, can I say that it is not really my intention to have a major debate here about the rapture; and this for several reasons. To have such a debate, I really should first pen a lengthy article laying out all the various pros and cons, relevant Scriptural passages, theological foundations, and so on. That may yet be forthcoming.

Also, for those who feel they must convert me to the rapture teaching, as I said, I once very strongly held to it. Indeed, I even made it a test of orthodoxy, refusing to extend the right hand of fellowship to those who did not adhere to it. I used to fervently teach and preach it. So I really am aware of all the arguments.

Indeed, earlier on I had made up all sorts of charts from Daniel and Revelation; I had my expandable pointer stick to show my audiences the fine points about Daniel’s four beasts (Dan. 7) and so on; and I had made it a central focus of my teaching ministry.

I even bought multiple copies of things like the Scofield Reference Bible to give away to people. I devoured the works of Walvoord, Pentecost, Ryrie, Lindsey and others. I knew all about this doctrine, and forcefully promoted it. But I have obviously shifted over the years on this.

Finally, while it is an important topic, it is not one to go to the wall over. While the general doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ, or the parousia, is a major doctrine, the various understandings of finer details about it are not fundamental matters of the faith.

Christians can agree to disagree on various views of the millennium, on various views of the rapture, and if in fact the rapture is even going to occur. But I raise the issue here simply because Mr Camping, the false prophet, has used these teachings in a perverted and deceitful manner, thus bringing disrepute on the legitimate biblical teaching on the parousia.

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20 Replies to “On Christ’s Second Coming”

  1. Thanks Bill and I’m in full agreement on the topic of the false prophet, Camping. The Bible warns us that false prophets will come and that people will say ‘look He is here’ etc. I was raised in a family and church that held fast to the idea that we would all be caught away to escape the Tribulation by a pre-trib rapture. Once I was attending a Bible study, and one person whose turn it was to share started reading Scriptures one by one with no other comment on the coming of Christ. It was when he reached the one that says, “The lawless one will be destroyed at the coming of Christ” that there was a shocked silence and the leaders who were hosting the study asked him, “So you don’t believe in the Rapture?” Whereupon he reiterated that he had simply read the Scripture. This caused a paradigm shift in my thinking. It began to dawn on me that Jesus is coming for a pure and spotless Bride and generally, trials and tribulation is usually for believers to purify them. The world is shortly facing eternal judgment in the lake of fire. I believe, and I may be wrong here, that the tribulation is the final purification of the Bride of the Lord Jesus and that after we are caught up to meet Him in the air, destruction will come upon the world. Actually, it would be nice to believe that we will be raptured out of the melee but I think we’re facing the hard yards; perhaps the worst persecution in the history of the church before Jesus comes back. Of course, ‘we’ includes the churches in Asia which are already suffering terrible persecution.
    Dee Graf

  2. Bill,

    What about the ‘Pan’ Millennialist…you know, it will all ‘pan’ out in the end!

    Mark Topping

  3. What an absorbing topic! Like Dee, I was brought up to believe in a pre-trib rapture, but lately my position has begun to shift to “maybe it’s post-trib after all” which is a fairly scary thought! And I believe I’m not alone in this drift. I’m gratified to see that you, Bill, are not ashamed to admit to a shift of your own. The question I ask myself now is “Am I up to the kind of persecution foretold in the scriptures!??” And I observe with deep dismay the persecution of our brothers and sisters around the world, and ask “how long?” Not just how long before His second coming, but how long have my unsaved friends and relations got to make up their minds to come into the fold before the really intense persecution hits us here in Australia?
    Jeannie Crooks

  4. Thanks Dee and Jeannie

    While people may well have good biblical or theological reasons for wanting to align with a system which says we will be snatched away from any hardcore persecution, I suspect for many people the simple fear of all forms of suffering may equally be part of it. In the West we are so aloof from suffering. We need to develop a theology of suffering, and it would not hurt most of us to experience more of it. It really does separate the wheat from the tares. We are not to seek suffering and persecution, but many Western Christians think the Christian life is meant to be free of all suffering – a bad theology indeed.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  5. Thats it Bill, i cant believe youve left the pre tribulation view of scripture, your an apostate and im never reading another post of yours again….just kidding mate, yes apocalyptic doctrine does breed some differing views…but we still all know its a pre trib lol

    ps. seeing your not using your expandable pointer stick anymore can i have it lol

    Dorian Ballard

  6. Well said Bill. There is an interesting book regards the origin of the pre trib rapture, Irving and Darby, called “The Incredible Cover- Up” 1975 by Dave MacPherson with a recommendation by FF Bruce. J Barton Payne says it is the most in depth study yet and comments, the study of Macpherson’s discoveries is a must. It includes eye witness accounts to the beginnings in Scotland amongst the Macdonald clan with the way out visions of Mary Macdonald

    I still maintain one Reggie Kelly to be the most exacting and knowledgeable in the area of end time events. I like his approach and how it is hammered out in relationship with many others likewise searching the scriptures. As Reggie often says “As the end gets nearer the view gets clearer”.

    Re pre trib have always recommended to people to put various views aside and read through all the pertinent scriptures themselves and see what they come up with.

    England’s great bible teacher Campbell Morgan once wrote a book supporting pre trib until his wife challenged him and on further reflection went and purchased the printing plates and withdrew the book.

    Rob Withall

  7. One always has to be sceptical about theological views which show up for the first time 1700 or more years after the apostles died.

    The early church (up till Augustine) was predominantly premillennial, but a pre-trib rapture was not anything that anyone ever dreamed of until Darby and Scofield.

    Reconstructionist postmillenniallism was unheard of until the 20th century.

    Therefore, if Church History is of any use in determining the validity of a doctrine, the options we are left with are post-trib premil (early church), amil (Augustine, Luther, Calvin) and revivalist postmil (puritans, Edwards).

    Jereth Kok

  8. If Dorian doesn’t inherit your expandable pointer stick – throw it my way – NZ!!! It might make a great museum exhibit!!
    I’ve been a pre trib person, but should really do a more exhaustive study of the subject!!!
    But whatever, we have work to do to keep us well and truly occupied!!! There’s lots of people who need to know Jesus as their Lord and savior, and we have a command to preach the gospel, make disciples, heal the sick, set the captives free – so I’m going to “gom” and go do it!!!
    Barb Hoc

  9. I have read with much interest not only this post but the 2 you recomend in it.
    While how the rapture happens is speculation, the rapture itself I would say is biblical? I am referring to 1 Thes chapter 4, you mentioned a verse before it about the trumpet, but stopped where it says that those who have died with be raised first and we will meet them together in the air?
    As to pre trib or post trib, it depends if the tribulation is the outpouring of God’s wrath or not. We are not appointed to wrath, 1 Thess chapter 1, but we are appointed to suffering and afflictions 1 Thess chapter 3. So, if the tribulation is wrath, I expect we will not be there.
    I believe our motivation primarily should be love and trust in the lord Jesus rather than fear of hell, though I have come into the kingdom that way it is not a motivation that will sustain you through a Christian walk in all its difficulties. I also expect we will never know this side of heaven exactly how it is going to happen. We need not only in our reading of scripture, but in our daily walk the presence and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the encrypted nature of the bible and especially Daniel and Revelation might be God’s mercy on us that we would not attempt to read them, think we understand and attempt to live our lives as we please until such time we deem it time to come into the kingdom in order not to miss the train so to speak. Human nature being what it is…, could be tempting.
    The one thing I don’t understand about the postmil position is the fact that evil is still present with us and I have even heard one preacher of this position said that we are already in Rev 22 and I just can’t see it, in fact, it made me quite upset because I felt ripped off. I thought “if this is all there is, if this is the fulfilment of all things, then where is heaven and the new Jerusalem?”
    We have to work out which set of beliefs fit the scriptures the best and I am guessing that could be a mixture of all those mentioned before.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  10. I’m glad you now leave a bit as unproven. I find it easy to accept either side when it is persuasively put forward. Just as well we are saved by trusting the Lord and not by knowing everything. Jesus said even He, as the perfect man, didn’t know the time whilst he was here on earth. However if the discussion makes Christians read their Bibles more then it is useful. I wouldn’t worry about the mirth when someone gets it wrong. There may be some who actually think afterwards.

    Katherine Fishley

  11. Hi Bill.

    “It only first made an appearance in the 18th century”

    Really? Actually I’m surprised if it’s even as old as that. Could you quote at least one primary source for this please? I always thought it began in the 1830s or so.

    Dan Baynes, U.K.

  12. Thanks Dan

    The Puritans Increase and Cotton Mather spoke to this idea of believers being caught up in the air, followed by persecutions before Christ returns. I don’t have time just now to track down the actual references, but if you feel so inclined, it would not be too difficult to find them I suspect.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  13. Thanks Bill, for a well put short essay on the subject of the Rapture.
    I would put it a bit more definitely than you have. I firmly believe that “Rapturism” is a delusion, and a dangerous one. Moreover, I rather doubt that any Puritans came up with the idea prior to Darby in the 1830s. If they did, I’m willing to stand corrected, but the conventional wisdom is that the idea of a two-stage coming originated with Darby and with him the Dispensational scheme, now touted as orthodoxy in so many circles. On the contrary, if Scripture teaches anything it teaches that the Second Coming is a single, climactic event, not two events separated by 3 1/2 years, or 7 years, or whatever.
    One American scholar (I forget who) issued a challenge to Dispensationalists, especially those of Dallas Seminary, to find any evidence of a two-stage coming in any Christian writing prior to 1830. The best they could come up with was a vague reference in Pseudo-Ephraem in the C8th. No reference to Increase or Cotton Mather in the C17th. Hence I would seriously question whether any such (alleged) reference in Puritan writings is more a matter of reading the relevant passage through Rapturist spectacles, than a real anticipation of Darbyite doctrine.

    In short, Rapturism is NO PART OF THE HISTORIC FAITH OF THE CHURCH AS TO THE SECOND COMING. It is an innovation, not supported by either Scripture, the ancient creeds, or reformation Confessions.

    Murray R. Adamthwaite

  14. This discussion is particularly revealing as to the time consuming reading and “researching” of scripture in order to uphold the writer’s viewpoint. I am a retired history teacher at 80 years and the daughter and neice of two ministers. The lay Christian who is committed to the faith REALLY finds these ideas problematic because they often cause him/her to deeply question the “Body of Christ” – the Congregation. The aforesaid also seems to bring into question the validity of Christianity itself!

    John 3:16 leads in the New Testament for the daily excerise of our faith and the rest NEEDS to be left in the hands of our Saviour! All this questioning and trying to discern the plan of our Lord seems to me to be a stumbling block to REAL faith when we need to be about the work that Jesus left us – namely to bring His message to all the world .

    One last word: the comment about persecution is VERY timely since the Christians in the Middle East are being imprisoned, tortued, beaten, killed and their houses and curches burned. This has been HAPPENING for many years BUT is increasing mightily as Islam is more and more in control. In many lands it is against the law to speak about your Christian faith or have any literature about it. Muslims are told in the Quran (I have read it) that they must kill “Infidels” that refuse to convert to ISALM. This is a peaceful religion? They are also taught that the Quran gives them “permission” to deceive ( e.g.lie)in order to gain control. If American Christians REALLY KNEW what persecution many are experiencing, they would either work harder to follow Christ OR “fall away” as is a prophesy for the “last days” in Revelation.

    If you REALLY want to know, google barnabasaid.com — also Opendoors.com. There are several organizations working to aid Christians in those countries. Check out also jewsforjesus.org. They have missionaries all over the world bringing our Jewish friends to Jesus – also as foretold in Revelation.

    Marianne Ernhart

  15. Why people so fuss about persecution ? Isn’t it a most honor thing we can do? Stop worry about it, rejoy in the Lord.
    That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10, Matthew 10:18-22
    And rapture, why dont you pray and ask the Lord for confirmation ? why wait for the false prophet to deceived you ? Or indeed, pray that your Faith will not fail in time of “testing”.
    Khanh Ly

  16. Hello Bill. I would like you to explain the rapture idea. I grew up in the Anglican Church and they never talked about the Rapture. I would like an explanation of the Second Coming. Revelations is quite a difficult book to read.

  17. Thanks Helen. I aleady did offer some thoughts on the rapture in my article above. And the book of Revelation has been a difficult book to understand, with 2000 years of discussion on it. So I cannot offer any light on it here, at least in a brief comment! You can look at my bibliography on eschatology if you are really keen to take things further: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/11/10/recommended-reading-on-eschatology/

    But let me repeat and amplify a few brief thoughts on the topic. This, like so many other contentious, hot potato theological debates, is a quite complex, lengthy and nuanced discussion, one which a number of articles would be needed to properly explain. So a short response here will be rather inadequate. But let me offer a few bullet point remarks as part of a half-way adequate reply if I may!

    -It is a particular view of the endtimes which can generate much more heat than light. Some people love the teaching and will fight to the death to promote it, while some people hate the doctrine and will fight to the death to denounce it. It should not be this way, but sadly it often is. Christians can break fellowship over this particular doctrine. Even now my brief remarks will get a lot of Christians all bent out of shape, ready to go to war!

    -For what it is worth, I once was a gung-ho supporter of the view. Now, not so much. The reasons for that would require a number of lengthy articles to properly explain.

    -The theory itself is actually rather recent, which in part is why some find it to be a bit sus. But it is the biblical data especially that we must run with and assess here.

    -As to the theory itself, there are zillions of sites, articles and books that will explain and defend it. And there are zillions of sites, articles and books that will repudiate it.

    -As soon as you get into this topic, you will see there are various different versions of it, especially when it comes to when it actually occurs, in terms of a seven year period of tribulation. Folks within the pro-Rapture club can ferociously argue amongst themselves as to which particular view is right. See here for a brief article looking at some of the options: https://bible.org/article/rapture-debate

    -The truth is, one cannot really make a case either way for if and when a rapture occurs until one first decides on what particular millennial view one holds to. For that see this two-part article: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/11/30/on-the-millennium-part-one/

    -So as I say, it really can become come a complex issue.

    -There are some primary biblical doctrines which all Christians MUST adhere to, which are foundational Christian beliefs, such as the deity of Christ, the triune God, etc. There are other biblical doctrines, which, while important, are really secondary issues in which Christians CAN agree to disagree on. I take it that most eschatology debates, including the question of the rapture, are in fact minor theological doctrines, and not major ones, and thus we should extend a bit of grace to each other as to our views. (But I await some angry Christians who already have been offended by what I may have said here!)

    Sorry for this lengthy reply. I may yet write some detailed articles on the issue, looking at the biblical, theological and historical issues involved. But perhaps this reply can be of some small help!

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