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.
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.