Summary: What will Christ’s second coming be like and what implications does it have for his followers?
The Second Coming
It is just before midnight on October 22 1844. Come with me to a hillside just outside New York. It’s a balmy evening and we are standing in an enormous crowd numbering upwards of 100 000 men, women and children. All around us there is the low buzz of whispered voices as men exchange stories of how they have sold their homes, given up their jobs or abandoned their farms to be here. An almost tangible air of expectation hangs over the gathering.
Standing at the top of the hill is a lone figure – his name is William Miller – and most of the eyes in the crowd are trained on him. He is their leader; he is the man who has spent years studying the prophecies in the Book of Daniel and has predicted the second coming of Christ at midnight on this day.
Needless to say midnight comes and goes and slowly, sadly, certainly reluctantly, the crowd begins to drift away. Some, who have wagered their entire livelihoods on the truth of Miller’s words, hesitate a little longer looking skywards expecting at any moment that they will see, in Jesus’ own words, the “Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”
But as we know, it was not to be. And now, rather than looking to the Old Testament prophets to give us a clue to the future, we believe the words of Jesus when he says, “No-one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Of course it is easy for us to dismiss the Millerites of the 19th century as misguided and misled. And most of us look with a wry and patronizing smile at those who carry banners proclaiming that the end of the world is near. But are we in danger of losing sight of the fact that our Saviour will return one day? Of course we may acknowledge it in words but does the inevitability of his coming really make any difference to us?
For a few minutes this morning I want us to look together at some of the passages in the Bible that tell us about Jesus’ second coming and then consider some of the implications that should have on the way we live our lives.
The first thing we should be absolutely certain of is that when Jesus returns it will be in person. In the very original versions of the New Testament, which were written in Greek, the word that is used most often to signify Jesus’ re-appearance is the word ‘parousia.’ The meaning of this word implies actual physical presence. In other words, Jesus will appear at the end of times as a real physical being, albeit transformed in all his glory as the Son of God.
He himself confirms this in Matthew 24. Verse 27 tells us, “as the lightening comes from the East and flashes to the West so will be the coming, the parousia, of the Son of Man.”
This same Greek word is used by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians chapter 15. There he tells us that Christ will appear physically, then those who believe in him. This will mark the end of history and the beginning of his eternal reign.
James, the brother of Jesus, uses the word ‘parousia’ to emphasise the physicality of Jesus’ return in his letter, “Be patient then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming.”
Peter speaks of ‘parousia’ 3 times in his epistles and John reiterates the theme in 1 John 2: 28 with the words,” Now, dear children, continue in him, so that, when he appears, we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.”
So the first thing I want us all to be sure of is that when Christ returns there will be no mistake or misunderstanding. He will be visibly and tangibly present in this world.
But there is a second Greek word that is often used in describing the return of Christ and that is the word ‘epiphaneia.’ This refers to the actual events surrounding the appearance of Christ. This is not going to be some quiet, unobtrusive happening, but will be, as Paul describes it to Titus, “the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.”
In the 4th chapter of 2 Thessalonians Paul writes in vivid detail, “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…”
So the second thing we should understand about Christ’s return is that it will be a decisive and incisive intervention in history. It will be visibly splendid and glorious and it will shatter the world system as we know it today and replace it with his kingdom of righteousness.