In examining the timing of the ‘second coming’ of Jesus, we can find prophecy in four different sections of Scripture:
First, Jesus’ second coming in Old Testament prophecy;
Second, in the Gospels;
Third, in the Epistles of the New Testament;
and Fourth, in the book of Revelation.
Where time statements are involved in prophecy, they must be reckoned with. No prophecy can be separated from the time of its fulfillment and still stand as ‘prophecy.’ We cannot separate the content of a prophecy from its temporal references.
We are reminded frequently that no one could know the exact time of Christ’s return. Jesus said,
But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father only. (Matthew 24:36)
Notice that he said, “of that day and hour no one knows.” It was a time and season that the Father retained exclusively in his power (Acts 1:7). There is a difference, however, between knowing the precise time, and knowing the signs that would accompany the event. Many premillennialists recognize that no one knows the day or hour, and yet they look for signs and construct elaborate fulfillment schemes to help others be prepared. No one could know the day or hour, but the disciples were given signs that would accompany Christ’s coming. They also were told it would happen within a generation (Matthew 24:34).
Matthew 24:36 does not rule out other scriptures showing the general time of the second coming and the signs that would indicate its nearness.
Old Testament Prophecy
Since Old Testament prophets did not make a distinction between two “comings” or arrivals of Christ, we must take great care when dealing with these texts. It has been said that for every prophecy concerning the first coming of Christ, there are eight that relate to his second coming. The time of that second coming usually was linked to an historical event that would serve as evidence for that coming.
For example, Joel said, “the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord” (Joel 2:31). The day of the Lord is equated with his second coming, and if we know when the sun and moon were darkened, we have the timing of his coming. In Matthew 24:29-34 Jesus applied this prophecy to “that generation,” the end of the Old Covenant age. In the 6th chapter of Revelation, John applies this word to the fall of Jerusalem. John was writing of things that would “shortly take place.” The time was at hand, Christ was ready to come. Joel 2 and the day of the Lord are placed in the last generation of the Old Covenant age.
Joel 3 gives us three events that are associated with that same period of time:
- First we are given the battle in the valley of Jehoshaphat (Joel 3:12), which is equated with the battle of Armageddon in Revelation 16:15-16. John shows that this was at the coming of Christ, “Behold, I am coming as a thief” (Revelation 16:15).
- Second is the darkening of the sun and moon (Joel 3:15), which Jesus and John applied to the fall of Judaism in that generation.
- Third, we have the coming of the Lord out of Zion, to cleanse or to redeem Judah (Joel 3:16-21). Luke applied this redemption to the removal of the Old Covenant system (Luke 21:28) and Paul to the second coming of Christ (Romans 11:26-27).
All of these passages have one thing in common; they refer to the fall of Jerusalem and the second coming of Christ. They speak of the same events and the same time period.
The second coming is pictured in the seventieth week of Daniel:
Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; but in the middle of the week he shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, even until the consummation, which is determined, is poured out on the desolate. (Daniel 9:27)
This text does not tell us when that seventieth week would be, but we know the event to which it refers. The city, temple and nation of Israel were going to be destroyed (Daniel 9:26). This destruction would come about by the “one that makes desolate” (Daniel 9:27). Jesus applied this to the Roman army in the destruction of Jerusalem and the devastation of Palestine (Matthew 24:15). That was “his coming” and “the end of the world.” This corresponds to Joel 2 and 3, and harmonizes with the things “at hand” in Revelation. The coherence of these passages with respect to time and historicity make a strong case that the fall of Judaism was the second coming of Christ.
Through New Covenant prophetic eyes, the second coming of Christ is the theme of Zechariah 14 and is equated with Matthew 24 and the fall of Jerusalem. It is called the “day of the Lord” (Zechariah 14:1) and Jerusalem is the scene of activity (Zechariah 2). We have a picture in verse 4 of the Lord standing on the Mount of Olives, from which he ascended. It was here that the angels said he would come again (Acts 1:11) and that arrival was fulfilled in Titus, the Roman Commander and his army, as prophesied by Daniel (9:26-27) and confirmed by Christ (Matthew 24:15-16, 27-28).
Those who insist on a literal, bodily return of Christ miss the true meaning and import of these predictions of his return. It is his coming in power and glory, and his victory over his enemies. This coming or appearing (epiphany) was not the re-appearance of a physical form, but was a visible manifestation of Christ’s hidden glory, “…our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which he will manifest in his own time, he who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords.” (1 Timothy 6:14-15)
This was the kind of manifestation that Caiaphas would witness, “…hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). A hidden divinity and kingship would be manifested to disbelieving Caiaphas in the events of that “great and awesome day of the Lord.” He did not see a literal body coming on a literal cloud, sitting on a literal right hand of power, but he did see what these symbols represented. Not only did Caiaphas see it, but also “every eye” of the Empire (Revelation 1:7), as Christ himself prophesied:
Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:30)
Not only would Christ be manifested, but his saints also: “Thus the Lord my God will come, and all the saints with you.” (Zechariah 14:5) They were dead with Christ and hidden with him, but at this coming they were to appear with him. (Colossians 3:4; 2 Timothy 2:11-12)
It was a day known only to the Lord (Zechariah 14:7; Matthew 24:36), and a dark time (Zechariah 14:6), but light came at the end of that day (2 Peter 1:19; Revelation 21:23-25).
It brought living waters from the city (Zechariah 14:8; Revelation 21:6; 22:1).
This day was predicted in Daniel’s kingdom prophecies – the saints did not possess the kingdom until after their battle with the beast, I was watching; and the same horn was making war with the saints, and prevailing against them, until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom (Daniel 7:21-22).
The coming of the Ancient of days here is the same coming pictured in Revelation 11:15-17. It is the coming of Christ in his kingdom with power (2 Timothy 4:1; Matthew 16:27-28; Mark 9:1). These verses cannot apply to Pentecost (the beginning), for the battle with the beast had not yet taken place. They belong to the seventieth week of Daniel, particularly the first half (Revelation 13-15).
As Jerusalem breaks open ‘like a grain of wheat,’ the Kingdom fully blossoms. Then, and not until then, did the saints fully enter in:
“So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:31).
“Then the King will say to those on his right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 25:34).
“He who overcomes shall inherit all things” (Revelation 21:7).
These are only a few of many Old Testament prophecies dealing with the second coming of Christ, but they all lead to one historical event: the tragic fall of Jerusalem. This was a “great and awesome day” in the unfolding of eternal redemption.
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