The coming of the Messiah was the main theme of Old Testament prophecy, but nowhere was there a sharp distinction made between his first and second comings. This resulted in two different lines of prophecy that often appeared contradictory. Sometimes Christ was pictured as coming in lowly form, weakness, shame, and suffering, and sometimes as coming in power, might, and glory.
This was, of course, confusing to the people who did not fully understand the twofold coming of Christ, and even led some to believe in the coming of two Messiahs. But the reason for not separating these two comings was due partly to their proximity in time. The Jews viewed the Passover, the Exodus, the wandering in the desert, and the taking of the Promised Land as a single event in their history. They did not think of one part without assuming the other parts. From an historical perspective, forty years was a short time. Likewise in the coming of the Messiah, the prophesied events would take forty years for all to be fulfilled. Looking ahead through the centuries, however, the prophets saw this as one event. Peter wrote:
Receiving the end of your faith– the salvation of your souls. Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating, when he testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.
(1 Peter 1:9-11)
The prophets searched for the time of Christ’s coming, but were never permitted to see it. They did understand, however, that he must first suffer, and then afterwards be revealed in glory. The glory would so closely follow the suffering that Old Testament prophecy never made a distinction in time, separating the two comings. How soon after his death did Christ come in glory and power? According to Matthew, it would be in that same generation:
For the Son of man will come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
Christ would come in glory before some in his audience would die. This fact cannot be denied without denying inspiration. This coming is parallel with Luke’s account:
Then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory…
…When you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.
Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place.
(Luke 21:27, 31-32)
If these two passages are not synchronous in time and event, then we have an exegetical problem, inasmuch as we have two “second comings” expected in the same generation.
Some erroneously apply Matthew 16:27-28 to Pentecost in order to have Christ’s coming in his kingdom at that time. We can see a kind of beginning to the kingdom at that time, but Christ did not come in his kingdom with power and glory then. If so, what reward did he give? John applies the “rewarding” to the end of the Old Covenant era:
And, behold, I am coming quickly, and my reward is with me, to give to every one according to his work.
That is the same coming as in Matthew 16:27-28, and the same rewarding (or judgment), and it parallels Luke’s record in chapter 21:27-32. Luke applies it to the fall of Jerusalem. Christ’s second coming would soon follow his first coming. The second completes the work begun by the first. It brings the world or age of Satan’s dominion to an end, and ushers in the new heaven and earth, where righteousness dwells.
Is Israel Saved or Destroyed?
Another issue we face in interpretation of prophecy is an apparent dichotomy concerning Israel’s fate in prophecy. Some prophecies predict restoration and blessing for Israel, some predict judgment and destruction. Verse 24 of Daniel 9 gives six blessings to be received by Israel at the end time, but verses 26 and 27 picture the total destruction of the temple, city and nation (cf. Zechariah 14).
But how could Israel be blessed and punished by the same Messiah at the same time?
This seems even more contradictory than the two lines of prophecy concerning a suffering Messiah and a glorious Messiah. Things become clearer if we understand the coming of Christ. “Ishmael” represents temporal Israel, involving the city and temple, which were destroyed by the coming of Christ in the closing period of that age. The picture here is Ishmael’s being cast out. The same coming, however, was for the salvation of archetypal, spiritual Israel as typified by Isaac, and fulfilled through Christ. This twofold reward – blessing and destruction – can be seen in Matthew 24. The destruction of the one resulted in the salvation of the other (Ishmael was cast out that Isaac might inherit or receive the promise). This is further proof that the second coming of Christ transpired in that generation, because the fall of Jerusalem is the only event that can fit into a simultaneous blessing and destruction of Israel.
Ultimately, no one is left out of God’s comprehensive redemption. External forms might pass away, but everything is redeemed.
The Second Coming – When?
While the term ‘second coming’ does not appear in the Scriptures, the fact of Christ’s coming again is affirmed repeatedly. In Hebrews 9:28 we have the expression “appear a second time.” Jesus promised his disciples,
“I will come again, and receive you to myself.”
Since the return of the Lord was to be the consummation of the age and of God’s plan of redemption, it usually is assumed that there is nothing beyond this time that would demand another coming of Christ. No distinction is made in Scripture between what we might call the “second coming” and the fall of Jerusalem. The physical and spiritual results, and significance of that event, fill every need and purpose of the coming of Christ. The end of the Old Covenant paradigm did not leave unfulfilled one single prophecy, promise, or blessing. Redemption began with a promise in Eden (Genesis 3:15), was promised to Abraham and his seed, developed and witnessed through Judaism, and consummated by Christ in the last days of that age by his first and second comings. The age or world that followed was – and is – spiritual by nature and eternal in duration (Ephesians 3:21). The space-time universe did not have to end in order for it to come into being, and its status is not in any way linked to that of this universe.
The passing away of old paradigms leaves us open to appreciate the here-and-now world afresh. Such are the ways of God’s comprehensive redemption.
Join us each week as we explore fulfilled covenant eschatology by blogging through The Spirit of Prophecy by Max King, where this post is drawn from. (And if you get impatient, you can always read the full book inspiring inspiring these posts here.) Please feel free to weigh in below.