Christians believe that Jesus Christ is going to come back and when it happens, absolutely everyone will know about it. His return is often called the Second Coming. It will be an extraordinary, unprecedented moment in history – very different from his first arrival as a helpless baby in Bethlehem. The Bible gives clues about what it might be like but does not say when it will happen. Jesus spoke about his return in the days before his crucifixion in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. In the Bible book, Matthew, he told his closest followers, that all nations ‘…will see the Son of Man (Jesus) coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call and they will gather his elect (Christian believers)….’
‘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’
Jesus’ last moments on earth also give a clue about the Second Coming. Christianity teaches that Jesus rose from the dead after his crucifixion and spent a further six weeks with his followers. More than 500 people saw him during that time. Then he took his followers up the Mount of Olives, a hillside overlooking Jerusalem, and was taken up into heaven right in front of them. This event is called Jesus’ ascension. As the followers gazed in amazement at what had just happened, two men in white suddenly appeared. The Bible book, Acts, reports that they told the followers, ‘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. The Bible says that, at the moment, Jesus, is sitting at the right hand of God in heaven, awaiting his return.
The early Christian church thought Jesus was coming back soon to rescue them from the oppression of the Roman occupation. Jesus had told his followers that no one apart from God knew the time of his return, but he taught them to make sure they were always prepared for it to happen. Gradually the early Christians realized it was not going to happen as soon as they thought. Over the centuries that have followed, Christians have studied parts of the Bible that speak about the future to try to work out the circumstances in which Jesus will return. They have focused particularly on the final book of the Bible, Revelation, which was written by one of Jesus’ closest followers, John. It is an account of a complex, poetic vision given to John. It is rich in symbolism and spectacular imagery but it is not easy to understand. It speaks of present days but also of the future – including a time when the current heaven and earth will disappear and be replaced by a new heaven and a new earth.
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’
Various theories have been developed as people have tried to work out what will happen. Some Christians believe that all believers will suddenly be removed from the earth and will join God in heaven along with all Christians who have died. At that moment, Jesus will return to take control of the earth and will reign for 1,000 years.
Others interpret the reference to a period of 1,000 years differently – seeing this as a time of just and peaceful leadership of the world by the Christian church which will be followed by an apocalypse of violent evil. Jesus will then step in to end this time of terror.
A third view is that the symbolic events set out in Revelation do not foresee specific events. Instead, the return of Jesus will coincide with the end of human life on earth as we know it now and the beginning of an eternity of love, joy, and peace in the new heavens and the new earth with God.
There are many variations on these theories but the Bible teaches Christians not to obsess about these events and their timing but to take comfort in the certainty that Jesus is definitely coming back to make all things new. In almost the last words of the Bible, ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’