The Second Coming of Jesus Christ
In the near future, an unprecedented event of worldwide significance will take place.
Jesus Christ will return.
In fact, he will return twice.
The first time secretly. The second time so that all eyes can see him.
The first instance is known as "the rapture," and it is the blessed hope of all true Christians. The second instance is known as "the glorious appearing," and it is the fear of all worldly people who deny His divinity.
Almost everyone has heard of the Second Coming of Christ, but few realize that the Second Coming is divided into two parts.
The rapture will occur first, followed by the glorious appearing approximately seven years later. At the glorious appearing, every eye on the earth will see the Lord coming, and He will be coming to judge the people of the earth.
This is the event Jesus referred to when he said, "in the future you will see me, the Son of Man, sitting at God's right hand in the place of power and coming back on the clouds of heaven." Matthew 26:64 (NLT).
This will not be an unexpected coming because this event will be preceded by the prophesied events of the Great Tribulation.
For centuries, many have focused on the glorious appearing at the exclusion of the rapture. As a result, the second coming of Christ is often viewed as a singular event.
This is not a new problem.
The first coming of Christ was just as confusing to the human mind. Those who read the Old Testament and looked forward to the coming Messiah failed to see that his coming was divided into two parts.
Despite an abundance of seemingly contradictory passages describing a suffering Messiah and a conquering Messiah, the Jewish people fully expected the Messiah to be a conqueror who would overthrow their Roman oppressors. Even His own disciples expected Jesus to end the Roman occupation and establish an earthly kingdom.
The sacrifice of the cross simply didn't align with the predominant 1st Century worldview of the Messiah, and it wasn't until after His resurrection that His disciples understood.
Fast forward to the early 21st Century.
Many in our generation remain ignorant of the facts surrounding the Second Coming of Christ, unaware that it will occur in two parts.
But the Scriptures are clear.
Jesus will first return for His church, setting the world stage for the tribulation, a seven year period that will be the darkest in human history. At the end of these seven years, Jesus Christ will return to earth with His church, and this time He will come as a conquering King - to establish His righteous kingdom on earth.
This is a promise of God, so we can be certain it will happen. And the first of these prophecies will be fulfilled when Jesus returns just as He departed:
"As they were straining their eyes to see him, two white-robed men suddenly stood there among them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring at the sky? Jesus has been taken away from you into heaven. And someday, just as you saw him go, he will return!" Acts 1:10-11 (NLT)
This prophesied return is known as the rapture, and it is a day eagerly awaited by all who love Christ.
Immediately proceeding the seven year period of the Tribulation, Jesus Christ will return for all those who have placed their faith in Him.
They will be transformed in an instant, and appear before the throne of God in heaven. From that day forward, these people (those who maintained a personal relationship with Jesus Christ while living on the earth) will live in the eternal presence of the Prince of Peace, the Creator of the Universe.
This is the blessed hope of all Christians, that Christ will return for them, and Jesus confirms this hope by making a promise to all who trust Him:
"Don't be troubled. You trust God, now trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father's home, and I am going to prepare a place for you. If this were not so, I would tell you plainly. When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am." John 14:1-3 (NLT)
In addition to the promises of Jesus, several New Testament passages reference this event. The Apostle Paul mentions it in his first letter to the Corinthians:
"But let me tell you a wonderful secret God has revealed to us. Not all of us will die, but we will all be transformed. It will happen in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, the Christians who have died will be raised with transformed bodies. And then we who are living will be transformed so that we will never die. For our perishable earthly bodies must be transformed into heavenly bodies that will never die." 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 (NLT)
Almost two thousand years have passed since Jesus Christ ascended to heaven.
Since then, countless multitudes have given their lives in service to Him. Yet He never physically returned to earth for any of them. So it begs the question...
Why does the rapture occur?
Jesus plainly tells us why:
"Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world." Revelation 3:10 (NLT)
Before He pronounces final judgment on this world, Jesus is going to give the world one last chance to repent and place their faith in Him. This is the "time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world."
The bible calls this time period "the tribulation," and it will last seven years.
Because life will be so horrific during this time period, Jesus will gather His followers before it occurs so they will be protected. Just as He protected Noah and his family from the flood, God will protect the righteous from the horrors of this time period.
When the rapture takes place, Jesus will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, accompanied by the call of the archangel and the trumpet call of God.
At that time, all those who maintain a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior will be transformed into the spirit and caught up into the clouds to dwell forever with the Lord. All this will happen in the "blinking of an eye."
As Paul further describes:
"I can tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not rise to meet him ahead of those who are in their graves. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the call of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, all the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with him forever. So comfort and encourage each other with these words." 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 (NLT)
Throughout history, many faithful servants have confused this promise with that of the glorious appearing. However, the rapture is a completely separate event.
Like a thief in the night, it will take the world by complete surprise, meaning it could happen at any moment. Such is not true of the glorious appearing, which will be proceeded by the events of the Great Tribulation.
Jesus described the rapture when he said:
"However, no one knows the day or the hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah's day. In those days before the Flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn't realize what was going to happen until the Flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes."
"Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left. So be prepared, because you don't know what day your Lord is coming. Know this: a homeowner who knew exactly when a burglar was coming would stay alert and not permit the house to be broken into. You also must be ready all the time. For the Son of Man will come when least expected." Matthew 24:36-44 (NLT)
The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night, quickly and unexpectedly.
Those who are alert and awake will be caught up into the clouds to be with God; while those are not will be left behind to endure the "great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world."
However, for those who are left behind, all hope is not lost.
God is gracious, forgiving, and patient. Although the world will experience great tribulation, "a time of greater horror than anything the world has ever seen or ever will see again" (Matthew 24:21), those who "remain faithful even when facing death" (Revelation 2:10) will be awarded the crown of life.
At the end of the seven years, Christ will return in the event known as the glorious appearing.
The Glorious Appearing
In contrast to the rapture, the glorious appearing will be a spectacular event clearly visible to everyone on earth.
Following the rapture and the seven-year tribulation, Christ will return with His church to establish His Millennial Kingdom on earth. Jesus explicitly said so when the high priest asked Him to identify himself:
"Then the high priest asked him, 'Are you the Messiah, the Son of the blessed God?' Jesus said, 'I am, and you will see me, the Son of Man, sitting at God's right hand in the place of power and coming back on the clouds of heaven.'" Mark 14:61-62 (NLT)
The response provided by Jesus caused the high priest to tear his own clothing in horror.
Because the high priest knew the implications of this statement. Jesus was not only claiming to be the Messiah, but was proclaiming Himself the equal of God. The Jewish Leaders were familiar with the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah and His Kingdom.
Jesus was directly referring to Psalm 110:
"The Lord said to my Lord, 'Sit in honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.' The Lord will extend your powerful dominion from Jerusalem; you will rule over your enemies. In that day of battle, your people will serve you willingly. Arrayed in holy garments, your vigor will be renewed each day like the morning dew. The Lord has taken an oath and will not break his vow: 'You are a priest forever in the line of Melchizedek.' The Lord stands at your right hand to protect you. He will strike down many kings in the day of his anger. He will punish the nations and fill them with their dead; he will shatter heads over the whole earth. But he himself will be refreshed from brooks along the way. He will be victorious." Psalm 110:1-7 (NLT)
This psalm is a clear reference to the glorious appearing of Christ, as He returns to earth to judge His enemies. In returning, He comes with His church to punish the nations and to set up His kingdom in victory.
In addition, when telling the high priest he would see the Son of Man "coming back on the clouds of heaven," Jesus identified Himself as the eternal ruler spoken of by the prophet Daniel:
"As my vision continued that night, I saw someone who looked like a man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honor, royal power over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal - it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed." Daniel 7:13-14 (NLT)
These passages illustrate the future return of Jesus Christ.
This will not be an allegorical or spiritual return of mere symbolic significance. It will be a literal return to earth to judge those nations who have aligned against Him. The glorious appearing is characterized by its visibility. Every eye on earth will witness the return of Jesus Christ:
"Then everyone will see the Son of Man arrive on the clouds with great power and glory. And he will send forth his angels to gather together his chosen ones from all over the world - from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven." Mark 13:26-27 (NLT)
The glorious appearing will be seen by all, just as lightning covers the sky:
"For as the lightning lights up the entire sky, so it will be when the Son of Man comes." Matthew 24:27 (NLT)
Those who anticipate the rapture will react to the Lord's return with great celebration. But the glorious appearing will be accompanied by great mourning, for the majority of those who are left on earth at this time will be those who rejected Christ:
"And then at last, the sign of the coming of the Son of Man will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the nations of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man arrive on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send forth his angels with the sound of a mighty trumpet blast, and they will gather together his chosen ones from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven." Matthew 24:30-31 (NLT)
The Book of Revelation reiterates the sorrow of those who have rejected Him:
"Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven. And everyone will see him - even those who pierced him. And all the nations of the earth will weep because of him. Yes! Amen! 'I am the Alpha and the Omega - the beginning and the end,' says the Lord God. 'I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come, the Almighty One.'" Revelation 1:7-8 (NLT)
The message is clear - Jesus is coming! Therefore, we shouldn't live our lives in spiritual slumber. We need to wake up! Otherwise, His return will come upon us as unexpectedly as a thief in the night.
Our generation will surely see the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning Christ's return, both the rapture and the glorious appearing.
How do we know?
Because Jesus tells us so. According to the Lord, the most important sign of the imminence of His return is when Israel becomes a nation once again:
"I assure you, this generation will not pass from the scene before all these things take place. Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will remain forever." Matthew 24:32-35 (NLT)
Jesus instructed his disciples to look for the signs of his coming.
In rebuking the Pharisees and Sadducees, he said "You are good at reading the weather signs in the sky, but you can't read the obvious signs of the time!" Matthew 16:3 (NLT).
He was admonishing the religious leaders of his day, and their inability to recognize the time of his coming as foretold in the Old Testament Messianic prophecies. Just as the people of that day refused to recognize the "signs of the times," we too must be on guard at all times, watching for the signs of his coming.
We should be living our lives as if Jesus Christ could return at any moment.
In preparation for His return, we should serve others, exhibit patience, love each other, pray, and eagerly await His coming, knowing full well we are redeemed by His love. Peter underscores the importance of love when he notes that the things of this world will soon pass away:
"The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay." 1 Peter 4:7-9 (NLT)
Peter also reminds us that we should be patient in awaiting Christ's return:
"But you must not forget, dear friends, that a day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn't really being slow about his promise to return, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and everything in them will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be exposed to judgment." 2 Peter 3:8-10 (NLT)
Although we long for the Lord's return, we must be patient.
For His plan is to give ample time for all to come to know Him, so that not a single person will have to perish. We must also be patient with those who mock our belief that Christ will return, as they harbor their own belief that much time has passed (from a human perspective) since He first made His promise.
Because they are not of the Spirit, the thought of the Lord's return seems like mere foolishness to them. However, we shouldn't allow the naysayers of this world to corrupt us, because even this world recognizes our lives will pass from us in an instant. Instead, we should pray for everyone to come to full knowledge of Christ:
"Since everything around us is going to melt away, what holy, godly lives you should be living! You should look forward to that day and hurry it along - the day when God will set the heavens on fire and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and the new earth he has promised, a world where everyone is right with God." 2 Peter 3:11-13 (NLT)
The things of this world can be very distracting, but we must remain focused on the end goal. This world is only temporary, but God will create a paradise on earth that is everlasting and eternal. Therefore, we should set out to live godly lives in order to secure His promise for ourselves. For where our treasures are stored, there our minds and hearts will be also.
One of these treasures is exclusively reserved for those who eagerly await the return of Christ:
"Be dressed for service and well prepared, as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks. There will be special favor for those who are ready and waiting for his return. I tell you, he himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat! He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn. But whenever he comes, there will be special favor for his servants who are ready!" Luke 12:35-38 (NLT)
The Lord promises to give each of us a special reward - a crown - for eagerly awaiting His return. Paul mentioned this crown in a letter to Timothy:
"And now the prize awaits me - the crown of righteousness that the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that great day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his glorious return." 2 Timothy 4:8 (NLT)
This crown is not just for Paul, but for all who love Christ and live their lives in anticipation of His return. By living our lives in hope of His imminent return, not only will we win the crown of righteousness, but we will live a more fruitful life on earth.
Those who believe the master will return at any moment remain faithful servants in charge of their master's estate, knowing that when He returns, He will be pleased to find them hard at work.
Likewise, we should faithfully observe His commands to love our neighbors and to love our God with all our heart and mind and soul, knowing that when He returns, He'll find us following Him in faithful devotion.
This is how everyone should live life, because Christ is coming, and He is coming soon:
"He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon!' Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!" Revelation 22:20-21 (NLT)
Britt Gillette is the founder of End Times Bible Prophecy and the author of Coming To Jesus and Signs Of The Second Coming. Receive his book 7 Signs of the End Times for FREE when you sign up for his monthly newsletter.
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