Chapter 24 - The Second Coming of Christ

After his resurrection from the dead Christ remained with his disciples many days, speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God; then he led them out to Mount Olivet, near Bethany, and there gave them the final commission to preach in his name among all the nations. “And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:9-11). Christ had already informed them of his departure, but had said to them, “I will come again” (John 14:3).
In the New Testament much importance is attached to the second coming of Christ. The Scriptures uniformly point forward to that event as the time when the dead will be raised, when the general judgment will take place, and when final rewards will be meted out to the righteous and to the wicked. “The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works” (Matt. 16:27). Paul clearly shows that the wicked “shall be punished with everlasting destruction,” and the saints “glorified,” “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels” (II Thess. 1:7-11).

The End

“And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matt. 24:3). The burden of Matthew 24 shows that the disciples’ question relates to the actual end of all earthly things, and this they associated in their question with the second coming. So also in I Corinthians 15, where Christ’s coming and the resurrection are described, we read in this connection, “Then cometh the end” (vs. 24). This great event marks the end of time, the end of man’s probation, the end of Christ’s special redemptive reign—yea, as Peter says, “the end of all things is at hand” (I Pet. 4:7).

The Resurrection

So also the resurrection will take place at that time. “There shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust” (Acts 24:15). How many resurrections? One—”a resurrection.” And this one resurrection of the dead is to include both the just and the unjust. The preceding chapter shows clearly that the prophecies which some people suppose refer to two literal resurrections teach no such thing. In this chapter we shall see that plain texts not involved in prophetic interpretations utterly preclude the idea of two literal resurrections in the future. In the present text it is simply “a resurrection,” which includes both just and unjust.
This text does not state when the resurrection will take place, but Revelation 1:7 says: “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.” At his coming “every eye shall see him.” This proves the fact of a general resurrection. That this resurrection includes the wicked also is shown by the statement that even those who “pierced him” will see him when he comes. The idea of two literal resurrections—one of the righteous and the other of the wicked—is utterly impossible according to this text.
That the resurrection is one, but includes both classes, is shown by the words of Christ himself (John 5:28-29). Both classes—good and bad—come forth from their graves in the same “hour.”
Some think that I Thessalonians 4:16—“the dead in Christ shall rise first”—teaches two resurrections, but even a hasty examination should show that it teaches no such thing. The word “first” does not refer to other dead people at all. The text, with the context, simply shows that those who are living on the earth when Christ comes will not ascend to heaven before those who have died in Christ, but that the dead in Christ will rise first, and that then they will both ascend together.
So also Philippians 3:11—“If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead”—is sometimes perverted in order to sustain the false doctrine of two future literal resurrections of the dead; for, it is argued, if there were only one unconditional resurrection, Paul would not have sought to attain it. But the Bible represents the single resurrection of the dead as composed of two classes, the one receiving the resurrection unto eternal life, and the other a resurrection unto eternal damnation. The object and effort of Paul was to attain to this resurrection of life, which can be obtained only by proper effort, for it applies only to those who are saved.
When Lazarus was dead, Jesus said to Martha, “Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:23-24). Lazarus was a good man, and his sister had the idea that his resurrection would take place at the last day. Does this accord with the idea of two literal resurrections? The millennial idea of two resurrections places the resurrection of the righteous first and the resurrection of the wicked last—one thousand years later.
Where did Martha get this idea that the righteous would not be raised until the last day? Evidently from the words of Christ himself; for he affirms this four times in one chapter. “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And … that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:39-40). “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (vs. 54).

The General Judgment

To the Athenians Paul declared that God “hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained” (Acts 17:31). This judgment day is “the last day,” the day of resurrection; for Paul says that “the Lord Jesus Christ … shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing” (II Tim. 4:1). The Revelator connects the general judgment with the resurrection at the second coming. (See Rev. 20:11-13.)

Final Rewards

The doctrine of final rewards is naturally associated with the second coming and general judgment. “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (Rev. 22:12). “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works” (Matt. 16:27).
This will be the day of final rewards for all men. God has reserved the “unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (II Pet. 2:9). This will be an awful day, and one that we cannot escape. “Every eye shall see him” when he comes; for “the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; when he shall come to be glorified in his saints” (II Thess. 1:7-10). The same day that he is “glorified in his saints” will be the day of the everlasting banishment of the wicked.
The same great truth is also taught in Matthew 25 and centers in the second coming. “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left” (vss. 31-33). Here we have all men before the judgment throne at the same time; they are divided into two classes, represented by sheep and goats. This division is made for the purpose of settling their final destiny: “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (vs. 34). “Then shall he say also to them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (vs. 41). Here we have the final destiny of both: “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (vs. 46).

The Destruction of the Earth

The Word of God clearly teaches that the world which we now inhabit will be destroyed, pass away, and be no more. “Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens aerial and planetary are the work of thy hands. They shall perish … yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed” (Ps. 102:25-26).
“Heaven and earth shall pass away,” says Jesus (Matt. 24:35). Peter describes the manner in which the heavens and earth shall pass away. “The heavens” doubtless refers to the aerial heavens surrounding the earth. “But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (II Pet. 3:7).
Notice that this destruction of the earth by fire is reserved till “the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” Millennialists have argued that the fire would come first and simply purify the earth, after which the righteous would reign here for a thousand years before the resurrection of the wicked. But according to Peter, the fire will not come until the time when the ungodly men shall receive their doom. Peter did not believe the millennial theory. He knew that when Christ came the end of all things pertaining to earth would take place and that the righteous and the wicked would be rewarded at the same time. Therefore he goes on to say: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?” (vss. 10-12).
Peter does not say that the earth shall be burned over, but that it shall be “burned up”; that “all these things” shall “melt,” be “dissolved,” and “pass away.” And in direct contrast he mentions a “new heavens and a new earth” (vs. 13), brought to view after the first one has gone. The Revelator also describes the passing of this old earth: “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them” (Rev. 20:11). Then in contrast he says, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea” (21:1). This will be heaven, our future and eternal home.

The Premillennial Theory*

With these clear scriptural statements before us, we can readily see that there is no possibility of a millennium, or earthly reign of righteousness after Christ comes.
1. There will be no time for a millennium. The second coming of Christ, when he raises the dead and rewards the righteous, is “the last day.” At that time “the mystery of God” will be finished, and there will be “time no longer” (Rev. 10:6-7). There is not a thousand years after the last day.
2. There will be no place for a millennium. As we have just seen, the destruction of the earth is to take place at the same time that the wicked are to be punished; and this destruction will be complete, the earth being “dissolved,” “burned up,” and passed away. Hence, there will be no earthly place for a millennium after Christ comes.
3. There will be no need of an earthly millennium. The offers of perfect salvation are all extended in the gospel dispensation. “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (II Cor. 6:2). Every means consistent with moral government and the moral freedom of the individual are now being employed to effect the salvation of men. Furthermore, since at the coming of Christ the wicked are judged and sent to their everlasting doom, there is positively no need of an earthly millennium.
The millenarian doctrine is delusive, both premillennial and postmillennial. The premillennial view in particular is presented in many forms, according to the fancies and desires of its propagators, but evidently the idea of both is about the same that there will be an earthly kingdom and reign of Christ for one thousand years.
This theory was first introduced to Christianity by Cerinthus, who was the worst heretic of the first century. The church historian Eusebius has preserved a fragment of writing from Gaius, who lived in the second century, and who thus describes the doctrine of Cerinthus: “But Cerinthus, too, through revelations written, as he would have us believe, by a great apostle, brings before us marvelous things, which he pretends were shown him by angels; alleging that after the resurrection the kingdom of Christ is to be on earth, and that the flesh dwelling in Jerusalem is again to be subject to desires and pleasures. And being an enemy to the Scriptures of God, wishing to deceive men, he says that there is to be a space of a thousand years for marriage festivities.”—Ecclesiastical History, III:28
D. S. Warner said that the devil works especially to deceive men in either one of two ways: “Some other way than Christ, or some other time than now.” This is true. If men will not accept Satan’s deception that some other way will do, then he proceeds at once to delay all-important things until the future. Under certain forms of nonevangelical millennialism in particular, thousands of people have grasped the delusive idea that there will be after this dispensation another age of blessedness in which salvation will be effected. Such is a rank deception of the devil. “Now is the accepted time: behold, now is the day of salvation.”
*Only the briefest reference to millennialism is possible here. For an extensive historical account of the rise and development of the millennial doctrine, as well as a thorough scriptural and prophetic examination of its claims, see my book Prophetic Lectures on Daniel and the Revelation, pp. 178-253. (Out of print.)

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