Allusions to the Second Coming of Christ permeate both the Old and New Testaments. In fact, prophecy accounts for approximately one-fifth of Scripture, and roughly one-third of those prophecies deal with Christ’s return. All told, there remain over 200 prophecies regarding the return of Christ yet to be fulfilled. Jesus Himself refers to His return 21 separate times. One pastor highlights the emphasis of the Second Coming as depicted in the Bible as follows:
Prophecy occupies one fifth of Scripture. And of that one fifth, one third of that focuses on the second coming. There are over 650 general prophesies in Scripture, of which half of them concern Christ. And out of the 330 or so that concern Christ, 225 of those point to His second coming. Of the forty-six Old Testament prophets, less than ten speak of His first coming. Thirty-six speak of His second coming. There are over 1,500 passages of the Scripture that refer to the second coming, one out of every twenty-five verses in the Bible. For each time the Bible mentions the first coming of the Messiah, it mentions His second coming eight times. For each time the Bible mentions the atonement, it mentions His second coming two times. Jesus referred to His return twenty-one times and over fifty times in the New Testament we are told to be ready for His return.1
Over 50 times, He tells His listeners to “Be alert!” or to “Be ready!” Christians need to live in light of Christ’s return. As such, we need to know the details of the Second Coming and its practical implications.
Before delving into an overview of the Second Coming, it is important to note some preliminary observations about this event. First of all, the Old Testament believers knew nothing of a “Second” coming of the Messiah even though the Old Testament gave details about the Second Coming. The problem was that the Old Testament Scriptures did not distinguish between the first and second coming with respect to time. The Old Testament saints saw the coming of the Messiah as one event. Many prophetic passages about the two comings combine them or conflate them, so they appear to happen at the same time. The classic example of this is Isaiah 61:1-3 which describes the coming of the Messiah as one event, yet Jesus made it clear that verses 1-2a refer to His first coming in humility and verses 2b-3 refer to His Second Coming at the end of the age when He comes as the Conquering King. At least 2,000 years transpire between verse 2a and verse 2b. This is typical of prophetic literature in the Bible.
The second truth about the Second Coming is that it is the last great event of world history prior to the recreation of this world for the Millennial Kingdom. Everything that came before was leading up to this amazing climax. And finally, the third basic truth about the Second Coming is that Jesus now comes not to save but rather to judge. This contrasts greatly with the purpose of His first coming.
This is how Paul describes the Second Coming in Second Thessalonians 1:7-10:
When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might, when He comes on that day to be glorified in His saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
The idea of Christ returning to earth to inflict revenge upon those who reject Him lies in stark contrast to the meekness and gentleness that characterized His first appearance. Regarding Christ’s initial coming, Scripture remarks that “a bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not quench, until He brings justice to victory” (Matt 12:20; Isa 42:3). In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus invites all who are weary and burdened to come to Him, declaring Himself to be (v. 29), “gentle and lowly in heart.” But Christ’s second appearance upon the earth promises to be far different from His first. While the Bible tells us Jesus came once in tenderness, it says He will come again in strength and power and might. Whereas He came once as Redeemer, He now comes again as a furious Avenger and a righteous Judge. With His first coming, Jesus came to save; at His Second Coming, Jesus comes to punish.
And so it is a most unfortunate misconception in the world today that Jesus, even in His anticipated return, remains a perpetually benign, dusty-robed rabbi of docile expression and passive demeanor. That is not at all what the Bible foretells. Rather, it is written of Christ’s return that it will kindle such fear in the hearts of the unredeemed that they will cry out to the rocks and mountains to, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Rev 6:16-17).
In order to encompass all that is written about the Second Coming of Christ, let us consider Christ’s return by examining seven of its prominent features: His Titles, His Timing, His Train, His Tasks, His Triumph, His Throne, and His Tribunal.
First, what are the Titles of the Son of God when He returns? He who returns is the same Jesus Christ of the four Gospels—He who was born to a virgin in Bethlehem, died on a cross at Calvary, was subsequently raised to life and then ascended to heaven. But it is interesting to note that Christ is bestowed with unique titles specifically for this moment of His Second Coming. One of the most descriptive passages portraying the Second Coming of Christ is found in Revelation 19:11-21. Here we see Jesus of Nazareth described as a Rider on a white horse (v. 11). He comes as a warrior, ready to do battle. The same verse says that the One sitting on the horse is called “Faithful and True.” The Lord Jesus is faithful and true in all He does and all He says, including His promise to return and to fulfill all that is promised with His Second Coming. In verse 12 it says Christ has “a name written that no one knows but Himself.” This is simply a marvelous reminder once again of Deuteronomy 29:29, where it declares, “the secret things belong to the LORD our God.” There are and always will be mysteries about God too wonderful for even God’s redeemed to fully comprehend.
Then verse 13 reveals another name for Christ: “The Word of God.” This is a remarkable designation, because it illustrates the mysterious and powerful manner by which the witness of Christ is embodied in God’s holy Word. This echoes the truth of Psalm 138:2, where it says, “for You [God] have exalted above all things Your name and Your word.” God’s magnificence is most apparent to us on this earth through His revelation of Himself in His Word (2 Pet 1:19-21), and this revelation was exalted to its highest level when His Word became manifest in the form of Jesus Christ—the Word made flesh (John 1: 1-3, 14; Heb 1:1-3).
Finally, verse 16 says, “On His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” Christ comes not only as a Warrior, but also as King, coming to inherit His promised Kingdom and to reign over it.
As to the Timing of the Second Coming, there is one main idea to understand: it is a certain event at an uncertain time (cf. Luke 12:35-40). Christ’s arrival is assured, and will be signaled by certain developments upon the earth, but the exact time is unknown. Jesus told His Apostles in Matthew 24:36, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” Yet even as Christ tells His followers the exact hour of His return cannot be known, He commands believers to await it expectantly and to know its general season by its signs. Jesus repeatedly cautions His followers to watch for His return and to be ready for it (Matt 24:42,44; Luke 12:40; 21:36). In another passage, He warns them to “Stay awake” (Mark 13:37).
Christ even illustrates the importance of vigilant expectation of His return with an illustration from the fig tree (Matt 24:32-33). He says: “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things [and by that, He means the events of the Tribulation], you know that He is near, at the very gates.” He then tells a parable of ten virgins waiting to meet the bridegroom (i.e. Christ) (Matt 25:1-13). Five were wise and took flasks of oil along with their lamps, while five were foolish and brought no extra oil. When the bridegroom was delayed, the foolish virgins—whose oil supply was running low—were obliged to depart in search of more oil for their lamps. When the bridegroom finally came at midnight, the foolish virgins were not present to welcome Him and were shut out of the marriage feast (i.e. Christ’s Kingdom). Jesus finishes the parable by exhorting His listeners to “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (25:13).
Elsewhere, the Bible tells us we are to look for (Phil 3:20; Titus 2:13), pray for (Rev 22:20), and wait for (1 Cor 1:7; 1 Thess 1:10) Christ’s return. So while it is useless and even foolish to speculate as to the exact hour of Christ’s Second Coming, understand that it is equally foolish to fail to note the seasons and events that will herald His return.
What about Christ’s “Train,” meaning who is coming with Him traveling in His wake? As already noted (2 Thess 1:7), Christ will come with His angels (Matt 25:31). In Matthew 16:27, Jesus declares, “the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father….” Mark 8:38 says He will come, “in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” So the Lord returns with His angels—that you might expect. But notice who also accompanies Him: His saints, those who are His redeemed, His resurrected ones! Do you recall that from the moment of the Rapture on, Christ’s followers will always be with Him (1 Thess 4:17)? Well, that includes during His glorious return to establish His Kingdom upon the earth! Zechariah 14:5, speaking of the day Christ returns, says, “Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with Him.” Jude 14 says of Christ’s return, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His holy ones….” First Thessalonians 3:13 exhorts the reader to abound in love, “so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints” (emphasis added). And notice how Christ’s saints are described in Revelation 19:14, appearing as “armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure…following Him on white horses.” Those are Christ’s angels and His saints, ready to marvel at His triumphant return.
As to Christ’s Tasks when He comes, Scripture notes two in particular: He comes to vanquish His opponents, and then to assign them their penalty. In other words, Christ comes first as Conqueror and He comes second as Judge. We might then say within the concept of Christ’s Tasks in His return are His Triumph and His Tribunal.
First of all, Christ comes to Triumph. And this means He comes to make war against the nations of the earth, those that have rebelled against Him and have followed the Antichrist and his false prophet (Rev 13:1-18). What nations are these?
In Daniel 2 and again in Daniel 7, Daniel prophesies four Gentile kingdoms that would successively reign upon the earth: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. The times of these Gentile kingdoms began in 605 B.C, when the forces of Babylon, led by Nebuchadnezzar, conquered Jerusalem. Ever since that time, various usurpers in one form or another have presided over Jerusalem and the land promised to Israel. But these days of the Gentiles are about to finally come to an end, just as Jesus has promised (cf. Luke 21:24).
The forces that will array themselves against God will represent a reconstitution, or a reconfiguration, of that fourth kingdom, the kingdom of Rome (Dan 7:24; Rev 17:12), with the Antichrist at its head. The rebel armies will assemble themselves around Armageddon (Rev 16:16), about sixty miles to the north of Jerusalem, but the battle will rage throughout all the land. Here is how God describes Christ’s triumphant execution of His enemies at Armageddon: “So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia” (Rev 14:19-20).
As for a more detailed account of the battle, Revelation 19:11-21 describes it this way: “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.” Here we see Christ’s two tasks: to make war on His enemies and to judge those He subdues. Verses 12-13 say, “His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems, and He has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.” This describes Christ’s fierce countenance, along with His majestic titles. Not only that, we see Him wearing a robe “dipped in blood.” The blood is from the war against His enemies as He tramples them underfoot like grapes in “the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (19:15).
Now, verse 15: “From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” This coincides with the prediction of 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8, where it speaks of Christ’s return in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who reject Him as their Savior and Lord.
Back to Revelation 19:17:
Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.”
Zechariah 14 describes this same battle six hundred years before the Apostle John wrote his depiction in the book of Revelation. Zechariah writes that when Christ returns to do battle on that day, His feet will stand upon the Mount of Olives to the east of Jerusalem (vv. 3-4). As He touches down, the Mount of Olives will split in two from east to west, creating a wide valley through which waters will flow (vv. 4, 8). Zechariah goes on to tell how the enemies of Christ will decompose as they are still standing, so panic-stricken will they be at the spectacle of Christ’s return. In fact, the prophet describes how Christ’s enemies will actually attack and destroy each other (vv. 12-13).
Now, back to Revelation. This is how John concludes his coverage of the battle:
And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against Him who was sitting on the horse and against His army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of Him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.19:19-21
So Jesus Christ returns to triumph over His enemies. He decisively overcomes all His opponents. They never had a chance. And once He has triumphed, He is now ready to judge.
Regarding this judgment, it is important to understand where it occurs—at the Throne of Christ. Matthew 25:31 says that, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.” And what is particularly significant about this throne? “And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David” (Luke 1:32). Jesus thus inherits and occupies the royal throne of David, in Jerusalem.
From His throne in Jerusalem, Christ Jesus will oversee a Tribunal, which He describes in His Olivet Discourse (Matt 24:3-25:46). This is sometimes known as the Judgment of the Nations, although the verdicts are addressed to individuals and not to nations as a whole. Of note, this trial must be distinguished from the Great White Throne Judgment, which is still to come. In this Tribunal, in the time between Christ’s Second Coming and His Millennial reign, the survivors of the Great Tribulation and the war at Armageddon come before the Lamb seated upon His throne. Many enemies of Christ will have perished during the Great Tribulation, and many believers will have been martyred (Rev 6:9-11; 13:7; 17:6). But there will be survivors as well, including both enemies of Christ and His redeemed, those whom God protected from the perils of the Tribulation.
At this time, those who survived the Tribulation and Second Coming appear before Christ’s judgment seat. Jesus says He will place the “sheep”—those who are His redeemed—on His right, and the “goats”—those who rebelled against Him—on His left (Matt 25:31-46). To the sheep on His right, He will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (25:34). The Kingdom inheritance is for those who are blessed by God, those whose deeds give evidence of God’s saving grace in their lives (vv. 35-36). But to the goats on His left He will say, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (vs. 41).
Now do you notice something? The eternal fire was prepared for the devil and His demons. It was never the intention of God that anyone would join them there. In other words, hell is not made for mankind, and God never predestined any humans to go there. Nevertheless, that is the destiny of all who do not repent and believe in the Son of God—they will die in their sins (cf. John 8:24). Those who knowingly and willfully reject Christ face the same fate as Satan himself—eternal damnation in hell, a most frightening prospect. Jesus then concludes His prophecy regarding this future tribunal with these words: “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt 25:46).
1. John MacArthur, from the sermon “Worshipping the Worthy Lamb,” Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA, March 14, 1999.
You can read more on this topic in Colin’s book, What the Bible Says About the Future.