Christ’s Return—Will You See It?
“THE Lord Is Coming Again!” So a headline in a popular religious biweekly recently assured its readers. Also, in 1972 a 480-page book was published bearing the title “The Return of Christ.”
Clearly, the matter of Christ’s coming again is of interest to many professed Christians. But how will he come? Will you see him?
By and large, those who expect Jesus personally to come again expect to see him literally, in his human form. Many even believe that they will see him in the very same body he had when on earth and in which he was put to death. In support of their belief that they will see him with their physical eyes, they quote such scriptures as Revelation 1:7, which reads: “Look! He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him.” What does this actually mean?
More than One Way of “Seeing”
There is more than one way of “seeing” something or someone. During a discussion, when a certain point is made clear, a person might say, “I see,” meaning, I understand. The Greek word oʹpso·mai (a future variant form used for the defective verb ho·raʹo, “to see”) used in the text at Revelation 1:7 has that as one of its meanings. Also, at Romans 1:20, where a form of ho·raʹo occurs, we are told that God’s “invisible qualities are clearly seen from the world’s creation onward, because they are perceived by the things made, even his eternal power and Godship, so that they are inexcusable.” Certainly God’s “power and Godship” are “invisible qualities” and so cannot be seen by our literal eyes, but we can perceive them with the eyes of our understanding. These invisible divine qualities can be discerned or seen with the mind. So the mere fact that the Bible states that men will “see” Jesus when he returns does not of itself mean that they will see him with their physical sight and that he will appear in a physical body.
That Jesus will not return in a physical body is clear from the testimony of the Scriptures. He himself revealed that he came to earth to “give his soul a ransom in exchange for many.” (Matt. 20:28) And he further said: “The bread that I shall give is my flesh in behalf of the life of the world.” (John 6:51) So, if Jesus gave his human life, including his fleshly body, as a ransom for mankind, he could not have been raised from the dead as a human, with his flesh-and-blood body. Had he taken back the human life that he sacrificed, mankind would no longer be ransomed.
Moreover, Jesus could not have ascended to heaven forty days after his resurrection had he been raised as a human of flesh and blood. Why not? The Bible answers: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom.” (1 Cor. 15:50) How, then, was Jesus raised from the dead? He was “made alive in the spirit.”—1 Pet. 3:18.
As to Jesus’ condition since his resurrection and ascension to heaven, God’s Word says: “He is the reflection of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of his very being.” (Heb. 1:3) So he must be a spirit being, just as “God is a Spirit.”—John 4:24.
That is why when Saul of Tarsus (on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus) met Jesus Christ, he saw no form or body but only such a bright light that it blinded him. (Acts 9:3-9) It was quite fitting that Jesus should have appeared to Saul in this manner, for the glorified Jesus is the “exact representation” of the person of his Father and God. (Heb. 1:3; John 20:17) And God is spoken of as the “Father of the celestial lights.” (Jas. 1:17) No man could see the glorious face of God and yet live. (Ex. 33:20) So, can humans on earth see the glorified Lord Jesus Christ? The Bible’s answer is, No. Of the glorified, immortal Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Timothy 6:16 says that he is one who “dwells in unapproachable light, whom not one of men has seen or can see.”
This being the case, will Jesus ever again take on a corruptible body of flesh in order to be seen by humans who are too frail to endure the sight of his glorified spirit body? That is not God’s purpose respecting his Son. As the inspired apostle Paul said on one occasion: “[God] resurrected him from the dead destined no more to return to corruption.”—Acts 13:34.
Accordingly, when the Scriptures speak of “every eye” as seeing Jesus, this is manifestly to be understood in a figurative sense. As a result of what humans see and hear on earth, they will perceive that the events taking place are because Jesus Christ is taking a personal hand in the affairs of mankind.—Rev. 11:15; 12:10-12.
But someone may object: ‘Did not the apostles see Jesus in human form after his resurrection?’ True, but he had not yet ascended to heaven and assumed his place at the right hand of God, thereafter dwelling in “unapproachable light.” Therefore he was in position to assume a human form, even as angels had materialized on other occasions. For example, an angel appeared in human form to the parents of Samson and, after accomplishing his mission, ascended in a flame out of their sight. (Judg. 13:3-21) The fact that Jesus simply materialized bodies explains why on various occasions after his resurrection he was not always immediately recognized. Also, Jesus was able to appear suddenly in the midst of his apostles even though they were in a room with the door bolted due to their fear of the Jews. That there might be no doubt that he had truly been resurrected, Jesus appeared in human form, yes, even assuming a body with visible wounds so as to convince doubting Thomas.—John 20:19-29.
But do we not read at Acts 1:11, “This Jesus who was received up from you into the sky will come thus in the same manner as you have beheld him going into the sky,” and so will not Jesus return in human form?
Why not read the scripture again? Note that the angel did not say that Jesus would return in like body or form, but in like manner. What was the manner in which Jesus ascended? Was it not quiet and unobserved by the world? Were not the only ones who witnessed the ascension disciples of Jesus Christ? So at his return should we not expect that his presence would be discerned initially and with appreciation only by his true followers?
That this is the right understanding of matters is evident from Jesus’ words to his apostles: “A little longer and the world will behold me no more, but you will behold me, because I live and you will live.” (John 14:19) After Jesus’ resurrection and during the forty days prior to his ascension to heaven only his followers beheld him on repeated occasions. (1 Cor. 15:3-8) They also had the hope that after their own death and resurrection they would personally see Jesus Christ again. But the world of mankind alienated from God had no such hope and therefore would never again behold Jesus as a person.
It having been established Scripturally that Jesus’ return must be invisible, could it be that he has already returned and that the world in general is not aware of this?
An examination of a discussion Jesus had with his disciples shortly before his death sheds light on the answer to this question. His disciples asked: “What will be the sign of your presencea and of the conclusion of the system of things?” (Matt. 24:3) They wanted to know how they would recognize that presence.
How did Jesus answer their question? He foretold that the “sign” would include wars, food shortages, pestilences, earthquakes, increasing lawlessness and the love of the greater number growing cold. (Matt. 24:7-14; Luke 21:10, 11) Why? Was Jesus going to bring all this on mankind? No. But one of his first acts on being entrusted with “the kingdom of the world” was to oust from heaven Satan the Devil, “the ruler of this world.” As a result, “Woe for the earth and for the sea,” says the Bible, “because the Devil has come down to you, having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time.”—Rev. 11:15; 12:7-12; John 12:31.
The fact that the Devil’s remaining time until his being put out of action would be short shows that the world under his control would be entering its “last days.” Concerning these “last days,” the apostle Paul wrote: “Know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, . . . lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power.” (2 Tim. 3:1-5) Do we not see the fulfillment of these words today? Yes; and is it not also true that the conditions here described have particularly been in evidence since the year 1914 C.E.? This is the very year to which Bible chronology points as the start of Jesus’ presence in glory and also of the “last days.”b
Another noteworthy evidence of Jesus’ having already arrived invisibly in glory is the separation of people into two distinct groups. Of this, we read at Matthew 25:31-33: “When the Son of man arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will put the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left.”
Thus from his heavenly throne Jesus Christ is separating people of all nations. Yes, he is directing this work that affects every living human. How? By means of his angels he is guiding the work of preaching the “good news of the kingdom,” which message is being proclaimed by those who have the hope of being united with Jesus in heaven and those who have the hope of gaining everlasting life as the Kingdom’s loyal subjects. (Matt. 24:14) Those accepting this message and becoming Jesus’ disciples are proving themselves to be his “sheep.” Those continuing to reject it reveal themselves to be “goats.”
Have you personally seen evidence of such a separating work? Well, have you not seen Jehovah’s witnesses putting forth every effort to preach to others? And about what do they preach? The message is about God’s kingdom. Also, have you not observed the reaction of individuals to this message—some appreciating it and others rejecting it? It is a separating work. One of the main reasons for the zeal of Jehovah’s witnesses is the fact that they discern that their King Jesus Christ is present and directing them in the accomplishment of this vital work. But there is yet another aspect to Jesus’ presence, which is to be “seen.” What is that?
This is the ‘revealing’ of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is yet future. At his ‘revelation’ the words of Jesus at Matthew 24:30 will be fulfilled: “The sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in lamentation.” Not only Jesus’ faithful followers, but “all the tribes of the earth” will be aware of what is happening then.
Note that they will not see the human body of the Son of man, but a “sign.” This means that they will see visible evidence that Jesus Christ is indeed exercising authority as King. But why should that result in lamentation? This is because Jesus’ exercise of kingly authority will spell destruction for those who have failed to accept the “good news” that has been declared to them. Of this, we read at 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8:
“This takes into account that it is righteous on God’s part to repay tribulation to those who make tribulation for you, but, to you who suffer tribulation, relief along with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus.”
As for those who have come to know God as his obedient servants and disciples of Jesus Christ, they will have divine protection. To them the words of Jesus at Matthew 25:34 will apply: “Come, you who have been blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world.” (Matt. 25:34) No more will they shed bitter tears. They will be freed from mental, emotional and physical pain due to imperfection. As Revelation 21:4 assures: “[God] will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore.”
Truly, then, the return of Christ is not just a matter of doctrinal interest. Jesus Christ is now present, separating all people to his right side of favor or to his left side of disfavor. It behooves each one to ask himself, Where do I stand? What must I do to find myself on Christ’s right side,’ with everlasting life in view?
Jehovah’s witnesses are happy to be of assistance to you in this regard. Why not avail yourself of their free home Bible study arrangement?
a This rendering corresponds to the first definition for the Greek word parousia in Liddell and Scott’s A Greek-English Lexicon.
b For proof, see the book “Babylon the Great Has Fallen!” God’s Kingdom Rules!, pp. 174-181.