Christ’s Return—What Does It Mean for You?
When and how does he come? Why should you he interested?
TODAY professed Christians generally give little thought to Christ’s return. The Bible’s teaching on such related subjects as the end of this system of things and Christ’s second presence, also termed the parousía or second advent, is largely neglected. Those who really believe these Bible teachings frequently are considered fanatics or extremists. However, such is a serious mistake, for the truth about Christ’s return is of the utmost importance to you and all others living on earth today.
Jesus Christ repeatedly stated that he would return. (Luke 18:8; John 14:2, 3) This he did, not only by direct statements but also by means of parables. (Matt. 25:1-30; Luke 19:11-27) The hope of Christ’s return was strong and loomed large in the minds of Christ’s early followers. In fact, according to R. A. Torrey’s book What the Bible Teaches, Christ’s return is referred to 318 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. In particular did the apostle Paul repeatedly mention Christ’s coming again, as at Hebrews 9:28. There he wrote: “The Christ was offered once for all time to bear the sins of many; and the second time that he appears it will be apart from sin.”
More than that, when we once understand the purposes of Jesus’ first and second coming or presence, we see that the second has to follow the first as clearly as night follows day. At his first presence he might be said to have purchased a valuable property. By reason of his faithful course and sacrificial death, Jesus purchased the life rights of the human family, as well as his right to head God’s kingdom. At his second presence he takes possession of God’s kingdom and will bestow upon purchased mankind life and Kingdom blessings.—Matt. 13:44-46; John 6:51; 1 Cor. 7:23.
THE TIME OF HIS COMING
Many modern theologians state that they are not concerned with the time of Christ’s coming. However, his apostles were. They asked him: “What will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” Jesus listed a number of events, as recorded at Matthew 24, 25; Mark 13 and Luke 21. Among these were: “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another. . . . and because of the increasing of lawlessness the love of the greater number will cool off. . . . And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.”—Matt. 24:7-14.
As we contemplate what has taken place during the past fifty years or so, we must conclude that the words of Jesus have had a striking fulfillment particularly since 1914.* Thus also the apostle Paul wrote that “in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here,” because of extreme selfishness, violence and godlessness.—2 Tim. 3:1-5.
No question about Paul’s words finding their fulfillment in our day. And concerning these “last days” the apostle Peter wrote: “For you know this first, that in the last days there will come ridiculers with their ridicule, proceeding according to their own desires and saying: ‘Where is this promised presence of his?’” Thus we see that Christ’s presence and the “last days” coincide.—2 Pet. 3:3, 4.
But you may well ask, If Christ has returned, where is he? Has anyone seen him? To whom has he returned?
HOW HAS CHRIST RETURNED?
The fact that people who look for Christ to return generally expect to see him in the skies with their natural eyes no doubt helps explain why so many today fail to take seriously Christ’s return. However, could it be that Christ has returned but is invisibly present? That is exactly what the Scriptures teach.
Jesus said of himself: “The bread that I shall give is my flesh in behalf of the life of the world.” (John 6:51) Having laid down his fleshly life for the life of the world, he could not take it back. And so we read: “Why, even Christ died once for all time concerning sins, a righteous person for unrighteous ones, that he might lead you to God, he being put to death in the flesh, but being made alive in the spirit.” As a mighty invisible spirit creature, the resurrected Jesus “dwells in an unapproachable light,” and “not one of men has seen or can see” him.—1 Pet. 3:18; 1 Tim. 6:16.
Knowing that he would shortly become a spirit creature, Jesus told his apostles on the night of his betrayal: “A little longer and the world will behold me no more, but you will behold me.” (John 14:19) Only his intimate followers thereafter saw him, even as Peter told Cornelius: “God raised this One up on the third day and granted him to become manifest, not to all the people, but to witnesses appointed beforehand by God, to us, who ate and drank with him after his rising from the dead.” So you cannot expect to see the returned Jesus with your natural eyes.—Acts 10:40, 41.
But you may ask, Did not the apostle Thomas see and feel the wounds in Jesus’ side and hands, indicating that Jesus rose in the same body in which he died? How can this fact be explained?—John 20:26-28.
The Bible shows that invisible spirit creatures at times have assumed human bodies. This, many angels did in times past and this is what Jesus did upon his resurrection. That is why, upon his resurrection, Jesus repeatedly was not recognized. That is also why he was able to come into the room where his eleven apostles were gathered, even though the door was securely bolted.—Luke 24:15-35; John 20:11-20; 21:1-4.
But perhaps you are now asking, Then how are we to understand the words of Revelation 1:7: “Look! He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him”? The Bible speaks of two kinds of sight. Thus Jesus on one occasion said that his religious opposers were ‘blind guides leading the blind and that both would fall into a pit.’ (Matt. 15:14) Obviously Jesus did not mean that they were literally or physically blind, but that they were blind as to their understanding.
So when you read that every eye will see Jesus you may be certain that, since the Word of God cannot contradict itself, what is referred to is figurative sight. Yes, there will come a time when all the earth will be made aware of Christ’s presence when he begins to execute the wicked.—2 Thess. 1:6-10.
That this is the reasonable and logical explanation of Revelation 1:7 you can further appreciate when you consider the magnitude of the problem of having every eye at one time over all the earth see a human body in the sky. Consider also the fact that one-half of the earth is always bathed in darkness. That figurative language is used here is also indicated by its being found in the book of Revelation, which is largely filled with figurative language.—Rev. 1:1.
WHERE IS HE?
Then should you think of Jesus as invisibly present in the earth’s atmosphere? When the Bible speaks of Jesus’ return, it does not at all follow that for him to be present he has to leave his abode in the heavens.
As a mighty spirit person, ‘the exact representation of God’s very being,’ all that would be necessary is for Christ to direct his attention to the earth. (Heb. 1:3) For example, the Scriptures frequently speak of God’s coming down to earth to make inspection, as at the building of the tower of Babel and to take note of what the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were doing. Also we read of his ‘visiting’ his people Israel and noting their plight while they were in bondage in Egypt.—Gen. 11:5-7; 18:21; Ex. 2:25; 3:8, 16; 4:31.
But do you think it was necessary for Jehovah God actually to leave his heavenly throne to make inspection or take action? Hardly! Rather, he took note, he turned his attention to the things of earth. So when we read that “God visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name,” (AS) it simply means that he turned his attention to the Gentiles. That is why we read, according to An American Translation, “God first showed an interest.” Other translations use “concern” (Mo); “looked with favour” (Knox) or, as the New World Translation reads: “God for the first time turned his attention to the nations to take out of them a people for his name.”—Acts 15:14.
So in this sense it can be said that Christ’s second advent or presence has taken place even though he actually resides in heaven. He has returned in that he has turned his attention to the affairs of the earth at God’s due time, even as Jehovah indicated to him in the prophecy that says: “Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies as a stool for your feet.”—Ps. 110:1.
TO WHOM HAS HE COME?
You may now be wondering, to whom or to what did Jesus direct his attention upon his return? He directed his attention to earthly things, for it was from the earth that he had departed about nineteen centuries previously, leaving his disciples here below.
So he turned his attention to his faithful followers for a harvesting work on earth. As Jesus showed in his parable of the sower, he himself is the sower, and he began to sow this seed at his first presence in the first century C.E. Then at the conclusion of this system of things he would do a harvesting work by means of his angels. (Matt. 13:36-43) This is in keeping with his promise that he would return and receive his followers to himself.—John 14:2, 3.
There is reason to believe, from Biblical parallels, such as Jesus’ cleansing the temple three and a half years after his being anointed as King, that it was three and a half years after Jesus was installed as King, or in 1918, that Jesus in heaven turned his attention to the judging of his faithful followers who make up the spiritual temple. At that time he rewarded those sleeping in death with a resurrection to heavenly glory. As the apostle Paul foretold, when Christ returned then “those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first.”—1 Thess. 4:16; Matt. 21:12-17.
He comes to judge also the rest of the living: “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.” (Matt. 25:31, 32) After that he will call forth all those in the memorial tombs, the righteous and the unrighteous, and judge them during his thousand-year reign.—John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15; Rev. 20:1-6.
ITS MEANING FOR YOU
It is particularly in regard to Christ’s present judging work that his return is full of meaning for you and all others living at this time. As Jesus went on to show, all mankind today is being judged by their attitude and course of action toward Christ’s brothers, the anointed footstep followers of Jesus Christ, of whom a “remnant” are still upon earth. These and their dedicated companions are sharing in the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jesus: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.”—Matt. 24:14.
Jesus’ anointed followers are serving in his stead. (2 Cor. 5:20) He therefore counts what is done to them as done to him. (Acts 9:5) So, those who treat with kindness Christ’s followers, who take their stand with them, are counted as doing these things to Jesus himself, even as he said in his parable: “Truly I say to you, To the extent that you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”—Matt. 25:40.
Since this work of dividing the “sheep” and “goats” is going on under the direction of Jesus Christ, his return by directing his attention to the affairs of earth is of the greatest importance and meaning to all upon earth. Your destiny, as well as that of all persons now living, is fixed by the course of action taken toward Christ’s followers. There is no middle ground. As Jesus said: “He that is not on my side is against me, and he that does not gather with me scatters.”—Matt. 12:30.
To help you and all other lovers of God to take the course that merits the approval of Jesus Christ the Judge is one of the main purposes of the Christian witnesses of Jehovah and of the magazine you are reading. If you take your stand for Jesus Christ and with his followers, you too can hope to hear the blessed words: “Come, you who have my Father’s blessing, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world.”—Matt. 25:34.
For a comprehensive review of this subject see Awake!, October 8, 1968.