1, 2. (a) How did two angels comfort Jesus’ apostles when he ascended to heaven? (b) What questions are raised by the prospect of Christ’s return?
ELEVEN men stood on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, staring up into the sky. Just moments ago Jesus Christ had risen up from among them, his form fading away until it was obscured by a cloud. In their years with him, these men had seen Jesus give abundant proof that he was the Messiah; they had even lived through the heartbreak of his death and the ecstasy of his resurrection. Now he was gone.
2 Two angels appeared suddenly and spoke these comforting words: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? 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.” (Acts 1:11) How reassuring—Jesus’ ascension to heaven did not mean that he was finished with the earth and mankind! On the contrary, Jesus would be back. No doubt these words filled the apostles with hope. Millions of people today also attach great importance to the promise of Christ’s return. Some speak of it as the “Second Coming” or “Advent.” Most, though, seem confused about what Christ’s return really means. In what way does Christ return? When? And how does this affect our lives today?
The Manner of Christ’s Return
3. What do many people believe about Christ’s return?
3 According to the book An Evangelical Christology, “the second coming or return of Christ (parousia) establishes the kingdom of God, finally, openly, and for all eternity.” It is a widely held belief that Christ’s return will be openly visible, literally seen by everyone on the planet. To support this notion, many point to Revelation 1:7, which reads: “Look! He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, and those who pierced him.” But is this verse meant to be taken literally?
4, 5. (a) How do we know that Revelation 1:7 is not meant in a literal sense? (b) How do Jesus’ own words confirm this understanding?
4 Remember, the book of Revelation is presented “in signs.” (Revelation 1:1) This passage, then, must be symbolic; after all, how could “those who pierced him” see Christ return? They have been dead nearly 20 centuries! Furthermore, the angels said that Christ would return “in the same manner” as he departed. Well, how did he leave? With millions watching? No, just a few faithful ones beheld the event. And when the angels spoke to them, were the apostles literally watching Christ’s journey all the way to heaven? No, a cloud cover had obscured Jesus from view. Sometime thereafter, he must have entered the spirit heavens as a spirit being, invisible to human eyes. (1 Corinthians 15:50) So, at most, the apostles saw only the beginning of Jesus’ journey; they could not watch its ending, his return to the heavenly presence of his Father, Jehovah. This they could only discern with their eyes of faith.—John 20:17.
5 The Bible teaches that Jesus returns in much the same way. Jesus himself said shortly before his death: “A little longer and the world will behold me no more.” (John 14:19) He also said that “the kingdom of God is not coming with striking observableness.” (Luke 17:20) In what sense, then, will ‘every eye see him’? To answer, we first need a clear understanding of the word Jesus and his followers used in connection with his return.
6. (a) Why are words such as “return,” “arrival,” “advent,” and “coming” not adequate translations of the Greek word pa·rou·siʹa? (b) What shows that the pa·rou·siʹa, or “presence,” lasts much longer than any mere momentary event?
6 The fact is, Christ does much more than simply “return.” That word, like “coming,” “arrival,” or “advent,” implies a single event in a brief moment of time. But the Greek word that Jesus and his followers used means much more. The word is pa·rou·siʹa, literally meaning a “being alongside” or a “presence.” Most scholars agree that this word incorporates not only an arrival but also a subsequent presence—as in a State visit from a royal personage. This presence is not a momentary event; it is a special era, a marked period of time. At Matthew 24:37-39, Jesus said that “the presence [pa·rou·siʹa] of the Son of man” would be like “the days of Noah” which culminated in the Flood. Noah was building the ark and warning the wicked for decades before the Flood arrived and wiped out that corrupt world system. Likewise, then, Christ’s invisible presence lasts over a period of some decades before it too culminates in a great destruction.
7. (a) What proves that the pa·rou·siʹa is not visible to human eyes? (b) How and when will scriptures that describe Christ’s return as visible to “every eye” be fulfilled?
7 Undoubtedly, the pa·rou·siʹa is not literally visible to human eyes. If it were, why would Jesus spend so much time, as we shall see, giving his followers a sign to help them to discern this presence?* However, when Christ comes to destroy Satan’s world system, the fact of his presence will be overwhelmingly manifest to all. It is then that “every eye will see him.” Even Jesus’ opponents will be able to discern, to their dismay, that Christ’s reign is real.—See Matthew 24:30; 2 Thessalonians 2:8; Revelation 1:5, 6.
Back in 1864 theologian R. Govett put it this way: “This seems to me very decisive. The giving a sign of the Presence shows that it is secret. We need no signal to make known to us the presence of what we see.”