Important Christian Interpretations on the Second Coming of Christ
The Second Coming of Christ is one of the important theological doctrines in Christianity which has allocated much of The Christian teleology to itself. Most of the Christians, throughout the history of Christianity, have always believed that Christ will return in glory and splendor to fulfill his mission of salvation which was promised in his first advent, and establish a divine Kingdom in its perfect form.
Of course it doesn’t mean that all Christians have had or have the same attitude and understanding of this doctrine, but different deductions of this doctrine have been made during different eras and in various social conditions and in the context of various schools of thought.
Some, relying on the literal and denotative meanings of the verses related to this event, have believed in the bodily and physical Advent of the Christ and his thousand-year superficial sovereignty and others have spiritualized this doctrine, by interpretive approach.
In this article, in addition to introducing the concept of the Christ’s Second Coming, we will follow the exploration of the different interpretations of this doctrine within the specific periods of time during the history of Christianity; These eras include the New Testament period, the Church Fathers period, the Medieval period, and (Catholic and Protestant interpretations) in the modern era.
Initially, and as an introduction, the meaning and explanation of the Christ’s Second Coming, the position of this doctrine will be explained briefly and an overview of the interpretations available in this regard will be presented:
The meaning of Christ’s Second Coming: New Testament emphatically states that Jesus (John, 14:3) suddenly and without prior notice (Matthew 24:32-51) will return to the world in his father’s glory, along with angels (Ibid16:27) and with the success and victory (Luke, 11:19_27) and will save the Israelites and all his believers by forming a divine government and Kingdom.
The Christ’s Advent refers to his second coming during the apocalypse. Christ’s Second Coming is called Second Coming and also Parousia. Parousia is an idiological principle which states: “The final resurrection of the risen Christ, will end the human history” (Ceroke, 2003: 894), it means as the emergence of this universe was rooted in the embodiment of Jesus Christ, the completion of the divine salvation plan also depends on the second coming or the Christ’s Second Coming
Sometimes, the time of the Christ’s Resurrection has been referred to as the day of the Lord or Judgment Day which refers to the role of the Christ [God] in the time of The Second Coming that is judging between the righteous and the wicked. (see: 2nd Thessalonians 2:4; Matthew 25:31-46; 1st Corinthians 4:5; 2nd Thessalonians 1:7-10; 1 Peter 1:13; Thiessen, 1977: 327 onwards).
However, in the Bible and especially in the Old Testament and prophecies of the Israelites prophets about the reappearance of the savior, there have been mergers between the first advent of Christ and his Second Coming, but when we pay attention to the content of these prophecies, we can understand the differences between them.; For example, by paying a little attention, it can be understood that what has been said in the Job 19:25-26, Daniel 7:13-14, Zechariah 14:4 and Malachi 3:1-2, is related to the final return of Christ (see: Thiessen, 1977: 327).
The position of the doctrine of the Second Coming: the New Testament refers to The Second Coming of Christ more than three hundred times and several chapters of the Gospels like Gospel of Matthew chapters 24 and 25, Gospel of Mark chapter 13 and also Gospel of Luke chapter 21 have been dedicated to this topic. Moreover, there are some Epistles in the Bible that only interpret and express this doctrine in all their chapters, like first and second Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians and the Book of Revelation (Sadeq Nia, 2009:243).
By having an overview of the Bible, it can be understood that common principle between different books of the New Testament is that Jesus is the savior for his early followers who were waiting his Second Coming, and accordingly it can be said decisively that the concept of Christs’ Second Coming is one of the most important concepts in the holy book of Christians (in the Bible) (Thiessen, 1977: 327).
According to Paul the philosophy of The Second Coming is to fulfill the plan of salvation of mankind: “Since Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; he will appear a second time, to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:28).
Accordingly, in arguing for the Second Coming and its relationship with the first advent of Christ, Christian says: if we consider the main purpose of the advent of Christ, his mission of salvation, it must be understood that by his first coming after the removal of the barriers to salvation, humans heard the annunciation of a divine kingdom.
Now, humans, by believing in him, make themselves ready to enter that kingdom and with the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the world, they will live in His kingdom (see: Travis, 1993:685). So, the Christianity belief consists of these two advents, the Second coming of Jesus Christ and whatever happens during this period.
George Brantle, Catholic author and theologian encourages Christians to wait for the Second Coming of Christ and do something to bring forward his Second Coming and he explicitly declares that believing in Christ’s Second Coming is a part of the Catholic Church’s unchanging tradition: “At the end of the world, Christ victoriously will come again as Judge of all men and angels. This is the judgment and The Second Coming that Christ talked to his disciples about it most of the time. This belief is a part of the Catholic’s solid tradition.” (Brantle, 1381: 274-276)
There are various interpretations on Christ’s return: the final part of the story of Jesus in the New Testament, has consisted of his resurrection from the dead, his ascension to Heaven and his Second Coming promise. Although the Christ’s return is fundamental here, in different parts of the New Testament, this issue has been discussed differently and seemingly contradictory.
This inconsistency in interpretations was evident from the first periods of the history of Christianity among the Companions of the Church and sometimes it has caused some perturbations in the interpretation of this event: “A group of early church fathers and the followers of Christ’s Second Coming were considering the occurrence of the Apocalypse, with all signs that have written in Revelation, to be very near, another group considered themselves at the last millennium which the end of it will be the beginning of millennium of Christ and martyrs and the third group which comprised the majority of Christians, considered the Early Church, that is, the community of Christian believers ,which had been interpreted to the body of Christ, to be the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit and introduction to fulfillment the Kingdom of God” (Mojtabaei, 1988:143).
The first trend, after a time and inconclusive waiting of people, was converted to waiting for the Second Coming of Christ and occurrence of the incidents which are indicators of Second Advent of Christ at the Apocalypse in the unknown future and since that time until now every big natural or unnatural event, intense wars, spreading of irreligion and similar incidents have been supposed to be the signs of Second Coming and advent of Christ.
The second trend, that is, the hope of the coming of Christ’s millennium period , never became a current and prevalent belief, although it had some fans at the beginning and was seen at the next periods sometimes.
But the third trend became the core belief of Christianity in the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. According to this belief, the Church (community of believers) is the manifestation of divine kingdom, and the Holy Spirit is present in it (means in the community of believers) and in the soul of every believer and establishing the churches is the introduction and start of the fulfillment of divine government. The world, outside the Church, is the Devil’s territory and arena (sin place) and whoever joins the community of believers has abandoned himself/ herself from evil domination and will be rescued.
The church is expanding and will eventually reach its perfect position and will spread the entire world. Then the divine Kingdom will be established out of this world and beyond this history, in the New World. (Ibid. Hatch, 1957: 78) In the following, we will know some of the current interpretations in the important periods and influential characters of Christianity with a glance at them.
- The interpretation of the authors of the New Testament of Christ’s Second Coming
In the viewpoint of Early Christianity authors, Jesus ascended to heaven after resurrection, and achieved The Messianic status (see: romans 1:3; acts 3:36). Following this event, people’s waiting for establishing the divine kingdom only diminished but also increased; because the aspects of the message of Jesus which were enigmatic to the disciples, was revealed:
The Son of Man, Jesus of Nazareth, who suffered and was killed in his terrestrial life, ascended to God as a Spiritual Messiah and sat down at the right hand of Him (Hebrews 1:3), He will come down, riding on a cloud from the Heaven and will establish a divine government, at the Apocalypse that it seems to be very close.
Perhaps due to the historical conditions of that time it can be said that the early Christians were counting the imminent end of the world. The expectation for the imminent coming of Jesus Christ is evident both in the Gospels and Paul’s view (see: Mark 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).
If people could repent and quit commitment of sins against God, salvation time would come and God would resend Jesus to people as Messiah but till then, Jesus should stay in the heaven until everything restitute to its first state, which God informed through his prophets” (acts 3:21-22).
The author of Peter’s first letter by referring to this point that even Jesus himself doesn’t know when he is allowed to reappear and establish his divine government, says:
“Like someone who is waiting for anything pleasant, wait for the Second coming of Jesus Christ” (1 peter 1:13).
He thought that “The end of all things is near” (Ibid. 4:7) and the time of judgment has also been started (Ibid. 4:17).
This type of waiting continued until the second century AD, and although it was said that Second Coming of Christ would not be imminent, and the delay in it was justified, but it was always emphasized that Christ will return someday. In an overview it can be said that the Early Church had great interest to teach people about Christ’s Second Coming (see: thiessen, 1977: 327). In addition, because of the importance of the role of Paul among the early Christian authors we will investigate Paul’s particular interpretation of Christ’s Second Coming.
1.2 Paul’s interpretation of Christ’s Second Coming
Paul is considered as the founder of Christian theology. The fundamental principle of his sermons was “Risen Christ” or “The Resurrection of Christ”. He said both Jews and Non-Jews can enter into the territory of the Risen Christ through believe in Christ and accepting the Gospel. In his view, Christ after his death and resurrection, had become a pervasive truth, the truth that Paul himself, had conceived it in his Revelation (Schroeder, 2003:1).
Paul, who was more educated than other followers of Jesus and the early church leaders, along with other apostles and disciples was advocating the idea of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and he was trying to explain it and make it reasonable based on the Old Testament and also partly based on the conventional understanding of that time. Most of the Epistles of Paul, have been written between the years 50 and 65 AD. He directly or indirectly brings up this doctrine and its aspects in some of these Epistles.
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul refers to the situation of Christians who have died before the Second Coming of Jesus and they haven’t lived in the divine government. He assumes the Second Coming of Christ as a basis for proving the Resurrection of these dead Christians. The Christians who are dead will rise at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and, along with other Christians, will achieve the salvation that is considered as “rising up” in Paul’s view.
After the resurrection of the dead Christians coinciding with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, “those of us, who are still alive, together with them, will be risen to heaven, riding on clouds, to meet the Lord ” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
In this verse Paul just refers to the coming of Jesus Christ and the Resurrection of the dead Christians and he does not talk about forming a divine government by Jesus. Perhaps because his concern in this verse is the resurrection of the dead Christians, not proving and describing the formation of a Terrestrial divine government.
The Resurrection of Jesus and Christ’s Second Coming in The Apocalypse has been first discussed by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians in year 52 AD (Sadeq Nia, 2009: 225). Paul connects the resurrection of other dead to the resurrection of Jesus in this Epistle and says: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, (1 Corinthians 15:20).
So the resurrection of Jesus is the start of the universal resurrection, He is the first who rises but at the time of his Second Coming “All those who belong to Him” will revive. Human is the symbol of mortality and Jesus Christ is the symbol of life after death.
Everyone will die because all are sinful descendants of Adam, but all those who belong to Christ will revive again after death: “Then, the end of the universe will come, after he has destroyed all world powers and he hands over the divine kingdom to God the Father. Because he should rule till the time that all his enemies are defeated by him.
The last enemy to be defeated is death” (1 Corinthians 15:24_25). Since Jesus is a famous eschatological figure in Paul’s and in the early Christians’ view, his acts including his resurrection and ascension are also interpreted teleologically and since Christians, get connected to Christ by their faith in him, they will rise from death too.
. The concept of Millennium is one of the concepts related to teleological Christian doctrines, it is one of the phenomena of the Apocalypse and one of the signs of Christ Second Coming. Millennium, refers to a period in which evangelical faith and the greatness of Church reaches its climax and nations that hear the invitation of evangelical faith, turn to it and believe it. (Hamoudi, 1994: 60). Some Christian scholars believe that this millennium will begin before the Second Coming of Christ and will end with his coming (Al-Amirkany, 1890: 2/508).In this millennium-maybe millennium refers to a long time not the exact period of 1000 years-the extent of evil doing will be extremely low and the devil will be bound and after that Christ will come. (Najib, 1997: 126). Others believe that this era will begin with the Second Coming of Christ, and this era will be the ideal period of the Christian faith (Thiessen, 1977: 348).