Important Christian Interpretations on the Second Coming of Christ
- Interpretation of the Christ’s resurrection in the modern era
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries because of the new scientific and industrial developments and the dominance of rational thinking methods, many of the principles of Christian belief was questioned and even denied; In contrast, some Christian thinkers began efforts to reconcile religion with science and justify these issues. Scientists began exploring biblical texts and criticizing them thematically, historically and linguistically and from that time until now they have offered certain ideas and votes on the theological, ideological and historical issues and also for justifying the differences related to the eschatology in various sections of New Testament so that they can find answers for the conceptual challenges which are posed to doctrines like the Christ’s Second Coming (Lane, 1380: 37).
Liberal critics and theologians, such as Schleiermacher, believed that the teachings of the Christ is the message of peace and friendship and has merely moral and spiritual aspects and whatever is mentioned in the Bible about the Apocalypse, Armageddon and similar issues as his quotations are faked by the gospel writers and Jesus himself has not spoken on these topics (Grant, 1963 175-176).
At the end of the nineteenth century, people like Albert Schweitzer rejected the liberal views and said that the heart of the Christ’s teaching is his message of salvation and eschatology and without it (his Second Coming) Christianity will have no meaning and originality.
Currently, there is general agreement on the essence of the Christ’s message that is and the promise of the realization of a divine kingdom; however, there are controversies in how to interpret the sayings which are quoted from Christ on this subject. Some believe that Jesus has only spoken about the salvation and the kingdom of heaven and anything about the signs of the Apocalypse (such as cataclysmic cosmic, Dajjal, etc.) that can be seen in different parts of the New Testament are taken from the Jewish Revelations.
Others have said that the audiences of Jesus were Jews who were familiar with revelation and Jewish eschatology and thus the Christ expressed his words in the form of their perceptions and expectations as well as their intellectual issues and he used words and interpretations which were understandable and acceptable for them. However, while he was talking with the apostles, he uttered his intentions explicitly and without any mythical staging and revelatory imaginations (Dodd, 1958: 237-238).
Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1967 AD), the famous theologian and scientist and founder of the school of “Demythologization”, regards the language of the Bible as the language of myth and the language of mental imagination and says under the interpretations and images of this language lies other meanings which should be recognized and translated into the modern intelligible language. The essence of Christian eschatology, which is expressed in the form of interpretation and mythical conceptions, is the invitation to the “election” and making the ultimate decision (Bultmann, 1985: 90).
Teilhard de Chardin, the contemporary Christian thinker, believes that the universe is in a general and constant evolutionary process and its goal is the full realization of the will of God and being united with Him. In the twentieth century theologians like Jürgen Moltmann (born 1926) once again became interested in the historical Jesus and the concepts such as resurrection and Second Coming of Christ and rejected the liberal theologians. Moltmann in his famous book, called “Theology of Hope”, which was written in 1964, has regarded the hope for Christ’s Second Coming as the most important factor in the life and thought of the individual and the church (Sadiq Nia, 2009: 242).
However, in Christian scientific communities, the debate over issues related to this doctrine continues; issues such as whether the Kingdom of God had started in the church and its ultimate realization will be in the church? Is the Kingdom of God something social and will it occur as a great global upheaval revolution or will it be realized gradually and in stages?
Is it something individual and the person himself should achieve it through moral development and spiritual evolution? Should we accept what the Bible says by its exact words, in its rudimentary meanings and wait for the Second Coming of Christ and all its signs and such issues? In the following a brief explanation on contemporary interpretations of Catholics and Protestants will be presented.
1-6. An example of contemporary Catholic interpretation of Christ’s Second Coming.
On October 11, 1992, the thirtieth anniversary of the opening of Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (Latin: Concilium Oecumenicum Vaticanum Secundum) and the fourth pontifical year of the John Paul II, the religious teachings book of the Catholic Church was published under his own supervision. This is the latest example of official and classical teaching of Christianity which is presented in the form of a book containing all the needs of the Catholic Christian by the powerful pontifical institutions In the Roman Catholic Church. In many parts of the book, the doctrine of Christ’s Second Coming and its dimensions are mentioned as an emphatic religious belief.
In the seventh article of the first chapter of the book, entitled “He will return from there to reign the living and the dead”, it is emphasized that the Christ will have a Second Coming with glory, although the Christ is already reigning through the church: “Christ died and became alive to reign the living and the dead” (Romans 14: 9). The Christ’s ascension into heaven shows his humanly participation in the power and authority of God.
Jesus Christ is the Lord: All powers of heaven and earth in his hands. He is “far above all rules and authorities, powers and dominions”; as the God the father “placed all things under his feet” (Ephesians 1: 20-22). Christ is the Lord of the universe and history. Human history and indeed all creation, is gathered within him, and will reach to climax in an excellent way. (ibid. 1:10; I Corinthians 15: 24, 27-28)
Christ is as head to the body of church as he is the Lord. (Ephesians 1:22). Christ after he was taken up into heaven, and glorified, and fulfilled his mission, will be at peace on the earth in his church. Ransom is the source of authority that Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, rules the church. “The kingdom of Christ already exists secretly in the church” and “is the origin and beginning of the Kingdom on earth” (Ibid. 4: 11-13).
Since the Ascension, God’s plan began its realization. We are already in the “last hour” (I Peter 4: 7). The last era of the world is with us now and renewal of the world has already been started irreversibly and currently it is even ahead of schedule indeed; for the Church on earth has been awarded true holiness though it is not complete (I Corinthians 10:11). The kingdom of Christ through the miraculous signs that its declaration is associated with the church, already indicates its presence (CCC, 1994: No. 667-70).
Another part of this article, entitled “waiting for the time when everything are put under his dominance”, citing several verses from the Bible, refers to Christ’s Second Coming: Although the kingdom of Christ exists in the church today, However, it has not reached it perfection yet by Return of the King to the earth with “glory” (Matthew 25: 31). Forces of evil still oppose this kingdom although they are basically defeated by the Passover of Christ (II Timothy 2: 7).
Until all things are put under his control, “Until a new heaven and a new earth are realized, where righteousness dwells. The church, moving along its route on the rites and institutions which belong to the present age, bears a sign of the transient world with itself and lives among beings who whine in miseries and are waiting for the advent of the sons of God” (See II Peter 3: 13; Romans 8: 11-22 and I Corinthians 15: 28). With reference to these explanations it can be said that the Catholic Church is influenced by the teachings of Augustine and is committed to his spiritual interpretation (CCC, 1994: 237).
2-6. Protestant Christian Interpretations of Christ’s Second Coming and the new Christian Sectarianism
Reformation and Protestant church leaders had a tendency towards Millennial Kingdom and emphasized on the concept of the Second Coming of Jesus and his royal role. Their emphasis on these teachings cased the emergence of these emotions and attitudes among Catholics. Luther and other Protestants called the Pope or the pontifical institutes Anti-Christ. This made the apocalypse-believing Catholics to analyze the events in the light of this belief and for instance, consider the separation of Protestants from Rome as a negative sign of the end of the world or for example, consider Luther as the anti-Christ or its scout (Sadiq Nia, 1388: 241).
An important issue in Protestantism is to transform the millennialism from a mere belief, or hope to political and pragmatic movements. Prior to the formation of Protestantism, there were two types of Christian millennialism: One was a millennialism for the elite and it was encouraged by scholars like Joachim of Fiore and had a theological form; and the other one was the millennialism of Commoners which was not based on classical texts but on oral literature of the church and had wider audience. The prophets of this type of millennialism prophesied during the wars using astrology.
Protestantism transformed the millennialism into a force for revolution and protests and in fact became a bridge between millennialism of the elite and millennialism the commoners. When the pontifical institute shifted to the Anti-Christ movement, the church could no longer inhibit the millenarian forces. On the other hand, the Protestant doctrine of the priesthood of all individuals and the eligibility of everyone to study the Scriptures caused the emergence of numerous men and women prophets who could foretell the future. The translations of the Scriptures to local languages by Protestants also caused this common prophecy to find a new force for its approval (David L, 2000: 341).
The emergence of millenarian cults and messianic movements can be truly considered as the most profound social and political effects of belief in the doctrine of Christ’s Second Coming. These movements which were formed in atmosphere of Protestantism school of thoughts, aimed to take steps to achieve a desirable status by criticizing the status quo. These groups and movements, despite their theological differences in some aspects, they have a common profound belief in the idea that the time of Christ’s Second Coming is very close. (Sadiq Nia, 1388: 248-251).
Modern interpretations of Christ’s Second Coming have had Influence on the development of new sects among Christians and caused these cults to grow increasingly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Nevertheless, these sects – that is better to call them “social movements” – can be studied in sociological and theological dimensions in a sense that concentrating on one of these dimensions cannot make one to ignore the other dimension.
Protest against the status quo and trying to reach the ideal situation has been as influential in the formation of these cults (Rechrd, 2000: 245) as the theological and religious belief in Christ’s Second Coming at the Apocalypse and the endeavor for hastening it. These millenarian cults, by referring to the Bible, believe that Jesus Christ will have a Second Coming at the Apocalypse and will bring the happiness Millennium. These literal interpretations can be seen in cults like Advantists, Jehovahs Withesses, Mormons, etc. which requires addressing them in another chance.
Except for the liberal theologians who, in a period, had denied all the teachings of Christianity, even the historical existence of the Christ, there has been no writer and theologian in Christianity who denies the Christ’s Second Coming. Obviously, this does not mean that all the given interpretations in this context are the same. Rather different interpretations of this doctrine have been presented. Diversity and difference of these interpretations, which sometimes causes confusion and difficulties in understanding this doctrine, has originated from two factors:
One is the different and sometimes disparate images that the Bible has given of this event, and the other is the influence of the conditions of the era, social conditions and theological approaches of Christian scholars in the interpretation of this doctrine.
One end of these interpretations is the belief in the imminent and bodily Second Coming of the Jesus Christ which had some followers in the early Christian church and the other end is the virtual interpretation of the Christ’s Second Coming which, although traces of it can be found in the teachings of Paul, but it was Augustine who developed it. In the middle Ages, although there was no interest to understand meaning of Christ’s Second Coming, but some Christian theologians promoted it. Joachim of Fiore, also known as Joachim of Flora, was one of them and the most important one.
After the religious reformation movement, attentions towards this doctrine were doubled and the Protestants followed the early Fathers of the Church and followed this doctrine in their social and political life. However, Catholics preferred to adhere, with more flexibility, to the Augustine’s interpretation of the Christ’s Second Coming. Contemporary Christians considering the churches that they follow provide an interpretation of Second Coming of Christ.
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