The Manner of Our Lord’s Return
ACCORDING to creedal views, our Lord Jesus is to return visibly to the physical eyes of mankind, riding upon a literal cloud, blowing a literal trumpet, shining with a dazzling literal light and blasting the literal universe into atoms. Usually this view of the manner of His Return, His Second Advent, is presented to frighten people into repentance, but upon a close examination in the light of the Bible, reason and facts, it is found in many respects to contradict these. So far as a Scriptural basis for this view is concerned, it rests entirely upon erroneous principles of interpretation; for it is drawn from a literal interpretation of figurative passages, such as parables, symbols and dark sayings, which according to the rules of language must, of course, be interpreted figuratively.
Not only does this view rest upon a wrong method of interpretation, but upon logical analysis its unreasonableness becomes apparent. For example, in view of the roundness of the earth, how could the people at the antipodes of the place of His arrival see Him coming? Even if, as has been suggested, He would after His coming remain stationary at a certain place in the sky during 24 hours for the rotation of the earth on its axis to make Him visible around the earth eastward and westward, the rotundity of the earth would nevertheless make Him invisible beyond a few hundred miles northward and southward. Clouds forming within the earth's atmosphere, and the earth's rotundity, as well as its size, would make Him invisible at no great distance. A literal trumpet, blowing loud enough to be heard all over the earth, would burst the eardrums of all within at least 12,000 miles of it.
And even if these difficulties would be overcome in some manner so that all on earth would e.g., by television, see Jesus in His Second Advent simultaneously with their physical sight and hear the literal trumpet without injury to their ears, it would still be unreasonable to expect Jesus in His glorious spirit body to appear to mankind's physical eyes; for if the light from the glorious spirit body of Christ would appear to the physical eyes of mankind, they would be instantly blinded, as was Saul of Tarsus on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:3-18); but if they should see that body itself, they would instantly drop dead, as no human can see God and/or Christ and live (Ex. 33:20; Heb. 1:3; 1 Tim. 6:16).
And if the literal universe were meant in the Bible passage that speaks of the heavens and earth passing from His face (Rev. 20:11), it would have passed away long ago, yes, at the instant of its creation, for He faces all things. Thus proper methods of interpreting the Bible, as well as reason and facts, contradict the idea that our Lord Jesus in His Return, His Second Advent, appears to mankind's natural sight in a visible manner.
In recent years many Evangelical and Fundamentalist Bible scholars, among others, have given up the abovementioned creedal view of Jesus' arrival in His Second Advent. Instead, they agree that at Jesus' arrival and for some time afterward, He will not be visible to mankind's physical eyes. This is commendable, but they do not go far enough, for a candid, reverent and careful study of the Scriptures reveals the fact that our Lord in His entire Second Advent is to be invisible to mankind's physical sight, but visible to their mental sight, their eyes of understanding (Matt. 13:13-17). We will now present nine additional lines of pertinent Biblical evidence proving this point.
DIRECT STATEMENTS OF THE BIBLE
Our second line of Biblical evidence is: The Bible directly teaches that Jesus will no more be seen by the physical eyes of human beings. "Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more" (John 14:19). This statement of our Lord is clearly to the point. While the connection shows that the Lord's Church would see our Lord when changed with Him (1 John 3:2), John 14:19 clearly teaches that no others of mankind would see Him. Of course Jesus there referred to Himself as being forever invisible to mankind's physical eyes in His glorious resurrection body.
This is clearly shown to be the case by the language of the Apostle Paul with reference to Jesus since He ascended to be with God in glory: "who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom [in His glorious condition] no man hath seen, nor can see" (1 Tim. 6:16). Very clearly do these passages show that our Lord since His glorification has been and forever will be invisible to mankind's physical sight. Therefore at our Lord's Return, He is invisible to their physical eyes.
"AS A THIEF IN THE NIGHT"
The same thought is implied in the Scriptures which teach that our Lord's Return would be thief-like in its manner (1 Thes. 5:1-6; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 16:15). When a thief comes to break into a house, does he carry a bright light and blow a trumpet, shouting to the people, "Hello, you people! Wake up! I am coming to rob your houses"? Of course we know he does no such things. Neither, therefore, does our Lord when He returns as a thief in the night. The thief in the night comes silently, stealthily, hiding in the dark, walking noiselessly with padded shoes or in stocking feet, picking locks and opening doors or windows with quiet deftness, thus concealing his presence from his unsuspecting victims.
Our Lord in the first part of His Second Advent comes in a similar manner, unknown to the world. But as a thief's presence in the house that is being robbed may by certain signs be made known to his accomplices who may be awaiting him in or at that particular house, so the Lord promised to make known, after His Return, to His faithful watching people, the fact of His Return by certain signs and proofs (Matt. 24:3, 30-33).
Note how 1 Thes. 5:1-6 tells us that the world would not be aware of our Lord's Return, because of its thief-like manner, but that His waking and watchful people would be aware of it. Of course, if the world would see His Return with their physical eyes, they would be aware of it. So their not being aware of it proves that they would not see Him physically in His Second Advent, which therefore must be invisible to physical sight.
"THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS IN YOUR MIDST"
The invisibility of the heavenly phase (Jesus and the Church) of God's Millennial Kingdom also implies that our Lord's Return would be invisible to mankind's physical eyes; because He is a part of that Kingdom, yes, its chief part, the King of kings and Lord of lords. We have already proven (see our Kingdom of God booklet; a copy free on request) that the Kingdom of God would in its glorified condition and heavenly phase consist of Jesus and His faithful spiritual elect followers, and would be invisible to mankind's physical eyes.
Jesus expressly says that the people will not be able to point out the Kingdom of God—Himself and His faithful disciples—because they will not be subject to people's physical sight, even as we read in Luke 17:20, 21:
"The kingdom of God cometh not with observation [mankind will not be able to see Christ and His Body members when They come to rule]: neither shall they say, Lo here [look, here is the Kingdom, Jesus and the Church]! or, lo there [is the Kingdom, Jesus and the Church]; for, behold, the kingdom of God [which you will be unable to point out] is [shall be] in the midst of you [ASV, margin; so it must be physically invisible, if it cannot be shown to people's physical sight; the KJV translation 'within you' is manifestly incorrect, for surely God's Kingdom was not within the Pharisees to whom Jesus was speaking, though He and His faithful disciples, prospective future Kings and Priests in God's Kingdom, were in their midst]." The Kingdom of God therefore being invisible to mankind's physical eyes, and Jesus being a part of that Kingdom, He must be invisible to mankind's physical eyes when He returns to establish it.
"AS WERE THE DAYS OF NOAH"
In Matt. 24:37-39 Jesus gives a strong proof of the fact that mankind would not physically see Him in His Second Advent: "As were the days of Noah, so shall be the coming [Greek, parousia, presence, margin] of the Son of man. For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage … and they knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall be the coming [Greek, parousia, presence, margin] of the Son of man" (ASV). In this passage Jesus shows that the people in their acts and in their ignorance of the impending trouble just before the flood and during His own Second Presence just before the Great Tribulation would be alike.
As in the days of Noah before the flood, the people were engaged in the ordinary activities of social life, but because of unbelief in the preaching of a coming flood were ignorant of its impendency, so during Christ's Second Presence just before the Great Tribulation would burst upon the world, the people would engage in the ordinary activities of social life, entirely ignorant of the coming tribulation because disbelieving the testimony respecting it and its cause, Christ's Second Presence. That among other things in these verses the time of Noah's presence before the flood is compared with the time of Christ's Second Presence before the Great Tribulation, is manifest also from Luke 17:26:
"And as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man." Here the expression "in the days of the Son of man," a certain period of His Second Advent, is used as the parallel of the expression "the presence of the Son of man" in Matt. 24:37, which proves that the passage compares the periods to which it refers. See also Luke 17:28-30. How, we ask, can it be that Jesus could be present and yet the people in general would be ignorant of this fact, as well as of the Time of Trouble coming? If they would be able physically to see Him, of course they would know of His Presence and would expect the trouble to follow. The fact of their ignorance of His Presence necessarily implies that He would be hidden from their physical eyes, and so His Return must be invisible to their physical eyes.
"AS THE LIGHTNING … OUT OF THE EAST"
A sixth consideration proves the same thing: Jesus declares that as the natural sun manifests its presence by the natural light which it gives out, so He would manifest His Second Presence by the symbolic light, Truth, that He would at that time give out. This is Jesus' statement of the case in Matt. 24:27 (see also Luke 17:24, where again the words "in his day" are paralleled with the expression "coming"—Greek, presence—in Matt. 24:27), though an unhappy translation of the Greek word astrape by "lightning" instead of "bright shining" (Luke 11:36) veils the thought of the passage: "For as the lightning [bright shining—the sun] cometh forth from the east, and shineth even unto the west, so shall be the presence [margin] of the Son of man" (ASV).
It is not, as the translation suggests, a peculiarity of the lightning to come out of the east and flash even to the west, for it more frequently comes from other directions and usually flashes over only a part of the heavens and that often in other directions than the west. But it is a peculiarity of the sunlight to always come from the east and shine even to the west. These facts show that in this passage, as in Luke 11:36, the Greek word astrape should be rendered "bright shining" or "light"; for manifestly in the latter passage the word "lightning" would be an improper translation; for we do not catch lightning and put it on a candlestick!
Understanding our Lord in Matt. 24:27 to refer to the bright shining of the sun, we can readily see the comparison that He makes: that as the sun manifests its presence gradually and that to some sooner than to others and finally before reaching the west, even to the latest sleepers; so our Lord manifests His Presence by the light of Truth that He as the Sun of Righteousness emits (Mal. 4:2), first shining upon His watchful and early-awake Church (Isa. 60:1, 2) and then later upon the whole world (Isa. 60:3; John 1:9). Matt. 24:27 therefore implies that men will recognize our Lord's presence, not by natural sight, but by their eyes of understanding, recognizing Him as present by the light of Truth that He sheds upon them. Therefore this passage implies that His Return is invisible to mankind's physical eyes.
"EVERY EYE SHALL SEE HIM"
The invisibility of our Lord to men's physical eyes at His Return is implied also by the passages which show us that all mankind, including Israel, will see the Lord in His Second Advent, when such passages are harmonized with those which teach that in His present condition no man hath seen nor can see Him (1 Tim. 6:16), and that after His glorification the world no more would see Him (John 14:19).
Rev. 1:7 (compare Zech. 12:10), referring to our Lord's Second Advent, reads as follows: "Behold, he cometh with clouds [of trouble in the Great Tribulation]; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him." If we would interpret the "clouds" of this passage literally we would make the passage teach nonsense, as we showed above; and if we would interpret the expression "every eye" in this passage as applying to literal, physical eyes we would make it contradict 1 Tim. 6:16 and John 14:19. It goes without saying that reverence for God's Word should withhold us from interpreting Scriptures contradictorily of one another.
How may we interpret this and similar passages and preserve the harmony of the Bible? We answer, evidently 1 Tim. 6:16 and John 14:19 are literal and refer to literal sight; hence the eyes of Rev. 1:7 and the looking of Zech 12:10 must be figurative and refer to mental sight—with the eyes of understanding. Evidently these verses, therefore, mean that our Lord's Second Presence will be accompanied with clouds of trouble and that the eyes of understanding in all people, including the Jews, will be opened to a proper knowledge of Him, as Savior, Messiah and Lord. In this sense of seeing, the Apostle Paul says, "We see Jesus" (Heb. 2:9). Certainly he does not mean that we see Him with our physical eyes, but rather with our eyes of understanding, our mental eyes.
Not only the reasonableness of the above interpretation, and the Scriptural usage in other passages, but also the character of the book of Revelation warrants it. Rev. 1:1 shows that it is a book of symbols: "He sent and signified (signified) it"—gave it in signs or symbols.
Therefore it would be natural to interpret the clouds, eye and seeing of Rev. 1:7 and the looking of Zech. 12:10 symbolically. The reference made in these passages to the Jews who pierced Him as seeing Him clinches the matter; for Jesus told them on the Wednesday before His crucifixion, hence two days before the Jews last saw Him with their physical eyes, that they would no more see Him until at His Second Advent they would hail Him with the acclamation, "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Matt. 23:39; compare Zech. 12:10). This passage proves that the natural sight is not meant here, because they saw Him with their natural eyes two days after He uttered these words, that is, on the day of His crucifixion. Therefore mental sight is here meant, and this shows how those who pierced Him would see Him during His Second Advent, i.e., not with their physical eyes, but with their mental eyes.
We further know this because Jesus two days before, i.e., on the day of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem four days before His death, had pronounced mental blindness upon them for their sins (Luke 19:42, 44), and the Apostle Paul assured us that such blindness would continue with them until the full number of the Gentile elect would be won (Rom. 11:7-10, 25-33). Then, at the Second Advent, it would gradually be removed. When the final phase of trouble comes upon the regathered Jewish nation, as described in Ezek. 38; 39; Zech. 14:1-3, they through this great cloud of trouble will come to see by mental sight (just as Christians now do—Gal. 3:1; Heb. 2:9), that Jesus is indeed their Divine Savior, Messiah and Lord (Zech. 12:9, 10). This will be the time of Israel's national conversion.
A passage very similar in sense and method of interpretation to Rev. 1:7 and Zech. 12:10 is Matt. 26:64. These passages from the standpoint above presented harmonize with the clear statements of 1 Tim. 6:16 and John 14:19, and, so viewed, prove that our Lord's Return would be invisible to mankind's physical eyes, though discernible by their mental eyes.
"IN LIKE MANNER"
We examine as an eighth proof of the invisibility of our Lord's Second Advent to mankind's physical eyes, one of the most misused passages of the Bible on the manner of our Lord's Return—Acts 1:11: "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven."
This passage is usually explained as though it read, "as ye have seen him go into heaven, so shall ye see him come again." Those who so interpret the passage explain it as though the point of comparison emphasized in the passage were His being seen going and His being seen coming again, whereas the passage says nothing whatever about His being seen coming again. Therefore His being seen coming again cannot be a part of the point of comparison in this passage.
Clearly the point of comparison in this passage is between the manner of His going and the manner of His coming again, and not between His being seen going and His being seen coming again: "This same Jesus … shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." Hence this passage treats of the manner of our Lord's Return.
And from the manner in which Jesus went we can learn some things respecting the manner of His Return: (1) He went secretly so far as the world was concerned, none but His disciples knowing of it at the time; so He comes again secretly ("as a thief in the night") so far as the world is concerned, none but His faithful people knowing of it in its first stages; (2) He went away quietly and unostentatiously, without startling the world with a literal trumpet, riding on a literal cloud, shining with a dazzling natural light and blasting the universe into atoms; therefore He returns quietly and unostentatiously, without startling the world with a literal trumpet, riding on a literal cloud, shining with a dazzling natural light and blasting the universe into atoms; (3) He went away blessing those whom He left; therefore He returns, blessing first His waiting Church and later the world of mankind; and (4) as touching His Divine body He was invisible to the physical eyes of humans after dematerializing though manifest to His disciples thereafter, by great works, e.g., at Pentecost; hence on returning He is invisible to mankind's physical eyes, though He is manifested as present by great accompanying works.
After our tenth line of evidence has been presented, this fourth point will become clearer. We introduce it here, because it logically belongs here among the other points of comparison, though certain explanations given under that tenth line are needed to clarify it from certain objections based on a misunderstanding of the nature of our Lord's glorious resurrection body. The passage under study proves that the manner of His coming again is like the manner of His going away, and as such disproves many crude errors on the manner of His Return, as well as proves its invisibility to mankind's physical eyes.
THE APOSTLE PAUL'S LOGICAL ARGUMENT
The Apostle Paul uses in 2 Thes. 2:1-9 an argument which from a proper understanding of the subject clearly and pointedly proves that Christ's Return had not yet set in; but this argument would be decidedly clumsy and without directness, were His Return to be visible to mankind's physical eyes. He did not appeal to the sense of sight, but to certain predicted but unfulfilled signs that must precede the Second Advent; for he told the Thessalonians (2 Thes. 2:3-9) that our Lord's Return could not set in until Antichrist would arise in, out of, and through a falling away from the true faith and practice of Christianity, gain supreme power, accomplish its dread reign, and be revealed and consumed in its main teachings and powers. Thereafter Christ would come again and annihilate Antichrist.
Since the falling away was at most only in its earliest start when the Apostle wrote these words, many features of the falling away, as well as all of the taking away of the hindering thing, Antichrist's birth, rise to power, withering reign, revelation and consuming, were future. Hence Christ's Second Advent not setting in until after all of these things would happen, it could not have set in before they began to come to pass.
Thus the Apostle's appeal to the unfulfilled prophetic signs which must precede Christ's Second Advent, both proved that our Lord was not present at that time, and was certainly a cogent, direct and clear proof of Paul's contention in view of the thought of our Lord's invisibility at His Return, while it would have been clumsy, very indirect and decidedly weak in contrast with the argument that our Lord would be visible to the physical eyes of all mankind at His Return, if His Return were to be in manner as creeds of the Dark Ages teach.
The Apostle's argument in its nature and use therefore implies that our Lord's Return would be physically invisible, even as he had taught the Thessalonians; while had he taught them a physically visible return of our Lord, the Thessalonians, not seeing Him and the supposed accompanying literalities, would never have fallen into the error that Christ's Second Advent had set in at that time. In other words, the error into which the Thessalonians fell and the Apostle's method of argumentation in refuting that error, clearly imply that he and they believed that our Lord would be invisible to human eyes at His Return; for otherwise how could they have believed Him to have come again without seeing Him?
The Manner of Our Lord's Return:
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