Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST010/5 Theories concerning Christ`s return


Theories concerning Christ's Second Coming.

The various theories concerning the kingdom of God were mentioned earlier and the present theories concerning the second coming of our Lord follow much the same pattern. It is thase we need to consider now. They divide into three main types of theory as to the events which will take place; Premillenial, Postmillenial, and Amillenial.

(i) Premillenial.

The premillenial type of theory states that the second coming of Christ occurs before the commencement of the millenium.

(1) A general type of theory of this nature was common amongst the early church. Some of the features of the theory were further developed and clarified to form the general theory prevalent after the Reformation until the end of the last century, and amongst some until now. 

The main features are given clearly and briefly by Berkhof as follows, "The coming advent of Christ to the world is near, and will be visible, personal and glorious. It will be preceded, however, by certain events, such as the evangelization of all nations, the conversion of Israel, the great apostasy and the great tribulation, and the revelation of the man of sin.

Dark and trying times are therefore still in store for the Church, since she will have to pass through the great tribulation. The second coming will be a great, single, outstanding and glorious event, but will be accompanied by several others bearing on the Church, on Israel and on the world. 

The dead saints will be raised and the living transfigured, and together they will be translated to meet the coming Lord. Antichrist and his wicked allies will be slain; and Israel, the ancient people of God will repent, be saved, and restored to the Holy Land. Then the Kingdom of God, predicted by the prophets, will be established in a transformed world. 

The Gentiles will turn to God in great abundance and be incorporated in the Kingdom. A
condition of peace and righteousness will prevail in all the earth. After the expiration of the earthly rule of Christ the rest of the world will be raised up; and this resurrection will be followed by the last judgment and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth." 

This is the type of premillenialism which was held by such men as Bengel, Christlieb, Godet, Van Oosterzee, Alford, Ellicott, Guiness, Newton and Trench, although they differed in details.

(2) In the middle of the last century, however, a more complicated type of premillenialism began to be promulgatad and became very popular. It was introduced by Darby, Kelly and the early leaders of the Brethren, and was also largely based on dispensationalism. It is not easy to summarize the teaching but the following is an endeavour to do so. The teaching advocates what is almost a new view of history. Israel is the nation which plays the leading role not only in the Old Testament but in the last days and during the millenium. 

After she had rejected the claims of Christ's preaching of the Kingdom, He withdrew from her and from the establishment of the Kingdom, which He postponed till His second coming. Meanwhile He sent out the apostles to preach the Gospel of the grace of God as a result of which men and women of Jews and Gentiles were born again and the Church was formed. 

This Church is an interlude. It was quite unknown and unforeseen by the Old Testament prophets and was only revealed to the apostles. This Church is quite different from the Kingdom, which has to do with Israel. At the end of the Gospel age Christ is to return and several events will take place in connection with this. 

The return will be in two parts. The first is called the parousia and will be secret as far as the world is concerned. It will include the rapture of the living saints and the resurrection of the dead ones (this is the first resurrection). The rapture will be followed in heaven by the marriage supper of the Lamb. The second part of the return is called the apocalypse or the revelation.

This will be public and for every eye to see. At this stage, Christ will return to the earth with His saints, who have been raptured and resurrected before. The period between the two comings will last seven years and this seven years will be divided into equal parts of three and a half years each (time, times and a half). 

During the first three and a half years the Gospel of the Kingdom will again be preached by the faithful remnant of Israel, many will be converted, including the nation of Israel as a whole. In the second half of the period, Antichrist will rise and there will be a period of unprecedented tribulation, which will culminate in the pouring out of the vials of God's wrath and judgment on the human race. 

The Lord will return publicly and in glory (the apocalypse), and set up His Kingdom and reign for a thousand years. The living nations will be judged, the saints that died during the tribulation will be raised, the Antichrist will be destroyed and Satan bound for a thousand years. 

During the thousand years the nation of Israel will reign on the earth and the saints will share the reign with Christ in heaven. The temple will be built again and the sacrifices once more offered (which is the most difficult part of all to believe). The world will be converted and there will be a time of peace, prosperity and gladness unknown before. 

This is the fulfilment of the prophecies concerning peace and plenty on the earth so often found in the Old Testament. At the end of the thousand years Satan will be loosed for a season and stir up strife again. The hordes of Gog and Magog will advance against the Holy City, but they will be destroyed by fire from heaven and through a great earthquake.

After this will come the resurrection of the wicked (the second resurrection), the final judgment and the setting up of the new heavens and the new earth.

(ii) Postmillenial.

According to this theory the second coming of Christ does not occur till after the millenium has ended. Lhere are again two types of this theory, one held by godly men and truly believing; in the gospel, the other held by liberal thinkers and in some cases as good as denying the truth of the gospel and the fact of Christ's literal return in any way.

(1) During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries several Reformed Church theologians taught a form of millenialism which denied the two main tenets of premillenialism, i.e. that Christ would return physically to reign for a thousand yeers and that the saints would be raised at the same time and would reign with Him. 

The details naturally differed with different theologians but the main idea was that the Gospel, which will gradually spread through the whole world, will in the end become immeasurably more effective than it is at present, and will usher in a period of rich spiritual blessings for the Church of Jesus Christ, a golden age, in which the Jews will also share in the blessings of the Gospel in an unprecedented manner" (Berkhof p.716). 

Douglas Brown and A.H.Strong held such views and the latter says that the millenium will be "a period in the later days of the Church militant, when, under the special influence of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of the martyrs shall appear again, true religion be greatly quickened and revived, and the members of Christ's churches become so conscious of their strength in Christ that they shall, to an extent unknown before, triumph over the power of evil within and without".(Syst.Th. p. 1013).

(2) The other theory is liberal in its outlook and is largely the result of the teaching of evolution. It hardly believes in the Gospel at all, and does not really hold that Christ will return in person. His return is only that which comes to us in death. They deny any cataclysmic event but believe in a general progress of good gradually overcoming evil. 

One such writer, Shirley Jackson Case, says "The course of history exhibits one long process of evolving struggle by which humanity as a whole rises constantly higher in the scale of civilization and attainment, bettering its condition from time to time through its greater skill and industry. 

Viewed in the long perspective of the ages, man's career has been one of actual ascent. Instead of growing worse, the world is found to be constantly growing better. Since history and science show that betterment is always the result of achievement, man learns to surmise that evils still unconquered are to be eliminated by strenuous effort and gradual reform rather than the catastrophic intervention of deity.

Disease is to be cured or prevented by the physician's skill, society's ills are to be remedied by education and legislation, and international disasters are to be averted by establishing new standards and new methods for dealing with the problems involved. In short, the ills of life are to be cured by a gradual process of remedial treatment rather than by a sudden annihilation." (The Millenial Hope -pp.229,238 ff.). It does not need much thought to see how futile such talk is in the light of today.

(iii) Amillenial.

This theory denies that there is any literal thousand years of peace at all. It suggests that the second coming of Christ ushers in the Kingdom of God in its final form. The resurrection of the dead, the final judgment and the final separation of the godly from the ungodly will take place at the second coming of the Lord, the new heavens and the new earth will come into being immediately and this will inaugurate the final Kingdom of God. 

The idea of a millenium is only a figurative one and refers to the eternal ages of God's final kingdom. As mentioned above it is not the purpose of these notes to pronounce finally on these various theories. There are certaiu events which seem clearly to be part of the second coming according to the Scriptures and these will be mentioned in the next section. 

Meanwhile just one or two remarks on the foregoing theories may not be out of place. The postmillenial theory seems to be ruled out, if not completely by Scripture, by the general trend of events in the world over the last fifty years. It seems hard to observe any real quickening of the spread of the Gospel on a large scale or any change of attitude or disposition in the world as a whole. 

Many wonderful discoveries and inventions have been made, but man has not changed one iota in his basic sinfulness and selfishness. With regard to the other two theories, there seem to be difficulties whichever side is taken. Some of the statements of the extreme premillenial theory seem out of the question.

The idea of the millenium, as viewed in the more moderate premillenial theory, has undoubtedly its difficulties, but on the other hand, the amillenialists seem to overlook, without explaining or by overspiritualizing, some clear statements of the Scriptures. Perhaps the Lord has deliberately left a great deal shrouded in mystery so that we shall not know finally until the actual events take place and the Lord has come.

The important thing is to keep looking for and expecting our Lord's glorious returning in person to set up His Kingdom, in whatever way it may be, and to keep looking in the way urged upon us in 2 Peter 3:14 to be diligent that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot and blameless".

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