Many Christians are hobbled by the idea there are only two comings of the Son of God in human history. They celebrate the fact that he came to be born in Bethlehem the first Christmas two thousand years ago. But many preachers suggest that nothing much more will happen till a second coming in the future. It has already been delayed twenty centuries, but every few years there is a flurry or predictions that the time is now imminent. This article will show how the idea of one second coming has obscured the fact of his continuing reign among all nations.
It is easy to see that there were many comings of the Lord throughout the Old Testament period. Jesus himself claimed he would come during the lifetime of his hearers, as actually happened in the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.
We begin by noting John’s explanation: "No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known" (John 1:18). This makes clear that God that Father loves by working behind the scenes of human history. It is the Son’s task is to reign among the nations and to keep interpreting what the Father has in mind by coming to meet in person with humans.
The first coming of the Son was when our first parents "heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden" (Genesis 3:8). Enoch was one of the patriarchs who did not hide himself. "Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him" (5:24). Similarly "Noah walked with God" (6:9).
"The LORD appeared to Abram" when he first arrived in Canaan at the age of 75 (12:7). When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty, walk before me, and be blameless" (17:1, see 18:1). Abraham’s sons Isaac and Jacob also had this visible experience of meeting with the Son of God (26:2, 24; 28:13). The encounter of the LORD with Jacob was described as a wrestling match (32:24-28), and Jacob concluded that "I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved" (32:30). The Lord came to commission Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:6- 4:17). When the ten commandments were given, "Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel . . . and they beheld God, and they ate and drank" (Exodus 24:9-11). : As we noted under John 1:18, in each of these cases it was not God the Father that they he saw, but the eternal Son of God.
In addition to meeting with individual persons in this way, the LORD is described as coming again and again to deal with nations. When the people of Babel tried to build a tower to reach up into heaven "The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built" and he scattered them in all directions (Genesis 11:4-9). When Joseph was on his deathbed, he said "God will surely come to you, and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob" (50:24). And when the Jewish people had been cruelly enslaved, they were told that "The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out from among them" (Exodus 7:5, 12:51).
The events of the Exodus were an example of what the prophets called a day of the Lord’s coming. Isaiah announced the fall of Babylon. "Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty" (Isaiah 13:6, 9). Amos predicted the day of the LORD on Samaria (Amos 5:18-20). "Similarly Jeremiah warned Egypt of its imminent destruction. "That day is the day of the Lord God of hosts" (Jeremiah 46:10; see Obadiah 4:15). And Joel predicted the fall of Jerusalem. "The day of the LORD is near" (Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31).
So it is not surprising that Jesus used the same language to describe his coming to topple Jerusalem and send the Jewish people into a second exile. "The Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom" (Matthew 16:27). In telling the story of the wicked tenants, he asked "When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? (21:40). Then he told the Pharisees that this would take place in that generation (23:36; 24:34).
Jesus used the exact imagery of the fall of Babylon from Isaiah 13:10 and the fall of Jerusalem from the prophet Joel 2:31 to describe his coming in the destruction of the temple. "The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken . . . They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:29-30). These verses do not refer to what people call the second coming, but to his coming again and again to individuals and to nations during the remainder of human history.
The first exile from Jerusalem took place when the Babylonians took the city (586 BC), and marched most of the prominent people 750 miles (1200 km) north-east to Mesopotamia. That exile lasted seventy years, and one good result was that the Jewish people were weaned for ever from Baal worship and idolatry. The second exile from Jerusalem (AD 70 - 1948) resulted in terrible persecutions for Jews in Europe and other parts of the world for nineteen centuries. Jesus himself predicted that the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 would be followed by a world-wide harvest. "He will send out his angels (messengers) with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to another" (Matthew 24:31). An astonishing outcome was the establishment of Christian churches in cities all over the Mediterranean and far east across present-day Iraq and Iran. It was these Christians who translated the Jewish Old Testament wherever they went, and millions of people now read about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the prophets in their own languages.
This suggests that whenever a Day of the Lord national upheaval, disaster or revolution takes place in any country of the world we should look for good results as much as we feel for the inevitable suffering of those who were involved. Nor should we imagine that God hates a nation which is disciplined. As the Epistle to the Hebrews explained, "Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts" (Proverbs 3:11-12; Hebrews 12:5-6).
Jesus had said at the last supper with his disciples the evening before he was crucified. "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:3). This does not mean that we lie in the grave awaiting a final coming at the end of time, but that he comes personally to receive each of us the very moment we die. "Today you will be with me in the garden" (Luke 23:43 where heaven is pictured as a paradeisos meaning a Persian garden of delights).
But meanwhile he also comes to appear personally to individuals in moments of crisis. He did this for the disciples over a period of forty days after the crucifixion. As he was martyred Stephen said "I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56). Ananias said "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here has sent me to that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 9:17; see also 18:9; 23:11).
In the Apostle John’s vision when he was exiled on the island of Patmos the Lord is described as coming to churches in the Province of Asia. The church in Ephesus is warned: "I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place, unless you repent" (Revelation 2:5). Concerning the false teachers in Pergamum the Lord said "I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth" (2:16). The church in Sardis is told "If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you" (3:3, see 3:11). There is also a very personal coming of the Lord when we gather to share in the bread and the wine. "If you hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me" (3:20).
Why is the Bible’s emphasis on the Son of God, and his coming again and again to intervene in our world, so important for Christian faith? When we face any crisis in our nation, in our church congregation, or in our personal life or family situation, we do not need to await a second coming which is interminably delayed to put things right.. We assured that the Lord can and will intervene in his own time and in his own way.
The Bible gives the story of the Lord’s interventions as they related to the Jewish people. But every nation is under the authority of the King of kings and Lord of lords. And every nation can tell its story in the light of the Day of the Lord comings to deal with injustice and topple their oppressors. The English point to the destruction of the Armada, the escape of their army in little boats from Dunkirk, and the Battle of Britain. The Austrians withstood two terrible sieges by the Ottoman Empire. The French remember Joan of Arc and the storming of the Bastille. Americans had their war of independence and the horrors of the Civil War. The Germans experienced the end of the third Reich, and the toppling of the Berlin wall. Russia has its stories of Napoleon being stopped in Moscow, Lenin, Stalin, the Gulag, and Stalingrad. Japan had its victory in Pearl Harbor, and humiliation when the atom bombs destroyed their cities. China experienced the ravages of the Cultural Revolution. Every country in Africa and Latin and South America has known terrible times of oppression and the joys of freedom.
All this and much more takes on relevance, warning, and encouragement in the light of the coming again and again of the eternal Son of God as he reigns in our lives and among the nations.