What Does the Bible Say about the Nature of Jesus’ Second Coming?
“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” —Rene Descartes
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. . . . and they will see the Son of Man coming on clouds of heaven. . . . truly, I say to you this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (Matthew 24:29-34)
Most Christians think of the Second Coming of Jesus as a fife-foot-five Jewish man (with long hair and ancient Jewish clothing) literally riding on a cloud down to earth—and walking around the streets of Jerusalem. But is this the correct understanding of what the Bible teaches?
The Olivet Discourse encompasses the largest body of New Testament prophecy outside of the book of Revelation. The discourse is contained in the parallel passages of Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21. When people talk about the Second Coming, they often go to the Olivet Discourse first. Here we see Jesus coming in a glory cloud, with angels and trumpets.
There are various Greek words used throughout the New Testament to describe the Second Coming. The primary word is the noun parousia. Its various meanings include presence, arrival, advent, or coming.
“Second Coming” is actually not a term found in the Bible. That is, “Second” is not attached to “Parousia.” However, the concept of a Second Coming of Jesus is implied, for example, in John 14:3 and Hebrews 9:28. Parousia (pronounced pah-roo-see’-ah or pair-oo-see’-ah), when used in reference to Jesus’ return, really means “presence”—and this is how it is translated in Young’s Literal Translation. (Go to Bible Gateway online and look up Matthew 24 in Young’s Literal Translation for confirmation.)
This imparts a somewhat different possibility for understanding Jesus’ Second Coming. The common rendering of the word simply as “coming” may be adequate, but somewhat misleading. “Coming” is correct in so far as it describes God’s effectual divine presence as found in the Old and New Testaments. The use of the English word “coming” is justified because there is a presumption that there must be a coming in order for there to be a presence. This would be a correct assumption in the case of a human being, but an incorrect assumption on the part of deity. In other words, God’s (thus Jesus’) presence does not mean that He was absent previously.
The preterist view, which is demonstrably the most biblical, is that the Parousia was Jesus’ coming in judgment in AD 70 against the apostate Jewish nation. This was the Great Judgment anticipated in the Old and New Testaments. This was God’s judgment against Old Covenant Israel for her sins (Matthew 23:29-24:2), for her refusal to accept Jesus as Messiah (Matthew 23:37), and for her participation with the Roman authorities for Jesus’ trial and crucifixion (Matthew 27:25). This event ushered out the visible fabric of the Old Covenant order as Israel ceased to be a nation, and the temple was destroyed. This also ended the age-old system of temple sacrifices, so this was a very important event theologically, as well as historically. Jesus replaced the temple as our source of our salvation (John 2:19; Revelation 21:22).
Many Christians have never been introduced to the idea that Jesus was not to return in his pre-ascension physical body. But I urge Christians to take a closer look. The Bible tells us to “test all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). I walk the reader step-by-step through this in my book, answering every objection of which I am aware. But let me make a few points here that may encourage a closer examination of these things:
- There are over 100 passages in the New Testament, supported by many in the Old Testament, that demand that Jesus’ Parousia would occur during the lifetimes of those living in the first century. I discuss many of these in my book, and list all of them in an appendix and also at my Prophecy Questions website (link below).
- Jesus himself affirmed the radical nearness (“imminence”) of his Parousia and associated it with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and judgment against the Jews. These passages include: Matthew 10:23; 16:27-28; 21:33-46; 23:34-36; 26:64; Luke 21:22, 32, 36 (see the NASB, NIV, or Young’s Literal Translation for verse 36, which confirms that the events were about to take place), and Revelation 1:1-3; 22:6, 12, 20. (Compare these passages with Daniel 9:26-27; 12:1, 11; Malachi 3:1, 2, 5; 4:1-5, and Matthew 3:7, 11, 12.) Unless Jesus was a false prophet, his Parousia occurred when he predicted.
- Many Christians have misunderstood what Jesus meant by his Parousia, because they do not know their Old Testament. He was not to come physically, but rather to “come” in the sense of judging the Jewish nation—just as God came multiple times in the Old Testament to judge the Jews or their enemies. Compare the language in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:29-31) or John’s Apocalypse (Revelation 6:12-17) to the apocalyptic language set in cosmic language in the Old Testament of past judgments by God: Isaiah 13:10-13 (against Babylon), Isaiah 24:3 (against Israel), Isaiah 34:4 (against Edom), Jeremiah 4:23-31 (against Judah and Jerusalem), Ezekiel 32:7-8 (against Pharaoh and Egypt), Joel 3:15-16 (against the nations), Amos 5:20; 8:9 (against Israel), Micah 1:2-16 (against Israel and Judah), Zephaniah 1:14-15 (against Judah, Jerusalem, and Judah’s enemies). In these instances, nobody saw God, but certainly saw the effects of his coming.
The Second Coming of Jesus is about judgment. In John 5:19-22 we read that Jesus was given authority to judge like God the Father. How does God judge? Let’s look more closely at judgment language in the Old Testament. Please compare the language of Matthew 24:29-34 with language of God’s judgment in the Old Testament:
“Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of heaven quaked and were shaken, because He was angry. Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth, coals were kindled by it. He bowed the heavens also and came down with darkness under his feet. He rode upon a cherub, and flew; and He was seen upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness canopies around Him, dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. From the brightness before Him coals of fire were kindled. The LORD thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered his voice. He sent out arrows and scattered them; lightning bolts, and He vanquished them.” (2 Samuel 22:8-15, judgment against David’s enemies)
“For behold, the LORD is coming out of His place; He will come down and tread on the high places of the earth. The mountains will melt under Him, and the valleys will split like wax before the fire, like waters poured down a steep place. All this is for the transgression of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel. . . . Therefore, I will make Samaria a heap of ruins in the field, places for planting a vineyard; I will pour down her stones into the valley, and I will uncover her foundations. All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces, and all her pay as a harlot shall be burned with the fire; all her idols I will lay desolate. . . .” (Micah 1:3-13, judgment against Israel and Judah)
“Behold, the DAY of the LORD comes, cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and He will destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to shine. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will halt the arrogance of the proud, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible. . . Therefore, I will shake the heavens, and the earth will move out of her place, in the wrath of the LORD of hosts and in the day of his fierce anger.” (Isaiah 13:9-13, judgment against Babylon)
“Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt, and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them. . . . And the waters of the sea will be dried up. . . . This who are the pillars of the land will be crushed. . . . And the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians in that day. . . . And the LORD will strike Egypt.” (Isaiah 19:1-22, judgment against Egypt)
- The concept of “coming down” is Old Testament language consistent with a non-visible “coming” of God. Here’s a list of other Old Testament references that speak of God’s “coming,” “coming down” to earth, “returning,” “appearing,” or that speak of his presence on earth effecting change—especially JUDGMENT. Look these up for a fuller understanding of how God “comes.” Genesis 11:5; 18:21; Exodus 3:8; 13:21; 16:10; 19:9-20; 24:15-18; Leviticus 16:2; Numbers 9:15-22; 11:17; Deuteronomy 4:11-24; 5:22; 31:15; 33:2; 1 Kings 8:10-11; 2 Chronicles 5:13-14; Psalm 18:4-15; 46:6; 50:3; 96:13; 97:1-5; 98:9; 104:3; 144:5-7; Isaiah 26:21; 29:3-6; 31:4; 34:2-10; 40:3-10; 60:19-20; 64:1-3; 66:15; Jeremiah 4:12-28; 51:24-25; Ezekiel 1:27-28; 10:3-19; 30:2-12; 32:7-8; Daniel 7:13; 8:10; Hosea 8:1; Joel 2:10-11, 31; 3:15-16; Amos 5:16-24; 8:8-9; Micah 1:2-16; Nahum 1:2-6; Zephaniah 1:2-18; Zechariah 1:15-16; 9:14; 14:2-6; Malachi 3:5.
- Matthew 24:30 specifically says that Jesus would come “on clouds of heaven.” What does this imagery mean? If you know your Old Testament, it was not meant to be literal. In the Bible, clouds are used symbolically to portray God’s presence, judgment, or proclamation. Riding on clouds is a sure sign of deity. People did not see God literally, but saw what He did or perceived his presence in other ways. While some of these are repetitious, here are some passages that show this: Exodus 19:9; 34:5; Leviticus 16:2; Numbers 11:25; Deuteronomy 5:22; Psalm 18:9-12; 97:2; 104:3; Isaiah 19:1; Joel 2:1-1; Nahum 1:2-3; Zephaniah 1:14-15.
- Josephus, Tacitus, Eusebius, as well as the Jewish Talmud all record the fact that God’s presence was perceived at the destruction of Jerusalem during the Roman siege of AD 66-70. They even recorded that angelic armies were seen in the clouds. Isaiah 65 and 66 speak of the final judgment and destruction of God’s old covenant people, the end of the elements of the Old Testament law, the gathering of all nations, the full establishment of his new covenant people in the new heaven and new earth, and the Lord’s coming with fire and his chariots. The mention of chariots is particularly interesting, and could be a theophany of Jesus coming in judgment. Josephus recorded the event thusly, as having occurred in AD 66:
“Besides these [signs], a few days after that feast, on the one-and-twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared; I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the] temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, ‘Let us remove hence.’” 
If the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple was not sufficient to satisfy the visibility requirement, the sight of the soldiers and chariots in the clouds surrounding the cities could certainly be interpreted as the Second Coming, in fulfillment of Isaiah 66:15, as well as the Olivet Discourse and Revelation.
- At some point after the resurrection, Christ must have changed physically—probably at the ascension. After his ascension, Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus in a manner that Paul could see a light and hear the voice of Jesus, but neither he nor his companions actually saw Jesus in physical form (Acts 9:3-9; Acts 22:6-11; Acts 26:12-19; cf. John 17:5; Hebrews 5:7). In Acts 26:19 Paul described what he saw as a “heavenly vision.” This would seem to be an appearance by Jesus in his glorified state. That Jesus’ body had changed into a spiritual one is confirmed by such passages as 1 Corinthians 15:45 and 2 Corinthians 3:17. So, I believe that it is unbiblical to expect to see Jesus just as He was in AD 30 before his ascension and glorification.
While many Christians have a picture of Jesus returning in his physical body, I just don’t think they have thought more than superficially about this. Do they really think that Jesus is sitting in heaven at the literal right hand of God, in a literal throne, being served meals by servants while sipping fine wine? Do they think that when we are in heaven, we will have the exact same body as on earth? (If we sever an artery in heaven, could we bleed to death?)
The Bible does not tell us what heaven is like. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15 assures us that we will have some continuity of our old self. But in that passage, he refers four times to our heavenly bodies as being “spiritual.” In Philippians 3:20-21 Paul uses the term “glorious body.” It is clear enough that Jesus’ eternal state (as well as our own) is different from our earthly body.
These considerations will send shock waves through, especially premillennialists, who expect Jesus to return bodily to establish a utopian kingdom on earth for a literal thousand years. But, folks, this is good news! The preterist view holds that we do not have to go through a Great Tribulation or destruction of the planet. We do not have to wait till a future date to be assured that Jesus is with us now!
We are not waiting for the end of a “gospel age” in which our world is replaced by a shiny new planet. CHRIST’S KINGDOM HAS NO END and the GOSPEL IS ETERNAL: Isaiah 9:7; Daniel 4:3, 34; 7:14, 18, 27; 2 Samuel 7:13; Luke 1:31-33; Ephesians 1:21; 2:7; 3:21; 1 Timothy 6:16; Hebrews 1:8-12; 5:6; 6:20; 7:16-28; 13:20; Revelation 5:9; 7:9; 11:15; 13:7; 14:6.
Instead, we live here and now in the kingdom of God in Christ, knowing that all things work together for good to them who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose and predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29). This gives us the mandate and the courage to preach the gospel of Christ, and its mind-renewing and society-transforming message, and to do so into the “world without end” (Ephesians 3:21).
Preterism (“covenant eschatology”) is the only eschatological view that: is faithful to Scripture, answers the hard questions about Bible prophecy, unifies the Bible, answers the skeptics’ objections about Christ as a true prophet—and is truly optimistic.
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 Hebrews 9:28 in most translations states that Christ“will appear a second time.” The phrase “will appear” is the Greek verb optanomai. In John 14:3 Jesus says He “will come again.” Here the phrase “will come” is the Greek verb erchomai.
 Josephus Wars of the Jews (18.104.22.1686 to 300), Tacitus Histories (Book 5), Eusebius Ecclesiastics History (Book 3 Chapter 8 Sections 1-6), Sepher Yosippon A Mediaeval History of Ancient Israel (Chapter 87, “Burning of the Temple”).
 Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book 6 (6.5.3). Available online at http://www.ccel.org/j/josephus/works/JOSEPHUS.HTM.