10 Things You Should Know about the Second Coming of Christ4
There is in the New Testament a plethora of information and detail regarding the second coming of Christ. I couldn’t begin to cover it all in one short blog post. So, in this article I will only draw your attention to what we are told in Revelation 19:11-21, one of the more graphic portrayals of who Jesus is and what the second coming will mean for unbelievers in particular.
(1) We must first remind ourselves that the second coming of Jesus is our sure and certain, rock-solid and immovable hope. Paul speaks of this in Romans 8:22-25 where he describes us as groaning inwardly “as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” For it “in this hope we were saved.” He also speaks of our hope for the return of Christ in the midst of grief in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. And in Titus 2:13-14 he calls the second coming “our blessed hope.” Peter exhorts us to set our “hope fully on the grace that will be brought” to us “at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).
The practical effects of setting our hope on seeing Jesus is stated by John in his first epistle. There he writes
“Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).
Careful reflection on Christ’s return, sustained meditation on what it will mean in that moment and for all eternity, has a purifying effect on the soul. It turns sin sour in our mouths and serves to conform us ever more to the image of Jesus himself. After all, who can truly set their sights on seeing Jesus face to face and then remain in unrepentant and defiant sin against him?
(2) In Revelation 19 Jesus is portrayed at his second coming as riding on a white horse (v. 11). Yet elsewhere we discover that when he returns it will be in the clouds of heaven. So which is it: on a horse or in the clouds or perhaps on a horse that is in the clouds? Probably none of the above. We must never lose sight of the fact that his is apocalyptic language. It is highly symbolic. His appearance here on a white horse is designed to alert us to the fact that he comes to conquer and to rule. He is portrayed as a general leading his troops into victory. I don’t think we are supposed to press for a literal or physiological interpretation of this text.
(3) He is called “Faithful and True” and “in righteousness he judges and wages war” (v. 11). Both verbs are present tense, perhaps pointing to timeless or customary actions of the rider. This judgment and waging of war is not merely against unbelievers but also on behalf of his people. It is in “righteousness” that he judges. Unlike tyrants and rulers throughout history who took bribes and extorted from others, Jesus wields the sword of judgment in perfect harmony with what is right. Unlike generals and armies that waged unrighteous wars for financial or territorial gain, Jesus wages war against all such unrighteousness.
(4) His “eyes are a flame of fire” and on his head are “many diadems” (v. 12). This is to be contrasted with the dragon who has but seven diadems and the beast who has ten. “The undefined multiplicity of diadems shows Christ is the only true cosmic king, on a grander scale than the dragon and the beast, whose small number of crowns implies a kingship limited in time. Christ should wear more crowns than any earthly king or kings, since he is ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’ (19:16)” (Beale, 952). The crowns point to his authority. It was the great Dutch theologian and statesman, Abraham Kuyper, who rightly declared of Jesus: “There is not a square inch in all the universe over which he does not say: Mine!”
(5) He has a name written “which no one knows but himself” (v. 12), likely pointing to the fact that there are depths to Christ’s character and resources in his infinite being that we simply are incapable of grasping or understanding. Also, in the ancient world to know someone’s name “was a basis of power over him. Jesus remains beyond the grasp of his foes, but he has their name and number, allowing him to place them wholly under his spell” (Philipps, 546-7). He is truly inexhaustible!
(6) He is clothed in a “robe dipped in blood” (v. 13; see Isa. 63:1-3), most likely his own, shed on the cross, and is called “the Word of God” (v. 13). The latter suggests that through his words and deeds he manifests and reveals the character of God himself. He not only makes known God’s will but is also the one who enforces it on his people. He speaks for God. He perfectly embodies all that God is. He is the expression of God’s character.
(7) He is followed by heavenly “armies . . . arrayed in fine linen, white and pure,” who were “following him on white horses” (v. 14). This may be an army of angels (cf. Matt. 13:40-42; 16:27; 25:31-32; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; 2 Thess. 1:7; Jude 14-15), as well as believers, martyrs and others in the intermediate state, who accompany him (cf. Rev. 17:14; 1 Thess. 4:14-17).
(8) A sharp “sword” from his mouth is used to “strike down the nations”, which he rules “with a rod of iron” (v. 15), and he treads “the wine press” of the fury of God’s wrath (v. 15; see Isaiah 63:2-6; Rev. 14:19-20). The name “King of kings and Lord of lords” is on his robe and thigh (v. 16).
(9) A brief summation of the order of events at the Second Coming of Christ might help.
First, contrary to what many, if not most, of you have been taught for the majority of your life in church, Christians will not be raptured or removed from this earth so that they don’t have to endure the persecution and trials that will be imposed by the Beast and by unbelievers. The end-time scenario portrayed by Hal Lindsey in The Late, Great Planet Earth or in the many Left Behind novels of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, is simply not biblical. The rapture or translation of the saints is never described in Scripture as a means of escape from tribulation or suffering.
Second, at the close of history Christ will return in the company of his angels and all those who have died in faith. At the sound of the trumpet, those who are with Christ will immediately receive their resurrected and glorified bodies (see 1 Thess. 4:13-18).
Third, those believers who are alive on the earth when Christ returns will be caught up or raptured and immediately transformed by receiving their glorified bodies. See Phil. 3:20-21 and 1 Cor. 15:50-55.
Fourth, we will not ascend into some spiritual heaven far beyond this world but will accompany Christ as he continues his descent to the earth and participate in his defeat of all his enemies.
(10) The judgment of Christ’s enemies, described in vv. 17-21, is swift and final. The angel announces the coming destruction of the beast, false prophet, and their followers through the same imagery found in Ezekiel 39:4,17-20 where the defeat of Gog and Magog is described. The picture of vultures or other birds of prey feasting on the flesh of unburied corpses killed in battle (see also Rev. 19:21b) was a familiar one to people in the OT (cf. Deut. 28:26; 1 Sam. 17:44-46; 1 Kings 14:11; 16:4; 21:24; 2 Kings 9:10; Jer. 7:33; 15:3; 16:4; 19:7; 34:20; Ezek. 29:5).
So, we need not think that all the bodies of all unbelievers will literally be eaten by the birds, but rather that God’s enemies will suffer complete defeat and devastation and be exposed to the humiliation of judgment. This portrayal also reminds us that judgment is the great leveler of persons. Neither wealth nor influence nor political power nor gender nor ethnicity nor education will exempt anyone from judgment. All are held accountable to God.
The judgment appears to come in two stages (although note that nowhere is the actual “battle” described; only its outcome). First, the beast and false prophet are “seized” and “thrown alive” into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:10 indicates that their torment is eternal.
I am persuaded that the beast and false prophet are primarily corporate or collective images and not two particular historical individuals (although individuals may at various times in history function as a manifestation of either beast or false prophet). So, if it seems strange to you to speak of throwing non-human, corporate, images into the lake of fire, see Revelation 20:14 where “death and Hades” are also thrown into the lake of fire! Second, all “the rest” of their followers are killed. That they, too, will ultimately be thrown into the lake of fire is evident from Revelation 20:15.
Even so, come Lord Jesus!