As our denominational name indicates, the second coming of Christ is one of the cardinal doctrines of the Adventist faith. We give it such prominence in our beliefs because it occupies a pivotal place in Holy Scripture, not only in the New Testament, but also in the Old. As far back as the time of Enoch, it was prophesied, “The Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints” (Jude 14). And Job said, “I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth” (Job 19:25); while David declared, “Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence” (Ps. 50:3). Numerous other prophets wrote in similar vein.
I. Various Terms Used to Depict Advent
In the constantly recurring predictions of the glorious second advent of our Lord, a number of Greek words are used, words having distinct and unique shades
of meaning. We will list the most prominent, giving an example of each use. Here are ten leading Greek terms employed:
Parousia—”The coming of the Lord draweth nigh” (James 5:8).
Erchomai—”Occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13).
Apokaluptpo—”When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed” (2 Thess. 1:7).
Epiphaneia—”The appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Tim. 6:14).
Phaneroo—”When the chief Shepherd shall appear” (1 Peter 5:4).
Prosopon—”From the presence of the Lord” (2 Thess. 1:9).
Analuo—”He will return from the wedding” (Luke 12:36).
Hupostrepho—”To receive . . . a kingdom, and to return” (Luke 19:12).
Ephistimi—”That day come upon you unawares” (Luke 21:34).
Heko—”Hold fast till I come” (Rev. 2:25).
The meaning of these ten Greek terms is highly significant. Properly understood, they enable us to glimpse at least something of the nature of the glorious appearing of our blessed Lord. Erchomai, for example, indicates the act of coming, but not necessarily of arrival. Heko goes a step further, and not only means coming, but stresses arrival as well. Parousia goes further still, for it involves not only coming and arrival, but the actual personal presence of the person who has arrived. Again, analuo indicates a departure in order to return, while hupostrepho has the idea of returning from a journey.
Further, apokalupto stresses appearing, with the idea of revelation. Prosopon indicates the actual presence of the one coming, and that all are before his face. Epiphaneia emphasizes the glory that will attend the Saviour when He comes. Phaneroo involves not only appearing but the further thought that the person appearing will be seen in his true character. The other word, ephistemi, stresses the thought not only of being near but particularly of the suddenness of the coming of the Lord.
While the foregoing meanings of the Greek words are given in their renderings into English, these meanings are not always sharp and distinct. There is often an overlapping in the shades of meaning.
II. Adventist Understanding of the Second Advent
From these preliminary considerations, we feel that sound and reasonable conclusions may be drawn as to the teaching of the Word concerning the second advent. The Bible basis for our belief may be stated as follows:
1. Jesus Will Assuredly Come the Second Time.—Jesus Himself promised to come again. “I will come again,” He assured His disciples (John 14:3). And Paul the apostle declared that He would “appear the second time” (Heb. 9:28). The Saviour adds the further thought, “I will come again, and receive you unto myself” (John 14:3). There is significance to these last-mentioned words, for it is at the second advent that the resurrection of the saints takes place (1 Thess. 4:16).
And this is of such vital necessity that the same apostle declares, “If Christ be not risen” (1 Cor. 15: 14) then “the dead rise not” (verse 16); and if this be so, “then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished” (verse 18), The Greek word here used for “perished” is apollumi, which means “destroyed,” “perished,” “lost.” It is the term used in Luke 13:3, which reads, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish“; also in John 17:12, “None of them is lost, but the son of perdition.”
There is good reason, we therefore believe, for calling the advent of Jesus the “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). In a very real sense it is the supreme hope of the church, for it is at the return of our Lord that the sleeping saints are called forth to immortality. It is then that this “mortal shall . . . put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:54). And it is then that “the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible” (verse 52).
Further, those who are translated at the second advent (1 Thess. 4:15) will meet those raised from the dead, and together they meet their Lord in the air (verse 17), and so shall they “ever be with the Lord.” What consolation to those who have laid their loved ones to rest! This is evidently what the apostle had in mind when he wrote, “Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (verse 18).
2. Second Advent Will Be Visible, Audible, and Personal.—a. His coming will be visible. The revelator makes this clear when he states, “Behold, he cometh
with clouds; and every eye shall see him” (Rev. 1:7). This climactic event will certainly be visible to the saints of God. They have patiently waited for Him (1 Cor. 1:7), and it is “unto them that look for him” that He appears “without sin unto salvation” (Heb. 9: 28).
But the unrepentant hosts will also see Him as He comes in glory. We read that then “all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30; see also Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27).
b. His coming will be audible. The Bible writers, in describing the return of Christ, many times refer to the accompanying sound of a trumpet: “the last trump” (1 Cor. 15:52); “a shout,” “the voice,” “the trump of God” (1 Thess. 4:16); “a great sound of a trumpet” (Matt. 24:31). We do not understand this to be figurative language, but a plain statement of what will take place.
c. His coming will be personal. The coming of Jesus is not at death, or in some great catastrophe—such as the destruction of Jerusalem. The actual, personal presence of our Saviour Jesus Christ is called for. At the ascension the angels declared to the astonished disciples, “This same Jesus . . . shall so come in like manner” (Acts 1:11). The word “same” is not in the Greek text, but “this” is. The Greek word is houtos, a demonstrative word here used to stress the fact that He who returns will be the actual Jesus who ascended, and not another. This might well be rendered, “But Jesus Himself shall come.” A. T. Robertson (in his Word Pictures), commenting on Acts 1:11, remarks:
The word parousia, so frequently used of the coming of Christ, means the actual personal presence of the Saviour. It is the same word used in describing the “coming” of Titus (2 Cor. 7:6). (See more on this point under Section 4.)
3. Various Descriptive Words Refer to But One Advent.—It is to be particularly observed that there is but one second coming of Christ set forth in Scripture. This is specifically referred to as His appearing (Titus 2:13), coming (James 5:8), return (Luke 19: 12), presence (2 Thess. 1:9), coming the second time (Heb. 9:28), and coming again (John 14:3). Jesus said He would “come again” (John 14:3); and in the parable would “return” from His journey (Luke 19: 12). He referred repeatedly to His “coming” with no indication whatever of a two-stage advent or of a preliminary coming, secret or otherwise, for the “rapture” of the saints. Scripture explicitly states that Christ will come “the second time” to save those who are looking for Him (Heb. 9:28); obviously “we which are alive and remain” (1 Thess. 4:17) to look for Him are to be saved at the time of the resurrection and translation of the saints, that is, the time of the so-called rapture. We can find no scripture that separates what has been termed the “rapture” from the second coming.
In the face of all the references to “the” coming, appearing, or return of the Lord, and in the absence of any statement of two distinct events, certainly the burden of proof rests on those who would divide these
various references to the coming into two phases separated by the period of the antichrist. And the advocate of the “pretribulationist” view does not have clear Scripture evidence for a preliminary coming to gather the saints before the last-day tribulation and a coming with the saintsafter the tribulation in glory and flaming vengeance on the antichrist and the wicked. Not only is there no hint of two such different comings, but there is specific scriptural evidence to the contrary.
4. “Parousia” Calls for Christ’s Actual Personal Appearance.—This word parousia has a distinct meaning, and can meet its fulfillment only in the actual coming and visible presence of the individual involved. This can be seen in the use of parousia in the New Testament, other than in reference to the second coming. Thus it is used of the coming of Titus (2 Cor. 7:6); the coming of Stephanas (1 Cor. 16:17); and the coming of Paul (Phil. 1:26).
An illustration is seen in 2 Corinthians 10:10, where we read concerning the “bodily presence” (parousia) of Paul the apostle. There is no occasion for mistaking the meaning of this word. It is clear, definite, and conclusive. Deissmann (Light From the Ancient East, pp. 272, 382) shows that parousia (“presence,” “coming”) was the technical term for the personal arrival of a potentate or his representative.
The Scriptures clearly teach (1 Cor. 15:23) that “they that are Christ’s” are to be resurrected “at his coming” (the word here used is parousia). Elsewhere the parousia of the Son of man is described by a very visible symbol, the lightning shining across the whole sky (Matt. 24:27). There is nothing secret about that
kind of parousia. (The argument for a secret coming of Christ based on this Greek word has been discredited even by some pretribulationist writers.) But the evidence does not rest on the mere choice of words.
5. No Place for “Secret” Rapture as Separate Phase of Advent.—When Jesus returns He does not come alone. Celestial beings constitute the triumphal train that returns with Him. Jesus said, “The Son of man shall come . . . with his angels” (Matt. 16:27). Mark refers to them as “holy angels” (Mark 8:38); Paul, as “his mighty angels” (2 Thess. 1:7); and Matthew quotes our Lord’s own words, saying “all the holy angels” will accompany His return (Matt. 25:31). What a galaxy of celestial glory, not merely of the angel hosts, but of Christ Himself coming in “his own glory” and in “his Father’s” (Luke 9:26). Who can picture the scene! With ten thousands of ten thousands and “thousands of thousands” (Rev. 5:11), of these messengers of glory, what a pageant of unparalleled majesty! What a revelation of the effulgent glory of the Eternal!
There is a striking similarity between the events as described in different parallel accounts of the second coming, particularly in relation to the resurrection of the dead and the translation of the living righteous. Paul says, “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God” (1 Thess. 4:16), and will catch up His own into the air to meet Him. Obviously, it is this gathering up of the saints from the earth that is described in similar terms by Jesus Himself: “They shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of
heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matt. 24:30, 31). And notice that it is the sounding of “the trumpet” that calls forth “the dead” (1 Cor. 15:52) when “they that are Christ’s” are “made alive” “at his coming” (verses 22, 23). This selection of the righteous from among the vast multitudes of earth is on an individual basis. Christ Himself described this dividing of earth’s inhabitants into two distinct classes by the simple declaration, “One shall be taken, and the other left” (Matt. 24:40).
In the light of these considerations, we find no place for a secret rapture, as held by some.
6. The Advent and the Final Tribulation.— The “gathering” of the church to Christ in relation to the time of the antichrist and the tribulation is discussed in literal and explicit language in Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, which was written to correct the misunderstanding of what he had said in his first letter about the coming of Jesus to raise the dead and translate the living righteous. In his second epistle he tells the Thessalonian Christians that God will recompense their persecutors with tribulation, and the victims of persecution with rest, “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel” (2 Thess. 1:7, 8). Again we find the two classes: The church finds rest at the time when Christ comes with blazing vengeance on His (and her) enemies. Further, Paul instructed
them in regard to “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” and “our gathering together unto him” (2 Thess. 2:1; not by, or in the name of, the coming and the gathering, but concerning it, as the R.S.V. correctly renders huper). What else could he have meant by “our gathering together unto him” but the same gathering of the saints that he had described in his former letter and that they had evidently misunderstood—the coming when “we . . . shall be caught up” to Christ, that is, the “rapture” of 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17? In regard to this matter he beseeches his readers not to be “shaken in mind, or be troubled” about the imminence of the day of Christ, “for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thess. 2:1-3). Paul, then, is telling the Thessalonian Christians that the day of Christ’s coming to gather the saints*—the coming about which they were worried because they had misunderstood Paul—was not to come until after the revealing of the man of sin. This much is clear here, but Paul goes on.
This man of sin, further, is to sit “in the temple of God” and claim worship as God—the same power we believe that is to wear out the saints and bring the great tribulation of 1260 days—and he is to be destroyed “with the brightness of his coming” (verses 4, 8). It is obvious that, whatever “he who now letteth” might be, the taking away that will permit the revealing of
anti-Christ cannot be equated with the gathering of Christ’s church to Himself, which Paul here refers to as coming after the “falling away” and the revealing of the man of sin. And it is equally obvious that antichrist must precede, not follow, the gathering of the saints to Christ at His coming. To state it in another way: If the coming of Christ that destroys the antichrist follows the revealing of the man of sin, and if the gathering of the Christian saints at His coming also follows the revealing of the man of sin, then there is no conceivable reason, in the absence of an explicit statement of Scripture, why these are not the same coming.
This agrees with Paul’s statement that the coming to bring rest to the church is the coming to bring vengeance to the enemies of God; with John’s description of the coming of the King that includes the judgments on the beast, the false prophet, and the dragon, and the first resurrection as well; and with Jesus’ statement that His coming with trumpet blast to gather His elect follows the tribulation. And all the passages harmonize with Jesus’ repeated references to His coming (always in the singular).
Therefore Seventh-day Adventists believe on the evidence of Scripture that there will be one visible, personal, glorious second coming of Christ.
7. Prophecies Concerning Antichrist Fulfilled Before Advent.—Adventists, in common with virtually all early Protestant Reformers, recognize the papal power as the great Antichrist of the centuries, because it meets the scriptural specifications of the “little horn” of Daniel 7 and the “beast” of Revelation 13. Those who take either the preterist or the futurist
position are unable to recognize the actual Antichrist as he carries on his work. When no one is on the alert to his nefarious schemes, he will seek to deceive the whole world; so much so, that ultimately men will declare, “Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?” and “all the world” will wonder “after the beast” (Rev. 13:4, 3).
The work of Antichrist will be brought to an end by the second advent of our Lord. We read in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 of one who is called the “man of sin.” We read of his blasphemous claims in verse 4, of his signs and lying wonders in verse 9. But God’s Word declares unmistakably that he will be consumed by “the brightness of his [Christ’s] coming” (2 Thess. 2:8). Though all the organizations of apostasy, with all their wicked works, should combine, their activities will come to an end at the time our Lord returns from heaven (Rev. 19:19, 20).
8. Second Advent Marks Beginning of Millennial Period.—The millennial period is mentioned definitely in Revelation 20 under the expression “thousand years.” Verses 4-6 speak of the first resurrection. “They came to life again, and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (Rev. 20:4, R.S.V.). Those having part in it are called “blessed and holy.” Further, “they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him a thousand years.” The resurrection of the saints, taught in 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4, takes place at the coming of our Lord. And inasmuch as those thus raised reign “with Christ a thousand years,” it is clear that this resurrection marks the beginning of the millennial period. Seeing that the rest of the dead (the
wicked) “did not come to life again until the thousand years were ended” (Rev. 20:4, R.S.V.), it likewise seems clear that this second resurrection marks the close of the millennial period. (For further discussion of the millennium, see Questions 38, 39).
9. New Testament Expressions Advanced By Rapturists.—Among these are to be noted (a) “The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2) and (b) “The one shall be taken, and the other left” (Matt. 24:40). The likening of the coming of Christ to a thief in the night, must, it seems to us, be understood as having some limitations. One would surely not wish to push the illustration to the extreme. We would hardly think of the Saviour’s coming like a thief who prowls around, working in the dark, afraid of being discovered. That could never be a likeness of our Redeemer.
The context of 1 Thessalonians 5:2 clearly indicates what the apostle meant by describing the second coming of Christ as a thief. He is talking about the unexpectedness of Christ’s coming. No one expects a thief; therefore he is able to do his nefarious work undetected. The apostle describes the heedless at that day as expecting peace and safety when sudden destruction is in immediate prospect (verse 3). But they are not expecting it. He cautions the faithful not to fall asleep, lest the second advent overtake them as a thief (verses 4, 5). He urges them to “watch and be sober” (verse 6) in expectation of the second coming of Christ.
The idea, therefore, is of unexpectedness rather than of secrecy. Of course, the advent of Jesus will catch
some professing Christians asleep, but that will be their own fault, and not part of God’s plan. They should be alert and watching for His appearing. But even those who are awake, unless they are fully surrendered to God, will be caught unawares. The coming of the Lord will also beunexpected for them. In other words, they are not actually looking for Him to return; they are not waiting for Him. Hence, Christ’s coming will, to them, be as a thief in the night.
As to the other passage—”The one shall be taken, and the other left”—there are two schools of interpretation among commentators. Some feel that those “taken” are taken in destruction; others, that they are taken to be with the Lord. But whatever the correct interpretation, one point stands out clearly: No concept of secrecy is involved in the words used. It is the fact of being “taken” or of being “left” that is stressed. There is no indication in the words themselves as to just how the one is taken and the other left.
The passage indicates clearly that this will be a day of separation. To introduce the idea of secrecy into the text is, we believe, wholly unwarranted. Nowhere in the Bible is there any indication that when the one is taken and the other left, certain persons will awaken the next morning to find loved ones “missing.” The thief-in-the-night illustration was obviously given by our Lord to indicate the suddenness of His appearing and the danger that faces not only the world but even the church of being unprepared and so being taken Unawares.
Advocates of the “rapture” theory also advance the case of Enoch in support of their concept. As to Enoch
the Scripture declares, “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him” (Heb. 11:5). It is maintained that the expression he “was not found” indicates that a search was made, and so implies secrecy in his being translated. But in this connection it must be remembered that the term “ascension” itself surely does not connote secrecy. Elijah also was translated, but in full view of Elisha, and with chariot and whirlwind. Again, when our blessed Lord “was taken up” (Acts 1:9), it was in full, open view of His disciples.
Furthermore, why should the expression “was not found” be thought to indicate secrecy? Similar expressions are found in other connections and they could not mean secrecy, or refer to something done in a corner. Thus we read that in the last days “the mountains were not found” (Rev. 16:20); of Babylon, that it “shall be found no more at all” (Rev. 18:21); and of its inhabitants, that none “shall be found any more in thee” (verse 22). On what linguistic or exegetical authority, then, can one introduce the idea of something happening secretly?
10. Second Coming “Blessed Hope” for the Church.—In summation: Seventh-day Adventists believe that Christ’s second advent will be personal, visible, audible, bodily, glorious, and premillennial, and will mark the completion of our redemption. And we believe that our Lord’s return is imminent, at a time that is near but not disclosed. Adventists’ joy, hope, and expectation over the prospect are well expressed by the following excerpts from the writings of Ellen G. White: