Between the recent article concerning the pre-wrath rapture and the recent availability of the “History of the Future” book on Amazon, I’ve been spending a good deal of time dealing with eschatological matters. In the process, I’ve bumped into an argument that is shared by advocates of pretty much every other position than premil/pretrib. It goes like this —
The pretribulational position asserts that Jesus will return for His church before the seven year tribulation and then return years later to accomplish His wrath and establish His kingdom. So, just how many "second comings" are there???
The assumption behind the argument is that Christ can and will only return to Earth once and do whatever needs doing at that time. Otherwise, there’s more than one “second coming.” There’s a “third coming,” or maybe even a fourth. Hence, no pretrib rapture.
I’d like to respond.
The phrase “second coming” isn’t in the Bible. The closest we get to that phrase in Hebrews 9:28, which reads —
“So Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.”
We think in terms of the first and second comings of Christ in order to differentiate His incarnation and ministry (including His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension) from His promised return.
Now, in order to think biblically about Christ’s “second time” appearance, let’s consider what happened the first time around. And let’s ask the question: How many “appearances” make up His “first coming”?
Let’s count the period from Christ’s birth to His resurrection as one comprehensive whole — His life, so to speak. Immediately after His resurrection, He would not let Mary touch Him, stating, “I have not yet ascended to the Father.” (John 20:17) But soon after, in a matter of days, when He appeared in the midst of His disciples, Jesus invited Thomas to touch Him (John 20:27). We can safely assume that He had been to His Father. He left the planet and returned.
So, is that a “second coming” or is it part of the first? We all count it as part of His first coming. Christ’s “first coming” has multiple appearances. Like His later appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:31-35) And later, He stood in their midst as they recounted the story (Luke 24:36).
He appeared again to Peter and another six apostles by the Sea of Tiberius (John 21:1-14). Later, after His ascension back to Heaven, Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus on his way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-8). In fact, Saul (whose name was changed to Paul) argued that his apostleship was based in the fact that he had actually seen the Lord (1Cor. 9:1) after multiple other appearances —
“… He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” (1Cor. 15:5-8)
Time passes. Best history and tradition tell us that Paul died somewhere in the mid-to-late 60’s AD. His fifth missionary journey ended around 67 AD, after which he was beheaded by Nero. Meanwhile, the apostle John was banished to the Isle of Patmos under the reign of Domitian, sometime around 90-92 AD. And who appeared to him? Jesus again. Somewhere in the range of sixty years after His ascension, Jesus appeared to John to impart the information we call the book of Revelation.
How many appearances is that now?
Here’s my point — if the “first coming” of Christ included multiple appearances to different people, in different situations, for different reasons, including calling John up to Heaven (Rev. 4:1), over a period of time that spanned 60 years, then I don’t see any inconsistency with the idea that Jesus could appear to (and for) His church and later return in judgment. Both of those events would comfortably fit into what we call the “second coming.”
After all, He did it the first time.