God’s Plan for Man—Part 3

The Manner of Our Lord’s Return

WHEN considering the manner of Christ’s return to earth at his second advent, it is essential to remember that he is no longer a human being, that he sacrificed his humanity to provide redemption from death for Adam and his posterity, the human race. (Heb. 2:9; II Cor. 5:16) The Scriptures speak of the experiences of Jesus “in the days of his flesh,” which are in the past. (Heb. 5:7) The Scriptures also inform us that Jesus was put to death in the flesh but in the resurrection was made alive in the Spirit, or a spirit being, the express image of his Heavenly Father.—Heb. 1:3; II Cor. 3:17; I Pet. 3:18

Being exalted to the divine nature when raised from the dead, Jesus is now invisible to human eyes, even as the Creator himself. (I Tim. 1:17; 6:15,16) To prove to his disciples that he had been raised from the dead, he miraculously appeared to them on different occasions in a body of flesh—once as a gardener, once as a stranger, etc. But these appearances are referred to in the Scriptures as “signs” and “proofs.” (John 20:30; Acts 1:3) The apostles knew that in order to see Jesus as he is, a divine being, they would have to be made like him, and they entertained this hope.—I John 3:1-3

Jesus taught his disciples that the world of mankind would not see him after his death and resurrection. (John 14:19) He explained that they would see him again, because they, in the resurrection, are to be made like him. Because human eyes are not able to see the resurrected and exalted Jesus, he is to return secretly, while the world goes on with its ordinary affairs of life.—Rev. 16:15; I Thess. 5:2; II Pet. 3:10

Jesus explained that it would be necessary for his followers to watch for signs which would denote his second presence on earth, and that for a time his presence would be unknown to all who did not watch. Jesus likened this to the days of Noah before the Flood, when the world went on with its everyday affairs of life, not knowing the real significance of the times in which they were living.—Matt. 24:38,39; Luke 21:36; 17:26,27

To be watchers, as this term is used in the Bible, does not mean to gaze into the sky to see Jesus returning. The thought is, rather, to watch world events for the fulfillment of the prophecies pertaining to the time of our Lord’s return. Peter speaks of the “sure word of prophecy.”—II Pet. 1:19

Eventually the whole world of mankind will see or discern the fact of our Lord’s second presence. The Bible says that they will “see” him in the “clouds,” meaning in the chaotic and distressing experiences incidental to the breakdown of earthly rulership and the establishment of the kingdom of Christ. The people of the world will never see Jesus in a literal sense (Rev. 1:7; II Thess. 1:7-10), but they will discern him in much the same manner as Job saw God. After his faith was severely tested by the afflictions which the Lord permitted to come upon him, Job said in prayer: “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee.” (Job 42:5) Job did not actually see God, but had gained a better understanding of him.

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Why do we know that Jesus will never return to earth as a human? Cite Scriptural proof.

How was it possible for the disciples to see Jesus after he had been raised from the dead? Will Jesus’ followers ever be able to see him?

How do we know that the world of mankind will never see Jesus again?

How and by what means do the true followers of Jesus at this end of the age discern the fact of his return and second presence?

Explain what Jesus meant by his admonition to watch. When and how will the whole world eventually “see” Jesus?

Reference Material:

“The Time Is at Hand,” Volume 11, pages 106-108

Summary of Important Thoughts

In studying the prophecies pertaining to the return of Christ and his second presence on earth, it is essential to remember that he is now a divine being, the “express image” of his Heavenly Father.

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Three Worlds

There are important time divisions in the plan of God which the Scriptures refer to as worlds and ages. What the Bible says concerning any one of these periods of time may not be true of another; so it is necessary in our study of the Bible to apply its various promises and prophecies to the proper period of time in the divine plan; otherwise, the Bible will seem to be contradictory. This proper method of studying God’s Word is referred to by the Apostle Paul as “rightly dividing the Word of truth.”—II Tim. 2:15

The entire period of time from Adam to the Deluge is referred to in the Bible as a world—“The world that then was.” (II Pet. 3:6) Such faithful servants of God as Abel, Enoch, and Noah lived in this world. It was toward the close of this period of time that God instructed Noah to build an ark.—Gen. 6:14

Then, beginning with the Flood and ending with the establishment of Christ’s kingdom, is what the Bible speaks of as “this present evil world.” (Gal. 1:4) It is called an evil world, not because there is no good in it, but because evil predominates. Satan, the devil, is the prince or ruler of this present evil world.—Mal. 3:15; John 14:30; II Cor. 4:4

A third world begins when the returned Lord binds Satan and commences his thousand-year reign. It is referred to in the Bible as “the world to come.” (Heb. 2:5) During the first thousand years of this third world, Jesus will be the supreme ruler; and the purpose of his reign will be to establish the will of God throughout the earth and to destroy all the enemies of God and of righteousness.—I Cor. 15:25-28

Since evil has predominated in the first two worlds, it is obvious that any references, in the Bible to the general conditions throughout these two periods of time would take this into account. During these two worlds God has intervened in the affairs of mankind to halt wrongdoing only on special occasions and for specific purposes. Most of the time it has seemed as though the wicked have flourished.—Job 21:7-15

For the present it, appears that evil practices are almost unrestrained, but it will be different in the world to come, for then Satan will be bound and the kingdom of Christ will be in control.—Rev. 20:1-4

During this present evil world, the righteous servants of God are often persecuted (II Tim. 3:12), which is referred to in the Old Testament as the “rebuke” of God’s people. We are assured that this rebuke will be taken away by the agencies of Christ’s kingdom. (Isa. 25:8) Then the righteous will flourish, and even the great evils of sickness and death will be taken away. The Apostle John, writing concerning the third world in the divine plan, said: “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”—Ps. 72:7; Hos. 13:14; I Cor. 15:55; Rev. 21:1-5

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You have probably heard it said that the Bible is contradictory; but this is not true, as you will realize if you know the answers to these questions.

Explain what the Apostle Paul meant by “rightly dividing the Word of truth.”

How does the Bible describe the world before the Flood?

What name does the Bible give to the period of time beginning at the Flood, which we sometimes refer to as the world of today?

How does the Bible describe the world of tomorrow, and when does this world begin?

Does God ever interfere with the wickedness of this present evil world? What will be one of the factors to change this situation in the world to come?

Will the righteous servants of God always be persecuted?

Reference Material:

“The Divine Plan of the Ages,” Volume I, pages 65-70

Summary of Important Thoughts

In order to understand the teachings of the Bible, it is essential to know the various time divisions in the plan of God and apply the promises and prophecies of the Bible in their proper time periods.

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Four Ages

We have now learned that there are three major time divisions in the plan of God. The first of these was the world before the Flood; the second, the period which began at the Flood and ends with the establishment of Christ’s kingdom; the third is the world which begins with the binding of Satan and the establishment of Christ’s kingdom, and continues into the eternal future.

The second of these major time divisions, described by the Apostle Paul as “this present evil world” (II Cor. 4:4; Gal. 1:4), is divided into three ages. The first of these ages began with the drying up of the waters of the Flood and continued until the death of Jacob, the grandson of Abraham. During this period, God carried forward his plan through individual patriarchs such as Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He made promises to Abraham, which were reiterated to Isaac and inherited as a birthright by Jacob.—Gen. 12:3; 22:16-18; 26:3-5; 27:28,29; 28:10-14

Beginning with his death, Jacob’s twelve sons were dealt with by God as a family or nation. This change is suggested by the fact that, while Isaac could bestow his parental blessing upon only one of his sons, Jacob blessed all twelve of his sons, although only Judah received the promise. (Gen. 49:8-10) Later, after they were delivered from Egypt, God gave this people his Law, and to these he sent his prophets. (Rom. 3:1,2) We refer to this period in the plan of God as the Jewish Age, for God’s dealings were exclusively with the Jewish nation during this period.—Amos 3:2

The Jewish Age was characterized by the fact that it was during this time that God gave the Israelites his Law and sent his prophets to them. This arrangement ended with the first advent of Christ, John the Baptist being the last of the prophets. (Luke 16:16) One of the essential purposes of the Jewish Age was to give the Israelites, as a people, an opportunity to qualify for association with the Messiah in the future blessing of the world, but in this they failed.—Exod. 19:5,6

The final test upon the nation was the coming of the Messiah, and they failed by rejecting him. Here the Gospel Age began, an age in which God deals with individuals who respond to the Gospel and devote themselves to his service. A few of the Israelites were the first to embrace this opportunity (John 1:11,12), but there were not sufficient of them to make up God’s foreordained number of joint-heirs with Christ. So the Gospel began to be preached also to the Gentiles, and this proclamation still continues.—Acts. 1:8

Following the Gospel Age, the Millennial Age will be the first age in the third world. This is the time when Christ’s rulership over the earth will destroy all evil, including sickness and death. (I Cor. 15:25,26) This is the great consummation age in the plan of God, when his great design will be completed.—Eph. 1:10

Through the Christ, head and body, the faith seed of Abraham, the knowledge of the Lord will be caused to fill the earth as the waters cover the sea. In that righteous kingdom nothing will be permitted to hurt nor destroy!—Isa. 11:9

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To know what God’s work has been in the various ages of his plan and what it will be in the future is essential in order to appreciate the harmony of the Bible. Can you answer these questions?

How many major time divisions are there in the plan of God? Identify them.

What is the name of the first age in the second world? What is characteristic of this age?

When did the second age in the present world begin? When will it end?

What were some of the things accomplished by God during the Jewish Age?

What was God’s final test of obedience upon the Jewish nation? What blessing came to those who accepted Jesus?

What is the name of the first age in the world to come, and what will be accomplished by God during this age?

Reference Material:

“The Divine Plan of the Ages,” Volume I, pages 70-75

Summary of Important Thoughts

The application of the various texts of Scripture to their proper age is most important in the study of the Bible.

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The Day of the LORD

The Bible uses the expression, “day of the Lord” (or day of Jehovah) to denote that period in the closing days of this Gospel Age when the hand of God is manifested in the affairs of men. It is properly applied to that part of Christ’s second presence during which Satan’s world, or social order, is being destroyed, preparatory to the establishment of Christ’s millennial kingdom.—I Thess. 5:2, 3; II Pet. 3:10

The work of Christ as the Arm of Jehovah in setting aside Satan’s social order is described as being accomplished during the “days of the Son of man.” (Luke 17:26,27) It is the time when Jesus, the Son of man, is present, the crumbling of the institutions of the earth being among the signs that he has returned.

This day of the Lord Jehovah is also foretold in the Old Testament, where it is symbolically described as one of clouds and darkness, denoting trouble. (Joel 2:1,2) Daniel described this day as “the time of the end,” in which there would be a great “time of trouble.”—Dan. 12:1,4

This same period of national and international trouble which denotes the destruction of Satan’s world is also described in the Bible as the day of “God’s vengeance.” (Isa. 34:1-8; Jer. 25:32,33) During this period the sinful and selfish institutions of men, dominated by Satan, are to be destroyed, whereas heretofore these have been allowed to flourish.

At the close of this day, selfish human authority throughout the earth will be replaced by divine authority, in the hands of Christ. (Rev. 11:15,17,18) The Bible reveals that in the process of destroying the evil institutions of men the nations become angry, leading to the time of great tribulation foretold by Jesus.—Matt. 24:21,22

The Bible also uses the expression last days with reference to these final days of this present Gospel Age, just prior to the establishment in the earth of Christ’s righteous kingdom. This kingdom is likened to a great mountain which has a dominating position over all other mountains and hills, symbolic of the kingdoms of this world. The Bible shows that the people will recognize the authority of Christ’s kingdom and through obedience to its laws will find peace and security.—Mic. 4:1-4

Evil will not have been completely destroyed until the closing years of Christ’s kingdom. While it is during the day of the Lord that the selfish governmental institutions of men are destroyed in a time of national and international trouble, the work of abolishing all evil will continue throughout the ensuing thousand years of the kingdom. Finally all enemies will have been destroyed.—I Cor. 15:25,26

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In the study of prophecy it is essential to realize that a day frequently signifies a long period of time. The proper answers to the following questions will reveal this.

What is “the day of the Lord” referred to in the prophecies of the Bible?

What does the Bible mean by “the days of the Son of man”?

How did the Prophet Joel and the Prophet Daniel describe “the day of the Lord”?

What is the day of “God’s vengeance”? Explain what will be accomplished during this prophetic day.

What are the “last days” mentioned in the prophecies, and what takes place during these days?

How long will the work of destroying evil continue?

Reference Material:

“The Battle of Armageddon,” Volume IV, pages 11-20

Summary of Important Thoughts

“The day of the Lord,” or day of Jehovah, is that period of time in the closing days of the Gospel Age, prior to the establishment of Christ’s thousand-year kingdom, when the selfish, evil institutions of men are to be destroyed in a great time of trouble. It is also described in the Scriptures as the day of God’s anger and wrath, and the day of God’s vengeance.

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Object of Our Lord’s Return

In the May section of “God’s Plan for Man” we learned that Jesus was born into the world as a man in order that he might sacrifice his human life for the sins of the people and thus redeem them from death. It was for this purpose that he gave his flesh, his humanity, for the life of the world.—John 6:51

The work of the Lord in the earth since Jesus’ death and resurrection has not been the restoring of the people to health and life on the earth, though the means for this was provided by his death and resurrection. Rather, his work has been the selection from mankind of those willing to suffer and die with Jesus, that they might live and reign with him. This company of people is described in the Bible as a “people for his name.”—Acts 15:14

However, the Scriptures assure us that, as a result of the redeeming work of Christ, mankind will be restored to life on the earth. Christ returns to earth to accomplish this great work during what the Bible describes as “times of restitution of all things,” which have been foretold by all God’s holy prophets.—Acts 3:19-21

Isaiah was one of God’s holy prophets, and he foretold a day when the people would not say they were sick. (Isa. 33:24) Isaiah also forecast that blind eyes would be opened, and that deaf ears would be unstopped, and that those redeemed by Jesus—“the ransomed of the Lord”—would return from death. (Isa. 35:5,10) In another forecast of the times of restitution, Isaiah wrote that God would wipe away the tears of the people, and that death would be destroyed.—Isa. 25:8

Jeremiah was another of God’s holy prophets, and he foretold that children who had died would be restored to life, brought back, that is, from “the land of the enemy.”—Jer. 31:15-17

The work of restoring mankind to health and life on the earth will be accomplished through the agencies of Christ’s kingdom, symbolized in the Bible by a mountain, “the mountain of the Lord.” The Prophet Micah foretold that in this mountain or kingdom of the Lord the people would learn war no more, and that no one would make them afraid.—Mic. 4:1-4

In the Old Testament, those who have died are likened to prisoners who are held captive. Their awakening from death is described as a release from their captivity. Ezekiel, another of God’s holy prophets, using this terminology, foretold the restoration of the Sodomites, the Samaritans, and the Israelites. (Ezek. 16:53) Using this same language, the Prophet Jeremiah foretold the restoration of other wicked people of the past.—Jer. 48:47; 49:39

The Prophet Habakkuk foretold that following the return of the Lord Jesus, the earth would be filled with a knowledge of the glory of Jehovah. (Hab. 2:14) All these blessings will come to the peoples of the earth as a result of our Lord’s return.

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What was one of the main purposes of Christ’s first advent?

What has been the work of the Lord in the earth since the death and resurrection of Jesus?

What is one of the main purposes of Christ’s return to earth at his second advent? How does Peter describe this future accomplishment?

Cite some of Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the “Times of restitution of all things.”

How do we know that children will be raised from the dead during the times of restitution?

What is one of the symbols of Christ’s kingdom? What assurance is given us in one of Micah’s prophecies in which this symbol is used?

How does the Old Testament sometimes describe the dead, and how is their resurrection promised?

When will the knowledge of the Lord fill the earth?

Reference Material:

“The Divine Plan of the Ages,” Volume I, pages 93-95

Summary of Important Thoughts

Christ does not return to destroy the earth, but to restore the people to health and life.

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