The Return of Jesus

FROM THE FIRST DAYS of the Early Church down to our time, the expectation of the return of Jesus has been a topic of high interest. It should not be surprising, therefore, as the world approached the beginning of a new millennium, that this topic should again be prominent in the minds of people. About six months prior to the beginning of the year 2000, an Associated Press writer published an article captioned, “Will New Millennium Bring Jesus Back?” This was a syndicated feature available for many papers throughout the U.S.A. for publication. The article consisted of listing predictions and commentaries of many individuals and organizations on this matter.


Statistics were cited in the article, and we quote:

“According to a recent Associated Press poll, nearly one out of every four Christian adults—an estimated 26.5 million people—expect Jesus to arrive in their lifetimes. Nearly as many—an estimated 21.1 million Americans—are so sure of it that they feel an urgent need to convert friends and neighbors.”

The writer of the article noted that the expectation of Jesus’ return “has underpinned Christianity from its earliest days.” So he asked, “But what makes today’s prayers so earnest? What separates this generation of end-time prophets from those of the last two millennia?” He further wrote concerning the sign given about Israel, saying:


“The New Testament compares the kingdom of God, near at hand, to the growth of a fig tree. Some believers substitute Israel for the tree. They say the Second Coming is near at hand when the tree shoots forth branches—when Israel becomes a nation.

“And that happened in 1948.

“Verily I say unto you, ‘This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled,’ Jesus says in Luke 21:32.

“Since many end-time prophets also place the apocalyptic Armageddon in Israel, developments there continue to stir interest. In 1967, when Israel reclaimed much of Jerusalem from Jordan, the prophecy in Luke was only strengthened.

“During the 1991 war between the United States and Iraq, many evangelists— from Billy Graham to John Walvoord, chancellor of the Dallas Theological Seminary—envisioned the beginning of the end.

“And when the 1993 Mideast peace pact was signed, radio evangelist Monte Judah of Norman, Okla., identified the beginning of seven years’ tribulation heralding the Second Coming.

“For evangelicals, signs of the end can be found anywhere, anytime. Worldwide disasters—floods, wars, earthquakes—are what Jesus, in the Gospel of Matthew, told followers to look for. The Hale-Bopp comet, famine in Africa, developments in the European Common Market, even the convergence of full moons and Jewish religious festivals—all are sifted for clues of the apocalypse.”


The illustration of the fig tree, in connection with Israel, was fulfilled when Jews returned to Palestine from all over the world. It is one of several signs given by Jesus to his disciples when they inquired about the signs of his return. The Biblical account of this matter is found especially in Matthew 24:32-34, though it also is mentioned in Mark 13:28-30 and Luke 21:29-32. The writer of this article did not address a number of important issues. One of these is the exact meaning of the Greek word ‘parousia’ which has been translated ‘coming’ by the King James Version translators, and many other translators as well. Parousia means ‘presence,’ and the disciples of Jesus were interested in his presence, not in his coming.

In the article, mention was also made that worldwide disasters—floods, wars, earthquakes—were among the signs given by Jesus, and were being sifted for clues of the end. Jesus was, however, telling them that such natural disasters would occur as the normal expectancy of mankind. He said of these, “The end is not yet,” (Matt. 24:6) and, “these are the beginning of sorrows.” (vs. 8) The significant signs of his presence begin with Matthew 24:14.


It is evident in this article that many of the people interviewed expect Jesus to return in the flesh as at his First Advent. Whereas Jesus said, “The world seeth me no more.” (John 14:19) The Scriptures teach that when Jesus was raised from the dead he was no longer a human, but a powerful Divine being, the “image of the invisible God.” (Col. 1:15; II Cor. 5:16; I Pet. 3:18) This means that by nature Jesus is now invisible to the human eye, even as God is invisible. It is this Divine Christ who returns to earth unrecognized by the natural eye.

True, Jesus did appear as a man to his disciples on several occasions following his resurrection, but this does not mean that he was, by nature, still a human. The circumstances of his few brief appearances prove to the contrary. For example, he always appeared in a different body, which would not have been the case had the human body in which he appeared been his real body.

Only once did Jesus appear in a body similar to the one which was crucified, and that was because Thomas made it plain that he would not believe the Master had been raised from the dead unless he could see his wounds. Jesus satisfied his lack of faith, although only this once did the disciples see any wounds, and this appearance is described by the Apostle John as one of the “signs” by which Jesus proved to them that he had been raised from the dead. (John 20:29-31) On the other occasions of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples after his resurrection, they did not recognize him by his personal appearance, but by the things which he said and did.

Jesus’ appearances to his disciples after his resurrection were of the same nature as those of angels in more ancient times. For example, three angels appeared to Abraham. They talked and ate with him, but they were not humans—although for a time Abraham thought that they were.—Gen. 18:1,2; Heb. 13:2

Jesus was present with his disciples for forty days after his resurrection and before his ascension. During only a very small portion of this time, however, were the disciples able to see him, and then only when he miraculously appeared to them. It is this Jesus, who is able to be invisibly present among humans, who was to return to earth for the purpose of establishing his kingdom of righteousness. The redeemed race of mankind will have the problems of human selfishness solved, and be restored to happiness and life upon the earth.—Rev. 21:1-5


Jesus was made flesh that he might give his humanity as a corresponding price—a ransom for Adam and his race. The Master said, “My flesh … I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51) Had Jesus been raised from the dead as a human it would have meant that the ransom was taken back, and that the world of mankind would not have been redeemed.

The Scriptures show that while Jesus was put to death in the flesh, he was made alive in the Spirit, or as a spirit being. (I Cor. 15:44-47; I Pet. 3:18) Jesus had previously explained to Nicodemus that one who is born of the Spirit can come and go as the wind; that is, be invisible to the human eye and have great power. He proved this to be true in his own case, for after his resurrection, his disciples could not tell from whence he came or whither he went when appearing to them.—John 3:8

That Jesus still has the power to appear to humans as he did to his disciples following his resurrection from the dead we do not dispute. However, the Scriptures do not say that his return to earth will be revealed to the world in this manner. His appearances to his disciples following his resurrection were evidently intended to establish in the minds of the disciples the fact that he had been raised from the dead; but this fact having been established we have no reason to expect their repetition.

We read concerning God that “the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” (Rom. 1:20) Here is a key which will help us understand the significance of the prophecies pertaining to the return of Christ. He is now invisible to human eyes, even as the Heavenly Father is invisible. At his return he can be recognized only by the visible things which transpire and which can be identified through the prophecies of the Bible as the ‘signs’ which were to mark his second visit to earth.

Let us state the matter another way. We believe in the existence of God, not because we have ever seen him, but because we see his works. With our limited abilities we survey the vast universe and say there must be a powerful, all-wise Creator back of this. Similarly, in the Divine Word we find set forth an impressive array of events which were to take place in the world following the return of the Divine Christ. If we can see that many of these events are already taking place, we arrive at the logical conclusion concerning Christ’s second visit to earth as being already a reality.


The events that take place after our Lord’s return are called ‘signs.’ What are some of these signs? The first is recorded in Matthew 24:14: “This Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” This ‘end’ is that of the present evil world. The Gospel is the good news contained in the Bible telling of God’s wonderful kingdom to come. There have been many missionaries trying to convert people who have no understanding of this glorious message, but this scripture is not fulfilled by their efforts. God intended that only a witness be given to every nation; but he did not intend to convert the world at this time. (See Matthew 13:10-17.) The time when all mankind will “come unto the knowledge of the truth” is in God’s kingdom. (I Tim. 2:4) This sign then consists of the work done by Bible Societies in making Bibles available in every known language in the world. There are over 1800 languages worldwide, and the Bible has been made available in all of these—an estimated three to four thousand speaking communities.


Another sign is given in Matthew 24:21: “Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” This trouble has occurred in phases, and has affected the whole world. World War I was a phase; the Great Depression was another; World War II, yet another; and the continual wars that have been fought border many times on anarchy. Every nation will be affected, and it will include social, financial, political, and religious institutions. We must continue to expect anarchy, destruction, strife, hatred, and malignity as part of this trouble.

Only revealed and understood as a sign within the last fifty years are the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:22, where he says, “Except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” Prior to 1945 we could only speculate as to what could threaten complete destruction of life upon earth. The deadly force of the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan (August 1945) brought the awareness of the terrifying intensity of nuclear weapons to all nations. Many nations scurried to develop these weapons, so that in our day a stockpile exists which could destroy all life on earth many times over. In 1945 the destruction of all life upon earth became a technical possibility, according to Albert Einstein. Since that time the stockpile of nuclear weapons has soared.


Another sign already mentioned, in Matthew 24:32-34, is the restoration of Israel in their own land. What has occurred along this line since 1878 is miraculous, and without doubt has been in preparation for the blessings which will be theirs in the Messianic kingdom. This regathering of Israel was prophetically due at the very time when the nations as a whole were to be gathered unto the final destructive battle of Armageddon. Joel 3:1,2 reads: “For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land.”

This prophecy indicates that, while the Jewish people would be restored to their land, it would be amidst a time of trouble for them as well as for the nations in general. Other prophecies indicate that additional trouble is in store for them—which is not difficult to foresee in view of the circumstances which have existed for several years.

It is not wise to go into detail concerning events which have not yet transpired, but the Scriptures make it plain that near the end of the death struggle of the nations, with virtual annihilation threatening them through the misuse of modern military nuclear implements of war, there will be an attack against the Israelites in their Promised Land. Then the Lord will intervene on their behalf, rescue them from their enemies, and through their resurrected prophets and other worthies of ancient times, establish his kingdom as a literal governing power over the whole earth.

Ezekiel 38:14-23 presents some of the details of this final trouble. The etymology of the names given to Israel’s enemies in this prophecy indicates that they are used prophetically to identify armies, particularly of Europe and the Middle East. The prophecy shows that these forces eventually will attack the Jewish people. Agreeing with the prophecy of Joel already quoted (Joel 3:1,2), Ezekiel explains that these hordes (as a cloud) are the antiGod forces which finally will threaten the destruction of the returned Israelites.—Ezek. 38:16

It will be a time of ‘shaking,’ the prophet explains. (Ps. 110:5; Isa. 2:17-19) The promise is that the Lord will deliver his ancient people, and that through this deliverance the ‘eyes’ of the nations will discern the presence and power of the new King of earth who, as the agent and right hand of Jehovah, will be directing the issue. Thus, all eyes will discern the presence of Jesus in the clouds of trouble (Rev. 1:7), and become convinced of his majesty and glory through the new kingdom arrangements which will then be put into operation.

This same series of events will lead to the opening of the eyes of the Israelites. We read, “So will I make my holy name known in the midst of my people Israel; and I will not let them pollute my holy name any more: and the heathen [nations] shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel.” (Ezek. 39:7) What a change this will bring about in the outlook of the Israelites! The defense of Israel by Divine power will be merely the first manifestation of the operation of the new world powers. From then on the kingdom agencies will rapidly calm the storm of human passions, which by that time will have brought the people of the whole earth to a state of desperation and despair.

How happy the world of mankind will be to realize that the sword hanging over their heads as an executioner’s implement has been removed for all time. With the establishment of God’s kingdom, will come fulfillment of Isaiah, chapters 11 and 35, and many other wonderful prophecies pertaining to that kingdom. Those people interviewed for the news article at the introduction of this lesson will rejoice to know that unbelievers in their families are not to be tormented forever, or destroyed, but will come to a knowledge of God and his truth.—Isa. 11:9

“The zeal of the Lord of hosts shall do this.”—Isa. 37:32

Dawn Bible Students Association
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