Christ Coming Back to His Disciples
One of the fundamental concepts of Christianity is the belief in a Second Coming of Christ. Although this particular term is not found, there are numerous references throughout the New Testament to a coming, appearance, or revealing of Jesus Christ. To what event or events do these scriptures apply? Are they not concerned with a yet future coming of Christ?
Christians have been taught and have believed this concept for so many years that it is difficult to even question the idea of a future coming, and yet when we take these passages one at a time and place them in scriptural and historical context, it becomes plain that these things have, indeed, come to pass. To understand this, we must examine and analyze all these scriptural references. When we do this, we can determine that each of these coming of Christ references belong to one of two general categories:
1. Christ coming back to those who were watching and waiting for him (his apostles and disciples).
2. Christ coming in wrath and vengeance against his and his peoples enemies.
A careful and objective research of the scriptures and contemporary New Testament history reveals two events that have occurred which satisfy the above categories. It is the purpose of the following survey to show that all of the many scriptures referring to a future coming of Christ easily and naturally correspond to one or the other of these events.
Briefly stated, we will see that Christ came back to those believers who were looking for him on the day of Pentecost. This was a spiritual return and comprised the establishment of his Church, the eternal Kingdom of God. It will be shown that no other coming to Christians is necessary or logical. The other references to a coming of Christ (the vast majority) refer to the religious and literal destruction of the Jewish nation which had rejected Jesus as the Messiah, murdered him on the cross, defiled Jerusalem and the Temple with military abominations, and carried out an evil crusade of murder, torture and persecutions toward all Christian believers. This nation was completely destroyed in a terrible war that occurred within one generation of the time of Christ. That old Jewish nation represented the Biblical Judaism (Law of Moses) which it was no longer able to observe after the destruction of the Temple and the cessation of the daily sacrifices required by that Law. The deadly enemies of Christianity were removed from the world in this final day of the Lord that fulfilled all the prophecies, including those of the book of Revelation.
Later, we will examine the many verses that refer to the second category and the destruction of the Jewish nation, but let us begin by examining the first category Christ coming back to his disciples and see how the various scriptures that deal with this subject relate to one important event.
In Mark 1:14-15, we hear something that is repeated many times in the gospels:
Jesus came into Galilee preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand
Right at that time, some 2,000 years ago, the Kingdom of God was ripe and ready to begin. Jesus was proclaiming it and telling the Jews that it was at hand almost ready to happen. The long centuries of waiting for it were over for the time is fulfilled.
In Matthew 16:28 (one of the specific passages we will examine shortly), Christ says to his disciples:
I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste of death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
In this very plain statement by Jesus, we see that both the existence of the Kingdom of Christ and an event referred to as the Son of Man coming, would occur within the lifetimes of the disciples who were alive and with him right then some standing here! We also see that the coming would not precede the existence of the Kingdom, for he would come in it.
What kind of kingdom would Christ bring to mankind? The Zealot Jews of the time were quite certain that the Messiah would bring an earthly kingdom that would defeat the enemies of Judea, namely the Roman Empire, and would set himself up as a physical king on an actual throne at Jerusalem. Even many of the followers of Jesus assumed he was going to accomplish a physical victory and set up an earthly rule of some kind (Acts 1:6 for instance). Jesus was quick to point out, however, that the things that were soon to come to pass and the Kingdom that was to begin within their lifetime were not physical things at all, but instead were spiritual things. Jesus told the Pharisees in Luke 17:21
Behold, the kingdom is within you.
and he told Pilate in plain, literal language in John 18:36
My kingdom is not of this world...Now is my kingdom not from hence [not from this place].
In 1 Corinthians 15:50, Paul teaches:
I declare to you brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
It is plain that the Kingdom of God was and is a spiritual kingdom and not a physical one. Jesus promised that the Kingdom was at hand and indicated that some of those disciples he was with would live to see it and become a part of it. Did the Kingdom of God come into being during this time? Yes.
In Hebrews 12:28, we read:
Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace....
and in Colossians 1:13
For he [the Father] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.
Also see 1 Thessalonians 2:12 and 2 Peter 1:10-11.
It is quite obvious that there was no physical or earthly kingdom set up by Jesus within the lifetime of those disciples who were with him. Since we know that the Kingdom of God was in fact established, we understand what the Jews and many first Christians did not: that the Kingdom is spiritual in nature. There is nothing physical about it, other than the flesh of the men and women who embody it.
Let us be clear about the word spiritual. Some use the word to denote something that is not real, something that is only conceptual. To the reader and follower of the Bible, however, the word spiritual simply means not physical. God, we are told in John 4:24, is a spirit. God is real even though he does not inhabit a physical, flesh and blood body. Things that are spiritual in nature are just as real as physical things, only different in their form. As human beings, we have two natures. We have physical flesh and blood bodies, and we also have a form that is designed in Gods image (Genesis 1:26-27), which is a spirit. It is the part of us that We call soul or mind, that sets us apart from other living things and causes us to be intelligent.
Now, we know that Christ is in his spiritual Kingdom, where he sits at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1):
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
We also know from the several verses that we shall study next that Christ promised to return or come back to his faithful disciples. Because the Kingdom was spiritual in nature rather than physical, we can see that this coming must also have been spiritual in nature. If Christ was coming in his kingdom and the kingdom is spiritual, then the coming was spiritual. If Christs coming was or is physical in nature, then the Kingdom must also be a physical, earthly one. This is contrary to what the scriptures teach us about the nature of that Kingdom.
Since we also know that the Kingdom did actually come to the first Christians (Colossians 1:13 above), we know from logic that Christ did in fact come to them within their lifetimes, for he told them that they would see him coming in his Kingdom!
This is important for us to understand, so let us restate it. The Kingdom of God was at hand to the people Jesus was with. He promised that some of those people would see him coming in that kingdom. We know that the Christians after the cross were in the kingdom. Therefore, Christ must have come. He came to them, and he came in his Kingdom.
With this understanding, we should be able to look into the scriptures and find a spiritual coming (not a physical one!) that corresponds to the beginning point of the Kingdom of God. Such an event can indeed be found in the familiar passage in Acts 2:1-4, describing what happened on the day of Pentecost.
From the time of Christs resurrection, he spent some 40 days with his apostles and disciples teaching and encouraging them. Then, he was taken up into the spiritual realm of God, rejoining the Father and Holy Spirit. For the next 19 days or so, the disciples had no contact with Christ or God. No preaching or teaching occurred, only prayer and the appointment of a replacement for Judas. Then, (Acts 2:1-4):
When the day of pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues [languages] as the Spirit enabled them.
Here, indeed, was a spiritual coming. This was the moment of empowerment to the apostles, and from this moment on they began to follow Christs commands to teach the good news (gospel) of the Kingdom and bring others into it for the Kingdom of God had indeed arrived and had been established as promised.
This account, however, speaks of the spiritual coming of the Holy Spirit to the apostles, and many have taught that it was only the Holy Spirit that came to them on Pentecost. This is the traditional view and is the first answer given by those who believe that Jesus Christ has not returned to us today. Is this correct? Can we say that Christ had no part in this spiritual coming? To determine the facts, let us return to John 14:16-18, where Jesus prophecies this event:
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him, for he dwelleth with you and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
Who was the Comforter? In verse 26 following, he identifies it as the Holy Ghost. The Greek word used here is parakletos which means (literally) one called alongside to help. In 1 John 2:1, we read of having an advocate with the Father for any who sin. This word advocate used in this passage is also from the Greek word parakletos. Who was this advocate? John tells us: Jesus Christ the righteous!
In Romans 8:27-28, we read of the Spirit who makes intercession for us to God. Note the present tense this is a spirit who is with us now. Who is it? Verses 9-10 preceding this tell us that the Spirit is Christ, and in verse 34 we read that Christ is the intercessor.
Jesus also identified the Comforter with the Spirit of Truth. Who is the Spirit of Truth? In John 14:6, just preceding, Jesus says:
I am the way, the truth, and the life
and in 1 John 5:20, John states:
And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know him that is true and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ
It simply does not make any sense for Jesus to say that he would send another Comforter, meaning the Holy Spirit alone, and then state he would not leave them comfortless (because he would return someday to comfort them).
This would mean that the Holy Spirit Comforter was of no comfort!
Does the Bible tell us then, that there is no difference between the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Christ? Do the scriptures separate these two Spirits? In Acts 13:2, we read that:
The Holy Spirit said, set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.
It was, of course, Jesus Christ who called Saul to be his disciple and apostle on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-20).
In 2 Corinthians 3:17, Paul states that:
The Lord is the Spirit . The Lord, who is the Spirit
Should we assume from this that there is no separate third identity or personality of God called the Holy Spirit? Such an assumption would also be incorrect, for many scriptures make it plain that there is indeed a distinct entity called the Holy Spirit. To undo the confusion and make this clear for us, we can turn to John again. In 1 John 5:6-7, he says:
it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear record in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one.
The spiritual Godhead is inseparable. When the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in a person, then so does Christ (the Word) and the Father! No one can receive the Holy Spirit and not receive Christ and the Father as well. When the Holy Spirit came back to the waiting Christians on Pentecost, all of God came, including Jesus Christ. It was in fact the spiritual coming of Christ to those who were waiting and watching for him and it was the establishment of his spiritual kingdom.
Paul in Colossians 2:9, said of Christ:
For in Christ all the fulness of the Deity lives in bodily form,
Colossians 2:9, NIV.
Jesus told Philip (John 14:9):
anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.
In the prophecy passage in verse 17 following, Jesus tells the disciples that they know that the Spirit is Christ himself because he dwelleth with you now, and shall be in you upon his spiritual return (on Pentecost). In verse 18, he says I will come to you, and in John 20-23:
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you . If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
This promise was fulfilled. It is not something for our future. In Romans 8:9, we are told in no uncertain terms:
But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
and in 1 John 4:13, we read:
We know that we live in him [God] and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
This is the collective Spirit of God, which every Christian has contact with. If we do not have the spiritual return of Christ today if we cannot claim to have Christ living in us spiritually, then we are none of his, not Christians at all.
So, we see that the events of the day of Pentecost fulfilled Christs promised return to his people who were anxiously looking for him, and it was a quick return indeed. He did not ever appear to the world again.
Yet a little while and the world seeth me no more.
Christ did come, along with the entire spiritual being of God, back to his own people as he had promised and prophesied and as he comes to anyone who will accept him today and forever.
Now, let us examine in detail every verse that has reference to this spiritual return of Christ to his followers and see how they fit into the events of the day of Pentecost.
Men of Galilee, they said, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.
Some have taken this passage to mean that since Jesus was taken from the physical earth into the spiritual state, his coming would be Simply a reversal of that event. This would constitute a physical return of Christ rather than a spiritual coming. This is, however, too simplistic an interpretation of the verse and it does not match up with other statements and prophecies in the Bible.
It is simplistic in the sense that it assumes that Jesus was not a spiritual creature at the time of his ascension. The assumption is that he was only a physical man while standing on the ground and then became transformed into an only spiritual being when he was taken up and vanished from their sight. This misleads one into the mistaken conclusion that Jesus will reverse the process and return to be a physical man once again.
Of course, we know that Christ appeared to his disciples as a human man after his resurrection. This had to occur in order to fulfill the prophecies (Luke 24:44). As the verses (39-43) preceding this tell, he showed his hands and feet and ate in front of them to show that he was real and not just a ghost, but we must understand that the resurrected Christ was also a spiritual creature who behaved and manifested himself quite differently than he did prior to the cross. For one thing, he always appeared and disappeared miraculously.
In Luke 24:31, after the apostles had walked and talked with Christ without recognizing him, their eyes were opened and they suddenly realized who he was, and then:
He vanished out of their sight.
And in John 20:19, we find the apostles in hiding behind closed and locked doors, for they were fearing persecution from the Jewish authorities. Suddenly:
came Jesus and stood in the midst.
The same thing occurred eight days later (v.26) when he appeared in their meeting place even though the doors were locked.
In verse 17, Christ tells Mary Magdalene:
Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father.
In Mark 16:12, Jesus:
appeared in another form unto two of them
He was obviously a spiritual being exhibiting supernatural traits, even though he was manifested also as a physical man for the purpose of fulfilling the resurrection prophecies.
All of us are, of course, spiritual beings as well as physical ones, and Christ certainly was spiritual in nature at the time of his ascension. To suppose that the nature of his ascension was a transformation from physical only to spiritual only is simplistic and insupportable.
Since Jesus was manifested physically as well as spiritually, was the nature of the ascension then, a physical to physical process? No, for Christ went back to the Father, and as John tells us (John 4:24):
God is a spirit...
and (in 1 John 4:12):
No man hath seen God at any time....
When Jesus ascended, the writer states that a cloud received him (v.9). The term cloud is often used in the Bible to indicate the spiritual realm or the occurrence of spiritual things (see a discussion of this symbol in Part Two), and this is the meaning here (whether or not the apostles perceived him rising into a literal cloud). The word spirit is translated from the Greek and Hebrew words that have to do with wind and moving air. To compare the spirit or spiritual things with clouds and wind is about as close as symbols can come to describing something that is almost indescribable.
The realm of heaven into which Jesus ascended was certainly not the sky and outer space of our physical universe, but rather the spiritual realm of God the Father.
There is only one option left to us. The ascension was spiritual in nature the spirit of Jesus Christ, separated from the Spirit of God, was rejoining God once again. It was a spiritual ascension, and the promised coming was in the same way, which was Christs spirit returning and rejoining the spirits of all those disciples who were looking for him. We find the fulfillment of this coming in the events of Acts 2:1-4.
Christ promised them in Acts 1:8:
you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.
He told them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for this great gift of power. Christ promised them he would not leave them comfortless: that he would come to them (John 14:16-18), and he did not make them wait very long. He, and the complete spirit of God, came on the day of Pentecost.
JOHN 14:2-3, 28
In my Fathers house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also.
There was a period of some ten days between the ascension of Christ and his spiritual coming on the day of Pentecost. For the disciples, these were days of uncertainty and of pensive waiting. No miracles were performed no converts to Christ were made during this time. There was no contact with Jesus or with God during this relatively short span. The only record of activity that we have of the apostles during these days was the appointment of a
replacement for Judas Iscariot.
Jesus had spoken these words to the disciples just prior to this period of no contact so that they would not fear and would not begin to think that everything had come unraveled and so begin to lose faith. This passage is a strong and joyous promise of Jesus to his immediate disciples a promise that he would not abandon them once he had ascended to his Father and left them by themselves for a time.
Note carefully John 14:28-29:
Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away and come again unto you....Now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe.
Jesus did not state this prophecy for us today. He made this prophecy not only to reassure the disciples, but also in order to provide another proof to them. He said it so that those disciples who would actually see all these things come to pass might recall the prophecy of them and thus believe in Christ. They were to witness the fulfillment of Jesus prophecy. If Christ did not come back to these very disciples shortly, then the prophecy did not serve its stated purpose. If Christ has not returned to us even today, then we are also still waiting for this proof. If Christ has not returned and will only return in a physical end of the world event where every human eye will see him, there would be no need for such a proof for faith and Jesus statement here becomes absurd.
The fact is Christ did return very shortly to be with his beloved followers. In verse 2, Jesus said he would come again and receive you to myself so that where I am, you may also be. Notice the way this was put. We are not going away to heaven with Jesus sometime in the future, for he has come to where we are to be with us and so that we can be with him. In John 14:20, he states:
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
If Christ has not yet returned to us, then we are not in him and he is not in us. It is almost a truism to say that we cannot be in or with someone who is not present. John puts any such idea away with his proclamation in 1 John 3:24:
Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: we know it by the Spirit he gave us.
That spirit is the complete spirit of God, and that includes the spirit of Christ. That day when the disciples would realize this wonderful connection was the day of Pentecost, and God is one in spirit with all Christians from that day until now and even for ever. Every Christian dwells now in the heavenly realm with Christ. As Paul told the brethren at Ephesus in Ephesians 2:5-6:
[God] hath quickened us together with Christ and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.
This appearance of Christ was unto salvation. Christ was to bring the possibility of salvation with him when he came. Without the presence of Christ, there is no salvation. If Christ has not yet appeared to us today, then we are still waiting to receive the salvation he brings!
This passage is the only place in the Bible where the word second is used in reference to an appearing of Christ, but let us note what that phrasing logically implies. He could only appear a second time to those who had witnessed a first time. It was a second coming to those apostles and disciples who had been in his presence and were looking for him to return to them.
This passage does not say unto the whole world shall he appear. It says unto those who look for him. In John 14:19, Christ told his disciples:
Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me. Because I live, ye shall live also.
After Jesus was killed and buried, the world never saw him again, but his disciples and apostles did. He appeared to them numerous times before the ascension and then came back to them spiritually on the day of Pentecost to dwell in them. This coming of Christ to the waiting Christians is, of course, an ongoing or continuing coming. That is, he will spiritually appear to a new Christian today and any day from now on, forever. This is why it is not out of place for the Hebrews author to write this at some time after the day of Pentecost.
When we try to place this appearance of Christ in a yet future end of the world setting, we misunderstand the use of that phrase by the writers of the scriptures. We naturally tend to envision a modern, scientific idea of an end to the physical universe rather than the restricted symbolic meaning that was intended. In verse 26 preceding our study passage, the author of Hebrews states:
For then must he [Christ] often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
The sacrifice of himself was, of course, the crucifixion, and within that generation (now , in the end of the world) the world would end! What world was it? It was the old Jewish world or world of people under the old Law of Moses which Christ came to fulfill. As we noted earlier, the NIV and other translations correctly render the phrase end of the world as end of the ages. It was the end of the ages of the Law and the prophets and the beginning of a new age and the Law of Christ the law of righteousness, love, and forgiveness.
2 TIMOTHY 1:10
[This grace] has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
This appearing of Christ does not refer to his life as a physical man. It obviously cannot refer to a far future coming either, for it is through this appearing that grace the new covenant in action for mankind was revealed and brought into power. Christ, in this appearance, is a Christ who has already accomplished the destruction of death, and has instituted immortal life for the believers. Neither of those elements were completed until after the resurrection and the ascension of Christ to the Father.
Grace was revealed through the appearing of Christ, and grace was revealed now present time for Paul thus the appearing had already occurred.
When the Church was established on the day of Pentecost, Christ appeared spiritually to the faithful who had been baptized into his name. This spiritual Christ had already destroyed the last enemy (meaning the most important enemy 1 Corinthians 15:25-27) and that enemy was spiritual death or separation from God the Father. This spiritual Christ had instituted his last will and testament the inheritance of eternal life made available to believers through the gift of grace. This Christ was a present and lifegiving entity to those men and women living in the Kingdom after it began on Pentecost, just as he still is today!
1 John 4:2-3, 5:20, 2 John 7
Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God .
And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true .
For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh .
These passages are quite similar to the one in 2 Timothy 1:10 in that many readers take them to refer to Christs coming as a physical man born of Mary. The careful student should note, however, that the KJV and the original Greek texts do not say that Christ has come in the flesh, but rather IS come present tense. The NIV is plainly misleading here as it renders the verbs as past tense.
Since is come is not future tense, either, we must assume that John means that Christ is present at that time. Since we know that Christ would never return as a fleshly or physical man to the world and he certainly was not a flesh and blood man at the time John was writing this, how can he say that Christ is present in the flesh?
In 1 John 4:4, after stating that anyone who does not profess that Christ is come in the flesh is not of God and is Anti-Christ, he tells them:
Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.
Christ was indeed with them at that present time. He came on the day of Pentecost as a Spirit along with the entire being of God. He dwelt and dwells in the flesh of the members of his church. As John put it a little earlier in 1 John 3:24 :
Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us. We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
We, the faithful believers and members of his Kingdom, are the fleshly appearance of Christ in the world. As we live righteous and loving lives in the unbelieving world around us, we show the face of Christ to that world.
So far, we have examined only those verses that deal with Christ coming or appearing to his apostles and disciples who were watching and waiting for him. There are many other scriptures that deal with a coming, appearing, or revealing of Jesus Christ, all referencing an event to take place after the day of Pentecost. To what event do these passages refer? We will now examine these verses and see how they fit the second category mentioned earlier.
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