The Three Appearances of Jesus, 2

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HOW AND WHEN:  THE THIRD APPEARANCE 

Hebrews 9:24—28 teaches us something very important about Christ and His glorious work of salvation.

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.  Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Christ appeared the first time on earth as a baby, grew up as a man, and gave His life as a Savior.  He then appeared in Heaven, His second appearance, to continue His work as our Savior, where He intercedes with the Father on our behalf.  Christ’s third and final appearance will be His Second Coming to earth, which is yet to occur.  These three appearances of Chris correspond to the three phases of our salvation:

  • He saved us, when He appeared the first time, by way of Atonement made on the Cross;
  • He saves us, as He intercedes for us in Heaven, His second appearance (Romans 8:34);
  • He will save us, when He appears on earth the second time, His third appearance (Matthew 10:22; etc.).

Christ’s work on the Cross occurred during His first appearance.  This is well-known.  Lesser known is Christ’s work right now, in heaven.  It surprises many Christians to know that not only are they saved (past tense), but they are being saved (present tense) by Christ’s current intercession.  Think about this.  The work on the Cross is finished; His sacrifice was once and for all.  But the Cross was not the end of Christ’s work.  He’s not loafing about heaven, taking it easy!  When you sin, when you falter, when you are weak and weary in your faith, Jesus continues to work on your behalf by praying for you and by going to the Father for you.  Your salvation is maintained by the work of Jesus right now.

Let’s turn out attention to our Lord’s third appearance.

Which appearance? 

Before Jesus appears for the third time, the second time on earth, He will actually appear in the clouds, seen by no one, for the sole purpose of removing His people from the earth.  The doctrine of “the Rapture of the saints” is believed by a great swath of the Christian church, which likes to refer to the Rapture “the blessed hope of believers.”  Since this great doctrine is either questioned or dismissed outright by some segments of the church, theologians don’t refer to it as a “primary doctrine,” but a “secondary doctrine.”  Those of us who believe in the doctrine of the Rapture have no issue whatsoever with those who don’t.  Since our salvation doesn’t’ depend on it, the Rapture is what Paul might call “a debatable matter.”  People of good faith can disagree on whether or not there will be a rapture and still get along.  Or at least they should.   My experience has been that those who dismiss the rapture doctrine lower themselves to ridicule those who of us who hold to it.  It’s strange how a debatable Biblical doctrine threatens them so much.

At any rate, it goes like this:  When Jesus comes for His people, they will be “caught up” to meet Him in the air.  This, in a sentence, is the rapture.

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17  NIV) 

This is NOT the Second Coming.  Nobody will see Jesus at this appearance except for the saints.  After the rapture, there will be span of, at most, seven years—the Great Tribulation—after which our Lord will make His third appearance, His Second Coming to earth.  At this time, everybody eye shall behold Him.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”   So shall it be! Amen.  (Revelation 1:7  NIV)

How will He appear? 

So, how will the great Second Coming happen?  Actually, the Bible gives us quite a lot of information about it!   The Second Coming will be—

Certain.

There is NO DEBATE about whether or not Jesus will come back to earth a second time.  It is an absolute certainty.  Among the numerous Bible verses referencing the Second Coming are these:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  (John 14:3  NIV) 

“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.”  (Acts 1:11  NIV) 

These verses, and others like them, are not referring the coming of death but to the second literal, physical coming of Jesus Christ.

Personal.

Read the words of Acts 1:11 and there is no way you can interpret that as referring to anything other than a personal appearing of Jesus.  It’s not a “spiritual coming” being referred to nor the coming of the Holy Spirit.  The fact is simple:  Jesus will be coming to the earth, literally and physically.

Sudden. 

Jesus will return suddenly and without warning.  It will simply happen at the time of HIS choosing.

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.  But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.   (Malachi 3:1—3a  NIV) 

For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  (Matthew 24:27  NIV)

Visible. 

Unlike the rapture, and unlike His first coming that most Jews missed out on, when Jesus returns His appearance will be visible.  Or maybe a better word might be:  obvious.  When Jesus returns, it will be obvious what’s going on; there will be no question about the event.

People will flee to caves in the rocks and to holes in the ground from the fearful presence of the Lord and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth.  (Isaiah 2:19  NIV) 

“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”  (Matthew 26:64  NIV)

Glorious. 

When Jesus came the first time, it was anything but a glorious appearing!  Jesus was born as a baby, in the humblest of circumstances.  Almost nobody knew that the Messiah had come!  Nobody really cared.  But the Second Coming will be an event such as earth has never experienced before.

…while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ…  (Titus 2:13  NIV) 

“At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”  (Mark 13:26  NIV) 

With the saints. 

Here’s a point that doesn’t get a lot of press.  When Jesus returns, the saints—we—will be coming back with Him!

“See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”  (Jude 14, 15  NIV) 

When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  (Colossians 3:14  NIV) 

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.  (1 John 3:2, 3  NIV)

To establish righteousness. 

… to judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.  (Jude 15  NIV) 

…let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.   He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.  (Psalm 98:9  NIV) 

Why is this important? 

Many Christians think the Second Coming and the study of Eschatology are a waste of time.  “Souls are in peril,” they say.  Many are of the opinion that if “John Calvin didn’t write about it, then it doesn’t matter.”  And there are those whose knowledge of Eschatology is limited to the sentence or two in the Westminster Confession Faith.  But Jesus thought it was a good idea for believers to keep His return always in mind.

So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.  “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?  It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of.  He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  (Matthew 24:44—51  NIV)

And John tells us that the hope of Christ’s coming purifies us (1 John 3:3).  The overarching teaching of the New Testament is that it is good, if not essential, for all believers to live in the tension between the hope of His coming and the fact the Gospel must be preached to all nations.

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.  (Matthew 24:14  NIV)

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