Many people believe Jesus Christ will soon return to the earth. But they’re not so clear on the reasons for His second coming. In part 1 of a two-part series, we ask: Why does Jesus Christ need to come back? Just what is He coming to do?
Amid the trials of life and worsening times, there remains ever before us a wonderful hope. Though the world is beset by darkness and will yet grow darker, a turning point lies ahead in the coming of the Savior of the world—indeed the second coming, as Christians understand. Is that really going to happen? And why?
It’s commonly believed among those who identify themselves as Christian that Jesus Christ died, rose from the dead, went away to heaven and that He will one day return as He promised. Of course, the nature of this return is disputed. For instance, some think His return is spiritual through the Church. Yet most Christians believe He will literally return in power and glory—and polls reveal that a large percentage believes His return is within mere decades.
Still there are those who ridicule the idea. The Bible warned that scoffers would come in the last days saying, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created” (2 Peter 3:3-4, New Living Translation).
Yet as prominent as the belief in Christ’s return is, it stands oddly against another popular conception in conventional theology of people having an immortal soul that flies away to be with Christ immediately at death. This would seem to leave no good reason for Jesus to return and for the resurrection of His followers that is supposed to occur then. There are explanations that try to join these concepts, but they really don’t fit together very well.
Even most who focus on Christ’s return still think of it in terms of a step on the way to heaven.
Amid the confusion, we need to understand: Why is Jesus coming back? Is there yet unfinished business for Him here on earth? What does He intend to do when He gets here? And what does it mean for our future? We’ll examine 12 reasons from the Bible—starting with six here and covering the other six in the next installment.
1. To fulfill prophecy and promises
First of all, Jesus specifically said He would return—and He must be true to His word. He told His disciples, “I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3). He further said that in the end time “all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30; see also 26:64). The nations will then be hostile to His return.
As part of “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:1), the apostle John reiterated: “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him” (verse 7).
When Jesus’ disciples watched Him ascend into the clouds from the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem, two angels told them, “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). This was an important part of what they would serve as witnesses to (verse 8). And they did—faithfully.
We find the promised return of Christ foretold all through the New Testament—in all four Gospels and the book of Acts and from every New Testament writer.
But the promise did not begin in the New Testament. The coming of the Messiah in power and glory is the message of the whole Bible, starting with the prophets of Old Testament times. As Jude 14-15 states, “Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied . . . saying, ‘Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints [or holy ones], to execute judgment on all . . .’”
Psalm 96 likewise states: “For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with His truth” (verse 13, emphasis added throughout).
Many prophecies speak of the coming of the Lord in might and the great changes He will bring to the world. Some of these prophecies speak of Christ’s first and second comings together even though a gap of time separates these events.
For instance, Isaiah 9:6 begins, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given . . . ,” in reference to Jesus’ first coming. But then the prophecy jumps far into the future: “. . . and the government will be upon His shoulder [as Ruler!]. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever” (verses 6-7). The latter part of this prophecy did not happen at Christ’s first coming, but it will when He comes again.
The One who came as a sacrificial Lamb will return as the powerful Lion of Judah (see Revelation 5:5, 11-13). As Hebrews 9:28 tells us, “. . . So Christ was offered once to bear the sin of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin [no longer to die as sin-bearer], for salvation.”
The promises and prophecies of Christ’s return are certain. We are assured that “God . . . cannot lie” (Titus 1:2) and that, as Jesus said, “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). God is the “God of truth” (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalms 31:5; Isaiah 65:16). His Word is truth (John 17:17).
Jesus Himself, God who was made flesh, was the Word who inspired the Old Testament and magnified God’s message in the New. He declared Himself to be the very embodiment of truth (John 14:6). The truth is what He came to bear witness to (John 18:37). The apostle Paul affirmed that “the truth is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21). Christ and the Father sent the Holy Spirit of truth to guide us into all truth (John 16:13)—the same Spirit that inspired the writers of the Bible (1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:20-21).
Clearly, if we can’t count on the truth that Jesus is coming back, then we have nothing we can count on! But we can count on it absolutely—“looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Paul expressed this longing with what was apparently a common Aramaic prayer in the early Church, Maranatha, translated “O Lord, come!” (see 1 Corinthians 16:22, King James Version).
Jesus must return to maintain the very integrity and honor of the Father and Himself—to uphold the truth of all They have proclaimed. But of course, the promise of Christ’s coming was not just meant to demonstrate Their truthfulness on fulfillment. Other great purposes behind Christ’s return are revealed in many specific promises and prophecies. He definitely has vital work still to do here, as we will see!
2. To save mankind from total destruction
We desperately need Christ’s return, or the human race is doomed.
The world is growing worse and worse. Paul told us to “know this, that in the last days perilous times will come” (2 Timothy 3:1)—times of increasing danger and distress. He then gives a list of selfish, hardhearted and evil attitudes and behavior on the rise (verses 2-5).
This is the age in which we live—becoming more and more like the days of Noah, when people’s thoughts were perpetually evil and God determined to destroy the world with a global flood, except for Noah’s family (Genesis 6:5, 11-13). Jesus said that before His return, conditions would be like the days of Noah, with people going about normal activities amid the increasing wretchedness, oblivious to the catastrophic destruction that was coming (Matthew 24:37-39).
In fact, Jesus said that the end of the age will turn into the worst time ever before His return, warning, “For then there will be great tribulation [horrible trial and distress], such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21).
Conditions will be so bad that “unless that time of calamity is shortened [cut short from running its course], not a single person will survive . . .” (verse 22, NLT). “But,” we’re then told, “for the sake of the elect [God’s chosen people] those days will be cut short” (same verse, English Standard Version).
Mankind has now come to the point where we are able to exterminate ourselves from the planet through nuclear armaments and other weapons of mass destruction. And many prophecies show that the nations are progressing relentlessly to a coming time of terrible world war in which such weapons will be unleashed. Moreover, still other prophecies warn that God will send cataclysmic disasters on an unrepentant humanity that would wipe out any yet remaining if the effects of these disasters are not cut short.
Thankfully, Jesus will intervene as He promised to keep mankind from being obliterated—again, for the sake of those elect or chosen of God!
3. To resurrect and transform His followers to immortality
Jesus promised eternal life to His followers, stating that He would raise them up at the last day (John 6:39-40, 44, 54).
Just after describing all people on earth seeing His return (Matthew 24:30), Jesus said of Himself: “And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven [the sky around the earth] to the other” (verse 31).
This includes Christ’s true followers who are still alive when He comes as well as those who’ve previously died: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Jesus thus comes for His spiritual Bride, the Church—His collective body of believers—with Him as the Bridegroom and Husband (compare Matthew 25:1-13; Ephesians 5:25-33).
Many have the idea that Jesus will come just to take us all away from here permanently to live in heaven. But this is not what the Bible teaches. Rather, it shows that we will live with Christ on the earth, as we’ll later see.
When we are raised to meet Christ, He will change us—transforming us into immortal beings, our bodies glorified as spirit bodies, just as He has. He “will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). “. . . When He is revealed [at His coming], we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). As Jesus “became a life-giving spirit” at His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:45), so will we be (verses 47-49)—now made immortal and incorruptible (verses 52-55).
In this transformation, Jesus will complete our redemption begun at His first coming. He redeemed us, bought us back, from death through His own sacrifice (Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 1:18-19; Revelation 5:9). Yet we still die, so full redemption is something for which we still wait. Jesus said that with the coming of end-time events, “your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28). We await “the redemption of the purchased possession” (Ephesians 1:14), “the redemption of our body” at Christ’s coming (Romans 8:23). This corresponds to ultimate salvation, being free from sin and death and living forever with Christ and the Father!
4. To appear in glory for vindication and honor
At His first coming, Jesus, despite being the Creator God made flesh who came to save us all, was mocked, persecuted, brutalized and torturously executed in shame and humiliation. Though He rose from the grave, He was seen by only a few—these among His followers—and was still rejected by His nation. Many people today still scoff at Him and even use His name as a curse word.
While Christ’s suffering and the continuing rejection of Him by many is part of God’s plan being worked out, this treatment of the Maker and Savior of humanity is obviously not what He deserves. He deserves honor, glory, adoration, devotion and worship from all. Those who resist will be put in awe of Him and made subject to Him.
Jesus gave up His divine majesty and might to humble Himself to the point of coming to die a criminal’s death by crucifixion (Philippians 2:5-8). “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven [the angels], and of those on earth, and of those under the earth [those dead and buried who are later raised], and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (verses 9-10).
God does not intend for the last public view the world would have of Jesus to be that of a bloody condemned criminal still dead on a cross—with only few witnesses to His rising. Instead He will be completely vindicated, appearing to the world as the living, all-powerful God that He is. He will manifest His awesome power at His coming. This will also vindicate His followers.
We look for this time ahead when “the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels” (Matthew 16:27). Paul speaks of “when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe” (2 Thessalonians 1:10; compare John 17:24). He will also then show His glory to the nations: “It shall be that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and see My glory” (Isaiah 66:18). Indeed, as we earlier read, “every eye will see Him” (Revelation 1:7).
Jesus will at last be given the proper respect and honor due Him!
5. To reign as King over all nations
We are further told that “when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him” (Matthew 25:31-32). At the blowing of the seventh and last trumpet of Revelation, not only will the dead in Christ be raised but a wonderful announcement will go forth: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15, ESV). And then at last the Kingdom of God will come.
Jesus will return in power to take over the nations and rule them as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:15-16; compare 17:14). “And the Lord shall be King over all the earth” (Zechariah 14:9). It is prayed in Psalms 67:4: “Oh, let the nations be glad and sing for joy! For You shall judge the people righteously, and govern the nations on earth.”
Christ’s followers from this age, then glorified with Him, “shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Revelation 20:6)—the Millennium—“and they shall reign on the earth” (5:10, ESV). Rather than going away to remain in heaven, they will live here with vital work to do—bringing wonderful transformation to the whole world. Jesus called this time “the age to come” (Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30) and “the regeneration [or rebirth], when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory” and His 12 apostles “will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).
It will be a time of incredible renewal, starting with Israel and expanding over the whole world!
6. To deliver and elevate Israel
As we’ve seen, Jesus will inherit the throne of David over Israel (Isaiah 9:6-7; see also Luke 1:32). In sitting on this throne, He will rule over all the world, with Israel promoted above all nations.
Jesus’ return will enable the fulfillment of God’s plan for Israel.
In recent centuries, the nations descending from ancient Israel have been greatly blessed in fulfillment of promises made to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (see our free study guide The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy to learn more). This is not a matter of racial preference, but of family inheritance and responsibility. God’s intent is to bless all nations through Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 12:1-3; 26:4; 28:14).
However, prophecies show that shortly before Jesus comes back, the Israelite nations—now of northwest European heritage, as well as the Jewish people—will experience the coming time of terrible trial, called the great tribulation, because of egregious national sins. “It is the time of Jacob’s [or Israel’s] trouble, but he shall be saved out of it” (Jeremiah 30:7)—that is, after going through it.
The Israelites and the Jewish people will face animosity and devastating attacks from other nations. God warned the Israelites, “In all your dwelling places the cities shall be laid waste” (Ezekiel 6:6). Jerusalem will be beset with “all nations of the earth . . . gathered against it” (Zechariah 12:1-3).
Yet Jesus will intervene to defend His people: “Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives” (Zechariah 14:3-4). Jesus will return to the very spot from which He left—but now as divine warrior.
Various prophecies show that He will gather the scattered exiles of Israel back to the Promised Land. The two divisions of the nation, the northern tribes of Israel led by Ephraim and the southern tribe of Judah, will be fused back into a single undivided nation ruled again under King David, now resurrected (Ezekiel 37:15-28). As already mentioned, each tribe will be ruled by one of the 12 apostles (Matthew 19:28). And these and David will all reign under Christ’s overall rulership over the world.
Jesus will deliver the Israelites physically and also spiritually. Many think the New Covenant that Jesus brought—through which people are forgiven by His sacrifice and true obedience to God is made possible through His Spirit—was just for the Church in this age. But God said He was making the New Covenant “with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,” whereby He would put His laws in their hearts and minds (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
The Lord also foretold that His Spirit would be poured out on the Jewish people at Jerusalem—and that they would look on Him “whom they pierced,” deeply grieving over their rejection of Him for all this time and now ready to repent and follow Him (Zechariah 12:10-11).
“And so,” as Paul writes, “all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is my covenant with them, when
I take away their sins” (Romans 11:26-27). And this will be wonderful for the rest of the nations (verses 11-12). Israel was meant to be a holy example for the world—as it will be when Christ returns!
Be sure to read about further reasons for Jesus’ second coming in our next issue. As we see already, there is yet much for Him and His followers to accomplish at His return. Trust in His promises. As Hebrews 10:37 assures us, “For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry”!