The Nature of the Lord's Return
Is the Lord Returning in Love
by Dr. David R. Reagan
When you think of the coming of the Lord,
what do you think of? What is your image? Is it positive or negative?
Is it a return in love or in wrath? And what do you feel? Fear
or joy? Comfort or anxiety?
How would you characterize your overall
attitude about the Lord's return? Desire or apathy? Do you pray
for it? Or, do you try not to think about it? Are you enthusiastic
Finally, how would you describe the Lord's
coming? How would you explain it to someone who knows nothing
The Scriptural Images
There are two detailed descriptions of the
Lord's return in the New Testament, one written by the Apostle
Paul and the other by the Apostle John. These descriptions are
reproduced on page 2, side by side. Stop for a moment and read
Now, let me ask you some more questions.
How can these two descriptions be reconciled? I ask that because
they are as different as night and day. Did you notice that?
Look again and make a careful comparison.
Notice that they have absolutely nothing in common. In fact, they
are totally incompatible.
for Large View
Comparison and Contrast
The passage in 1 Thessalonians 4 presents
a scene of love, mercy, and grace. The picture that is painted
by Revelation 19 is one of vengeance and wrath. In the Thessalonian
passage, the Lord appears in the sky, but does not descend to
the earth. In the Revelation account, he come to the earth. Zechariah
14 says He will return to the Mount of Olives from which He ascended
One of the most significant differences
between the two passages relates to the Church. In the Thessalonian
account, the Lord comes for the purpose of taking His Church,
both the dead and living members, out of this world. In Revelation,
by stark contrast, He returns with His Church. This is
indicated in Revelation 19:14 where it says that "the armies
which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean were
following Him on white horses." We know these people constitute
the Church, because the same group is described a few verses before
(verses 7 and 8) as being the "bride" of Christ.
Thus, in Paul's description of the Lord's
return, He is portrayed as coming for His Church, to deliver
believers from the "wrath that is to come" (1 Thessalonians
1:10). But in John's description, Jesus is portrayed as returning
with His Church in great wrath. In Thessalonians Jesus
returns as a Deliverer. In Revelation He comes back as a Warrior.
In one scene He is coming to claim the righteous; in the other,
He returns to condemn the unrighteous.
A Problem in Reconciliation
What is going on here? How could these two
passages be talking about the same event? How can they be reconciled?
I believe there is only one way to reconcile
them and that is to conclude that they are describing two
separate events. That, in turn, implies rather clearly
that there are going to be two future comings of the Lord.
One of those the one described in
1 Thessalonians 4 will be more of an appearing than a coming,
for the Lord will not actually return to the earth. He will, instead,
appear in the heavens and supernaturally draw the Church, living
and dead, to Him.
The second future appearance of the Lord
the one described in Revelation 19 will be the true
"Second Coming," for the Lord will actually descend
to the earth to pour out the wrath of God and establish His reign
over all the world.
This means the "Second Coming"
of the Lord is going to be in two stages. The first stage will
be what has come to be known as the Rapture the snatching
of the Church out of the world. The second stage, which will occur
later, will be the return of the Lord to the earth.
The Issue of Imminence
This method of reconciling these passages
solves a serious problem that emerges when you think of only one
future coming of the Lord. That problem relates to the emphasis
that the Scriptures give to imminence.
What I am referring to, of course, is the
constant warning of the Scriptures that the Lord may appear any
moment and, therefore, we are to always be ready for the Lord's
return (Matthew 24:36, 42, 44, 50 and 25:13).
If there is only one future coming of the
Lord, then these warnings are a waste of time and there is no
imminence because there are many prophecies that are yet to be
fulfilled before the Lord can return. For example:
- A peace treaty must be signed that will
guarantee Israel's peace with all of its Arab neighbors (Daniel
- The Jewish Temple must be rebuilt in
Jerusalem (Matthew 24:15, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, and Revelation
- The Great Tribulation must begin and
run its seven year course, resulting in the death of over half
the world's population (Revelation 6-18).
- The Antichrist must reveal himself and
begin an unprecedented persecution of the Jews one that
will result in the death of two-thirds of all the Jews (Revelation
12:13-17 & Zechariah 13:7-9).
- The Gospel must be preached to every
person on the earth (Matthew 24:14 and Revelation 14:6-7).
- An unprecedented system of economic control
must be established that will prevent persons from buying or
selling anything unless they can display on their right hands
or foreheads the mark or name of the Antichrist.
- The worldwide kingdom of the Antichrist
must be destroyed in "one hour of one day" (Revelation
17 & 18).
These are all events that are clearly prophesied
in Scripture as occurring before Jesus returns to earth. None
of them has yet been fulfilled in history. If there is only one
coming of the Lord, and it must take place
after these events, then why should we be looking for Jesus Christ?
We should be looking instead for the Antichrist!
Living with Expectancy
The only way that the imminence taught by
the Scriptures can be maintained is to believe that Jesus can
return any moment. The only way to maintain that belief is to
conclude that the Lord's appearing for His Church (the Rapture)
is an event that is separate and apart from the Second Coming
and is an event that can occur any moment.
That is what I have concluded from my study
of prophecy, and I therefore live looking for the Rapture to occur
any moment. This is exactly what Paul commands us to do when he
writes that we are to live "looking for the blessed hope
and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ
Jesus" (Titus 2:13).
I therefore do not believe there is one
prophecy in the Bible that must be fulfilled before the Lord appears
for His Church. He can appear any moment. And the imminence of
His appearing increases daily as the signs of the time point to
the events that will culminate with His Second Coming. Those signs
include, among others, the re-establishment of the state of Israel,
the Jewish reoccupation of the city of Jerusalem, the reunification
of Europe, and the rise of Arab militancy in the Middle East.
Keep in mind that the Rapture is not the
event that will kick-off the Tribulation. That event is the signing
of a peace treaty that will guarantee the peace of Israel with
all its Arab neighbors and will also authorize the Jews to rebuild
their Temple (Daniel 9:27). The Rapture could occur years before
the Tribulation begins, although it is most likely to occur near
the beginning because the Tribulation is the time for the pouring
out of God's wrath, and 1 Thessalonians 1:10 says that Jesus will
"deliver" His Church "from the wrath to come."
Hope or Terror?
To summarize, we should be looking for two
future comings of the Lord one at the beginning of the
Tribulation, the other at the end. The first, the Rapture, will
be the appearing of the Lord for His Church. The second, the Second
Coming, will be the return of the Lord to the earth to "judge
and wage war" against the enemies of God (Revelation 19:11).
The signs of the times point to the fact
that Jesus is at the very gates of Heaven, waiting for His Father's
command to appear for His Church. The Rapture is imminent.
Are you ready? Will Jesus appear (the Rapture)
as your Blessed Hope? Or, will He return (the Second Coming) as
your Holy Terror? The choice is yours.