The First and Second Coming of Christ – a Comparison

Prof. Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (October 2012)

In the present dispensation we are living between the first and second coming of the Lord Jesus. As believers, we lead lives emerging from His first coming when He came to offer us newness of life while, after our rebirth, we reach out to His second coming when we will receive glorified bodies. When our point of departure is correct we will have a clear sense of our final destiny. We need to have the firm conviction that Jesus Christ is the unshakable Rock on which our lives are built, as then only will we better understand the new capacities in which He will be revealed at His second coming.

This is the framework of our new life in Christ – it originates from His first coming and we are exerting ourselves to be ready for His second coming. Every time when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we reconfirm this important perspective between the two comings of the Lord Jesus. Paul says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). The first time He came to die for our sins, but the second time He will come to be glorified in His saints and to rule with them (2 Thess. 1:10; Rev. 5:9-10).

A firm conviction of our faith in Christ as Saviour, as well as the filling of His Holy Spirit, is the only way in which we can be prepared for the moment when we will be united with Him as His bride and to rule with Him in His kingdom. The Holy Spirit enables us to be faithful disciples of Jesus, and to appear before Him without spot or wrinkle when He comes again. With a view to complying with this standard the Lord Jesus expects all of His disciples to be Spirit-filled (John 14:16; 16:13-14; Acts 1:8).

Apart from the major differences between the two comings of Christ, there are also important similarities to which we should pay attention. It is particularly incumbent on the unsaved world to pay attention to the serious consequences of rejecting Christ. The following similarities are evident from a comparative study between His first and second coming:

Serious consequences of rejecting Christ

During the first coming of Jesus, both the religious and political leaders of Israel had some knowledge on the coming of the Messiah but they completely rejected His appearance as it posed a threat to their own interests. Herod had received information from foreigners on a King who was to be born in Israel:

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him. When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel” (Matt. 2:1-6).

Herod regarded this news as a threat to his own position as king, and for that reason he ordered the massacre of innocent infants in and around Bethlehem in an effort to kill Jesus (Matt. 2:16). The religious leaders of Israel did not further investigate the legitimacy of Jesus’ birth as Messiah, as His coming would bring an end to their power as well as the legalistic form of godliness which they were involved in.

This situation will repeat itself during the period shortly before the second coming of the Lord Jesus. Like the wise men in ancient times, there are also wise men from the Gentile world in the end-time who heed the signs of Christ’s soon coming and prepare to meet Him. They recognise Him as King, accept His authority, bow down before Him to worship and honour Him. Through their actions they render proof of the fact that they are part of His kingdom.

On the other hand, there are political leaders who, like Herod, feel threatened by the possibility of Christ’s coming, and who try everything in their power to get rid of Him. They know that He will come as King to institute a Christian new world order which will bring about an abrupt end to their sinful lifestyle and humanistic new world order. Because of this unacceptable intervention, they have banned Christ as the highest authority from their constitutions, removed Him and His Word from their school curricula, and are rejecting the principles of Christian morality, thus deliberately transforming Christian societies into secular or multireligious societies.

Then there are also the orthodox Jewish leaders who, like their peers in the first century, still reject Jesus as Messiah. They do have a Messianic expectation but do not recognise the claim of Jesus to be their Messiah. They are waiting for a Messiah who will come as a political and military leader to help Israel conquer their many enemies, and who will also enable them to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, thereby reviving and perpetuating the dispensation of the law. In the same way in which religious leaders of the Jews in the first century persecuted the disciples, Messianic Jews are also now being denigrated and rejected by the majority.

A small group of disciples

During His first coming, Jesus called a small group of disciples and gathered them around Him. They were taken out of society and set apart to be specially trained by the Messiah for His purpose. They left the established structures of Judaism (or were driven from them) to bear the reproach and rejection of the Messiah (Heb. 13:13).

The disciples wanted to know what would happen to them because they had sacrificed everything for the sake of Jesus. Peter asked Him: “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have? So Jesus said to them, Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:27-28).

The assignment given to the disciples to serve the rejected Messiah was a particularly difficult one as that would bring them in disfavour among their own people and also among the Gentiles. They had to reveal to self-righteous people their unbelief, sin and lost state, and also proclaim Jesus as the only Saviour. The willingness of the disciples to commit themselves to the truth, regardless of how unacceptable it was to the majority of agnostics, would result in their names being written forever in the annals of Christianity. The way to glory passes through suffering and sacrifices.

Paul, Peter and the other apostles were heroes of faith, who will, one day, rule with Christ over His redeemed people. Paul died as a martyr for his faith in Rome, being beheaded there, but before his death he wrote to the assembly in this pagan city that we are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Rom. 8:17). To Timothy he gave the assurance that if we are prepared to endure persecution with Christ we will one day reign with Him (2 Tim. 2:12).

During the second coming of Christ there will again be a group of Jewish evangelists who will be called and set apart to evangelise Israel as well as the rest of the world. On this occasion, 144 000 witnesses will be called to serve the Messiah – 12 000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel (Rev. 7:4-8). In the midst of even greater hostility they will, during the first half of the Antichrist’s reign, be commissioned to proclaim that Jesus Christ is the true Messiah and only Saviour of the world.

The witness of this group of disciples will give rise to utter animosity and an extreme form of polarisation between the followers of the true Messiah and those of the false messiah. The disciples of Christ, together with their converts, will be severely persecuted. However, these hardships will not deter them because, spiritually speaking, they will overcome the Antichrist regardless of whether or not they will survive physically (Rev. 12:10). They will accept the big challenge to evangelise the world during the limited time of the first 42 months of the tribulation period, while also proclaiming the imminent establishment of Christ’s kingdom on earth. In a prophecy on the tribulation period, Jesus said: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14).

During this time, millions of people will be saved throughout the world (Rev. 7:9-14). The great revival (or spiritual awakening) which so many people are hoping for, will only occur during the seven years of tribulation. The last days of the church dispensation are not characterised by a revival but by unprecedented spiritual deception and apostasy (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 4:3-4).

The equipment for service

The disciples were commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit, as only that would enable them to assume the Great Commission of evangelising the world. With the slow means of transportation in ancient times, the absence of Christian churches, organisations, or means for mass communication, as well as total ignorance on the Christian doctrine, this was almost a super-human assignment which would take many years to execute. Nevertheless, that was the beginning of the long dispensation of world evangelisation.

The early disciples had to make a dispensational transition from the times of Israel as the Chosen People under the law, to the times of the Gentiles under the new covenant of grace. Israel had to become acquainted with the idea that God’s revelations in the new dispensation would not be made through Israel, their prophets and temple service, since the age of the law had expired. The Gentiles had to be exposed to the fact that there would no longer be a spiritual distinction between Jews and Greeks, and that God now equally invites people from all nations to enter into His kingdom: “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).

Through His Holy Spirit, the Lord empowered the early disciples to perform validating signs and wonders, thereby confirming the authenticity of the Gospel message and dispelling unbelief from the hearts of Jews and Gentiles: “God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Heb. 2:4). One of these signs was the ability to proclaim and interpret the gospel in any of the Gentile languages. In this way, proof was rendered to the audiences that God was working and that He calls people from all nations to repent. Scepticism and unbelief were thus countered (1 Cor. 14:22).

However, these signs were not normative for the church dispensation because we have the whole counsel of God in His Word (Acts 20:27), as well as a great cloud of Christian witnesses who testify to its truth (Heb. 12:1-2). In the light of the full revelation that we have on the Lord’s plan of salvation, it is regarded as out of order to pursue extra-biblical revelations, thereby adding to the Bible (Rev. 22:18).

At the revelation of the Antichrist and the false prophet after the rapture, a further dispensational transition will occur from the church age to the dispensation of the Antichrist’ reign. The true church, which is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15), will then be gone. Subsequent developments in the spiritual sphere will be ominous: “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (Matt. 24:11, 24). This wrong example will be set by the Antichrist and the false prophet who will deceive many people through great signs and lying wonders (2 Thess. 2:9; Rev. 13:12-15).

During this particularly demanding time the Lord will empower His disciples, as well as the two witnesses who will operate in unison with them (Rev. 11:1-7), to also perform great signs and wonders. Through this display of divine power it will be ensured that not all people become victims of the Antichrist’s strong delusion. To serious and informed believers it will be evident that the Antichrist will have been empowered by a foreign god (Satan) to perform great signs (2 Cor. 4:4; Rev. 13:2).

During this time there will also be a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which will be the final fulfilment of Joel 2: “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the remnant whom the LORD calls” (Joel 2:28-32).

This final outpouring of the Holy Spirit shortly before the second coming of Christ will clearly occur during “the day of the Lord” (the seven-year tribulation) when there will be great signs on earth and in the heavens (Rev. 6:12). On that occasion, a great deliverance will take place on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, referring to the Jewish people: “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn” (Zech. 12:10).

The very first result of the end-time outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Israel during the tribulation period, will be the salvation of the 144 000 special witnesses of the Messiah. Subsequently, many other Jews will be saved through their witnessing, and right at the end of the tribulation the whole remnant of Israel will be saved.

The glorification of Christ

During the first coming of Christ, shortly after fulfilling His role as the Lamb of God who was sacrificed for the sins of the world, He was taken up in heaven and glorified on the Father’s throne. God has “highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9). “[Christ] has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him” (1 Pet. 3:22). On the Father’s throne He ever lives to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25).

At Christ’s second coming He will be glorified as King on the throne of David, which is not in heaven but on earth. He will restore the tabernacle of David which has fallen down, and rule over the world from this throne (Acts 15:16-17; Isa. 9:6-7). On that occasion the prophecy will be fulfilled which the angel has given to Mary before the birth of Jesus: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David” (Luke 1:32).

Jesus Christ will descend from heaven in majesty as King of kings (Rev. 19:16) and reveal His kingdom on earth. His bridal congregation (the members of His body) will be revealed with Him in glory (Col. 3:4) and reign with Him in His kingdom (Rev. 5:9-10). A time of unprecedented peace will dawn on earth, warfare will come to an end and all nations will be taught by the Lord (Isa. 2:2-4; Jer. 3:17; Zech. 8:22). Israel will be a blessing to the whole world and all nations will greatly honour them (Zech. 8:23; Isa. 4:3; Rom. 11:12).

The great purpose for which Jesus Christ has come to the world will be fulfilled after His second coming:

·        The salvation which the Lord Jesus alone could bring, has been an accomplished fact since His first coming, and by the time of His second coming it will have been proclaimed to all the nations of the world.

·        His bridal congregation (the called-out ones from all nations) will then be full in number; all of them will have glorified bodies and will take up their positions in the Messiah’s kingdom.

·        The remnant of Israel will all be saved and enjoy an exalted position in the kingdom of the Messiah.

·        The long expected kingdom of heaven, for which we regularly pray, will be revealed and all of creation will derive benefits from it.

·        The Antichrist and the false prophet will be in the lake of fire, where evildoers and unsaved people from all ages will join them after the final judgement.

·        The devil will be bound for a thousand years before he will also be condemned to the lake of fire at the final judgement.

·        After all these things, the Lord Jesus will create a new heaven and earth in which righteousness will dwell. No sin and unrighteousness will ever enter there.

The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (Rev. 19:10). All those who are in the right relationship with Him are among His born-again followers who will share in all His glory. Those who have no relationship with Him are His enemies upon whom His judgements rest. We are all confronted with the choice of either being reconciled to Christ for the forgiveness of sin, or to continue with our lives without Him and then being held personally responsible for bearing the punishment for our sin. He has already been revealed as Saviour and will shortly also be revealed as Judge.