By Marcelo Tolopilo
The Nature of Christ’s Return
2 Thessalonians 1:7
In this issue of “The Lighthouse” we direct our attention once more to the thrilling subject of the Lord’s return, more specifically the purpose for His return revealed to us in 2 Thessalonians chapter one. In our last article we examined one primary objective for our Savior’s appearing: to judge the unbelieving world. In this article we will describe the nature of His return – i.e., “What will it look like?” – before we explore three additional reasons that hasten the Lord’s second coming (fall article). If you have not done so already, we encourage you to review the previous Lighthouse article on our website.
Paul sets up his discussion on the Lord’s return by describing the actual event in vivid verbal tones. To stop and consider this scene by the terms Paul uses is to challenge our sanctified imagination. The picture he paints is truly glorious! As we contemplate these truths together I pray that they will fuel our hope for His return and result in a purer life until He comes.
An important word concerning prophetic literature
Before we discuss the nature of the Lord’s return allow me to make just one essential note concerning the purpose of prophetic literature in general. This is hugely important to our focus, but very often missed in eschatological (“last things”) discussions. I have highlighted the last phrase in the above paragraph because it is the point, the goal of biblical prophetic discourse. When the Holy Spirit addresses issues related to “the end” it is for the purpose of stimulating us to godliness.
Prophetic truth is not given primarily to satisfy our curiosity about the future, or to satiate prurient interests in conspiracy theories (identifying the Antichrist, etc.), nor as ammunition to win our eschatological arguments. God pulls back the curtain on the future so that we might see His glorious plans, and by believing have hope, and in light of that hope live with godly circumspection.
For example, in writing of that great day when we see the Lord, John the apostle exhorts us with the following words, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” (What a staggering promise, “we will be like Him” the moment we see Him! And in that promise is our hope, now notice the application of this marvelous truth). “And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2,3). We can’t intently look into the blazing, purifying reality of that promise and live unchanged or profane lives. We, like Paul, want to press on to that great reality. Paul wrote, “… but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13, 14)
In a similar manner the apostle Peter writing of the future day of God’s final judgment (2 Peter 3:1-ff) gives us this applicational punch line in verse 11 when he says “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness.” That’s the point, isn’t it? God wants us to be a holy people (1 Peter 2:9), and part of His provision for us is a view of coming attractions, a glimpse of Jesus and His glory. Such a vision should transform us more and more into the image of the One whom we adore. May we look less like our old selves, and just a little bit more like Jesus as the result of this simple study. That is certainly my prayer for all of us as we consider the appearing of our Lord Jesus from 2 Thessalonians chapter one.
A stunning, unmistakable appearing
Throughout church history false teachers, with false time tables, and erroneous ideas have predicted the day of Christ’s return. Obviously every one of them has missed the mark because, well, because Christ has yet to return. Unwilling to let a lie die, many of these false prophets have simply reinterpreted their brazen and blatant error and launched their duped disciples into a world of theological absurdities. Here are a couple of convoluted excuses given for failing to predict the literal return of the Lord Jesus.
Caught red handed in their own fraudulent schemes, but claiming further revelation, some false teachers have convinced their ill-guided followers that Jesus did indeed return as they predicted. The problem wasn’t the prediction, the problem was the spiritual torpor of the unenlightened masses, i.e., Jesus returned but only the truly spiritual discerned it. Put another way, these false shepherds have said “Upon further review, Christ’s second coming wasn’t visible and literal, but rather it was spiritual in nature; consequently, it was perceived only by the enlightened ones, the illuminati” (usually the false teacher[s] themselves). Still others have claimed that the return of Christ came through the avenue of reincarnation. Hence His second coming was surreptitious and indiscernible. Yeah, right! As I said, here we have entered into the la-la land of doctrinal absurdities. We will let those two lies die right there!
In contrast to the dark notions of “unprincipled men” (2 Peter 3:17), the scriptures tell us clearly that the return of the Lord will be visible, stunning, and unmistakable. There will be no confusion when the Lord returns, just as there was no mistaking His departure when He returned to the glory of heaven. When Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, the disciples looked on with stunned astonishment at the departure of their Lord. Before their very eyes they watched Jesus ascend into the heavens and disappear into a cloud. Can you imagine that sight?! It must have been mesmerizing.
Transfixed by astonishment – and with a lot of work ahead of them – the disciples were jolted out of their dazed inactivity when two angels appeared. In Acts 1:10-11 Doctor Luke tells us, “And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.'”
In other words, when the Lord Jesus returns it will be unmistakable, visible, and just like the disciples, the world will be inescapably captivated by the sight. That’s why Revelation 1:7 proclaims, “BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.” No my friends, when Jesus returns no one will say, “Oh man, I missed it. What was it like?”
Paul further unveils the astonishing nature of this unambiguous and indisputable event in 2 Thessalonians 1:7. He describes the nature of Christ’s appearing with a string of four descriptive phrases. He tells us “the Lord Jesus 1. will be revealed, 2. from heaven, 3. with His mighty angels, 4. in flaming fire.“
“the Lord Jesus will be revealed“
On that wonderful and terrifying day when the Lord Jesus returns (“wonderful” for believers, “terrifying” for unbelievers), He will not come humbly, quietly, in obscurity as He did at His first advent. Then He came meekly as a little baby, dependent on earthly parents, fragile, and away from the glare of the limelight (Jerusalem). He was born to poor parents in an obscure little village and awoke to a stable, the bleating of sheep, and the company of lowly shepherds. Only a few knew of His birth and fewer still could scarcely comprehend a fraction of His majesty. The glory of Yahweh was veiled in human flesh.
When the Lord comes again He “will be revealed!” The word “revealed” is the Greek compound word “apokalupsis,” made up of the preposition “apo” meaning “away” or “away from,” i.e., “to pull away,” and the term “kalupto” which is translated “to cover,” or “to veil.” The word can therefore be translated “to reveal, to disclose, to make fully known.” In other words, when the Lord Jesus comes again He will pull back the veil to reveal His glory to the entire world. Who He is will be fully disclosed. His blinding divine glory will be unveiled in its resplendent fullness for all to see. And to make sure everyone gets a full view, secondly …
“the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven,” i.e., a vantage point fully visible to all of mankind. This will be the direction from whence He comes! Aroused from His holy abode, He will come in brilliant, unmasked glory as the King of kings. The point of reference for everyone will be the heavens and His appearing will be unmistakable.
This is why the Lord Himself warned us regarding His second coming, “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or’There He is,’ do not believe him …¦ So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.” (Matthew 24:23, 26, 27) In other words, Jesus will come from heaven in blazing glory. Note also those who will accompany Him …
“the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels.” What a magnificent sight this will be! Unfortunately over the centuries, the term “angel” has been diminished to mush. The word conjures up images of portly little cherubs indiscriminately smiting unwitting people with love.” In popular fiction, angels are sometimes portrayed as incompetent, well meaning messengers trying to earn their wings. In entertainment and literature, angels have been reduced to weak, faulty beings who practice some kind of hit-and-miss celestial voodoo on human hard luck cases. Obviously, the term has undergone even further mongrelization than what we have just mentioned.
We comprehend so little of these marvelous creatures, but in order to understand the Lord’s second coming it would be helpful to see how these beings are revealed to us in this context (i.e., the return of the Lord Jesus). Both Paul and Jesus refer to angels attending the second coming. In two such passages, Mark 8:38 and Luke 9:26, Jesus referred to these celestial servants as “holy angels.” They are confirmed in their holiness. These are the elect angels (1 Timothy 5:21) who chose to obey God rather than follow Satan. They therefore reflect the awesome holiness of God Himself.
In fact, when they appear on earth doing God’s bidding they themselves are veiled to hide their refulgent holy glory. They appear as men (e.g. Acts 1:11, et al) because their holy glory would overwhelm even the godliest of people. If an angel were to appear to you or me in our current state (pre-glorification), we would likely have much the same response that the faithful, elderly apostle John had when he encountered one of these beings. Supremely overwhelmed by their magnificent holy glory we would erroneously want to worship them (Revelation 19:10, 22:9).
Angels would correct us, as they did John, in no uncertain terms. Worship belongs to the Lord alone, but because these magnificent servants are so glorious in their holiness, and so far above our practical holiness, we would fall prostrate to our knees before them. The manifestation of these awe inspiring beings is enough to bring the most faithful of men to their knees. Imagine their impact on the godless! When Jesus returns, He will return with a myriad of holy angels. The world will be overcome by the glory of Christ and the splendor of His holy angels descending from heaven.
In 2 Thessalonians 1:7 Paul also calls these servants who accompany Christ at His return “mighty angels.” They are endowed with amazing supernatural power. Their great might can be seen, for example, in the way God uses them to judge His enemies. It was one angel who killed the first born of Egypt (Exodus 12:23). In the book of Numbers (16:3-41) God sent one angel to judge the rebel Korah and his associates. This angel ripped the earth open to swallow Korah, his conspirators, all they owned and then closed the earth up over them. That’s a lot of power!
Similarly, God used one angel to judge David with a plague in 2 Samuel 24. In that day 70,000 men were wiped out. When the Assyrians came to besiege Jerusalem one angel struck down 180,000 Assyrians in one night!
My friends, one angel can do a lot of damage! One angel can defeat 180,000 warriors! One angel is more powerful than we can imagine. When Jesus returns with His mighty angels, He will no doubt return with all of them. Which begs the question, “How many mighty angels are there?” The book of Revelation tells us that their number is incalculable. The apostle John wrote, “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands.” That last phrase is a biblical way of saying “immeasurable,” “incalculable.” How many is that? One hundred million? Two hundred million? More? What will two hundred million mighty, holy angels in the heavens look like? I believe it will be a staggering sight!
Whatever the ultimate tally, Jesus will return unmasked with an incalculable throng of holy and mighty angels. Finally,”the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire.” This clearly speaks of judgment. At His first advent, Jesus defined His mission with these wonderful words, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:17). At His second advent, Jesus returns as judge to wage war, His garments splattered with the blood of His enemies, to tread “the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.” (Revelation 19:11-16) Those who refuse His salvation made possible by His first coming will know Jesus as judge at His return.
Jesus is coming back in judgment. In that day the unbelieving world will tremble as never before. The free offer of salvation now past, the only inescapable reality remaining will be certain judgment. The horror of that realization and the scene in the heavens will overwhelm unsaved men then and forever.That is what scripture tells us the second coming of our Lord will be like, and we know that He will come first to judge the wicked (see previous article). However, that is not the only purpose drawing the second coming of our Lord ever nearer. He will also return for His people and for His glory as we shall see in our next article.