Why Two Comings of Christ?

While this question does not apply directly to any specific passage in Revelation, it does apply to the prophecy as a whole. It is an important point that Christians should understand.

The Two Primary Appearances

The Bible teaches that there shall be two appearance of Christ on earth:

  1. The first appearance occurred about 2000 years ago and concluded with Christ’s death by crucifixion, his resurrection, and his ascension.
  2. The second appearance will occur sometime in the future when Christ returns in both wrath and glory. This “second coming” of Christ is the main subject of the book of Revelation, although it is discussed in several other places throughout the Bible, including both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

To understand why there are two comings, one must grasp God’s objectives with regard to the earth. Long ago, mankind long ago fell into sin and corruption, constituting a rebellion against God. Naturally, God’s would deal with this situation in a manner consistent with His own character:

  1. God is loving and merciful, thus one of His objectives is to provide a way for sinful people to be redeemed.
  2. God is holy, thus another of His objectives is to not allow sin to go unpunished, nor allow corruption and rebellion to continue forever.

So in short, there are two comings of Christ because in order to achieve God’s two objectives with regard to sin, Christ would have to fulfill two roles:

  1. The priest who atones for sin.
  2. The king who will abolish sin.

We see these two roles mentioned most succinctly by the Old Testament prophet Zechariah:

Zech 6:12-13 — 12“Then say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the LORD. 13Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the LORD, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.

Understand that the “two offices” mentioned in verse 13 are:

  1. The priest who builds the temple of the LORD, and
  2. The king who sits and rules on the throne.

The one who fulfills these two offices is called “Branch“, which is a Messianic term (Isa 4:2, Isa 11:1, Jer 23:5, Jer 33:15, Zech 3:8). Jesus, who is the Messiah, must therefore fill both of these roles.

Verse 13 says that there will be “peace will be between the two offices“. In the Old Testament, there was never “peace” between these two offices because they could never both be occupied by the same man. The priests must be descended from Aaron (from the tribe of Levi) while the kings must be descended from David (from the tribe of Judah). And yet, this remarkable prophecy says there shall be one man who occupies both roles, a “priest on His throne”.

Another Old Testament passage that clearly references these two roles is found in Psalm 110:

Psalm 110:1-4 — 1The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” 2The LORD will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of Your enemies.” 3Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power; In holy array, from the womb of the dawn, Your youth are to You as the dew.
4The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.”

The one who holds the strong scepter and rules from Zion is clearly a king, and yet it goes on to describe this king as a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek, referring to the somewhat mysterious king-priest mentioned in Genesis 14:18,19,20.

The New Testament book of Hebrews quotes from this Psalm 110:1 passage as it describes Jesus Christ fulfilling both of these roles, first as priest, and finally as king:

Heb 10:12-13 — 12but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, 13waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET.

Note how this Hebrews passage divides the fulfillment of these two roles into three separate stages:

  1. Role #1 – Priest:  It mentions that Christ offered one sacrifice for sins, which is the role of a priest. This relates to Psalm 110:4, where the Messiah is said to be a priest in the order of Melchizedek.
  2. Waiting Time between the roles: It says He “sat down at the right hand of God“. This was completed at Christ’s ascension (Mark 16:19, Acts 2:33, 1 Pet 3:22), which is why the Hebrews verse (written after the ascension) uses the past tense “sat” instead of “sit“. It says He will sit there, “waiting from that time onward“, which reflects the time between the two roles of Christ.
  3. Role #2 – King: Finally, it says that His wait will end when “his enemies be made a footstool for his feet“. This refers to Christ’s role as king, as mentioned in Psalm 110:1-2.

Role #1 – Jesus the Priest

When Christ appeared on earth 2000 years ago, he was entitled to assert His role as king, and yet at that time it was not His purpose to fulfill His kingly role. Why not? Because when Christ rules as king, He shall not accept sin and corruption in His holy kingdom. His first order of business as king on earth will be to destroy all wickedness on earth, and that includes all unredeemed sinners.

However, when Christ came to earth 2000 years ago, everyone was an unredeemed sinner. Had He destroyed all sinners at that time, He would have failed to achieve his first objective above, which is to provide a way for sinners to be redeemed and enter the Kingdom of God.

So instead of coming to fulfill His role as king, Christ first came in the role of our priest. In that role, He offered up to God the one sacrifice that could atone for the sins of mankind (Heb 9:11,12). That sacrifice was the body and blood of his own perfect life, given for us, as He explained at the last Passover supper (Luke 22:19,20). All of the Day of Atonement sacrifices that the Jewish priests had practiced during the centuries before to atone for sin were just symbols of the sacrifice Jesus would offer (Heb 10:1-4). Likewise, all of the Passover sacrifices of unblemished lambs that they offered were symbols demonstrating that a sinless one must die to save people from the penalty of sin (1 Cor 5:7). The fact that Jesus was resurrected was God’s affirmation that He accepted Christ’s sacrifice as atonement for sin.

Through this sacrifice, Christ achieved God’s first objective: He provided a way for people to be redeemed, thus saved from their sins. Jesus made it clear that this was the purpose of his first coming, e.g. John 3:17 — For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

Ironically, in earthly terms, Jesus ended up being crucified largely because he was a disappointment to the Jews who were hoping he was coming to be king. They thought that He would restore the kingdom of Israel and liberate the Jews from foreign domination. At one point they shouted to him “Hosanna! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD, even the King of Israel” (John 12:13), but within a week the religious leaders, aided by Judas’ betrayal and cowardly injustice of the Roman officials, successfully conspired to have Jesus crucified.

The crucifixion and death of Jesus caused most Jews to conclude that He could not have been their Messiah-king after all. However, if they had understood the consequences of having a perfectly holy king, these unredeemed people would never have hoped for Christ to be king at His first coming. First, He had to come as priest — a role that required His death, as the prophets foretold (e.g. Psalm 22:16, Isa 53:5,7,8,10, Psalm 16:10, Dan 9:26, Isa 50:6, Psalm 69:21, Zech 12:10).

Question: How can Jesus rightfully be a priest since he is not descended from Aaron? The answer is that God prepared a way for the Christ to be a priest by creating an older, superior, and much more exclusive priesthood. This is the priesthood of Melchizedek, who was both a priest and a king long before the Levitical priesthood of Aaron even existed (Gen 14:18). Jesus is in the priesthood of Melchizedek by virtue of being the Messiah (Psalm 110:4). This is the main topic of Hebrews 6:20,7:1-22.

Role #2 – Jesus the King

Revelation (and many other prophetic texts) make it clear that Christ shall return again. But next time, he shall come in his rightful role as king. Christ’s second appearance on earth will be very different from the first. At His first coming he came as a lamb to make a peace-offering with mankind (John 1:29). He spoke about how people, although sinners, could enter the kingdom of God. In sharp contrast, His second coming will be marked by unimaginable glory, power, and wrath. He shall quickly destroy the unrighteous (e.g. Isa 13:9, Jer 25:30-31, Zeph 1:18, Rev 19:20,21). Instead of appearing as a lamb, He shall be the lion (Rev 5:5).

At his second coming, Christ shall achieve God’s second objective: He will abolish sin and corruption. Thankfully, because he first came to fulfill his role as priest, his kingdom shall not be empty. It will be filled with people redeemed by His priestly sacrifice and thus freed from condemnation (Rom 8:1).

Question: How can Jesus rightfully be an earthly king? Jesus does not simply assume a role as king on earth. He is the a rightful king on the earth by virtue of being the descendant and heir to the throne of David, king of Israel. When Jesus returns as king, it will to fight on behalf of His people Israel, who will be under attack. The outcome of this battle is that Jesus shall become the King of kings over all the earth. This is discussed in The Battle of Armageddon.

The Gap Between the Two Roles

So why is there such a long time between Christ’s first and second comings? I think it’s helpful to look at the final conversation that Jesus had while on earth, recorded in Acts 1:6-8

Disciples: “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?

Jesus: “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

That is, the long time before Christ’s second coming is to give time for the gospel to be spread throughout the earth, so that the kingdom could grow prior to his return as king. Jesus spoke about this growth of the kingdom in his parables about the mustard seed and the leaven (Matt 13:31,32,33). It is further explained in 2 Peter 3:8,9,10, where Peter explains that the apparent slowness is really God’s patience, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. This gap is discussed further in What Does “Soon” Mean?.

In other words, Jesus was willing to delay His own coronation as king on earth for the sake of sinners, so that as many as possible would safely enter the kingdom. However, He will not tolerate sin and delay His rightful role as king forever.

What Exactly Is the Return of Christ?

Christians often speak about Christ’s return (or second coming), but what exactly does that entail? The answer is that the return of Christ can be understood in both a broad sense and a narrow sense, depending on the context. These two cases are discussed below.

(1) The Broad Sense

In the broadest sense, the return of Christ marks the beginning of His reign as king on earth, which occurs at the beginning of the bowl events that follow immediately after the great tribulation.

To review, during the great tribulation, earth is ruled by Satan’s king who we call Antichrist, and Rev 13:5 says that his reign is granted to last for 42 months (known as the great tribulation).

When those 42 months are over, Antichrist’s reign ends and Christ’s reign starts. Christ does not immediately appear visibly on earth at that time. Instead, His reign will begin with a period of time in which He methodically destroys all unrighteousness on earth. This initial period of Christ’s reign is called the Day of the Lord by Old Testament prophets, and it is called the bowl judgments in Revelation. Revelation also describes this initial period of Christ’s reign in the sixth seal (Rev 6:16,17), and in the seventh trumpet (Rev 11:15,17).

Side note: Christ could destroy the unrighteous instantly, but instead He uses this prolonged period of seven bowl judgments. I believe that as a final act of grace to sinners, He pours out his wrath in stages to give people time to repent even amid His wrath, up until the seventh and final bowl event.

I believe that the Day of the Lord will consist of the following:

      • Before any bowl events strike the earth, Christ will begin His reign on earth by descending invisibly to gather His people. At that time, the dead shall be resurrected, and the living shall taken up with Him (1 Thes 4:16,17). This event is commonly called the rapture.
      • The bowl judgments #1 through #6 will then strike the earth. Although Christ reigns, He is still not visible on earth during these events. People can still repent during this time.
      • Bowl judgment #7 will be an enormous worldwide earthquake.
      • Christ will finally appear visibly on earth (coinciding with the earthquake), described in Rev 19:15,16. All unrighteous people on earth at that time will be killed, because no unrighteous person can see God and live (Ex 33:20). Christ, the holy king shall then reign on earth with no opposition, as all of His enemies are absolutely defeated (Isa 2:17, Zech 14:9).

Some verses that refer to the return of Christ in this broad sense include: Matt 24:39,40,41, 1 Cor 15:23, 1 Pet 5:4, 2 Thes 2:1, Heb 9:28, Rev 11:15.

(2) The Narrow Sense

In the narrower sense, the return of Christ can refer specifically to His visible return at the end of the bowl judgments. In this event, Christ appears with His saints in response to the armies of the ungodly who are assembled at Armageddon (Rev 19:14, Rev 17:14) with intent to destroy God’s people Israel.

This is the climactic event of the Day of the Lord, and it marks the moment when the unbelieving world will finally see the holy king who reigns over the earth. For the unredeemed people, this will be a time of supreme terror, far surpassing even the destruction of the earlier six bowl events.

However, we should understand that Christ’s visible return at the end of the bowls is not the beginning of His reign on earth. His reign will have already begun at the beginning of the bowls.

Some verses that refer to the return of Christ in this narrow sense include: Isa 2:21, Joel 3:16, Matt 24:30, 1 Thes 3:13, 2 Thes 2:8, Rev 6:16.

On this website, when referring to the return of Christ, I shall distinguish between the two cases above by referring to the second case as Christ’s visible return to earth.

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