15. The Second Coming of Christ and the Millennial Kingdom
Article contributed by www.walvoord.com
The Second Coming of Christ in the Old Testament
The Second Coming of Christ is a major doctrine of both the Old and New Testaments, and all orthodox creeds include the fact of His second coming as a part of essential doctrine. The Psalms, though mostly devotional, contain a number of references to Christ’s second coming. Early in Psalm 2 the writer says that the Lord scoffs at those who rebel against Him. The Psalm states:
Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery” (Ps. 2:5–9).
The trilogy of Psalm 22, 23, and 24 gives a panoramic view of Christ. Psalm 22 speaks of His work as the Good Shepherd dying on the cross for our sins (John 10:11). Psalm 23 speaks of His present care for His own as the Great Shepherd (Heb. 13:20), interceding for them in heaven. Psalm 24 describes Christ as the King of Glory, the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4), who will enter the gates of Jerusalem.
Another major revelation is given in Psalm 72, revealing Christ’s reign over the whole earth. After describing how He will judge the people, defend the afflicted, and deliver the righteous, the psalm continues:
In his days the righteous will flourish; prosperity will abound till the moon is no more. He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. The desert tribes will bow before him and his enemies will lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring tribute to him; the kings of Sheba and Seba will present him gifts. All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him (Ps. 72:7–11).
The Psalm concludes by stating that all nations will be blessed through Him and that the whole earth will be filled with His glory (Ps. 72:17–19).
Another major passage dealing with Christ in His second coming is found in Isaiah 11, where the righteous reign of Christ and the blessings of the millennial kingdom are revealed.
Daniel 7:13–14 states that the Second Coming marks the termination of the times of the Gentiles and the beginning of the reign of God’s kingdom on earth:
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
This passage, as all others on the second coming of Christ, makes clear that it refers to an event not yet fulfilled that will consummate the plan of God for the ages.
Zechariah 2:10–11 also anticipates the coming of the Lord and His residence in the earth, “‘Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.’” In that future day Scripture declares that Christ will claim the Holy Land as His own. Zechariah says, “The Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem” (Zech. 2:12).
A dramatic description of the second coming of Christ is recorded in Zechariah 14, which describes an attack upon Jerusalem. Zechariah states, “Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south” (Zech. 14:3–4). This prophecy makes clear that Christ has not come in His second coming because the Mount of Olives is still intact, awaiting the coming of Christ.
The Second Coming of Christ in the New Testament
In the New Testament, in addition to prophecies concerning the Second Coming, the rapture of the church is revealed for the first time. The rapture of the church is the occasion when Christ will come to take the church, living and dead, out of the earth to heaven. It is an event entirely different from the Second Coming, as the two comings are described.
About twenty passages deal with the subject of the Second Coming in the New Testament. They serve to emphasize that this is a major doctrine of Scripture (Matt. 19:28; 23:39; 24:3–25:46; Mark 13:24–37; Luke 12:35–48; 17:22–37; 18:8; 21:25–28; Acts 1:10–11; 15:16–18; Rom. 11:25–27; 1 Cor. 11:26; 2 Thess. 1:7–10; 2 Peter 3:3–4; Jude 14–15; Rev. 1:7–8; 2:25–28; 16:15; 19:11–21; 22:20).
Though liberal interpreters attempt to find some fulfillment of the second coming of Christ in present human experience, all conservative interpreters describe the Second Coming as a future major divine event fulfilling the revelation in Revelation 19:11–15. Also, there is general agreement that Christ will come personally and bodily in a return to the earth, which was prophesied in Acts 1:9–10. His return will be similar to His ascension in that He will return bodily, and it will be gradual and visible, with clouds as the angels prophesied when they said, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Some interpreters have attempted to incorporate the rapture of the church as a part of the Second Coming. A careful study of Revelation 19–20 reveals no textual support for a rapture in that sequence of events. The revelation of Christ at His second coming is painted graphically in Revelation 19:11–16:
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
king of kings and lord of lords.
There is no similarity whatever between this and His coming at the Rapture as brought out previously. At the Rapture there is no statement of anyone accompanying Him; there is no record that He ever judges the earth or that His purpose is to end the times of the Gentiles. In Revelation the second coming of Christ is pictured in contrast to His first coming. In His first coming He came quietly to live a life on earth; in His second coming He comes in His glory accompanied by the hosts of heaven. At the Second Coming there is no “catching up” of the church and taking it out of the world as is true of the Rapture. In the Second Coming the saints and angels will accompany Christ in His return and will remain in the earthly sphere to share in the millennial reign that follows. At His second coming Christ will destroy the armies of the world that were gathered to conquer the Holy Land. It is a terrible picture of divine judgment upon a wicked world that rejected Christ. The world leader described as the beast and the false prophet associated with him will be cast alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur (Rev. 19:20).
Immediately after Christ returns and judges those who wickedly oppose Him, Satan will be rendered inactive for the first time, as Revelation 20:1–3 states:
I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.
Distinction must be made in the interpretation of this passage between what John saw and what he was told. He saw what appeared to be Satan, described here also as the dragon, the serpent, and the devil. John saw him thrown into the abyss and saw the abyss locked and sealed, but he could not understand why unless he was told. God had to reveal that Satan would be bound for a thousand years and that he would not be able to deceive the nations in that thousand-year period. It also was revealed that at the end of the thousand years he would be set free for a short time (Rev. 20:3). The explanation should be understood as a literal interpretation.
This prophecy is certainly not fulfilled in the present age because the present age is not a thousand years and Satan is not bound in the present age. In fact, Scripture makes it clear, as in I Peter 5:8, that “your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” In the present age while Satan is limited by God, he is not bound or inactive and, as a matter of fact, is deceiving millions of people. As presented in Revelation 20, Satan’s binding is the logical result of Christ’s coming to judge the world, restore righteousness, and install His kingdom in which Satan will be inactive for the entire period of the thousand years.
In connection with the events following the second coming of Christ, John also saw the resurrection of those who had been martyred in the Great Tribulation during the three-and-a-half years preceding the Second Coming. John writes:
I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4- 6) .
It is significant that the resurrection of the tribulation saints, who died three-and-a-half years before in the three-and-a-half-year period leading up to the Second Coming, is accomplished in anticipation that they would in their resurrected life reign with Christ a thousand years. This introduces another important factor that bears on the Second Coming: it is premillennial, that is, it occurs before the thousand years. This is required by the resurrection of the martyred saints killed in the period just before His second coming: In fact, the coming of Christ results in the establishment of the millennial kingdom, which otherwise would not come about. In this passage the martyred dead of the tribulation are resurrected and subsequently reign for a thousand years with Christ.
The doctrine that there is one general resurrection of all people is also repudiated here because verse 5 states that the resurrection of the martyred dead is a selected resurrection and that the rest of the dead, that is, the wicked, will not be raised until after the thousand years. This is confirmed in the passage that follows, as described in Revelation 20:7–10, when the devil is released after the thousand years, begins to deceive the nations, and gains a large following, which surrounds Jerusalem and attempts to conquer it. Fire will come down from heaven and devour them, and Satan himself will be cast into the lake of burning sulfur where he will be tormented forever and ever. The resurrection of the wicked follows.
Judgments at the Time of the Second Coming of Christ
At the second coming of Christ there will be a series of judgments. Already mentioned is the judgment and reward of the martyred dead of the Great Tribulation. Also mentioned is the judgment of Satan, which causes him to be bound for a thousand years.
The Scriptures also speak of a general judgment of the nations, or the Gentiles (Matt. 25:31–46). This is a judgment of Gentiles living in the world at the time of the second coming of Christ who have survived the Great Tribulation. Those counted worthy are described as sheep, and they will be eligible to enter the millennial kingdom. Those who are counted unworthy, designated as goats, are put to death.
A similar judgment of the people of Israel is described in Ezekiel 20:33–38. Those counted worthy enter the millennial kingdom; those not counted worthy are put to death.
Not mentioned in Revelation is the resurrection and judgment of Old Testament saints as revealed in Daniel 12:2. Daniel writes, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” The righteous are raised and will enter the millennial kingdom. Though it is mentioned in the same verse, the judgment of the wicked, which is also mentioned, actually occurs a thousand years later as Revelation 20:5 makes clear. At the beginning of the millennial kingdom all the righteous have been raised from the dead, and those living, both Gentiles and Jews, who survived the Great Tribulation will enter the Millennium in their natural bodies and will perform natural functions in that kingdom. Only those who are wicked will still be in the grave and not resurrected.