How Many Times is Jesus Coming Back?

Michael S. Heiser

Few things in the Bible attract more attention than prophecies about the end times. Even people with only a passing acquaintance with the Bible know that it foretells a second coming of Jesus. Those who study the Bible know the book of Revelation reveals that the second coming brings an end to the reign of the antichrist (the “beast”; Rev 19:11–21). The risen Christ, the incarnation of God, returns to earth not as a suffering Savior, but as the glorious warrior-king. But does the Bible describe an earlier return of Jesus—one that precedes this triumphant arrival?

The “Rapture”

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Some Christians believe that 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 describes how all believers will be taken from earth, dead or alive, at an appearing of Jesus before the second coming described in Revelation 19.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord (1 Thess 4:16–17).

This earlier return of Jesus is called the “rapture” by believers who embrace this idea. The term is derived from the Latin word rapiemur (from rapio, meaning “to carry off”) used by the translator of the Latin Vulgate for the Greek word harpazō (ἁρπάζω), translated “caught up” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

Other Christians, however, reject the idea that 1 Thessalonians 4 speaks of a different event than the return of Jesus to earth described in Revelation 19. For them, there will only be one return of Jesus in the future. So, who’s right?

Harmonizing

The answer to the question is “it depends.” If we were to read all the passages in the New Testament that speak of Jesus’ future return, along with Old Testament passages that speak of a final, climactic visitation by God on earth that will put an end to evil (“the Day of the Lord”), we would notice immediately that they do not agree in the details or descriptions. For example, 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 seemingly has Jesus returning in the air, gathering believers into the clouds, whereas the prophet Zechariah foretold the physical arrival of the pierced Lord on the Mount of Olives with His holy ones at the Day of the Lord (Zech 12:10; 14:1–5; compare Rev 19:14).

Interpreters are forced to make a decision: Should we take these verses and split them into two events, or should we harmonize them? The former approach produces two events: a rapture and a second coming. Harmonization, the second approach, eliminates the rapture and leaves only one event: the second coming. Harmonization is a tried-and-true method frequently used by interpreters to resolve disagreements between the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. It is also used to reconcile Old Testament accounts of Israelite history recorded in Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. But many see the harmonized differences as “inconsistencies” between biblical prophecies.

The Bible doesn’t telegraph which interpretive approach is correct. There is no appendix on interpretation following the book of Revelation. Both views are based on choices we bring to the text. Neither is self-evident as the “biblical position.” That realization should prompt us to act with humility and charity toward each other, no matter what position we take.

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 5

After the Storm

John D. Barry

Jeremiah 29:1–30:24; Romans 6:1–14; Proverbs 20:13–30

As we blink and squint in the light that emerges after a storm, we marvel that the sun was there all along and we just couldn’t see it. The same is true during times of difficulty. When we’re in pain or worried, it seems impossible to find God, but in retrospect, it always seems obvious: God was there all along.

Jeremiah prophesied to God’s people about their unraveling. The people heard words from Jeremiah’s mouth that must have seemed hopeless and full of despair. But in Jeremiah 29, we catch a glimpse of the light that comes after: “Build houses and live in them, and plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and father sons and daughters … and multiply there, and you must not be few” (Jer 29:5–6).

Even in exile, God will continue to guide His people. Because of their sins, they have endured (and lost) war and have been driven away from the land that God gave them; but God remains with them nonetheless. They may need to experience the pain of exile to understand the consequences of turning away from God, but God still plans to be good to them. He will provide for them.

We witness a parallel picture in Rom 6. After describing the death that sin brings into the world and the current sad state of humanity, Paul presents a full vision of living without sin—of conquering the very problem that drove God’s people into exile: “What therefore shall we say? Shall we continue in sin, in order that grace may increase? May it never be! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1–2).

Even with the grace God has offered us, Paul encourages us to live the vision God has created through Jesus—one that strives to be sinless. Likewise, Jeremiah does not offer empty words without the command that God’s people follow Him with their entire beings (Jer 29:8–14).

We have all made mistakes. We’ve all lost ourselves in the storms—in storms we caused and storms that came upon us for no apparent reason. But what’s certain in both instances is that God is with us and desires for us to be one with Him.

What storm are you currently in, coming out of, or anticipating? What is God teaching you through it? What is He asking of you?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.


John D. Barry is the CEO and founder of Jesus’ Economy, a nonprofit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. To empower the extreme poor, Jesus’ Economy also has an online fair trade shop. John is also the general editor of Faithlife Study Bible and the former editor-in-chief of Bible Study Magazine. Learn more about John’s work with Jesus’ Economy at www.jesuseconomy.org.

Shelf Life Book Review: Bible Savvy Series

James Matichuk

Bible Savvy Series

In the Bible Savvy series, a collection of four short books, James L. Nicodem provides a brief guide for understanding and interpreting the Bible. He especially writes for those who are interested in the Bible but intimidated by its size, scope and ancient context.

In the first volume, Epic: The Storyline of the Bible, Nicodem summarizes the story of the Bible with an emphasis on redemption. The second volume, Foundation: The Reliability of the Bible, covers issues from inspiration and inerrancy to the formation of the canon and the doctrine of revelation. Context: How to Understand the Bible explores how we can understand the Bible through studying the historical, literary, theological and immediate context of each book. In Walk: How to Apply the Bible, Nicodem proposes a structure of Context, Observation, Message and Application to bring the Bible off the page and into our lives. According to Nicodem, once we understand a passage in context, our personal observations of the passage’s features prompt us to discover the message God has for us. Then we make a plan and put the passage into practice.

Nicodem’s engaging writing and study guides make this Bible Savvy series a good choice for group Bible studies.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 1

Meeting God

Elizabeth Vince

April 11 came and went. Our grace period was over. If we didn’t vacate the country by the next day, my husband and I would be illegal residents of Canada. Not wanting to overextend our welcome, we packed a few essentials and drove across the border into the state of Washington. There, we would wait for his work visa. “It will be two weeks tops,” we assured ourselves.

Days, then weeks ticked by with no word. Our optimism deflated along with our rainy-day fund. After two months in limbo, we faced a decision: wait it out or move on. In the process, we each encountered our own demons.

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I’ve never favored spontaneity. When it comes to making major decisions, I research. I arm myself with lists of pros and cons. Flexibility must be served with a selection of practical options. As the plans that had seemed definite eroded alongside my sense of control, worry became my constant companion. Rather than find comfort in Jesus’ words from Matthew 6:25–27, I felt chastised: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink. … Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet our heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” “That’s great and all,” I thought. “But what does God’s provision actually look like?”

It can sometimes be difficult to see prayer and trust in God as viable solutions.

Meanwhile, my husband had to grapple with his own questions. After all, it was his job on the line, his career in peril. His confidence in God’s plan was giving way to uncertainty. “What if I’m misinterpreting God’s direction? Does creating a backup plan and exploring options mean my faith is faltering? How long is long enough?”

Our individual anxieties isolated us and set us on separate paths on this journey we were stuck on—his one of waiting, mine one of worrying. When my life was comfortable and my future secure, seeking God’s guidance seemed like a last resort. Even His Word felt like a backup plan. Now, with all that security gone, it was difficult for me to grasp that we were relying on such abstract ideas for answers.

As each day passed, our waiting on God’s guidance dragged us closer to complete dependence on His provision. What had once felt like well-intentioned advice became a concrete directive: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess 5:16–18).

The words of 1 Thessalonians 5:11 also came to us as a stern reprimand: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” God’s Word doesn’t allow for struggling in isolation; He calls us to rely on each other and, most important, to depend on Him.

Taking these words to heart became our balm in this ordeal. When despair threatened to overwhelm, we tackled it with words of encouragement; in the process, we gained opportunities to uncover insecurities and affirm each other’s strengths. As we wrestled with the tough questions, we caught glimpses of each other’s doubts and convictions. Together, we accepted the reality of walking in God’s will and relying on Him to provide. To our delight, God met us in our surrender, surpassing our expectations with provision through friends and strangers who also took these words seriously, lending resources and support to a couple of humbled refugees.

Trusting in the unseen can be a lesson in humility. Waiting patiently for the Lord can seem like inaction. But we can trust in our God, who “inclined to me and heard my cry … and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure” (Psa 40:1–2). May you thrive in the security of God’s guidance and provision.

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 5

Instant Discipleship?

Aubry Smith

This past year, my husband has been praying and studying the Bible with Robert, a new Christian. Robert is a former addict, and his life reflected sins from that lifestyle. While he is now committed to Christ, he continues to walk in some of those sins. Many Christian men who have mentored Robert gave up when he didn’t stop sinning on their timeline.

Walking alongside a new Christian with years of ingrained sinful habits can be discouraging. While the Bible doesn’t provide a blueprint for quick discipleship, Paul provides an encouraging model in Thessalonians:

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For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe (1 Thess 2:11–13).

Paul’s example is the example of Jesus Himself. Rather than simply commanding holiness, Paul and his team lived holiness among the Thessalonian church. Paul became a “father” to them. The work of a parent is ongoing and sometimes arduous—repeated instructions, reprimands for rules broken, and the modeling of a godly life. Paul guides the Thessalonians to holiness by wielding words with love and urging them on in faith.

He commends the faith and love of the Thessalonian believers, but he still warns them against particular sins like sexual immorality, laziness and revenge (1 Thess 4:3; 5:14–15). These believers found it difficult to adhere to the strict ethical code of their new faith. Yet Paul, recognizing the work ahead of them, encourages them because God is at work.

Despite what we may see outwardly, there is a patient, intimate work that God is performing in His people. While Robert is still sinning, he is now faithful in many ways he was not before. He continues to struggle with many sinful habits, but his new life is not the same as his former. While his progress may seem slow and messy, Robert’s life demonstrates the Word of God at work in those who believe.

Those of us whose lives look pulled together—who have learned to behave properly—may forget God’s patience with our own sin. I have years of sins like pride and snap judgments that God has not instantly transformed into humility. Yet these sins receive some of the harshest criticism in Scripture (Psa 101:5; Gal 6:3; Jas 4:6).

Since God is holy, He calls us to holiness. He also provides us with the Holy Spirit to answer that call. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:7–8, “God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.” As we disciple new believers, we must teach them to rely on the Spirit for complete deliverance—and we must stand with them as God works out that deliverance. He is performing the very same work in our own lives.
Robert’s name was changed to protect privacy and identity.

Biblical references are from the New International Version (NIV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 5