For about six weeks after Jesus’ resurrection he appeared to a large number of his followers. At their final meeting, on a hill outside Jerusalem, he instructed them to spread his message worldwide. They were told that although appearances of Jesus on earth had come to an end, he would return.
Jesus’ followers avidly studied the Old Testament (as we now know it) and discussed things they recalled Jesus teaching them. They came to the conclusion that this return of Jesus would be very soon. They expected it to be triumphant, unmistakeable and visible worldwide. It would rescue them from the oppression the Jews were experiencing.
So for some time after Jesus’ resurrection the Christians (as they would later be known) believed that he would return during their lifetimes. Decisions were made in the light of the fact that long-term planning was not necessary. A statement of belief (or creed) that Christians still say together dates from this time:
Christ has died;
Christ is risen;
Christ will come again.
Christians slowly began to realise that the return of Jesus would not happen as soon as they anticipated. However, the belief in a climactic reappearance of Jesus never went away. It is still an essential belief of Christians. Churches focus on it on Advent Sunday, about four weeks before Christmas.
Various theories of how and when this return will take place have developed. It has become known as the Second Coming. The theories all come from analysis of the text of the Bible. It does not state the circumstances of Jesus’ return clearly. However, it ends with a visionary and poetic book called Revelation, which is open to so many interpretations that some people invest hours in trying to unlock its meaning.
Some Christians have come to believe that there will be a sudden removal of believers from the earth. They will join God rapturously in heaven, together with Christians who have died. At that moment Jesus will reappear to take control of the earth – a reign that will last for a thousand years.
Others also focus on the symbolism of a thousand years. However, they conclude that this will be a period of just and peaceful leadership of the world by the Christian church, which will be followed by an apocalypse of violent evil. Jesus will step in to bring the terror to an end.
A third view is that the symbols are not meant to foresee specific events. The return of Jesus will coincide with the end of human life on earth as it is now experienced and the beginning of an eternity of joy, peace and healing in Heaven in the presence of God.
Many variations on these theories have been proposed, but it is not possible to know with certainty what the future holds. The Bible warns against trying to be dogmatic about future events which are known only to God. However, this has not stopped some people trying to pinpoint the date on which Jesus will return. These predictions have so far had a one hundred per cent failure rate.
What the Bible says about it
An extract from the Bible:
Jesus taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? 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.’
Where to find it:
About these words:
Acts is short for The Acts of the Apostles. It is a sequel by Luke to his biography of Jesus, and describes what happened to Jesus’ followers as churches were founded during the decades immediately after his death and resurrection.
And they said…
Corrie ten Boom, best-selling author and concentration camp survivor, 1892–1983:
We are not a post-war generation, but a pre-peace generation. Jesus is coming.
Queen Victoria, 1819-1901:
I wish he would come in my lifetime so that I could take my crown and lay it at his feet.
Cyril, bishop of Alexandria, 376-444:
The one who will come is the one who suffered death in human fashion, but rose again in a divine manner and went up to Heaven. He will come, as I have said, revealed not in human lowliness but in the glory of supreme divinity.
Martin Luther, theologian, 1485-1546, when asked what he would do if he knew Jesus was to return tomorrow:
Plant a tree.