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Friday, November 14, 2008

Return of Christ

Definition: Before leaving the earth, Jesus Christ promised to return. Thrilling events in connection with God’s Kingdom are associated with that promise. It should be noted that there is a difference between coming and presence. Thus, while a person’s coming (associated with his arrival or return) occurs at a given time, his presence may thereafter extend over a period of years. In the Bible the Greek word er′kho‧mai (meaning “to come”) is also used with reference to Jesus’ directing his attention to an important task at a specific time during his presence, namely, to his work as Jehovah’s executioner at the war of the great day of God the Almighty.

Do the events associated with Christ’s presence take place in a very brief time or over a period of years?

Matt. 24:37-39: “Just as the days of Noah were, so the presence [“coming,” RS, TEV; “presence,” Yg, Ro, ED; Greek, pa‧rou‧si′a] of the Son of man will be. For as they were in those days before the flood, eating and drinking, men marrying and women being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark; and they took no note until the flood came and swept them all away, so the presence of the Son of man will be.” (The events of “the days of Noah” that are described here took place over a period of many years. Jesus compared his presence with what occurred back then.)

At Matthew 24:37 the Greek word pa‧rou‧si′a is used. Literally it means a “being alongside.” Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford, 1968) gives “presence, of persons,” as its first definition of pa‧rou‧si′a. The sense of the word is clearly indicated at Philippians 2:12, where Paul contrasts his presence (pa‧rou‧si′a) with his absence (a‧pou‧si′a). On the other hand, in Matthew 24:30, which tells of the “Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” as Jehovah’s executioner at the war of Armageddon, the Greek word er‧kho′me‧non is used. Some translators use ‘coming’ for both Greek words, but those that are more careful convey the difference between the two.

Will Christ return in a manner visible to human eyes?

John 14:19: “A little longer and the world will behold me no more, but you [Jesus’ faithful apostles] will behold me, because I live and you will live.” (Jesus had promised his apostles that he would come again and take them to heaven to be with him. They could see him because they would be spirit creatures as he is. But the world would not see him again. Compare 1 Timothy 6:16.)

Acts 13:34: “He [God] resurrected him [Jesus] from the dead destined no more to return to corruption.” (Human bodies are by nature corruptible. That is why 1 Corinthians 15:42, 44 uses the word “corruption” in parallel construction with “physical body.” Jesus will never again have such a body.)

John 6:51: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread he will live forever; and, for a fact, the bread that I shall give is my flesh in behalf of the life of the world.” (Having given it, Jesus does not take it back again. He does not thereby deprive mankind of the benefits of the sacrifice of his perfect human life.)

What is the meaning of Jesus’ coming “in the same manner” as he ascended to heaven?

Acts 1:9-11: “While they [Jesus’ apostles] were looking on, he was lifted up and a cloud caught him up from their vision. And as they were gazing into the sky while he was on his way, also, look! two men in white garments stood alongside them, and they said: ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus who was received up from you into the sky will come thus in the same manner as you have beheld him going into the sky.’” (Notice that this says “the same manner,” not the same body. What was the “manner” of his ascent? As verse 9 shows, he disappeared from view, his departure being observed only by his disciples. The world in general was not aware of what happened. The same would be true of Christ’s return.)

What is meant by his ‘coming on the clouds’ and ‘every eye seeing him’?

Rev. 1:7: “Look! He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, and those who pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in grief because of him.” (Also Matthew 24:30; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27)

What is indicated by “clouds”? Invisibility. When an airplane is in a thick cloud or above the clouds, people on the ground usually cannot see it, although they may hear the roar of the engines. Jehovah told Moses: “I am coming to you in a dark cloud.” Moses did not see God, but that cloud indicated Jehovah’s invisible presence. (Ex. 19:9; see also Leviticus 16:2; Numbers 11:25.) If Christ were to appear visibly in the heavens, it is obvious that not “every eye” would see him. If he appeared over Australia, for example, he would not be visible in Europe, Africa, and the Americas, would he?

In what sense will ‘every eye see him’? They will discern from events on earth that he is invisibly present. Also referring to sight that is not physical, John 9:41 reports: “Jesus said to [the Pharisees]: ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin. But now you say, “We see.” Your sin remains.’” (Compare Romans 1:20.) Following Christ’s return, some persons show faith; they recognize the sign of his presence. Others reject the evidence, but when Christ goes into action as God’s executioner of the wicked, even they will discern from the manifestation of his power that the destruction is not from men but from heaven. They will know what is happening because they were warned in advance. Because of what is overtaking them, they will “beat themselves in grief.”

Who are “those who pierced him”? Literally, Roman soldiers did this at the time of Jesus’ execution. But they have long been dead. So this must refer to people who similarly mistreat, or ‘pierce,’ Christ’s true followers during “the last days.”—Matt. 25:40, 45.

Can it really be said that a person has ‘come’ or that he is ‘present’ if he is not visible?

The apostle Paul spoke of his being “absent in body but present in spirit” with the congregation in Corinth.—1 Cor. 5:3.

Jehovah spoke of his ‘going down’ to confuse the language of the builders of the tower of Babel. (Gen. 11:7) He also said that he would “go down” to deliver Israel from bondage to Egypt. And God assured Moses, “My own person will go along” to lead Israel to the Promised Land. (Ex. 3:8; 33:14) But no human ever saw God.—Ex. 33:20; John 1:18.

What are some of the events with which the Bible associates the presence of Christ?

Dan. 7:13, 14: “With the clouds of the heavens someone like a son of man [Jesus Christ] happened to be coming; and to the Ancient of Days [Jehovah God] he gained access, and they brought him up close even before that One. And to him there were given rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him.”

1 Thess. 4:15, 16: “This is what we tell you by Jehovah’s word, that we the living who survive to the presence of the Lord shall in no way precede those who have fallen asleep in death; because the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet, and those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first.” (So, those who will rule with Christ would be resurrected to be with him in heaven—first those who had died in years past and then those who would die following the Lord’s return.)

Matt. 25:31-33: “When the Son of man arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will put the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left.”

2 Thess. 1:7-9: “To you who suffer tribulation, relief along with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus. These very ones will undergo the judicial punishment of everlasting destruction from before the Lord and from the glory of his strength.”

Luke 23:42, 43: “He [the sympathetic evildoer impaled alongside Jesus] went on to say: ‘Jesus, remember me when you get into your kingdom.’ And he said to him: ‘Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.’” (Under Jesus’ rule, all the earth will become a paradise; the dead who are in God’s memory will be raised with an opportunity to enjoy perfect life on earth forever.)

- Reasoning From the Scriptures, published by the WTB&TS