Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth - #3
by C.I. Scofield
The Two Advents
...when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. (1 Peter 1:11)
Whoever carefully considers Old Testament prophecies must be struck by two contrasting and seemingly contradictory lines of prediction concerning the coming Messiah. One body of prediction speaks of Him as coming in weakness and humiliation, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, as a root out of dry ground, having no form nor comeliness, nor beauty that He should be desired. His visage is to be marred, His hands and feet pierced, He is to be forsaken of man and of God, and to make His grave with the wicked. (See Psa 22:1-18; Isa 7:14; Isa 53; Dan 9:26; Zech 13:6-7; Mark 14:27.)
The other line of prophecy foretells a splendid and resistless Sovereign, purging the earth with awful judgments, regathering dispersed Israel, restoring the throne of David in more than Solomon's splendor, and introducing a reign of profound peace and perfect righteousness. (See Deut 30:1-7; Isa 11:1-2,10-12; Isa 9:6-7; Isa 24:21-23; Isa 40:9-11; Jer 23:5-8; Dan 7:13-14; Mic 5:2; Mat 1:1; Mat 2:2; Luke 1:31-32.)
In due time the fulfillment of messianic prophecy began with the birth of the virgin's Son according to Isaiah, in Bethlehem according to Micah, and proceeded with perfect literalness unto the full accomplishment of every prediction of Messiah's humiliation; for sin must first be put away, before the kingdom could be established. But the Jews would not receive their King in the form in which He was presented, "meek and sitting upon an ass and a colt the foal of an ass", and they crucified Him. (See Zech 9:9 with Mat 21:1-5; John 19:15-16.)
But we must not conclude that the wickedness of man has baffled the deliberate purpose of God, for His counsels include a second advent of His Son, when the predictions concerning Messiah's earthly glory will receive the same precise and literal fulfillment as did those which concerned His earthly sufferings. (See Hos 3:4-5; Mat 24:27-30; Luke 1:31-33; Acts 1:6-7; Acts 15:14-17.)
The Jews were slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken concerning the sufferings of their Messiah; we are slow of heart to believe all that they have spoken concerning His glory. Surely the greater reproach is ours, for it ought to be easier to believe that the Son of God would come "in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory" than that He would come as the babe of Bethlehem and the carpenter of Nazareth. Indeed, we believe the latter because it has happened, not because the prophets foretold it, and it is time we ceased to reproach the Jews for their unbelief. If it be asked how they could possibly be blinded to the evident meaning of so many and such unequivocal predictions, the answer is that they were blinded in exactly the same way that many Christians are blinded to the equally evident meaning of a far greater number of predictions of His earthly glory, namely, by the process of "spiritualizing" Scripture. In other words, the ancient scribes told the people that the prophecies of Messiah's sufferings were not to be interpreted literally, just as some modern scribes are telling the people that the prophecies of Messiah's earthly glory are not to be literally interpreted.
The second advent is a promise to the church as well as to the Jew. Among the last words of comfort and exhortation addressed by our Lord to His perplexed and sorrowing disciples, before He accomplished the sacrifice of the cross were these: "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." (John 14:1-3)
Here the Lord speaks of His coming again in precisely the same terms as of His departure. The latter was, we know, personal and bodily. If we say that the former is impersonal and "spiritual", surely to such a forced interpretation of simple language we ought to be constrained only by the most imperative and unqualified Scripture elsewhere. But no such passages exist. But we are not left to doubt upon this vital point, nor to draw conclusions of reason, however irresistible.
In the very moment of our Lord's disappearance from the sight of His disciples, "Two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven". (Acts 1:10-11)
To the same purport is 1 Thes 4:16-17: "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord." "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." (Titus 2:13)
"For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself." (Php 3:20-21, RV)
"Beloved, now are we the sons of God; and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2). "And behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be." (Rev 22:12)
For this "blessed hope" we are taught to "watch" (Mark 13:33,35,37; Mat 24:42; Mat 25:13), to "wait" (1Thes 1:10), and to be "ready" (Mat 24:44). The last prayer in the Bible is one for Christ's speedy return (Rev 22:20).
By these Scriptures, it abundantly appears that the second advent will be personal and bodily. Therefore, it does not mean the death of the believer, nor the destruction of Jerusalem, nor the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, nor the gradual diffusion of Christianity, but that it is the "blessed hope" of the church, the time when sleeping saints will be raised, and, together with saints then living, who will be "changed" (1 Cor 15:51-52), caught up to meet the Lord -- the time when we who are now the sons of God will be like Him and when faithful saints will be rewarded for works of faith, for His name's sake, after they have been saved.
The following Scriptures will further bring into view the contrast between the two advents of our Lord. Compare the first advent with the second.
- And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)
- But now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:26)
- For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10)
- For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John 3:17)
- And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. (John 12:47)
The student may multiply these contrasts almost indefinitely. Enough, however, has been put forth that both the promises to Israel and to the church imperatively require a return of our Lord to the earth.
- And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man, in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Mat 24:30)
- So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation. (Heb 9:28)
- And to you who are troubled, rest with us: when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thes 1:7-8)
- Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. (Acts 17:31)
It may be helpful to beginning Bible students to consider, briefly, the various theories which are put forward to oppose the scriptural doctrine of the personal and corporeal [bodily] return, or second advent, of Christ.
It will, of course, be clearly understood that the Scriptures which speak of His visible and bodily appearing at the close of this dispensation must be distinguished from those which refer to His divine attributes of ommniscience and omnipresence, by virtue of which He knows all things and is always present everywhere, and of which such passages as Mat 18:20 and Mat 28:20 are examples. It is blessedly true that, in this sense, He is with us always, even unto the end of the age.
But the man Christ Jesus is now personally and corporeally at the right hand of God, as Acts 1:9-11 plainly declares: "And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven."
Stephen saw Him there: "But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." (Acts 7:55-56) "When he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high." (Heb 1:3) "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God." (Col 3:1)
During the Franco-Prussian war, Von Moltke, by his genius and skill and by a network of telegraph wires, was really present on every battlefield, though visibly and personally present in his office in Berlin. Later in the war he joined the army before Paris, after which his actual and visible presence was there. So our Lord, by virtue of His divine attributes, is really present with His church now, but He will be visibly and personally upon the earth at His second coming.
A discussion of false theories of the meaning of Christ's return:
- The prophecies concerning the return of the Lord were not fulfilled by the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, nor by His manifestation in powerful revivals and happy prayer meetings.
- This interpretation practically nullifies the doctrine of the Trinity, making the Holy Spirit only a manifestation of Christ.
- In Christ's promise of the descent of the Spirit, He distinctly speaks of Him as "another Comforter" (John 14:16), and in John 16:7 Christ says: "If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart I will send him unto you."
- The inspired writers of Acts, the Epistles, and of Revelation, mention the return of the Lord more than one hundred and fifty times after Pentecost, and always as yet future.
- None of the events predicted to accompany the second advent of Christ occurred at Pentecost. These are: the resurrection of sleeping saints (1 Cor 15:22-23; 1 Thes 4:13-16), the "change" of living believers, by which they "put on incorruption", their "vile bodies" being "fashioned like unto His glorious body", and their being caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Cor 15:51-53; 1Thes 4:17; Php 3:20-21), and the mourning of all the tribes of the earth because of the visible coming of the Son of man in power and great glory (Mat 24:29-30; Rev 1:7).
- - These are the phenomena associated with the event of our Lord's return. When He comes, these phenomena will be present. Not one of these things occurred at Pentecost, nor in any other manifestation of the Holy Spirit.
- The conversion of a sinner is not the coming of the Lord.
- According to Scripture this is exactly reversed. Conversion is the coming of a sinner to Christ, not the coming of Christ to a sinner. (Mat 11:28; John 5:40; John 7:37; John 6:37)
- None of the events enumerated above, predicted to occur when the Lord returns, accompany the conversion of a sinner.
- The death of a Christian is not the coming of Christ.
- When the disciples understood the Lord to say that one of their number should tarry till He came, the saying went abroad among them that "that disciple should not die". (John 21:22-24)
- The inspired writers always refer to a believer's death as his departure. In not one instance is the coming of the Lord connected with a Christian's death. (See Php 1:23; 2 Tim 4:6; 2 Cor 5:8.) Dying Stephen saw the heavens opened, and the Son of man, not coming but "standing on the right hand of God". (Acts 7:55-56)
- None of the events, predicted to occur when the Lord returns, accompany the death of a Christian.
- The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans was not the second coming of Christ.
- In Matthew 24 and Luke 21, three events are foretold: the destruction of the temple, the coming of the Lord, and the end of the world (ie., age). (See Mat 24:3.) It was the needless confusion of these perfectly distinct things which gave rise to the notion that the fulfillment of one was the fulfillment of all.
- The apostle John wrote the book of Revelation after the destruction of Jerusalem, but still speaks of the coming of the Lord as a future event (Rev 1:4,7; 2:25; 3:11; 22:7,12,20). The last promise of the Bible is, "Surely, I come quickly"; the last prayer, "Even so, come Lord Jesus."
- None of the events, predicted to occur when the Lord returns, occurred when Jerusalem was destroyed. (See 1 Thes 4:14-17; Mat 24:29-31; Mat 25:31-32)
- The diffusion of Christianity is not the second coming of Christ.
- The diffusion of Christianity is gradual, whereas the Scriptures refer to the return of the Lord as sudden and unexpected. (Mat 24:27,36-42,44,50; 2 Pet 3:10; Rev 3:3)
- The diffusion of Christianity is a process; Scripture invariably speaks of the return of the Lord as an event.
- The diffusion of Christianity brings salvation to the wicked, whereas the coming of Christ is said to bring not salvation to them but "sudden destruction". (1 Thes 5:2,3; 2 Thes 1:7-10; Mat 25:31-46)
- These alleged explanations and theories, though widespread, [do not] appear in the books of reputable theologians of any school or denomination, nor are they maintained by a single exegete of universally recognized eminence. These all maintain the bodily and visible second coming of Christ. [ Editor's note: The author wrote at a time when apostasy was not widespread, when most "schools and denominations" took the Bible seriously. The foundation for Christian faith and teaching is not the reputation of theologians, but rather the authority of the Scriptures. ]
It is, however, sometimes said that this coming cannot occur until after the world has been converted by the preaching of the gospel and has submitted to the spiritual reign of Christ for one thousand years. It is submitted that this view is wholly erroneous for the following reasons:
- Scripture clearly describes the condition of the earth at the second coming of Christ to be one of awful wickedness, not of millennial blessedness. (Luke 17:26-32 with Gen 6:5-7 and Gen 13:13; Luke 18:8; Luke 21:25-27)
- Scripture describes the whole course of this dispensation from the beginning to the end in such terms as to exclude the possibility of a converted world in any part of it. (Mat 13:36-43,47-50; Mat 25:1-10; 1 Tim 4:1; 2 Tim 3:1-9; 2 Tim 4:3-4; 2 Pet 3:3-4; Jude 17-19)
- The purpose of God in this dispensation is declared to be to "gather out of the Gentiles a people for his name", not the conversion of the world. After this, He "will return", and then, and not before, will the world be converted. (See Acts 15:14-17; Mat 24:14 ["for a witness" which may or may not be believed]; Rom 1:5 ["among" not "of" all nations]; Rom 11:14 ["some" not "all"]; 1 Cor 9:22; Rev 5:9 ["out of" not "all" of].)
- It would be impossible to "watch" and "wait" for an event which we knew could not occur for more than one thousand years.
Continue on to chapter 4 - The Two Resurrections [of dead men]
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