The history of the world is a complex tapestry of events, individuals, and ideas. Civilizations have risen and fallen. The scale is so vast, and the action so complicated, we could easily forget that history has meaning, and that this meaning comes not from the deeds of man but from the decrees of God.
As the writer to the Hebrews demonstrates, history does have a plan, a pattern, and a purpose: “Now once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: 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 9:26-28). All of human history is summarized in these few verses. The ages past were preparatory, building towards the first advent of Christ, at “the consummation of the ages” (Darby). Now we look back to that unique event, but we also look forward to the second advent of Christ, as He appears the second time, apart from sin, unto salvation. The first and second comings of Christ are the great poles of history; these two events give meaning to the seemingly chaotic succession of people and events.
We are inclined – almost conditioned – to think of the Rapture when we think of the second coming of Christ. This is not surprising, for this is an imminent hope that is intimately ours. But though the Rapture is a great event, it is only the first stage of the second coming of Christ. At the end of the Tribulation, He will be manifest in His public and glorious return to the earth, as sudden and shattering as a lightning bolt, (Matt 24:27). This event is one of the great prospects of Scripture, and it is, says Paul, “that blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). The return of Christ will be a dramatic and cataclysmic intervention in human history. It will have deep significance for the nations, for Israel, for Christ – and for us.
For the nations of the world, it will be a time of judgment. Revelation 19 describes Christ, seated on a white horse, coming as King of kings and Lord of lords, destroying utterly the armies who have gathered together to make war against the Lamb. But the blasting of man’s rebellion and the banishment of its leaders will only be the beginning of the judgment of the nations. After the manifestation of Christ, and His victory over the armies of men, the judgment of the living nations will take place.
From John 3:3, Matthew 18:3, and a number of other passages we know that those who enter the kingdom must be born again. The sheep are those who have heard and responded to the gospel of the kingdom, which has been preached during the Tribulation by the 144,000 witnesses (Rev 7). The way in which these people have treated God’s messengers is an index to their response to the message. This was true when the Lord sent out 70 witnesses (Luke 10:1–16), and it will certainly be the case during the Tribulation when harboring one of the persecuted Jewish remnant could have appalling consequences. Only those who are born again will dare to express fellowship with these persecuted believers, and having been born again, they are the blessed of the Father, and will enter into the enjoyment of the earthly millennial kingdom.
For Israel, Christ’s return will be a time of restoration. God still has a place for His earthly people and, when Christ returns, a faithful remnant will hail their Messiah. In a world where supercessionism (the belief that the Church has replaced Israel in the purpose of God) runs rife, we do well to remember that Paul’s great statement, “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Rom 11:29), is made in the context of his discussion of God’s faithfulness to Israel. If we rob Israel of their hope, we deny the character and faithfulness of God, and rob the Church of her confidence in Him. Israel has failed God many times and in many ways but God has never failed Israel. There will be judgment for Israel. This is depicted in the parables of Matthew 25, and described in Ezekiel 20:34–38, and Malachi 3:2–5. Those who have trusted Christ and acknowledged His claims will enter into millennial blessing. Those who have made no preparation will be cast into outer darkness. Ultimately, the nation will be restored to relationship with God: “I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on My name, and I will hear them: I will say, ‘It is My people:’ and they shall say, ‘The Lord is my God'” (Zech 13:9).
For Christ it will be a time of vindication. The world last saw Jesus of Nazareth on a cross. To the Jew it was a symbol of one accursed; to the Gentile it indicated a felon so base, so contemptible, as to merit only the agonizing and shameful death of a rebellious slave. Though the apostles preached the resurrection and ascension of Christ, for many that verdict has never been reversed: our Lord is still despised. But here, on earth, where He was rejected, Christ will be vindicated. God will have the last word as to the true character of His Son. God’s time is set when He will show His Son as “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1Tim 6:15). Christ humbled Himself; God will exalt Him!
The manifestation of Christ is our “blessed hope.” To see our Savior given His rightful place, to see Israel restored, and to see the unrighteousness of the world judged and set right will gladden our hearts and answer our prayers. However, God has something beyond observation in mind for the Church. We will not be distant observers of Christ’s manifestation; we will be involved in it as participants. Christ is not coming back alone, we will accompany Him “upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean” (Rev 19:14). What grace it is that allows us not only to witness but to share His glory and His triumph!