The Return of Christ: When and How?

Posted: March 10, 2009 in Uncategorized

We now hit chapter 54 of Wayne Grudem Systematic Theology.  We are now in the last section of the book which covers the doctrine of the future.

Grudem poses the question, “When and how will Christ return?”  He begins by covering the least controversial aspects of eschatology, at least among evangelicals. 

Grudem asserts that Christ’s return will be sudden, personal and visible (Rev. 1:7) and that we should eagerly await his return (Rev. 22:20; cf. Titus 2:12-13).  The Grudester notes that the latter is rare among evangelicals because “Christians are caught up in enjoying the good things of this life.” 

The great and powerful Grudem also argues that no one except God knows exactly when Jesus will return (Matt. 24:44; 25:13; Mark 13:32-33; Luke 12:40).  Church history is littered with so-called prophets who have made fools of themselves attempting to predict the exact time of Christ’s return. Yet, all evangelicals agree on the final results of Christ’s return, namely “the judgment of unbelievers and the final reward of believers, and that believers will live with Christ in a new heaven and a new earth for all eternity.” 

As most Christians know, however, there is disagreement among evangelicals over the details of the future events. Grudem writes, “Specifically, they differ over the nature of the millennium and the relationship of Christ’s return to the millennium, the sequence of Christ’s return and the great tribulation period that will come to the earth, and the question of the salvation of the Jewish people (and the relationship between the Jews who are saved and the church).” Grudem will deal with each of these areas of disagreement but begins with the question “Could Christ return at any time?”

The Waynester begins by listing “the verses predicting a sudden and unexpected coming of Christ.”  He lists the following: Matt. 24:42-44; 24:50; 25:13; Mark 13:32-37; Luke 12:40; 1 Cor. 16:22; Phil. 3:20; 1 Thess. 5:2; Titus 2:12-13; Heb. 10:25; James 5:7-9; 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 3:10; Rev. 1:3; 22:7; 22:12 and 22:20.

Grudem anticipates the objection that, after reading these verses, one may wonder if the New Testament authors mistakenly believed that Jesus would return in their lifetime? Grudem points to scholars such as G.E. Ladd who argued that the Biblical authors were not as concerned with chronology as simply warning all of their readers to be prepared for an the return of Jesus.

What about the “signs” that these authors stated would precede Christ’s return? Like the gospel being preached to all nations (Mark 13:10; cf. 24:14); the “Great Tribulation” (Mark 13:7-8; cf. Matt. 24:15-22; Luke 21:20-40; Mark 13:19-20); false prophets working signs and wonders (Mark 13:22; cf. Matt. 24:23-24); signs in heaven (Mark 13:24-25; cf. Matt. 24:29-30; Luke 21:25-27); the coming of the “Man of Sin” and the “rebellion” (2 Thess. 2:1-10); the salvation of Israel (Rom. 11:12, 25-26).  

Grudem sets forth several possible solutions:

(1) Christ could not come at any time. Yet, Grudem objects that this nullifies the force of the warnings of Jesus that he would return unexpectedly and distorts what the Waynester sees as the point of the signs, which he believes is to intensify our expectation of Christ’s return.

(2) Christ could indeed could come at any time but the New Testament talks about two distinct returns of Christ.  Grudem writes “The problem with this solution is that it is hard to derive two separate comings of Christ from the passages that predict his return.” 

(3) “All the signs have been fulfilled, and therefore Christ in fact could return at any moment.”  Adherents to this view (like me) believe that all of the signs Jesus spoke of were in fact fulfilled in the first century.  Grudem disagrees arguing that “these signs seem to…point to much larger events than those that occurred in the first century.”  However, Grudem backs off a bit and admits that this solution is still a viable one.

Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of the disagreement over such matters. For example, if you ask three different ministers what the “1000 year” reign of Christ refers to in Revelation then you will probably get four different views!  But more on that tomorrow.

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Comments
  1. It’s possible to filter out everything about the Second Coming that’s said clearly and unequivocally in the Old and New Testaments and collate it into a story that simply omits all the difficult symbolic stuff. I wanted to see what would result from such an approach and wrote it down as a regular person would observe it, leaving out the things that are to take place in Heaven, seeing that we won’t know about them anyway. The result is now a free e-book, Walkabout: The History of a Brief Century. Enjoy!

  2. Oops. The hyperlink doesn’t seem to work. The book is at http://personal.inet.fi/private/walkabout.

  3. Revolution says:

    Greg,

    Thanks for stopping by and for the link but frankly I think the “symbolic” stuff is very, very important.

    God bless,

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