6 Min Read


The coming of Christ into the world is an essential aspect of the overarching message of Scripture. The revelation of the saving work of God in time is framed by the first and second coming of Jesus. In His first coming, Jesus accomplished the work of redemption. When He comes again, He will bring about the consummation of all things in final judgment and salvation. The return of Christ is meant to produce hope in Christians who are suffering. The anticipation of His coming is a motivation for believers to pursue godly lives in this world. Scripture teaches that the return of Christ will occur unexpectedly, so that believers would not live carelessly as they await His return. The return of Christ will bring about the fullness of the kingdom of God. It will be a day of judgment and the consummation of all things in the new heavens and new earth, where Christ will forever reign with His people.

Throughout church history, Protestant and Reformed theologians have largely agreed on the general details regarding the return of Christ. In the late nineteenth century, however, a surge of interest in eschatology—the doctrine of the last things—brought about significant debate and a renewed focus on the special aspects of eschatology. The the millennial reign of Christ in Revelation 20 was a particular emphasis. The three major positions in Evangelical and Reformed churches are premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism.


Theologians commonly refer to the coming of Christ with the term parousia (appearance) based on the teaching of Scripture. The Old Testament prophets foretold that the Messiah would appear in order to bring salvation and judgment. While the Old Testament messianic prophecies do not explicitly distinguish between the two comings of Christ, the New Testament reveals Jesus to be the long-anticipated Messiah, who in His first coming died and rose again to secure the salvation of His people. While the Old Testament speaks of the coming of Christ under the figure of the day of the Lord (yom YHWH)—a day of salvation and judgment—the New Testament reveals that this “day” would be divided into two separate periods in which there would be two distinct appearances of Christ. The writer of Hebrew distinguishes between the two appearances of Christ when he states, “Just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb. 9:27–28).

When Jesus taught His disciples about the temporal nature of His earthly ministry—during His first coming—He referred to it as “one of the days of the Son of Man” (Luke 17:22). The New Testament epistles sometimes refer to Christ’s second coming under the phrase “the day of the Lord” (hēmera tou kyriou). This is especially true of Paul (see 1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14; 2 Thess. 2:2). Herman Bavinck summarized the structure of New Testament revelation with regard to the first and second comings of Christ when he wrote:

According to the New Testament, the last part of the present aeon (αἰων οὑτος, aiōn houtos) began with the first coming of Christ, so that now we live in the last days or the last hour (1 Cor. 10:11; Heb. 1:2; 9:26; 1 John 2:18) and the aeon to come (αἰων μελλων, aiōn mellōn) starts with his second coming (Matt. 19:28–29; Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30; 20:35; 1 Cor. 15:23; Heb. 2:5; etc.). And this age to come (aiōn mellōn) begins with the day of the Lord (ἡμερα του κυριου, hēmera tou kyriou), that is, the time in which Christ appears, raises the dead, executes judgment, and renews the world.

Jesus Himself alluded to His return throughout His earthly teaching ministry. He spoke of “the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:27), His “coming” (Matt. 24:46; 25:31), His “returning” (Luke 19:15), and His “coming again” (John 14:3). In the mind of the Savior, His return in glory is essential to His messianic ministry.

In the New Testament Epistles, many of the most detailed treatments about the second coming of Christ are correctives to false teaching that had crept into the church. In Corinth, certain false teachers were troubling believers in the church by insisting that Christ had already returned and was not coming again. The Apostle Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians to combat a similar error in the early church. In Thessalonica, some had falsely attributed to Paul, or to a counterfeit correspondent to the church, the idea that Christ had already returned (2 Thess. 2:1–2; 3:17).

The New Testament ends with a focus on the coming of Christ again in glory. As with the rest of the New Testament, the book of Revelation teaches about the imminent return of Christ. While no one knows the day or the hour of Jesus’ return (Matt. 24:36–44), Scripture speaks of Christ’s second coming as occurring instantly and at an moment when men do not expect it. According to the limitations of His true humanity, even Jesus did not know when He was coming again when He was on earth. The Westminster Confession of Faith ends with a rationale about why no one will know the precise time when Christ will come again: “As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin, and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity; so will He have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come; and may be ever prepared to say, Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly, Amen” (WCF 33.3).

In response, the true church anticipates and prays for His coming. William Hendriksen explained:

Christ has promised to come quickly (cf. Rev. 22:7, 12) and the bride, that is, the Church, responds by saying, “Be coming.” It is an ardent prayer to which the bride is moved by the Holy Spirit. Spirit and bride always work together (cf. Rom. 8:16). They are constantly saying, “Be coming.” This, be it noted, is a present imperative. It refers not only to the actual event, namely, the final coming of our Lord, but also the whole course of history that still precedes that event. It means, “Carry out thy plan in history with a view to thy coming.”

The promise of Christ’s return is meant to comfort those who are persecuted for His name in this life. Additionally, it is a motivation for believers to pursue a life of holiness during the sojourning in this world. The delay in the return of Christ is meant to highlight the patience of God and to encourage the impenitent to turn to Him in repentance and faith.

The final judgment and salvation will occur when Christ comes again. A multitude of angels and those believers who died prior to His return will appear in the clouds when Christ returns. The dead in Christ will rise first, and then those who are alive when He comes will be gathered with the resurrected saints to the Lord (1 Thess. 4:16–17). Believers and unbelievers will both undergo a resurrection when Christ comes again. The just will experience the resurrection unto life and the unjust the resurrection unto condemnation (John 5:25–29). Jesus will come in judgment on the wicked world, putting all enemies under His feet and establishing the full manifestation of the kingdom of God. Those who are savingly united to Jesus Christ will reign with Him, exercising judgment over fallen angels and the unrepentant nations (Matt. 19:28; 1 Cor. 6:3; Rev. 3:21).

Agreement has largely existed among Protestant and Reformed theologians regarding the general aspects of Christ’s return (such as the nature of death, resurrection, glorification, eternal damnation, and the new creation). However, the specific details of eschatology (for example, the binding of Satan, the millennial reign of Christ, the first and second resurrections, and the future of Israel) have long been debated in the Protestant churches. This debate became particularly intense beginning in the nineteenth century in reaction to the widespread influence of dispensationalism, with its emphasis on the rapture of the church before several years of tribulation before Jesus returns to rule over the earth for one thousand years (as taught in dispensational premillennialism). Reformed theologians have written extensively in the twentieth century on postmillennialism and amillennialism, both of which say that Christ’s millennial kingdom began with His ascension and session at the right hand of God the Father. Postmillennialists differ from amillennialists in holding that as we get closer to Christ’s return, there will be a golden age of peace and prosperity in human history. The majority of Reformed theologians adhere to either a postmillennial or amillennial view with regard to their understanding of the references to the millennium in Revelation 20:1–5; however, others embrace historic premillennialism, which affirms that Jesus will return before reigning over earth for one thousand years but denies that the church will be raptured before the great tribulation that precedes the millennium. Much of the diversity of opinion about events surrounding the return of Christ is largely based on different approaches to interpreting the book of Revelation.


The second coming of Christ will also involve the reversal of the curse that was placed on creation at the time of the fall. The creation will no longer groan under the weight of the curse. It will be set free from its bondage to decay (Rom. 8:18–25). All things will be made new. There will be no more tears, no more death, no more mourning, no more pain, for all of these things will have passed away (Rev. 21:1–8). The enemy Satan will be defeated and judged, no more to accuse and attack the people of God (Rev. 20:7–10). All men will stand before the judgment throne of Christ. Those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will inherit the kingdom. Those whose names are not found will be cast into outer darkness (20:11–15).

Keith A. Mathison

The Coming of the Kingdom

Tabletalk magazine

The ultimate future of the believer is the resurrection of the body at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15). On that glorious Day, the soul and the raised and transformed body of the believer will be one again as God originally created them to be. Not only will our bodies and souls be freed from the remnants of sin, the heavens and earth will be renewed and freed from the curse of sin as well (Rom. 8:18–25). This new earth, in which righteousness dwells, will be our home.

Keith A. Mathison

Paradise Restored

Tabletalk magazine