19-10-2019 ARE WE STILL LOOKING
FOR HIS APPEARING?
The answer to the above question for most of Christendom is definitely not. Although the Apostle Paul clearly teaches that the result of Christ appearing to us in saving grace (Titus 2:11) is that we should ‘live soberly, righteously and godly, ‘looking for that blessed hope and the glorious ‘appearing in glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ’ (Titus 2:13) it seems most Christians aren’t looking for it at all.
Rather they are convinced that Christ’s appearing will occur only at what they call his ‘Second Coming’ (though no such actual phrase is found in scripture) and resolutely resist any suggestion that the ‘appearing’ (Gk. Epiphanea) is a separate and preceding event.
Yet there are several sound scriptural reasons to believe the Apostle Paul clearly saw the appearing (which literally means ‘the blazing forth’ (of Christ’s glory) and is found in Titus 2:13, 2 Tim. 4:1, Col: 3:4, 1 Tim. 6:14, 2 Tim. 1:10, 4:1, 4:8) as the time when he would receive from the Righteous Judge his reward, his inheritance. ‘In that day’ the Lord would give Paul ‘a crown of righteousness’ according to 2 Tim. 4:8 – and not to him only but also to ‘all them also that love his appearing’. Surely if he meant that he would receive this prize at the Lord’s so-called ‘Second Coming’ he would have said so. But he did not.
Secondly, there are two serious obstacles to holding that the Lord’s personal physical return to earth is the next thing on God’s agenda. The first is that before such a return of Christ (Gk. parousia, which means an official coming to take up residence in office and person and being greeted by a welcoming party of resurrected saints who meet him in the air [see 1 Thess. 4:16]) two other great events must occur:
- There must be a great falling away first. (2 Thess. 2:3).
- Then the man of lawlessness, the son of perdition must be revealed. (also 2 Thess. 2: 3)
It can safely be said that neither of these terrible developments event has occurred to date (as at 10-09-2019). Let us see why.
The first reason, simply put, is that before there can be a ‘falling away’ there must be something good and perfect put in place by God in place to ‘fall away’ from. For example, when Adam and Eve sinned they not only ‘fell’ from innocence into darkness and evil but their fall turned an earth created in perfection into a wilderness of weeds and thorns. My point is that until ‘the fall’ the earth and all in it were perfect; indeed God said that ‘everything He had made’ was’ very good’ (Gen. 1:31). Man was also ‘made very good’, until he sinned. The point is clear: before there can be a ‘fall’ there must be something good and perfect to fall from.
So, when the future ‘falling away’ takes place, it must also be from something that is ‘very good’. And, clearly, that cannot be the world in which we live, for the Apostle Paul describes it as ‘this present evil world’ (Gal. 1:4). In fact it is a world so wicked that Jesus died for our sins in order to ‘deliver us’ from it (also Gal. 1:4).
You see, just as the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ (Gen. 2:17) which Adam and Eve tasted contrary to God’s commandment could only cause them to know evil, so the present age can only produce the fruit of wickedness in all who live in it. So much so that even we who now believe in Christ our Saviour also once ‘walked according to the course of this world’ and were led by ‘the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that works in the children of disobedience’ (Eph. 2:2). We were by nature ‘children of wrath’, obstinate and rebellious and, if the truth be known, even if we are saved to some extent we still are.
Fact is that down the course of history whenever God has set up something good (such as the miracle-accompanied era of gospel proclamation in the Book of Acts, for example) man has ‘fallen away’ from it. Didn’t Paul the Apostle of grace have to say that ‘all they which be in Asia are turned away from me (2 Tim. 1:15) and didn’t he weep because ‘many walk ... as enemies of the cross of Christ;’ (Phil. 3:18-19)?
What then is the ‘good thing’ God will establish before the ‘falling away’ of 2 Thess. 2:3? It is my strong belief that this can only be that epoch which the Apostle Paul seven times in his letters describes as ‘the Day of Christ’ (see 1 Cor. 1:7, Phil. 2:16 and other references in his epistles).
This ‘Day of Christ’ is the pre-millennial, pre-advent age which was spoken of by all the Old Testament prophets, proclaimed as the ‘kingdom of God or ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ then ‘at hand’ by the Lord Jesus and later confirmed by the apostles Peter and Paul as a yet future event that will precede by centuries his actual physical and official return to live on earth (that is his parousia). It will be brought in by the ‘appearing’ (Greek: epiphanea) of Christ in a blaze of glory (Titus 2:13, 2 Tim. 4:1).
The Apostle Peter called it ‘the time of restitution of all things’ and said Christ would be retained in heaven until this stupendous global ‘recreation’ is accomplished (Acts 3:21). This ‘Day of Christ’ (also referred to by Paul as ‘that day’ in his latter epistles) is, I submit, also the ‘day of rest’ he referred to in Hebrews 4:8-11).
What will it be like? Well, imagine a world of people freed from sin, death, disease and war, living on an earth restored to its original created beauty and devoid of earthquakes, tempests, famine and pestilence. That is how it will be in this wonderful new day, which the Lord Jesus described as ‘that world’ (Luke 20:35) and the Apostle Paul in Eph. 1:21 as ‘the world to come’.
In this Day of Christ (see 1 Cor. 1:7, Phil. 1:6, 10. 2:16), all government will be taken over by God Himself in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Man deemed fit by God to rule in justice and equity over mankind (Psalm 98:9). He will rule from heaven over all people as the one and only king, a king of love, peace, righteousness and true justice. Importantly, the glory of Christ’s kingdom – let’s pause to remember the kingdom of heaven was the major theme of the Lord’s teaching in his earthly ministry – will be brought in firstly at his appearing, not his so-called ‘second coming’.
The glory of his appearing and his kingdom is summed up in two scriptures:
- 2 Tim. 4:1 proclaims that Christ will ‘judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom’.
- 1 Tim. 6:14-16 speaks of ‘... the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ which in his times He shall show, (He) who is the blessed and only Potentate (absolute ruler), the King of kings and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; Whom no man hath see, nor can see; to Whom be honour and power everlasting.’
Under the Lord’s government ‘in that day’, tyranny, cruelty and exploitation, disease, poverty and death will be abolished, according to the Old Testament prophets. See this epitomised and summarised in Psalm 67:
God be merciful to us and bless us, and cause his face to shine (i.e. his appearing) upon us. Selah.
That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations.
Let (cause) the people (to) praise Thee, O God; let all the people praise Thee.
O let the nations be glad and sing for joy; for Thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth.
Let the people praise Thee, O God; let (make) all the people praise Thee.
Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us.
God shall bless us and all the ends of the earth shall fear Him.
So, just what is the ‘falling away’? The Greek word is apostasia, translated as ‘falling away’ in the King James Bible, as ‘rebellion’ in the NIV and RSV, and as ‘apostasy’ in the Amplified Bible. It really means rebellion of the worst kind. Let me say again that there cannot be such a severe rebellion unless:
- First, the present dispensation of the grace of God (in which all men are potentially forgiven and reconciled to God) has ended and a new arrangement in God’s dealings with men takes its place as the Apostle Paul said would be.
- The long promised government of God over earth, the ‘Day of Christ’ has been enacted and brought to bear from heaven upon earth as Jesus foretold during his earthly ministry.
Now to the second condition which has to be met before that terrible and destructive Day of the Lord is ushered in by way of the tribulation and the ‘Second Coming’ that is the return of the Lord to earth. This is the ‘revealing’ of the ‘man of sin’, the ‘lawless one who ‘exalteth himself above all that is called God is that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God’.
Two points. Firstly, to be recognised as the ‘man of sin’ he must be grossly wicked compared to others alive on earth at that time who do not rebel. (It would be hard to find such a stand out distinction in today’s society since sin, even among them that name the name of Christ, is so widespread. But in the Day of Christ it will be very different – most everybody will know the Lord and obey Him – so a gross deceiver and rebel will stand out like a sore thumb to true believers.).
Secondly, there must be a physical temple on earth and in Jerusalem for him to be ‘revealed’ in (2 Thess. 2:8). And as yet no such temple has been built in Jerusalem, nor is it likely to be short of a huge change in the present disposition which sees Muslims occupying the temple site and the gate to the ‘Holy of Holies’ bricked up. My conviction is that the religious conflict in the world which is centred and epitomised in Jerusalem will not be changed until the Lord Jesus Christ reveals Himself as the rightful King of the earth at his ‘appearing’ (Titus 2:13 and 2 Tim. 4:1). He will then rule over earth from heaven in what Paul calls the ‘Day of Christ’.
Given that, then clearly the Lord’s return to earth in physical, official presence (his parousia), his ‘Second Coming’ is still a far future, not imminent event. And without question the Lord’s ‘appearing’ (Gk: epiphanea) is presented in scripture as an imminent event that precedes the ‘Second Coming’. Thus in Titus 2:13 the Apostle Paul specifically urges those saved by Christ’s earlier ‘appearing’ in saving grace for all people, not just Israel (Titus 2:11) to be ‘looking for his (next) appearing in glory as our great God and Saviour’. Had he meant the Lord’s personal and physical return to earth in the Day of the Lord, i.e. his ‘Second Coming’ surely he would have said so.