This book is a straightforward, in-depth exploration of the key biblical texts regarding the Second Coming: most notably, Christ's longest and most important message about the end time, the Olivet Discourse.
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About the Author
John MacArthur is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, where he has served since 1969. He is known around the world for his verse-by-verse expository preaching and his pulpit ministry via his daily radio program, Grace to You. He has also written or edited nearly four hundred books and study guides. MacArthur serves as the president of the Master's Seminary and Master's University. He and his wife, Patricia, live in Southern California and have four grown children.
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Why Christ Must Return
Scripture predicted a time when skeptics would mock the very notion of Christ's return: "Scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming?'" (2 Pet. 3:34). There is no shortage of voices raising that chorus today.
For example, one group of self-styled authorities on Scripture claims to have discovered (using the techniques of modern literary criticism) that Christ did not even actually say the great majority of things attributed to Him by the New Testament. The so-called Jesus Seminar, a group of 200 liberal Bible scholars, convened to try to reach a consensus about which sayings of Christ are "authentic." This was deemed necessary because these particular scholars had already concluded that most of the words attributed to Christ in Scripture are spurious additions to the Gospel accounts. Their collective final decisions about which sayings are authentic were made by majority vote. The Seminar's verdict was no surprise to anyone familiar with liberal theology's approach to Scripture. These "scholars" concluded that of the more than 700 sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gospels, only thirty-one are unquestionably authentic — and more than half of those are actually duplicate statements from parallel passages. So all told, according to the Jesus Seminar scholars, only about fifteen of the New Testament sayings attributed to Jesus represent words He actually said.
In addition to the few statements they accepted as authentic, the scholars of the Jesus Seminar listed several more sayings they regarded as questionable but possibly authentic. They flatly rejected more than 80 percent of the words of Christ in Scripture — including, of course, all the major passages in which Christ promised His Second Coming.
"Where is the promise of his coming?" According to the Jesus Seminar scholars, Jesus made no such promise in the first place.
That kind of hard-core skepticism under a scholarly veneer is being mass-marketed widely these days. And the doctrine of the Second Coming is a particular target. One author writes:
Jesus says: "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled."
How could Jesus have been wrong about his return? A group of bible scholars known as the "Jesus Seminar" have studied the sayings of Jesus using the most recently discovered copies of ancient biblical manuscripts, other historical writings directly related to the times of Jesus and the early Christian church, scientific writing-style analysis, and other tools. After years of intense study and debate this group has come to the general consensus that over 80% of the words attributed to Jesus in the New Testament were not his words at all, but the interpretations and additions of early believers.
It is very important to remember that nothing Jesus said was written down for at least an entire generation after his death. Stories of his words and ministry were circulated solely by word of mouth. This historical fact of the Oral Period is not disputed by any reputable bible scholar. ... As difficult as it may be for bible-believers to accept, objective scholarly analysis has shown that the words of Jesus have been highly corrupted by the beliefs and words of early Christian believers.
In the first place, that author misrepresents and grossly overstates the significance of the Jesus Seminar's work. The Seminar's findings have absolutely no "scientific" authority. They are merely the pooling of liberal opinion — little more than sheer conjecture grounded in sinful unbelief and skepticism. And it is misleading in the extreme to suggest that the liberal conclusions of the Jesus Seminar are "not disputed by any reputable bible scholar." The statement itself betrays the circular reasoning and closed-mindedness that is so typical of liberal "scholarship"; any scholar who disputes their theories is automatically regarded as not "reputable."
Nonetheless, multitudes have bought such lies — and chiefly, it seems, many clergymen. A few years ago I read about a survey given to a group of Protestant pastors at a church convention in Evanston, Illinois. Ninety percent said they have no expectation whatsoever that Christ will ever really return to earth.
The result of all this skepticism from so many scholars and clergy is that a whole segment of society regards the hope of the Second Coming as unenlightened nonsense and mindless fundamentalist fantasy. The arrogance of the scoffers has practically gained the status of conventional wisdom.
But Scripture is neither vague nor equivocal on the promise of Christ's return. A large proportion (by some accounts, as much as one-fifth) of Scripture is prophetic, and perhaps a third or more of the prophetic passages refer to the Second Coming of Christ or events related to it. It is a major theme of both Old Testament and New Testament prophecy.
And regardless of what the scoffers say, Jesus is coming. World history is barreling toward a conclusion, and the conclusion has already been ordained by God and foretold in Scripture. It could be soon, or it could be another thousand years (or more) away. Either way, God is not slack concerning His promise. Christ will return!
One ironic thing is that we live in a time when even the scoffers are in a state of rather fearful expectation. The frightening potential of worldwide destruction exists on several levels. Even the most impassioned secularists must acknowledge the very real potential that the world as we know it could end at any time — through nuclear war, a nuclear accident, an energy crisis, various ecological disasters, new killer viruses like AIDS (or worse), or even a cosmic collision of some kind. In fact, most people recognize that this world cannot exist forever. And we face constant reminders of this. For nearly the whole of the twentieth century, an unremitting string of books, articles, scientific studies, and even Hollywood productions have assaulted the public consciousness, warning us that if we do not collectively change the way we're living, we're going to go out of existence along with our little planet. In fact, the most vocal doomsayers today are not people who expect the return of Christ, but secularists who have recognized that this world and all life on it inevitably will end someday. They are right. It will end, but not because of ecological irresponsibility or human destructiveness.
How will it end? Can we know? Yes, we can. The Bible gives a very clear, direct answer. The world as we know it will end with the return of Jesus Christ. The history of the world will climax in His literal, bodily return to the earth.
This is as certain as any truth in Scripture. Here are nine reasons from Scripture by which we know that Christ is coming again:
The Promise of God Demands It
The Old Testament was full of Messianic promise. In fact, it's fair to say that the coming Messiah was the main focus of the Old Testament. The first hint of a Messianic Redeemer came in Genesis 3, right after Adam's fall, when God promised that the Seed of the woman would crush the serpent's head (v. 15). In the closing chapter of the final book of the Old Testament, God promised that "The Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings" (Mal. 4:2). And between those two promises, the entire Old Testament is filled with prophecies of the coming Deliverer — at least 333 distinct promises, by one count.
More than a hundred of those prophecies were literally fulfilled at the first advent of Christ. Here are some key ones:
Isaiah prophesied that he would be born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18, 22-25).
Micah foresaw that Bethlehem would be His birthplace (Mic. 5:2; Matt. 2:1).
The experience of Old Testament Israel graphically foreshadowed His being called out of Egypt (Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:13-15).
Isaiah foretold that He would be a descendant of Jesse (King David's father) and that He would be uniquely anointed with the Spirit of God (Isa. 11:1-5; Matt. 3:16-17).
Zechariah prophesied that He would enter Jerusalem riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zech. 9:9; Luke 19:35-37).
Psalm 41:9 predicted that He would be betrayed by a familiar friend with whom he had shared a meal (cf. Matt. 10:4).
Zechariah prophesied that He would be stricken and His sheep scattered, anticipating that He would be forsaken by His own closest disciples (Zech. 13:7; Mark 14:50).
Zechariah also foretold the exact price of Judas' betrayal (thirty pieces of silver), as well as what would become of the betrayal money (Zech. 11:12-13; Matt. 26:15; 27:6-7).
Isaiah foretold many details of the crucifixion (Isa. 52:14-53:12; Matt. 26:67; 27:29-30, 57-60).
David foretold many additional details of the tortures Christ endured at the cross, including His last cry to the Father, the piercing of His hands and feet, and the parting of his garments (Ps. 22; Matt. 27:35, 42-43, 46; John 19:2324).
David also prophetically foretold that none of Christ's bones would be broken (Ps. 34:20; John 19:33).
And elsewhere David alluded to the Resurrection (Ps. 16:10; cf. Acts 2:27; 13:35-37).
All the prophecies dealing with the first advent of Christ were fulfilled precisely, literally. His riding on a donkey, the parting of his garments, the piercing of His hands and feet, and the vivid prophecies of His rejection by men in Isaiah 53 — all these might have been interpreted symbolically by Old Testament scholars before Christ. But the New Testament record repeatedly reports that such things were fulfilled in the most literal sense, so "that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled" (Matt. 26:56; cf. 2:15; 4:14-16; 8:17; 12:17-21; 13:35; 21:45; 27:35; John 12:38; 15:25; 19:24, 28).
In some cases Old Testament prophecies about Christ were fulfilled with a literalism that could not have been anticipated by even the most careful Old Testament scholars. For example, Psalm 69 seems to be a lament from David while he was under attack from his enemies and in deep distress. Nothing in the Psalm itself gives us a clue that any prophecies are contained in it. In fact, in verse 5 David refers to his own foolishness and sins. So these words came from the heart of David to describe his own anguish at being hated without a cause. Yet there is a deeper, prophetic meaning. Typologically, David prefigured the Redeemer. And the New Testament indicates that certain phrases in this psalm refer to Christ in an even greater way than they referred to David. "Zeal for Your house has eaten me up" (v. 9) is shown to be a prophecy that was literally fulfilled by Christ in Mark 11:15-17 (compare John 2:14-17). Verse 21, "They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink," turns out to be a prophecy that was literally fulfilled on the cross (Matt. 27:34).
It stands to reason, then, that the remaining two-thirds of Old Testament Messianic prophecies will also be fulfilled literally. And that requires the return of Jesus Christ to this earth.
When Christ took up the scroll in His hometown synagogue at Nazareth and began to read, in God's perfect timing the scheduled reading for that week came from Isaiah 61. Luke 4:17-21 records the incident:
And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD." Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
If we compare the text with Isaiah 61, we see that Christ stopped reading abruptly in the middle of a sentence. Here's the full text of Isaiah 61:1-3:
The Spirit of the LORD God is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. (emphasis added)
The rest of the chapter from Isaiah goes on to describe the blessings of the millennial kingdom, when "the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth. So the LORD God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations" (v. 11).
Christ deliberately stopped reading mid-sentence because "the day of vengeance of our God" pertains to His second advent, not His first. Many Old Testament prophecies seemed to telescope Messianic events this same way, so that it was not always immediately obvious when one portion of a prophecy referred to the first coming of Christ, while another portion referred to His second coming. Employing the Old Testament alone, it would have been very difficult to discern any distinction between the two classes of Messianic prophecies.
But here are some familiar Old Testament prophecies about Christ that await fulfillment at His Second Coming: Psalm 2. We know this speaks of Christ. Verse 7 is quoted several times in the New Testament and is applied to Him: "You are My Son, today I have begotten You" (cf. Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5). Yet many aspects of this psalm await future fulfillment. Verse 6 suggests an earthly reign that is yet to be realized: "Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion." The kingdom and the judgment described in verses 8-9 also have yet to be fulfilled literally: "I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter's vessel."
Isaiah 9:6-7. This familiar passage also seems to have both the first and second comings of Christ in view: "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given. ..." That plainly refers to His first advent, anticipating the angel's promise to Mary in Luke 1:35. But the rest of Isaiah 9:6-7 describes Him as a king in glory on David's throne:
And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever.
Christ Himself pointed to His second coming as the time when He would assume that throne in a literal sense: "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory" (Matt. 25:31, emphasis added).
Micah 4:3. This passage echoes the promise of a kingdom of peace under His rule: "He shall judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore." Again the literal fulfillment of that prophecy awaits a second advent of the Savior.
Jeremiah 23:5. Here the Word of God expressly states that the future kingdom of Christ is to be an earthly one: "'Behold, the days are coming,' says the Lord, 'that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth'" (emphasis added). He must return to establish that kingdom on earth.
Zechariah 14:4-9. Zechariah describes the Second Coming graphically:
And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west, making a very large valley; half of the mountain shall move toward the north and half of it toward the south. Then you shall flee through My mountain valley, for the mountain valley shall reach to Azal. Yes, you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Thus the LORD my God will come, and all the saints with You.
It shall come to pass in that day that there will be no light; the lights will diminish. It shall be one day which is known to the LORD — neither day nor night. But at evening time it shall happen that it will be light.
And in that day it shall be that living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and half of them toward the western sea; in both summer and winter it shall occur. And the LORD shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be — "The Lord is one," and His name one.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Second Coming"
Copyright © 1999 John F. MacArthur.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 Why Christ Must Return,
2 Is Christ's Coming Imminent?,
3 Christ's Greatest Prophetic Discourse,
4 Birth Pangs,
5 The Great Tribulation,
6 Signs in the Sky,
7 Does Anybody Really Know What,
Time It Is?,
8 The Danger of Foolish Expectations,
9 The Tragedy of Wasted Opportunity,
10 The Judgment of the Sheep and Goats,
The Imminent Return of the Redeemer by,
Arthur W. Pink,