LOOKING FOR HIS APPEARING
It was the last night of the revival in the sleepy little south Alabama town. The congregation was softly singing, "Just as I am," and the preacher was standing in front of the pulpit with both arms raised in invitation. He. knew there were people present who needed to receive Christ as Saviour. "Jesus Christ could come tonight," he urged. "Will you be ready for Him? The trumpet may sound before this meeting is over, or before you awake in the morning. When that happens the cemeteries will burst open and the dead rise, and those living who are ready will go soaring off into space to meet the Lord. Everywhere people will suddenly be missing without any clue as to where they may be. Husbands will miss their wives, and wives, their husbands; parents will miss some of their children, and children will miss father or mother or both. They will be searching for them in all possible hiding places, but will not be able to locate them. Loud wailing will ensue, and hearts will be filled with the dread of unknown and hostile powers. Finally, after days of fruitless searching, they sit down in dumb resignation and despair. The Antichrist will then appear and the Great Tribulation will begin. Those of you who are left will have to go through seven years of hell on earth. The scenes of earth will be indescribably bewildering and terrifying. Oh, why not make things right with God tonight so you will be spared from such a time of trouble and punishment!"
I was just a boy at the time, but it made a profound impression on me. In fact, when I saw my first aurora borealis, it nearly scared me to death. I was sure Jesus was coming at last, and I knew for a certainty that I was not ready for it. On another occasion I arrived home from school one late afternoon. I stepped off the school bus in our rural district and made my way up the embankment to the house. The house was open, the windows up, the doors unlocked; but no one was to be found. Mother wasn't there. My brothers weren't there. The house was empty! I called but no one answered. I checked across the road at the neighbors and they were gone, too. Suddenly a terrible fear seized me and my blood ran cold. "Oh, my God!" I thought, "the rapture has taken place and I have been left." There is no doubt that I was the happiest little boy in the whole world that afternoon when my mother came walking across the hollow. Of course, Jesus hadn't come that day nor has He come (in that manner) any other day in the past forty years. Looking back, I wonder why it took me so long to question what the preacher said.
Of course, among those who believe in the return of the Lord, most simply take it for granted that His return could take place at any moment, But is that true? Is it possible that you might step out the front door of your home tonight, see a bright light flashing across the sky, and suddenly realize that Jesus IS RETURNING, and He is returning NOW? After all, Jesus did promise to return. "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go ... I WILL COME AGAIN, and receive you unto myself" (Jn. 14:2-3). "For as the lightning comes out of the east, and shines even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be" (Mat. 24:27). Make no mistake about it! Jesus did promise to go away and to return to planet earth.
In World War II when General Douglas MacArthur withdrew from the Philippines - after Pearl Harbor and before the surrender of Corregidor - he waded waist deep out into the Pacific and dramatically exclaimed to- the onlooking Filipinos, "I will return!" For long months and years these words of General MacArthur echoed in the ears of the people of the Philippine Islands while they waited under cruel enemy occupation. Millions of people hung on these three words as the only ray of light in the darkness of tyranny and oppression. They were words of hope, they were words of promised deliverance for people around the world. MacArthur did return, he returned with a vengeance. Not stopping at Manila, he went on to Tokyo to receive the surrender of the proud nation of Japan on the deck of the Battleship Missouri. Although he was, after all, a frail human being, he kept his promise. He did return.
Before the Lord Jesus Christ left this earth to ascend to heaven, He said, "I will come again." He, as the glorified Christ, repeated these words to the apostle John on the lonely island of Patmos, "And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me" (Rev. 22:12). Twenty-one times, at least, Jesus speaks of His coming again, and most of these references are made on the eve of His departure. It was in the shadow of the cross that He foretold His advent in glory. He declared, "The Son of man shall come." "They shall see the Son of man coming." "Your Lord does come." "When the Son of man shall come." "When He comes in the glory of His Father." "You shall say, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord," etc., etc. Our Lord did clearly not once or twice, but repeatedly, and at definitely marked crises in His ministry - declare that He would come again.
Plain as Jesus had made the promise of His coming again to His disciples, at the time of His ascension, they still did not seem to grasp its significance. A faithful group of His followers stood looking upward on that historic occasion. As the Lord ascended, He perceived their consternation and sent messengers of assurance: "And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, You men of Galilee, why stand you gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as you have seen Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:10-11).
No subject in the entire Bible has gendered more interest, study, speculation, and theological debate than the return of Christ. It has been interwoven into practically every theory, creed, or doctrine expounded by man. Through the ages it has been the object of scorn and mockery by enemies of truth, and not a few times has it, through ignorance and carnal reasoning, suffered abuse and distortion by well meaning friends. No subject has been more misunderstood or misconstrued than this great truth; and yet it is the hope of the ages. The focus of the entire scriptures is upon this great event. It is interesting to note that when men drew near to God they would receive glimpses of this truth. Certainly the scriptures have much to say about it but only the blessed Spirit of Truth can make it substance in our lives.
Most of the differences in scriptural interpretation among Christians is the result of an incomplete knowledge of the plan and purpose of God. Much of what is taught and believed in Christian circles today is derived from the wrong source - Bible study! That statement may astound you, and you may demand to know why I say that the great mass of confusion in Bible teaching stems from the wrong source - Bible study. What's wrong with Bible study? Isn't this very article an effort in Bible study? Ah, there is nothing whatever wrong with Bible study IF WE HAVE THE RIGHT TEACHER TEACHING US. Christians gather together in Bible schools, Bible study groups, Sunday schools, etc., to study the Word of God, but the problem with the vast majority of such groups is that they have the wrong teacher - the human, natural, carnal mind! They try to decipher the deep and wondrous and spiritual mysteries of the Word of God with the human intellect, instead of allowing the One whom God sent to be our teacher, the Holy Spirit of Truth, to unveil to pure minds and transformed hearts the hidden mysteries of the Kingdom of God, and His great plan and purpose. If we all have the right teacher we will all be taught the same thing, and what we learn of Him will be the truth. What He teaches is truth; He cannot give us anything else but truth.
When we think we know it all, we shut ourselves off from further revelation, and make it impossible for the Spirit of Truth to guide us into all truth. We need to pay heed to the Biblical injunction, "If any man think that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know" (I Cor. 8:2). Yes, we still have a lot to learn, there is yet much of the total picture to be revealed to us, and as the beams of divine revelation stream from the glory above, let us ever walk in that light, and as we do, it will be fulfilled in us what the scriptures say, "The path of the just is as a shining light, that shines more and more unto the perfect day" (Prov. 4:18). There are many precious christians who believe, and have received the Lord Jesus as their Saviour, who try to fit into this one, initial experience with the Lord, all the parts of the Word of God that pertain to further experiences. The infilling of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, the in Christ experience, sonship, overcoming and reigning with Christ, and many others, they think these have all been incorporated in this first experience of regeneration. Yet, those of us who have received the infilling of the Holy Spirit as another experience, know what blessing and reality they are depriving themselves of when they assume that they have received the infilling of the Holy Spirit when they first believed. The infilling of the Spirit is not the end either, as many Charismatics seem to believe, it is merely the beginning of more and more wonderful experiences with the Lord, and we continue to walk in the Spirit and grow up into the image and glory of God.
In entering upon this grand and wondrous portion of the Word of God we desire to do so with profound reverence and humility of spirit, dreading to rush in where angels may fear to tread; and anxiously desirous to bring out of the inspired words what is really in them, and to put nothing into them that is not really there. As I have said, there is no subject where there seems to be more of the confusion that attends carnal minds conjuring up inaccurate and half-stated and fancifully conceived theories than this subject of our Lord's return. It will take intense spiritual effort, and much prayer and holy brokenness before God, to lay aside all one has heard and hears, to lay down all preconceived notions and ideas, to find out just what the Holy Spirit teaches. The one question ultimately must be, What does the Word of God actually teach? and not, What have men taught? We are determined in this study to be committed to the Spirit of Truth and the Word of God only, in receiving an understanding of Christ's coming, irrespective of any or all traditional views that might tend to influence a forced or unnatural conception. We must be willing to let inspiration lead and interpretation follow. Some will be constantly tempted to stop and ask, "Why! how can that be!" regarding some point brought out in the study. And perhaps nowhere more than at the point of truth I shall now set forth!
It may surprise many of my readers to learn that the Bible nowhere speaks of the "second coming" of Christ. Interesting, isn't it - how some of the major and most commonly accepted doctrines of professing Christianity cannot be found in the Bible? There is no mention whatever of such things as Christmas, Easter, the "immaculate conception" of Mary, mass, popes, church buildings, the Trinity, or - the "second coming"! The Spirit of God has dealt with me severely and consistently through many years that the Lord's people should purge their conversation, purify their terminology, and remove from their consciousness the multitude of non-scriptural and extra-biblical expressions carried over from Mystery Babylon. We have both parroted and coined a great many unscriptural terms that have been so misleading and have led us astray in our understanding of the scriptures and the wonderful plan of God.
How often we, like the babes in the harlot's house, refer to a minister of the gospel as "the pastor" of our church or some other congregation of saints. To hear all the Christians today constantly talking about "our pastor," "their pastor," "your pastor, "my pastor," and "the pastor," one would certainly be led to believe that this position of "the pastor" must indeed be one of the cardinal doctrines and most highly acclaimed offices in the New Testament! The fact is, precious friend of mine, the phrase "the pastor" is entirely foreign to the Word of God. It is an un-scriptural and extra-biblical term.
There was no man in the New Testament church who ever occupied a position called "the pastor." Not one church raised up by the twelve apostles or by Paul had any such ministry as "the pastor." Oh, yes, there were "pastors" plural (Eph. 4:11), but no single minister of God in the New Testament was ever elevated to the position of "the pastor" of an assembly. The truth is that in every case in the Greek New Testament where the word for pastor (POIMEN) appears in the singular accompanied by the definite article, it is used in reference solely to our Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is T-H-E P-A-S-T-O-R of the flock, T-H-E S-H-E-P-H-E-R-D of the sheep! The sweet singer of Israel stated it so aptly in his lovely Psalm when he sang out under the spirit of inspiration, "The L-O-R-D is my SHEPHERD (pastor)!" Can we not see by this that any man who takes to himself this title "THE PASTOR," thereby usurps the place and headship of our precious Lord. I instructed the brethren among whom I labored in years past that they should never call me "the pastor" or "their pastor" because the Lord alone I-S THE PASTOR. I may be "a pastor," but never "the pastor." The saints were taught that if any one came inquiring after "the pastor" they should be told that the pastor is the Lord. If they were asked, "Who is the pastor here?" they should reply, "The Lord is the pastor here." They could then explain that Bro. Eby is one of the servants, an under-shepherd, along with elders and ministries; but THE LORD IS T-H-E P-A-S-T-O-R.
We have been so completely saturated, so thoroughly brain-washed in the errors of the religious systems that we do by rote and speak by habit the ridiculous absurdities imbibed in the pews of Babylon. How astounded we are when once we learn the truth and discover that the cherished teaching or hallowed practice we have unwittingly ASSUMED to be godly and spiritual is not only unfounded in the Word of God, but actually is an abomination in the sight of God! And this term - "the second coming of Christ" - is not scriptural, either, and cannot be found anywhere in the Bible; yet it has influenced the thinking and teaching of most Christians to accept and believe concepts that simply are not true. We have been so confused in our thinking that everything in the scriptures pertaining to the coming of the Lord, His appearing, His manifestation have to fit into His coming as a man two milleniums ago, or to His so-called "second coming" when every eye shall see Him. This is wrong. Very wrong.
May the Mighty God come speedily with His coal of fire from off the holy altar of Eternal Truth and forever sanctify our speech! The second coming of Christ is not a biblical phrase. It has no scriptural warrant. It is my deep conviction that it should be discarded altogether, for it is the cause of much confusion of thought and not a little positive error. Many texts speak of the coming of Christ, the coming of the Son of man, the coming of the Lord or similar phrases. The word "second" never occurs with a word that can be translated "coming." Let us consider a few passages. "For as the lightning comes out of the east, and shines even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be" (Mat. 24:27). "We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep" (I Thes. 4:15). "And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming" (II Thes. 2:8). "Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waits for the precious fruit of the earth, and has long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain" (James 5:7). "Be also patient; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draws nigh" (James 5:8).
These texts, and many others, all include the English word "coming." But the preachers, when preaching from these texts, always ADD the word "second" to each one, and proceed to preach on "the second coming of Christ"! They invariably add the word "second" to every "coming" in the New Testament, and then add the "second coming of Christ" to nearly every chapter in the Bible - even in the Old Testament. Adding "second" to the word "coming" does violence to the meaning every time. Jesus did not say, "the second coming of the Son of man." James did not say, "Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the second coming of the Lord." Peter did not ask, "Where is the promise of His second coming?" Paul did not say, "Then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall ... destroy with the brightness of His second coming." There is no justification whatever for adding "second" to any of these inspired passages. I have all the confidence in the world that the Holy Spirit inspired them to be written exactly as they should be written - without the word second! You will have to rewrite the entire New Testament to support the doctrine of the "second coming" of the Lord. The "second coming" is not a biblical expression and first occured among Christians as late as the middle of the second century after Christ. I can not emphasize too strongly that the word "second" is NEVER used in Holy Writ with the word "coming." That is the simple and plain and incontrovertible truth, and this fact is elementary and basic to a correct understanding of the coming of the Lord!
Someone will surely raise the question: Can not the expression "second coming" be justified by the closing verse of the ninth chapter of Hebrews? The passage reads, "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. 9:28). This verse can be rightly divided only when taken within the context of the verses preceding it. The writer says, "For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters into the holy place every year with blood of others; for then must He often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world has He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Heb. 9:24-26).
Some have tried to find three "appearings" in these verses, but there are only two. And the words are taken by unthinking people as though "appear the second time," or "second appearing" were somehow the equivalent of, or a synonym for, the "second coming." But this is merely playing on the language of our English version. The two "appearings" in this passage not even refer to the so-called "first coming" of the Christ in Bethlehem's manger, or His "second coming" from heaven at the end of this age. As we shall see later, the Lord has had MANY APPEARINGS on this earth. And here TWO of those many appearings are contrasted, the one with the other, so that one is "first," and the other "second." Here we have His "first" appearing: IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD FOR US. "For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands ... but into heaven itself, now to APPEAR IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD FOR US."
In the types of the Old Testament the atonement for sin was not accomplished with the killing of the animal, and the sprinkling of the blood on the altar, the people and the tabernacle; not until the High Priest presented himself in the Most Holy Place, in the presence of God with the blood of the sacrifice. This was a type of the sacrifice of Christ for our sins. It was not accomplished nor completed with the shedding of His blood and His death on the cross. Before there could be any efficacy to His sacrifice He had to PRESENT HIMSELF IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD by His own blood to make atonement for our sins. This is what this verse is speaking about; Christ entered the Holiest, not of the earthly tabernacle, but into heaven itself, presenting Himself, appearing before the presence of God, in the eternal realm of spirit, as the bearer of our redemption. This verse says that He APPEARED in the presence of God for us. This is the first of the two appearings here contrasted, but certainly NOT His first appearing unto men! As we follow on in this scripture we are told that the Christ needed not to offer Himself often as did the High Priest of the Old Covenant, once a year with the blood of others. Only once did He need to offer Himself, as we read, "But now ONCE in the end of the age has He APPEARED (in heaven - vs. 24) to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself." Once He has appeared, the first time, IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD FOR US!
Verse twenty-eight speaks of another APPEARING, even a second appearing in connection with our salvation. It begins with these words, "So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many (referring to verses 24 and 26 where it says He entered the Most Holy Place in heaven and appeared in the presence of God for us)". Now He appears again the second time: "And unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation." Most Christians believe this verse in referring to what is called the "second coming" of the Lord, a visible appearing at the end of this age. This is not alluding to such a coming at all. The word actually employed is wholly different. It is a general word, and it is the very word used with reference to His manifestation to His disciples after His resurrection. It occurs four times in I Cor. 15:5-8 where it is translated "was seen". The Lord appeared to many following His resurrection. The Lord Jesus appeared to the apostle Paul entirely apart from His two appearings set forth in Hebrews chapter nine. The Lord appeared unto Paul in the form of a bright light above the brightness of the noon-day sun. Jesus manifested Himself to Paul in the form of light to commission him to the work of the gospel. And the Lord said., "Rise, and stand upon your feet: for I have APPEARED unto you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of these things which you have seen, and of those things in the which I WILL APPEAR unto you" (Acts 26:16).
And further, the definite article must be omitted: "So Christ also, having been once offered to bear the sins of many, SHALL APPEAR A SECOND TIME, apart from sin, to them that wait for Him, unto salvation." That is how the Greek text reads. The statement is not prophetic, but doctrinal; and the doctrine in question is not the so-called "second coming," but the PRIESTHOOD! It is not the prediction of an event to be realized by those who shall be alive on earth at the time of the end, but the declaration of a truth and a fact to be realized by every elect member of the body of Christ, no matter in what dispensation his sojourn upon earth may fall.
Our Lord Jesus Christ appears a second time to those who LOOK FOR HIM, who diligently seek for Him and follow after Him; not any more as a sin offering appearing in heaven for us, but in the mighty manifestation of His power usward, UNTO SALVATION. And this salvation is the work of our great and wonderful High Priest. This same wonderful truth is set forth in Heb. 7:25 in these words, "Wherefore He is able also to SAVE THEM TO THE UTTERMOST that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever lives to make intercession for them." This phrase is given by Phillips as "He can save fully and completely." Young's Literal, "He is able to save to the very end." Amplified, "He is able to save to the uttermost - completely, perfectly, finally, and for all time and eternity."
The Greek points out that He is able to save COMPLETELY. He is able to save ALL THE WAY, even unto the valley of the shadow of death. He is able to save altogether, NOTHING LACKING - complete salvation with no flaw, complete as only a holy and omniscient and omnipotent God knows completeness and perfection. This salvation "to the uttermost" is a complete salvation of spirit, soul and body reserved for those who "come unto God by Him" - those who follow all the way, into the Holiest, within the veil, to know HIM in all His glorious and eternal reality. And it is not a salvation effected by Jesus flashing across the sky, but by our great High Priest ministering from His throne of intercession! "The uttermost" is the strongest and extremist word in all the world. There cannot be anything beyond the uttermost. The uttermost is situated on the very extremist rim, on the very outmost edge, and on the very highest pinnacle of all existing things. It is the limit, the boundary, the completeness, the perfection, the fullness, the summit, the apex and the ultimate of all realities. Oh, the wonder of it! Salvation to the UTTERMOST! What a limit! What a boundary! What a summit!
The "uttermost" salvation cannot be understood apart from our High Priest who has secured it and who now ministers it to us from that higher realm of incorruptibility. Jesus pointed to this day when, on the night of His judgment, before crucifixion, He announced to the startled High Priest, Caiaphas, this amazing proclamation, "You have said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall you see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven" (Mat. 26:64). To paraphrase, Jesus says, "Though now you see me in this low and abject state, nevertheless the day is coming when I shall appear otherwise. Though you watch me die upon a Roman cross as a sin-offering, you will shortly see me sitting upon the throne of my Father and coming in the clouds of heaven."
How prone we are to view these as two events, separated by a vast span of time. Our conception is of Jesus sitting upon the right hand of God for a couple thousand years, at the end of which time He leaves His throne to "come in the clouds of heaven." NOT SO! "HEREAFTER you will see..." So runs the King James version, translating a Greek phrase which signifies unequivocally "from now on" - or literally, HENCEFORTH. But it is safe to say that the average reader, reading from the Authorized version, generally understands it to mean something very different - not "HENCEFORTH shall you see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven," but "in the hereafter," flat some point in the indefinite future," you will see the Son of man "sitting" and then "coming." The correct thought is, "HENCEFORTH - FROM N-O-W O-N you will see the Son of man sitting... and coming." These two events, the sitting and the coming, are simultaneous. They are co-extensive. They transpire at the same time. And they both happen "from now on." He sits AND He comes. He sits upon the throne of heavenly power and He comes in the clouds of heaven! He sits as our great High Priest and He comes as our transforming Saviour. He doesn't sit and then come, He comes while He sits. It is not two separate, independent actions, but a two-fold, interdependent action.
Has He not come to you, precious brother, sister, in mighty saving power even as He sits upon the throne on High? Is it not true that He has power to save completely just BECAUSE He is seated upon the throne? Ah - it is not Jesus crashing down through the skies who is able to save to the uttermost - it is, rather, Christ our High Priest on the throne of the Majesty on High who is able to save us to the uttermost, seeing HE EVER LIVES TO MAKE INTERCESSION FOR US. Oh, we read so much into the Word of God that is not there! With our limited and faulty carnal reasoning we distort it all out of shape, making it say what it does not say, and not say what it does say. Why cannot men cease their ignorant pratings and learn once and for all that our Lord Jesus Christ is fully able to sit and to come at the same time! It is high time for all of God's elect saints to learn that Jesus is both High Priest and Saviour at the same instant. He sits and He comes. He has appeared once and for all before the Father in heaven as our sin-offering, and now He sits there continually as the High Priest of that mighty life. And unto all who LOOK FOR HIM He will APPEAR A SECOND TIME UNTO SALVATION. He has appeared in the presence of God FOR US, and now He will appear a second time UNTO US. The subject is not His "second coming," but His glorious saving PRIESTHOOD! It is time for all men to believe the Word of God and cease from following their own shameful delusions.
We have been led to think in terms of the first coming and the second coming, whereas the Bible speaks in terms of the progressive revelation of Jesus Christ. Our God does not talk about the "first coming" and the "second coming" - He talks about the progressive revelation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. For example, let us take a look at that thought in Micah 5:2, "But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, though you be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall He come forth unto Me who is to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting."
Notice, His "goings forth." The plural is used. The goings forth of the Lord speak about the Lord Jesus Christ! Now, the idea of "goings" has to do with the onward marching of God - the unfolding of the purpose of God, step by step. This is what is indicated here. This is what history is all about, the progressive revelation of Jesus Christ, the marching forward of God, the ever-increasing unveiling of Himself to man. The unfolding of end-time events and God's order for the ages to come, which are the main contents of the last book of the Bible, are called "the Revelation of Jesus Christ."
The term "second coming" is as unfortunate as it is unscriptural. It implies there has been only one coming of Christ thus far. This is not true. It may surprise you to learn that the scripture does not treat His coming at Bethlehem as an isolated event. Although it is important, it is not considered out of proportion to other and comparable events. His coming as a man was a step in the development of God's plan for redemption of the world.. Actually, Bethlehem is one in a series of appearances of Christ into the world. By the same token, it is not His last coming to the earth. In order to get the importance of His birth, let's withdraw from Bethlehem and consider His coming there as just one event in the panorama of the ages. Let us consider this theme under the following divisions: (1) Before Bethlehem (2) Beginning at Bethlehem (3) Because of Bethlehem.
An abundance of scripture supports the fact that Christ was before Bethlehem. He is just as real in the Old Testament as He is in the New Testament. The great difference, of course, is that HE BECAME FLESH. He said, "Before Abraham was, I AM.." Also He said, Is my Father works hitherto and I work." He and the Father were working long before Bethlehem. John opened his matchless Gospel with this majestic statement: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God" (Jn. 1:1-2). The prophet Isaiah had made a very careful distinction about His birth at Bethlehem: "Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given." Micah, the contemporary of Isaiah, had said, as I have pointed out, that He would come forth from Bethlehem but that "His goings forth have been FROM OF OLD, FROM EVERLASTING." His footprints were manifested in this world before the prints were made in His hands.
The pages of the Old Testament are literally sprinkled with the accounts of the Lord's comings, beginning in Eden's blest Garden and continuing through all generations of old. On the very day that man sinned he "heard the voice of the Lord God WALKING IN THE GARDEN in the cool of the day" (Gen. 3:8). The casual way in which this is stated indicates that this was a normal event, perhaps a daily appointed time at which the Lord manifested His presence to communicate with the man He had placed on this planet. The Lord still walked among men even after Adam was banished from the Garden, for Cain, after he slew Abel, "went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod" (Gen. 4:16).
In Gen. 17:1 we find that "The Lord appeared unto Abraham." In Gen. 17:22 it says, "God left off talking to Abraham, and WENT UP FROM HIM." Interesting, isn't it, that the Mount of Olives was not the first time or place where the Lord ASCENDED! In Gen. 18:1 we read, "And the Lord appeared unto him." In Gen. 18:33, "The Lord went His way, as soon as He left communing with Abraham." In Gen. 26:24 we see that "the Lord appeared unto him (Isaac) the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham your father: fear not, for I am with you." In Gen. 35:7 it says, "And he (Jacob) built there an altar, and called the place El-beth-el: because there God appeared unto him." The Lord appeared unto Moses in the burning bush (Ex. 3:15-16). After Moses had led the children of Israel out of Egypt Christ walked among them in mighty manifestation of power and glory and provision, "for they drank of that spiritual Rock which followed them: and that Rock was Christ" (I Cor. 10:4). Later, the Lord again came to Israel in another form as we read in Ex. 19:9, 18 and 20: "And the Lord said unto Moses, Lo, I COME UNTO YOU in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak unto you ... and Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it ... and the Lord CAME DOWN UPON MOUNT SINAI, on the top of the Mount." When the Tabernacle in the wilderness was erected "the Lord appeared in the Tabernacle in a pillar of a cloud (His coming in a cloud is nothing new, either!)" (Deut. 31:15). In the days of Samuel the prophet "the Lord appeared ... in Shiloh: for the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh" (I Sam. 3:21). In II Chron. 3:1 the "Lord appeared unto David... in the place that David had prepared in the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite." In I Kings 3:5 the Lord appeared to Solomon. And this star-studded record of the Lord's comings in the Old Testament times takes on special significance when Israel exclaims, "The Lord HAS APPEARED OF OLD UNTO ME, saying, Yea I have loved you with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn you" ( Jer. 31:3).
We dare not lose eight of the fact that our Lord has already had many comings, many appearings. We have limited the comings of Jesus strictly to two because of our unscriptural terms "first coming" and "second coming," but the truth is that He came; He continued to come; He comes; He continues to come; He will come; and He will continue to come! There are numerous "comings" and "appearings" of the Lord in the New Testament. BUT THEY DO NOT ALL REFER TO THE SAME EVENT. The word "coming" is very often used in the scriptures of a visitation or manifestation of the Lord to judge or bless or accomplish some aspect of His plan and purpose among His people and in the earth. One would think, listening to the preachers rant and rave about "THE second coming of Christ," that every time the Lord says, "I will come," He is speaking of one, specific, particular, singular event sometime out in the dim and misty future. I do not hesitate to tell you that this is a great error.
Rev. 2:5 tells of a COMING of our Lord. "Remember therefore from where you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I WILL COME unto you quickly, and will remove your candlestick out of his place, except you repent." Since Jesus had gone a COMING of Jesus would be a RETURN. So what does the Lord say? He warns the church at Ephesus that if it does not repent, "I WILL COME ... QUICKLY!" "I will come unto you quickly, and will remove your candlestick out of his place." "Candlestick" means lampstand. A lampstand is for holding up a light. Now what is the use of an assembly of believers? That is the purpose of an assembly - "YOU are the light of the world." Christ tells these people that if they do not repent HE WILL COME TO THEM IN JUDGMENT, swift and effective judgment, and remove them from being an assembly of light-bearing children of God. It was a COMING which might not take place! Jesus said, "I will COME if you don't repent." What would prevent this COMING? Ephesian saints repenting! The Ephesian church was an active and patient, and doctrinally sound church. But it lost its first love for Christ, the pure, virginal love for Him and for Him alone and sadly, never repented. So God allowed the light to go out. Later on the darkness of Mohammedism swept over the land where this church had been located. There is no lampstand in Ephesus today, for there is nothing but the ruins of a once great city. In Ephesus there is no church at all. The site of the ancient temple is now a marsh, inhabited only by frogs. Ephesus, of course, in keeping with the pattern of the book of Revelation, was merely a TYPICAL CHURCH, and the Lord's solemn warning signal flashes out to this day to be heeded by every man and movement that is of the Ephesian spirit and character: "Repent, or I WILL COME unto you quickly!" Is this, then, THE so-called "second coming" of Christ? Assuredly not! But I greatly fear that almost all of God's children hold the childish notion that whenever Jesus says, "I will come," He always refers to one singular event called "the second coming."
The book of Revelation furnishes us with a sequential overview of the comings of the Lord. Its inspired title is found in the first verse - "The Revelation of Jesus Christ." The Greek word for "revelation" is APOKALUPSIS meaning "unveiling, uncovering," and hence, revealing." This is expressed in Rev. 1:7, "EVERY EYE shall SEE Him..." The error of the unspiritual and unenlightened mind is that it immediately assumes that every eye must see Him at the same time and in the same manner. But the multitudinous ways in which the Lord comes and comes and comes throughout the illuminating pages of this glorious book indicates to me the progressive revelation of Jesus Christ, the many-faceted and many-splendored appearing of the Lord from one degree of glory to another until, when all is finished, every creature in heaven, earth and hell shall have had a revelation of the Son of God (Rev. 5:13).
With what divine genius does the Holy Spirit on the pages of God's Word portray the living Son of God coming and standing in the midst of the seven churches! This is an earthly scene. The risen and glorified Christ was present in and among the churches. Jesus had promised to come back, and according to chapters two and three of Revelation He HAD come back! Then follows swiftly the tragic scene of Jesus Christ, the blessed Saviour, standing at the end of this age COMPLETELY OUTSIDE the Laodicean church! No longer is He dealing with the apostate CHURCH SYSTEM, but knocking, knocking, knocking at heart's door of INDIVIDUAL MEN AND WOMEN, saying to them, "Behold I stand at the door and knock: if ANY MAN heat my voice and open the door, I WILL COME in to him, and will sup with HIM, and HE with ME" (Rev. 3:20). This passage can only refer to a spiritual presence coming to any INDIVIDUAL, to A-N-Y M-A-N who will open his heart's door to intimacy of fellowship and vital union with the Christ of God.
As one has written concerning this significant passage, "The message is to "any man," a message that abandons the multitude to their religious play, to their church creeds and their church Christs; a message that says, 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if ANY MAN hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to HIM and sup with HIM and he with ME.' The church of the last days is the church of the INDIVIDUAL. It is the individual believer with a PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP to Christ. For the man who will forsake ALL ELSE and sup with Christ this is an age of glory, an hour of preparation such as we have never known. This is a time when the Spirit of God is speaking TO YOU AS AN INDIVIDUAL. He seeks to sup and dine and feast with you apart from all the religious confusion about us. It is a glorious day when we see the promise that is ours in this hour" -end quote. And what is the promise? The promise, wonderful promise! is of HIS COMING. "I WILL COME in to HIM, and will sup with him and he with me." Ah, is this the so-called "second coming" of Christ? It is not the one men preach about or that Christians expect and wait for, but, beloved saints of God, it IS THE COMING OF CHRIST, nonetheless. He does not come once and in just one way. He comes and comes and comes in the progressive revelation of HIMSELF!
There is neither time nor space to discuss all of these comings and appearings fully in one brief article, so we shall pursue these great truths in the months to come. We shall touch just enough at this time to let you see clearly that there are more than two comings of Christ mentioned in the Bible, and that trying to apply all the scriptures on the Lord's coming to just two comings, has caused a lot of confusion and erroneous teaching and has caused the Lord's people to miss completely some of the most marvelous aspects of God's great and wonderful purposes.
On the day of Pentecost Christ came again as the Comforter. "And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of Truth: whom the world cannot receive, because it sees Him not, neither knows Him: but you know Him; for He DWELLS WITH YOU, and shall be IN YOU. I will not leave you comfortless (orphans): I WILL COME UNTO YOU. Yet A little while, and the world sees me no more; but YOU SEE ME: because I live, you shall live also. At that day you shall know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I IN YOU" (Jn. 14:16-20).
In Mk. 13:26 He comes with CLOUDS. In Mat. 24:27 He comes as LIGHTNING. In Rev. 16:15 He comes as a THIEF. In Mat. 25:6 He comes as the BRIDEGROOM. In Rev. 22:16 and 2:28 He comes as the MORNING STAR. In Mal. 4:2 He comes as the SUN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS ARISING. In Phil. 3:20-21 He comes in RESURRECTION POWER. In II Thes. 1:7-8 He comes in FLAMING FIRE. In Mal. 3:1-3 He comes to His priesthood company as REFINER'S FIRE and FULLER'S SOAP. In I Thes. 4:16-17 He comes IN THE AIR. In Hos. 6:3 and James 5:7-8 He comes as the RAIN. In Rev. 19:11 & 14 He comes on a WHITE HORSE. In Mat. 25:31-34 He comes as KING. In I Pet. 5:4 He comes as the CHIEF SHEPHERD. In Mat. 16:27 He comes WITH HIS ANGELS. In Jude 14 He comes WITH HIS SAINTS. In Jn. 14:18 He comes TO HIS SAINTS. In II Thes. 1:10 He comes IN HIS SAINTS. In Jude 14 & 15 He comes in JUDGMENT. In Rev. 22:12 He comes WITH REWARDS. And time and space fail me to tell of how He comes with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, with the trump of God; He comes to the Mount of Olives; He comes to His temple; He comes in glory; He comes as Lord; He comes in His Kingdom; He comes as seasons of refreshing, etc., etc., etc.
Like a choir of many voices and as the sound of many waters, the testimony of the Word of God resounds with abundant and stunning and inescapable evidence that the coming of Christ is not a single event, but includes many different manifestations. His coming to us is a many-sided experience. To multitudes He appears as Saviour. They find Him at the crossroads of their lives. He becomes their salvation but they never venture any deeper to know Him intimately. They have only a superficial knowledge of Him. To others He appears as Chief Shepherd and Bridegroom. These hear His voice and are moved by His love, and follow on to know Him in deeper measures of intimacy and union. To others He appears as a Thief. He comes into their world uninvited and unannounced, He overtakes them unexpectedly and breaks up their life style and smashes their religious games. And unto others He appears as Fire, consuming their hay, wood, and stubble, eliminating by the spirit of burning all that is of self and not of God. The coming of the Lord is as many-faceted as the most dazzling crystal of earth or the most beautiful diamond known to man. In the Old Testament, the rabbis were often confused by the seeming contradictions in the descriptions of the coming of the Messiah. In some of the passages the Messiah was described as coming as a Suffering Servant to be wounded for transgressions and bruised for iniquities. In other passages He was coming as a Conqueror to rule and to defeat the enemies of the people of God. The people asked their scholars for an answer to this seeming contradiction. The rabbis would often go so far as to say that two Messiahs were coming. They were wrong; the same Messiah was coming twice. But more than that! Yea, a thousand times more! The same Messiah comes five, ten, thirty, ten thousand times, in as many and varied ways and manners as there are dealings and operations of God to bewrought in the lives of men and in the destiny of nations upon this earth. My earnest prayer to God is that the spirit of wisdom and revelation may somehow make forever plain to all who read these halting lines that we have seen too limited a vision of the truth, but bringing all the facets together, there is the fuller view where it readily appears that there are many-splendored dimensions to HIS COMING.
If the coming of the Lord is not a progressive revelation in many manifestations, then, pray tell me, WHICH of the many comings enumerated earlier IS THE SECOND COMING? When He says, "I will not leave you orphans: I WILL COME TO YOU," is THAT "the second coming"? or is it when He declares, "Behold, I COME as a thief?" Or when He says, "I WILL COME unto you as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth," is that manifestation His "second coming"? Or is it when He comes as lightning, or as the sun of righteousness, or as the Bridegroom, or as King, or with His saints, or to His saints, or in His saints? Paul said that Jesus would come with a "shout," also with the "voice of the archangel," and with the "trump of God." Jesus said, "Behold, I come as a thief." Certainly thieves do not blow trumpets and shout! Nor did Jesus blow trumpets when He ascended from the Mount of Olives, yet the messengers said that He would come "in like manner." And it would seem that if He came as rain and as fire at the same time, the rain would put out the fire!
But these are not contradictions. They are word pictures to help our finite minds comprehend more clearly some of the great factors involved in the coming of Christ and what His coming means to the whole creation. When we put all these together and add to them all the other illustrations of the Bible pertaining to Christ's coming, we begin to understand that what we are to look for is not a human being coming down through the literal clouds, setting fire to the earth and toppling over the mountains, but mighty manifestations of the risen and glorified and ascended Lord of heaven and earth, leading to the transformation of mankind from selfishness and hate to compassion and love; from war and destruction to peace and reconstruction; from dead in trespasses and sins to alive in Christ; from the carnal mind to the precious mind that was in Christ Jesus; from sickness and death to health and life; from funeral processions to the quickening power of His resurrection!
And hence it is that so very few Christians have really scriptural thoughts about the coming of their Lord. They are looking into prophecy for the church's hope - they confound "the Sun of Righteousness" with "the Morning Star" - they mix up the coming of Christ "IN His saints," and His coming "WITH the saints" - they have not the foggiest notion what is the difference in time or manifestation between His coming as Rain or His coming as fire; His coming as Saviour and His coming as Lord; His coming as Lightning or His coming with Clouds; His coming as Bridegroom or His coming as King. All this is a most serious mistake, against which I am compelled by the Spirit of God to warn my readers. Not very many know when or how the Lord comes in any of His manifestations therefore, they cannot know how to MEET HIM!
Almost all of Christendom teaches that the return of the Lord is one single, future event. They are generally agreed that He will come in a body of flesh, with wounds in His hands, feet, and side, and that He will be suspended in the sky in such a manner that every eye of all human beings living on this earth at that time will see Him and thus know of His coming. How much more reasonable and understandable is the glorious truth! Former misconceptions and crude theories concerning this great event should not be permitted to hinder us now from ascertaining the simplicity of the truth concerning it, as set forth in God's blessed Book and revealed unto His elect saints now by the Spirit. Whenever I long for the Lord to move by His Spirit and make Himself real by His presence, or manifest the greatness of His power in some place or circumstance, my heart cries out, "Come, Lord Jesus!"
There is a principle in the scriptures concerning the coming of the Lord. That is, we must spiritually discern and respond to His comings in our midst and in our individual lives. Jesus said, "Occupy till I come." In the midst of all our activity we are to ever look for His comings. We must be spiritually perceptive and awake at all times. Then, recognizing His presence and turning aside from all that would distract, we can move with Him in His visitation. As we respond to His comings, be it in blessing, refreshing, quickening, enlightenment, transformation, Lordship, fellowship and communion, judgment, correction, stripping, purging or cleansing - we shall come to KNOW HIM in all His wonderful reality and be made like Him as His own in the earth. Oh, listen for the sound of His comings!