Jesus will return to earth…this is the unchallenged position of many Christians today. It’s part of and foundational to a much broader belief around Jesus’ second coming – also known as end times doctrine or eschatology. In addition to Jesus’ return to earth, other popularly believed aspects of His second coming include an establishment of an earthly kingdom while sitting on the throne of David for a literal thousand years.

In spite of the popularity of these beliefs or the notoriety and enthusiasm of those religious leaders that teach them, what does the Bible actually say about Jesus’ return and His presence on earth?

how Scripture answers "Will Jesus return…to earth?"

Scripture has a lot to say about Jesus’ second coming, but it never says that Jesus will return to earth. In fact, it says that believers, both dead and alive at that time, will meet Him in the air/clouds1 (specifically, not on earth).

We have other passages where Jesus talks of His own return2,3,4,6,7 (and John8). In these, never is it said He will return to earth. He does speak of His throne2,3,4 which some may infer “throne on earth.” One2, in particular, may tempt someone to make a literal, physical, earthly throne interpretation. However, unless Jesus is contradicting Himself in the immediate context2 and other places4, we can understand that He’s speaking metaphorically and simply means that all believers will conquer and become glorious upon His return4.

Finally, there is one passage of prophecy that is plucked from its context to sometimes justify Jesus’ return to earth5. Surely His feet standing “on the Mount of Olives” proves His return to earth, right? Except, we see from the context5 – something too often ignored in Bible study but especially end times doctrine – this is a metaphor for judgement and the “dividing” that will happen between the righteous and the unrighteous1,3,4.

the answer above is based on and footnoted with the following Scripture Blocks
1

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

Jesus will descend from heaven with announcement from heaven.  Rising to meet Him in the air (“in the clouds”) will first be those already dead, then those who are alive.

Paul is giving instruction about the second coming of Jesus.  He is confirming that all believers – dead and alive – will meet Him and in the preceding verse, “For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep.” (vs 15)

How does it inform?

Regarding the second coming of Jesus, Paul explicitly states a meeting “in the air.” There is no mention of Jesus coming to earth.

Does it apply? Yes

2

Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Jesus said that in the new world (“regeneration” or “age when all is renewed”), He will sit on His throne and His disciples (apostles) will sit on twelves thrones, judging the twelve tribes.

Jesus has just told them the difficulty of a rich person entering heaven and the apostles are shocked.  They don’t understand and can’t believe that anyone could be saved as a result.  This was Jesus’ response after Peter states that they’ve “left everything” and – probably excited – asks, “What then will we have?”  In His answer, Jesus goes beyond the “twelve thrones” statement to say that “everyone” that puts Him over material things (relationships, wealth, etc.) will receive a “hundredfold” and “inherit eternal life.” (vs 29) He concludes with what appears to be the real lesson and intent of His teaching, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (vs 30)

How does it inform?

Given the full exchange and all of what Jesus says (not just vs 28), “thrones” and “judging” are used metaphorically to illustrate a reward.  A reward that is not only for His apostles but for all that believe and live by faith.

Does it apply? Yes

3
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

When Jesus comes in His glory, accompanied by angels, He will sit on His throne. In front of Him will be gathered all people, and He will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Jesus has finished teaching about the kingdom to His disciples (parables of ten virgins and the talents) when He describes the final judgment — “When the Son of Man comes in his glory….”.

How does it inform?

Jesus is returning to judge all and will sit on His throne. It does not say “on earth” or give any indication of location. However, given the other throne passages2,4, we can understand He is coming triumphant and will reign with the saints.

Does it apply? Yes

4

The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

Jesus will grant anyone that remains faithful a seat on His throne.

In the opening of John’s vision (the entire book of Revelation), Jesus is addressing the seven churches of Asia with personal messages.  At the end of each letter, Jesus makes a “To the one that conquers…” statement.  As a result, there are seven “To the one that conquers…” statements, but each with a different ending…

  1. “…I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (2:7)
  2. “…will not be hurt by the second death.” (2:11)
  3. “…I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” (2:17)
  4. “…and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star.” (2:26-28)
  5. “…will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” (3:5)
  6. “…I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” (3:12)
  7. “…I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (3:21)

Gathering all of these statements together, we get a complete picture of what awaits “the one that conquers.”

How does it inform?

We see that believers that live by faith (“the one who conquers”) will not only share Jesus’ throne (triumph/glory) but will receive many other things as described in the context. A particularly poignant and urgent message for those believers suffering persecution or sorrow in this life.

!! study note: context is extra important here !!

Does it apply? Yes

5

On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward.

On that day he will stand on the Mt of Olives to the east of Jerusalem, and the Mt will split from east to west by a wide valley — half moving north and the other south.

This is in the midst of a long series of “on that day” prophecies (broader context) that spans from chapter 8 through 14.  When we collect the descriptors and characteristics of these successive “that day” references, we see what appears to be metaphorical descriptions of judgement day.  Consider:

  • God “will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days” (8:11) – new covenant
  • a “sowing of peace” (8:12) – new covenant
  • “many peoples and strong nations…seek the Lord” (8:22) – Gentiles added
  • king coming with “salvation…humble and mounted on a donkey” (9:9) – Jesus
  • God will “save them, as the flock of his people” (9:16) – Jesus
  • “From him shall come the cornerstone” (10:10) – Jesus
  • God “became the shepherd of the flock doomed” (11:4) – Jesus
  • annul the covenant with wages of “thirty pieces of silver” (11:13) – Jesus
  • “feeblest…shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God” (12:8) – joint heirs with Jesus
  • pour out a “spirit of grace” (12:10)
  • mourning when “they look on me, on him whom they have pierced” (12:10) – Jesus
  • a fountain opened “to cleanse them from sin” (13:1) – redemption
  • “every prophet will be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies” (12:4) – prophecy ceases
  • Lord “king over all the earth” (14:9) – Jesus risen, at right hand of God
How does it inform?

A physical, literal meaning of this verse is taking it out of both the immediate and broader context of Zechariah. Understanding this as a metaphor for final judgement (the dividing that will happen just as is spoken of in different ways in 1 Thessalonians 41, Matthew 253 and Revelation 34) is consistent with the rest of Scripture.

Does it apply? Yes

6
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
The sign of the Son of Man’s return, when all on earth mourn and see Him coming on the clouds in the sky with power and glory.  He will send His angels with a loud trumpet and they will gather the saints from the all the earth.

The concluding remarks from Jesus with his disciples when they asked about when three things would happen: the destruction of the temple, the sign of Jesus’ return and the end of the age.

How does it inform?

Jesus does not speak about returning to earth, but rather sending His angels forth to gather the saints (to meet Him in the clouds).

Does it apply? Yes

7
Jesus said to him, You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.
Jesus said to the High Priest, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power [God] and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

The night of Jesus’ trial and the first of His interrogations.

How does it inform?

Jesus is telling the High Priest “what’s next” for the Messiah (after His eminent death, burial and resurrection). He will return to heaven to sit at the right hand of God (Acts 2:32-35) and then return “on the clouds” for final judgement1.

Does it apply? Yes

8
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.

Behold, he [Jesus] is coming in the clouds when every eye will see him, even the ones that killed him, and all will cry out on account of him.  Amen.

John’s opening address to his audience.
How does it inform?

John describes Jesus’ return as “coming with the clouds”.

Does it apply? Yes

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