part of the what is truth? series

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 – what’s next – but it never says that Jesus will return to earth. In fact, it says that believers, both dead and alive1 at that time, will meet Him in the air/clouds1,6,7,8 (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.

our answer is built on the following scripture-blocks

please comment if you feel it’s not adequately or correctly presented

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 apply here?

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

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. And all that have left earthly family or wealth for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and inherit eternal life.
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. Indeed anyone that calls on His name leaving all of this world behind will receive a hundredfold more with inherit life.

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 apply here?

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.

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). He continues on through verse 46 describing the separation of “sheep” from “goats” by “the King” (vss 33-34).

How does it apply here?

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.

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 apply here?

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.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

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 apply here?

A literal meaning of this verse is taking it out of both the immediate and broader context of Zechariah.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

Understanding this as a metaphor for the final judgment is consistent with the rest of Scripture. The dividing that will happen just as is spoken of in different ways in 1 Thessalonians 41, Matthew 253, and Revelation 34. Further, the “on that day” introduction is consistent with the many other “on/in that day” statements chronicled in the scripture-block.

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.
This chapter documents a discussion between Jesus and his disciples.  Upon leaving the temple, Jesus comments on its destruction (vs 2).  Subsequently, they wanted to know about three things from Jesus: 1) the timing of the temple’s destruction, 2) the sign of His coming, and 3) the end of the age (vs 3).

Jesus begins His answer, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, I am the Christ, and they will lead many astray.” (vs 4-5) He continues foretelling terrible natural events (e.g. wars, famine, etc.) but also a spiritual “tribulation” (persecution) where many saints will “fall away” (vs 10).  Despite this, He warns again that “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (vs 13) and the “gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world” after which “the end will come” (vs 14).

The preceding seems to be an overview before beginning to speak about a specific “great tribulation” (vs 21) that they would experience.  He refers to this as “the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel” (vs 15) and prays that their “flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath” (vs 20).

As is typical with prophecy, which this chapter is, sequencing is difficult as events and their timing (near-term/long-term) are very fluid. Remember, the disciples had asked about both the timing of the destruction of the temple and His return.  Jesus shares events (vss 15-28) that will take place in their generation (vs 34) regarding the destruction of the temple (in fact, taking place about forty years later in 70AD).  He then speaks about what will happen “immediately after the tribulation of those days” (vs 29), namely His return (vss 29-44), but it too is a mixed timeline.

Summary of sequence:

  • vss 4-14 – A broad review of events during the ‘end times’ (both near-term and long-term) when “lawlessness is increased”.
  • vss 15-28 – A near-term description of events that they would experience relating to the destruction of Jerusalem.  Something that in fact, would happen about forty years later (70AD).
  • vss 29-31 – A long-term description of the events of the second coming, the final judgment.
  • vss 32-34 – The near-term timing that He relates and explains with a parable about the fig tree for how they would identify the occurrence of “these things” (vs 33) and says, “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (vs 34).
  • vss 35-44 The long-term timing, transitioned by contrasting things that will and won’t pass away (vs 34-35) and with “But…” (vs 36). This timing “no one knows” – not even Himself (vs 36).
How does it apply here?

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

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 told him [the high priest] that the next time that he sees the Son of Man [Jesus], He will be seated on His throne at the right hand of Power [God] returning on the clouds.

The night (or early, next morning) of Jesus’ trial and the first of His interrogations in front of “the chief priests and the whole council” (vs 59). Mark (14:53-65), Luke (22:66-71), and John (18:12-13, 19-24) are parallel accounts.

How does it apply here?

Jesus will return “on the clouds” for final judgment1.

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 apply here?

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

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