The Return Of Christ


The common belief of most Christians is that when Jesus returns again, everyone shall see him floating in the sky on a cloud.  This belief is derived mainly from the Scripture verses:


“And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.  And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)

“And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:26)

“Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.” (Rev 1:7)


This belief results from a literal interpretation of these verses.  However, these verses should not be interpreted literally, as this would clearly contradict Jesus when he said:


 “Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also.” (John 14:19 - RSV)


Here Jesus states that mankind will not see him again, but that Christians will see him after they have been resurrected with a spiritual nature, when they will be perfected and have eternal life (they “will live”).  Then they “shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2), for he is no longer a human being, he is a spiritual being.  The following verses make it clear that Jesus is now a spirit being and not a human being:


“Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more” (2 Cor 5:16).


“the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51).


“He {Jesus} was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Pet 3:18, NRSV).


“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 15:50).


Concerning Jesus’ return the Scriptures tell us that “the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night”, “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief” (1 Thess 5:2,4).  Here the analogy of a thief coming in the night is used to explain that when Jesus returns most people will be asleep to the fact and not realise that he has come.  It is only later on, when they are awake and in the full light of the day that they will realise that the thief had come hours earlier.  Similarly, it will only be later on when there is more “light” (the truth of God’s word revealed to everyone) that they will realise that the day of the Lord in fact started many years ago.  The reason that people will be unaware that Jesus has returned is because they are expecting to see him returning in human form, flying through the sky on a cloud, whereas his presence will be in his now spiritual nature, which is invisible to all humans.  But for those Christians awake and watching (studying the Scriptures to learn the manner and time of Jesus’ second presence), they will not be ignorant (in darkness) concerning the day of the Lord, such that that day should pass without them realising he was present (like when a thief in the night comes unawares to the owners of the house), but they will realise when the day of the Lord has started.  Jesus uses the same analogy in his Revelation to John:


Rev 3:3  Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.

Rev 16:15  Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed [is] he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.


Luke 17:20 says “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation” {or, with outward show}.  This is why Jesus said to his disciples “Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not”, “Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not” (Matt 24:23,26).  He told them that if anyone claims to be Jesus returned, or tells them where they can see Jesus, that they must be lying or mistaken, because Jesus will not return in a visible form to mankind.  Therefore they should not expect to see him returning on the clouds in the sky either!


Jesus went on to say “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matt 24:27).  The meaning of this verse has been obscured by poor translation.  First the Greek word that is translated as “lightning” is “astrape”, which should here be translated as  “bright shining” (or “bright shiner”), as it is similarly translated in Luke 11:36 where it applies to the brightness of a candle.  Evidently Jesus was referring to the bright shining of the sun, which does indeed shine from out of the east and shines to the west at sunrise, whereas lightning flashes do not come out of the east and shine unto the west, they just as frequently come from other quarters, and rarely, if ever, flash clear across the sky.  The translators had come to believe that Jesus would return suddenly, so they chose to translate it as lightning, but Jesus was using the illustration of sunrise, to illustrate the gradual dawning of truth and blessing in the day of his presence.  The same analogy is used in Malachi 4:2 - “shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings” (or beams).


The second word that is poorly translated in Mat 24:27 is the Greek word “parousia” which is here translated as “coming” but should be translated as “presence”.  Therefore Jesus is saying that his second presence will be like the rise of the sun at dawn.  That is, during the night the sun existed but was hidden.  Then at the start of dawn the light of its presence is barely perceptible, but it gradually and slowly increases.  Similarly, at first Jesus’ presence will be barely perceived, except by those awake and watching, expecting his return, but then gradually more and more people will become aware of his presence until eventually everyone shall know.  This is consistent with his analogy of his returning as a thief in the night, where only those awake and watching will be aware of his presence, but later in the light of day everyone will come to realise that he was indeed present during the night.


So returning to the Scripture verses quoted at the beginning, now realising that they should not be interpreted literally, we can interpret them consistently with Jesus’ words as follows.  When the angels said that Jesus “shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven”, we realise that this “like manner” is that he left the earth unobserved by the vast majority of mankind, who were unaware of his departure.  He was observed leaving only by his close followers.  Similarly, his return will be unobserved by the majority of mankind, and only a relatively small number of his followers shall be aware of his return.


When the Scriptures speak of Jesus “coming in the clouds” it is symbolically saying that at Jesus’ second presence there will be clouds of trouble and confusion, when the heavens (Church) and the earth (rest of mankind) shall be shaken – “For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Hag 2:6,7).  This was interpreted by Paul in Heb 12:26-28 – “but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.  And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.  Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace {or, let us hold fast}, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”  This is foretelling that at Jesus’ second presence there will be upheaval and tribulation as everything that is not fit for the kingdom of God is gradually removed.


When the Scriptures say “every eye shall see him”, a better translation, or interpretation, would be that everybody shall perceive or recognise him as being present, not that they shall physically see him.  They shall see him with the eyes of their understanding.  The seeing is not literal just as the clouds are not literal.


Jesus is present once again, and has been since sometime in 1914.  The Great War of 1914–1918 was the beginning of the “time of trouble” (Dan 12:1).  We are now in “the time of the end” when “many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” (Dan 12:4).  “And as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.  They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:26,27).  Mankind continues on as normal, unaware that we are living in the time of Jesus’ second presence.  But we, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake us as a thief (1 Th 5:4).


Article by Keith Robichaud, Bournemouth