It’s No Secret
That the early church believed in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is no secret. According to James Montgomery Boice’s research (Foundations of the Christian Faith, pg. 705) the Second Coming is mentioned in the New Testament 318 times in only 260 chapters. In fact, Galatians, Philemon and 2 & 3 John are the only books which fail to mention it at all! So prevalent is it that Bruce Milne (Know the Truth, pg. 313) is confident in asserting ‘[the Second Coming] lies on the surface of the Bible for all to see. Denial of the second coming can be viewed therefore only as a fundamental rejection of biblical authority.’
It is no secret that the early Church believed and taught that Jesus Christ would come again. However, what I propose to do here is to suggest that the origins of the Second Coming can be found in the Old Testament. I will do so by pointing to three separate texts, in three different genres (and sections) of the Old Testament.
2 Samuel 7
At the outset I wish to acknowledge that I am not following the tradition Jewish division of the Old Testament into Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim. Rather, I am following a more western division of Historical Books (including the Torah or the five books of Moses), Writings and Prophets. The first major section of our English New Testament is the collection of the Historical Books, and it is here that we find our first hint at the second coming of Jesus Christ in 2 Samuel 7.
In 2 Samuel 7 we find Nathan the prophet communicating Yahweh’s promises to King David. He tells David:
Thus says the LORD of hosts… When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me. Your throne shall be established for ever. (Vv. 8, 12-16)
This may not initial seem relevant to a discussion on the Second Coming of Jesus. However, it is. Old Testament theologians have termed this passage the ‘messianic seedbed’. It is from this promise that all of the messianic hope in the remainder of the Old Testament grows, develops and buds. Verse 16 (in italics above) is of particular interest to a discussion on the Second Coming of Jesus. Throughout the Old Testament this promise seemed to have failed, indeed for vast periods of time there was no Davidic king on the throne. Even though Jesus came from the Davidic line, he is not visibly ruling and reigning, although he is seated on the throne.
The reality is that this promise has certainly been fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ; however it has not been consummated for all to see. When will that happen? It will surely be consummated when the Messiah appears again.
The second major section of our English Old Testaments is the Writings. Here we find poetry such as the Psalms and Song of Solomon and wisdom such as Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
Psalm 72 is almost certainly an enthronement song. It was likely either sang as a prayer when a king ascended to the throne or sang annually as a continued prayer for the already reigning king. However, the reality is that this Psalm cannot be reduced to speaking of only an earthly king. There are two features in particular which point to a greater king then any earthly king.
Initially, the duration of the reign exceeds anything that an earthly king could manage, and even any earthly dynasty could accomplish together:
May they fear you while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations!
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth!
In his days may the righteous flourish,
and peace abound, till the moon be no more!
May he have dominion from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth!
May desert tribes bow down before him,
and his enemies lick the dust!
May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands
render him tribute;
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
May all kings fall down before him,
all nations serve him! (Vv. 5-11)
The duration spoken of here is eternal – as long as the sun endures, throughout all generations, till the moon be no more! As one commentator contends that this is ‘a hope to be realised only in the universal kingdom of Christ’ (Kirkpatrick, quoted in VanGemeren EBC: Psalms, pg. 551).
Secondly, we note that the character of the king transcends the character of even the noblest king:
For he delivers the needy when he calls,
the poor and him who has no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life,
and precious is their blood in his sight. (Vv. 12-14)
The expresses great compassion here, that is surely characteristic of God in the flesh.
Once again it must be acknowledged that the kingdom of God – a kingdom which will endure, and exhibits compassion – was inaugurated with Jesus first Advent. However, this kingdom will not be consummated until Jesus’ second Advent.
The final major section in our English Old Testament is the Prophets. It is here that we note a repeated mention of the ‘Day of the Lord’. Many people take this to automatically be speaking of Jesus’ first arrival on earth, but Boice warns that we are often too quick to do this with Old Testament prophecies (Foundations of the Christian Faith, pg. 705). Rather, these verses often speak of the final reckoning to be executed on Jesus Return.
This ‘Day’ is referenced at least twice in Joel 3:
in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near
in the valley of decision. (v. 14)
And in that day
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and the hills shall flow with milk,
and all the stream beds of Judah
shall flow with water;
and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord
and water the Valley of Shittim. (v. 18)
It would be easy to speak of these verses as being fulfilled in Jesus’ first arrival. However, the context of the chapter leaves no doubt as to the timing of these events. The nations have been gathered into the ‘Valley of Decision’ to hear God’s judgement pronounced. After the pronouncement of that judgement, in other words ‘in that day’ God’s people will then receive the blessing of verse 18. We are all too aware that this has not yet taken place, that it is indeed to be executed only on Jesus’ Return.
A Matter of Perspective
I do confess that the Old Testament does not say Jesus Christ will come to earth once and then leave and then come again, in so many words. However, it is clear that there is this expectation of an Anointed One (the Hebrew word is Messiah) coming to rule and reign. In ruling and reigning he is then expected to execute God’s judgement on His enemies and bring God’s blessing on His people.
As we approach the New Testament though it becomes clear that what the Old Testament authors spoke of as the Advent of the Messiah, is understood as two Advents (G. E. Ladd, Eschatology in the New Bible Dictionary, pg. 386). It is like looking at two candles perfectly lined up. From the perspective of the Old Testament authors there only appears to be one candle – but from another perspective, that of the New Testament, there are clearly two candles.
We do not, and cannot, find a clearly defined eschatology (as we understand it) in the Old Testament. But, I would suggest that we very clearly find the origins of the Second Coming in the Old Testament – promises, hopes and prophecies that can only ever be fully met in Jesus’ triumphant and emphatic second Advent!