The Second Coming of Christ
If you were to ask any Christian what he or she believes regarding the return of Christ, almost every Christian would in some way allude to what is commonly called the rapture. While the average Christian may not have a complete eschatology, he or she typically understands elements of a good eschatology. In this post, we are going to discuss one aspect of a solid Christian eschatology.
We are almost finished with our series on the Articles of Faith of the Church of the Nazarene. This Article is the second-to-last one in the series. The 15th Article of Faith of the Church of the Nazarene explains our stance on the return of Jesus Christ. As with all Christians, we look forward to the return of Christ, his reign, and what he will bring. Our Article of Faith addresses the main point of this aspect of eschatology. It is both broad enough that it allows varying opinions on non-essentials, but narrow enough to exclude non-biblical viewpoints. It states,
"We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ will come again; that we who are alive at His coming shall not precede them that are asleep in Christ Jesus; but that, if we are abiding in Him, we shall be caught up with the risen saints to meet the Lord in the air, so that we shall ever be with the Lord."
There is quite a bit here, so let's unpack this piece by piece. First, we make it clear that we await Christ's return. Jesus promised his disciples that he would return (John 14:1-3; Matthew 24:44; see also Hebrews 9:28). When Jesus ascended to heaven, it wasn't to stay there forever. One of the misconceptions about the topic of eschatology is that, when we die, all the Christians will go to heaven while all the non-Christians will go to hell, and this is just the way it always will be. The promise of Jesus' return makes it clear that this is not the way things are always going to be. That is, these things will not continue until the end of time. Jesus will return, the dead in Christ will rise and meet him in the air, those of us who are in Christ will be caught up to meet him, and there will ultimately and eventually be a judgement, and the end cannot come until this happens.
Second, we state that "we who are alive at His coming shall not precede them that are asleep in Christ Jesus; but that, if we are abiding in Him, we shall be caught up with the risen saints to meet the Lord in the air." Jesus will return before the end of the world. There will still be living believers when Christ returns. Those who are still living must wait until those who have died in Christ rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16). After this, the saints who are still alive will meet Christ in the air. The situation described here is commonly called the rapture, but theologically is referred to as the "parousia" or the Second Advent. While the rapture is biblical, there is some debate as to when it will take place. Will it take place pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, or post-tribulation? My personal view is that it will take place post-tribulation, when Jesus returns and every eye sees him. Christ will conquer his enemies, and every knee will bow to him. Although this is my own view, this Article of Faith is designed to allow persons from each of these three groups to be part of the denomination. This is a secondary issue that does not have a direct bearing on the salvation of any individual. Therefore, it is important to be charitable in this area.
Finally, our 15th Article of Faith states, "so that we shall ever be with the Lord." This is our final end. Those of us who are in Christ will spend all of eternity with him. This will not be taken away from us. We will not be taken from Christ, nor will anyone walk away from him. We will enjoy Christ's presence for all eternity.
To recap, we believe that Christ will return one day and that the dead in Christ and those who are still alive and in Christ will be caught up with Christ in the air. While some hold that this will happen prior to the Great Tribulation, others hold that it will happen after this, while yet others argue that it will happen in the middle of the Tribulation. Regardless, the one thing that we all agree on is Christ's return, where he will take his people to himself, and will ultimately judge the living and the dead. Every knee will see him, and every knee will bow to him. In the words of the late Adrian Rogers, "You don't make Him Lord. He's Lord already. You just recognize it." Those who see him will acknowledge his lordship. Hallelujah!