As our denominational name indicates, the second coming of Christ is one of the cardinal
doctrines of the Adventist faith. We give it such prominence in our beliefs
because it occupies a pivotal place in Holy Scripture, not only in the New
Testament, but also in the Old. As far back as the time of Enoch, it was
prophesied, "The Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints" (Jude
14). And Job said, "I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall
stand at the latter day upon the earth" (Job 19:25); while David declared,
"Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence" (Ps. 50:3). Numerous
other prophets wrote in similar vein.
I. Various Terms Used to Depict Advent
In the constantly recurring predictions of the glorious second advent of our
Lord, a number of Greek words are used, words having distinct and unique shades
of meaning. We will list the most prominent, giving an example of each use.
Here are ten leading Greek terms employed:
Parousia—"The coming of the Lord draweth nigh" (James 5:8).
Erchomai—"Occupy till I come" (Luke 19:13).
Apokaluptpo—"When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed" (2 Thess. 1:7).
Epiphaneia—"The appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Tim. 6:14).
Phaneroo—"When the chief Shepherd shall appear" (1 Peter 5:4).
Prosopon—"From the presence of the Lord" (2 Thess. 1:9).
Analuo—"He will return from the wedding" (Luke 12:36).
Hupostrepho—"To receive . . . a kingdom, and to return" (Luke 19:12).
Ephistimi—"That day come upon you unawares" (Luke 21:34).
Heko—"Hold fast till I come" (Rev. 2:25).
The meaning of these ten Greek terms is highly significant. Properly
understood, they enable us to glimpse at least something of the nature of the
glorious appearing of our blessed Lord. Erchomai, for example, indicates the
act of coming, but not necessarily of arrival. Heko goes a step further, and
not only means coming, but stresses arrival as well. Parousia goes further
still, for it involves not only coming and arrival, but the actual personal presence
of the person who has arrived. Again, analuo indicates a departure in order to
return, while hupostrepho has the idea of returning from a journey.
Further, apokalupto stresses appearing, with the idea of revelation.
Prosopon indicates the actual presence of the one coming, and that all are before his
face. Epiphaneia emphasizes the glory that will attend the Saviour when He
comes. Phaneroo involves not only appearing but the further thought that the
person appearing will be seen in his true character. The other word, ephistemi,
stresses the thought not only of being near but particularly of the suddenness
of the coming of the Lord.
While the foregoing meanings of the Greek words are given in their renderings
into English, these meanings are not always sharp and distinct. There is often
an overlapping in the shades of meaning.
II. Adventist Understanding of the Second Advent
From these preliminary considerations, we feel that sound and reasonable
conclusions may be drawn as to the teaching of the Word concerning the second
advent. The Bible basis for our belief may be stated as follows:
1. Jesus Will Assuredly Come the Second Time.—Jesus Himself
promised to come again. "I will come again," He assured His disciples
(John 14:3). And Paul the apostle declared that He would "appear the
second time" (Heb. 9:28). The Saviour adds the further thought, "I
will come again, and receive you unto myself" (John 14:3). There is
significance to these last-mentioned words, for it is at the second advent that
the resurrection of the saints takes place (1 Thess. 4:16).
And this is of such vital necessity that the same apostle declares, "If
Christ be not risen" (1 Cor. 15: 14) then "the dead rise not"
(verse 16); and if this be so, "then they also which are fallen asleep in
Christ are perished" (verse 18), The Greek word here used for
"perished" is apollumi, which means "destroyed,"
"perished," "lost." It is the term used in Luke 13:3, which
reads, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish"; also in John
17:12, "None of them is lost, but the son of perdition."
There is good reason, we therefore believe, for calling the advent of Jesus the
"blessed hope" (Titus 2:13). In a very real sense it is the supreme
hope of the church, for it is at the return of our Lord that the sleeping
saints are called forth to immortality. It is then that this "mortal shall
. . . put on immortality" (1 Cor. 15:54). And it is then that "the
trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible" (verse
Further, those who are translated at the second advent (1 Thess. 4:15) will
meet those raised from the dead, and together they meet their Lord in the air
(verse 17), and so shall they "ever be with the Lord." What
consolation to those who have laid their loved ones to rest! This is evidently
what the apostle had in mind when he wrote, "Wherefore comfort one another
with these words" (verse 18).
2. Second Advent Will Be Visible, Audible, and Personal.—a. His
coming will be visible. The revelator makes this clear when he states,
"Behold, he cometh
with clouds; and every eye shall see him" (Rev. 1:7). This climactic event
will certainly be visible to the saints of God. They have patiently waited for
Him (1 Cor. 1:7), and it is "unto them that look for him" that He
appears "without sin unto salvation" (Heb. 9: 28).
But the unrepentant hosts will also see Him as He comes in glory. We read that
then "all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man
coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matt. 24:30;
see also Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27).
b. His coming will be audible. The Bible writers, in describing the return of
Christ, many times refer to the accompanying sound of a trumpet: "the last
trump" (1 Cor. 15:52); "a shout," "the voice,"
"the trump of God" (1 Thess. 4:16); "a great sound of a
trumpet" (Matt. 24:31). We do not understand this to be figurative
language, but a plain statement of what will take place.
c. His coming will be personal. The coming of Jesus is not at death, or in some
great catastrophe—such as the destruction of Jerusalem. The actual, personal
presence of our Saviour Jesus Christ is called for. At the ascension the angels
declared to the astonished disciples, "This same Jesus . . . shall so come
in like manner" (Acts 1:11). The word "same" is not in the Greek
text, but "this" is. The Greek word is houtos, a demonstrative word
here used to stress the fact that He who returns will be the actual Jesus who
ascended, and not another. This might well be rendered, "But Jesus Himself
shall come." A. T. Robertson (in his Word Pictures), commenting on Acts
So in like manner (houtos hon tropon). Same idea twice. . . . The fact of His
second coming and the manner of it is also described by this emphatic
The word parousia, so frequently used of the coming of Christ, means the actual
personal presence of the Saviour. It is the same word used in describing the
"coming" of Titus (2 Cor. 7:6). (See more on this point under Section
3. Various Descriptive Words Refer to But One Advent.—It is to
be particularly observed that there is but one second coming of Christ set
forth in Scripture. This is specifically referred to as His appearing (Titus
2:13), coming (James 5:8), return (Luke 19: 12), presence (2 Thess. 1:9),
coming the second time (Heb. 9:28), and coming again (John 14:3). Jesus said He
would "come again" (John 14:3); and in the parable would
"return" from His journey (Luke 19: 12). He referred repeatedly to
His "coming" with no indication whatever of a two-stage advent or of
a preliminary coming, secret or otherwise, for the "rapture" of the
saints. Scripture explicitly states that Christ will come "the second
time" to save those who are looking for Him (Heb. 9:28); obviously
"we which are alive and remain" (1 Thess. 4:17) to look for Him are
to be saved at the time of the resurrection and translation of the saints, that
is, the time of the so-called rapture. We can find no scripture that separates
what has been termed the "rapture" from the second coming.
In the face of all the references to "the" coming, appearing, or
return of the Lord, and in the absence of any statement of two distinct events,
certainly the burden of proof rests on those who would divide these
various references to the coming into two phases separated by the period of the
antichrist. And the advocate of the "pretribulationist" view does not
have clear Scripture evidence for a preliminary coming to gather the saints
before the last-day tribulation and a coming with the saints after the
tribulation in glory and flaming vengeance on the antichrist and the wicked.
Not only is there no hint of two such different comings, but there is specific
scriptural evidence to the contrary.
4. "Parousia" Calls for Christ's Actual Personal Appearance.—This
word parousia has a distinct meaning, and can meet its fulfillment only in the
actual coming and visible presence of the individual involved. This can be seen
in the use of parousia in the New Testament, other than in reference to the
second coming. Thus it is used of the coming of Titus (2 Cor. 7:6); the coming
of Stephanas (1 Cor. 16:17); and the coming of Paul (Phil. 1:26).
An illustration is seen in 2 Corinthians 10:10, where we read concerning the
"bodily presence" (parousia) of Paul the apostle. There is no
occasion for mistaking the meaning of this word. It is clear, definite, and
conclusive. Deissmann (Light From the Ancient East, pp. 272, 382) shows that
parousia ("presence," "coming") was the technical term for
the personal arrival of a potentate or his representative.
The Scriptures clearly teach (1 Cor. 15:23) that "they that are Christ's"
are to be resurrected "at his coming" (the word here used is parousia).
Elsewhere the parousia of the Son of man is described by a very visible symbol,
the lightning shining across the whole sky (Matt. 24:27). There is nothing
secret about that
kind of parousia. (The argument for a secret coming of Christ based on this
Greek word has been discredited even by some pretribulationist writers.) But
the evidence does not rest on the mere choice of words.
5. No Place for "Secret" Rapture as Separate Phase of Advent.—When
Jesus returns He does not come alone. Celestial beings constitute the triumphal
train that returns with Him. Jesus said, "The Son of man shall come . . .
with his angels" (Matt. 16:27). Mark refers to them as "holy
angels" (Mark 8:38); Paul, as "his mighty angels" (2 Thess.
1:7); and Matthew quotes our Lord's own words, saying "all the holy
angels" will accompany His return (Matt. 25:31). What a galaxy of
celestial glory, not merely of the angel hosts, but of Christ Himself coming in
"his own glory" and in "his Father's" (Luke 9:26). Who can
picture the scene! With ten thousands of ten thousands and "thousands of
thousands" (Rev. 5:11), of these messengers of glory, what a pageant of
unparalleled majesty! What a revelation of the effulgent glory of the Eternal!
There is a striking similarity between the events as described in different
parallel accounts of the second coming, particularly in relation to the
resurrection of the dead and the translation of the living righteous. Paul
says, "The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the
voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God" (1 Thess. 4:16), and
will catch up His own into the air to meet Him. Obviously, it is this gathering
up of the saints from the earth that is described in similar terms by Jesus
Himself: "They shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of
heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great
sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four
winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matt. 24:30, 31). And notice
that it is the sounding of "the trumpet" that calls forth "the
dead" (1 Cor. 15:52) when "they that are Christ's" are
"made alive" "at his coming" (verses 22, 23). This
selection of the righteous from among the vast multitudes of earth is on an
individual basis. Christ Himself described this dividing of earth's inhabitants
into two distinct classes by the simple declaration, "One shall be taken,
and the other left" (Matt. 24:40).
In the light of these considerations, we find no place for a secret rapture, as
held by some.
6. The Advent and the Final Tribulation.— The
"gathering" of the church to Christ in relation to the time of the
antichrist and the tribulation is discussed in literal and explicit language in
Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians, which was written to correct the
misunderstanding of what he had said in his first letter about the coming of
Jesus to raise the dead and translate the living righteous. In his second
epistle he tells the Thessalonian Christians that God will recompense their
persecutors with tribulation, and the victims of persecution with rest,
"when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,
in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not
the gospel" (2 Thess. 1:7, 8). Again we find the two classes: The church
finds rest at the time when Christ comes with blazing vengeance on His (and
her) enemies. Further, Paul instructed
them in regard to "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" and "our
gathering together unto him" (2 Thess. 2:1; not by, or in the name of, the
coming and the gathering, but concerning it, as the R.S.V. correctly renders
huper). What else could he have meant by "our gathering together unto
him" but the same gathering of the saints that he had described in his
former letter and that they had evidently misunderstood—the coming when
"we . . . shall be caught up" to Christ, that is, the
"rapture" of 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17? In regard to this matter he
beseeches his readers not to be "shaken in mind, or be troubled"
about the imminence of the day of Christ, "for that day shall not come,
except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the
son of perdition" (2 Thess. 2:1-3). Paul, then, is telling the
Thessalonian Christians that the day of Christ's coming to gather the
saints*—the coming about which they were worried because they had
misunderstood Paul—was not to come until after the revealing of the man of
sin. This much is clear here, but Paul goes on.
This man of sin, further, is to sit "in the temple of God" and claim
worship as God—the same power we believe that is to wear out the saints and
bring the great tribulation of 1260 days—and he is to be destroyed "with
the brightness of his coming" (verses 4, 8). It is obvious that, whatever
"he who now letteth" might be, the taking away that will permit the
*To hold that "that day," "the day of Christ," refers to
the visible coming after the revealing of antichrist, while the
"coming" and "gathering" of the church is the
"rapture," preceding the revealing of antichrist, is to make Paul
say: "Now I beseech you, in regard to event A, not to be troubled about
event B, which will come seven years later." That would reduce his
explanation to nonsense.
anti-Christ cannot be equated with the gathering of Christ's church to Himself,
which Paul here refers to as coming after the "falling away" and the
revealing of the man of sin. And it is equally obvious that antichrist must
precede, not follow, the gathering of the saints to Christ at His coming. To
state it in another way: If the coming of Christ that destroys the antichrist
follows the revealing of the man of sin, and if the gathering of the Christian
saints at His coming also follows the revealing of the man of sin, then there
is no conceivable reason, in the absence of an explicit statement of Scripture,
why these are not the same coming.
This agrees with Paul's statement that the coming to bring rest to the church
is the coming to bring vengeance to the enemies of God; with John's description
of the coming of the King that includes the judgments on the beast, the false
prophet, and the dragon, and the first resurrection as well; and with Jesus'
statement that His coming with trumpet blast to gather His elect follows the
tribulation. And all the passages harmonize with Jesus' repeated references to
His coming (always in the singular).
Therefore Seventh-day Adventists believe on the evidence of Scripture that
there will be one visible, personal, glorious second coming of Christ.
7. Prophecies Concerning Antichrist Fulfilled Before Advent.—Adventists,
in common with virtually all early Protestant Reformers, recognize the papal
power as the great Antichrist of the centuries, because it meets the scriptural
specifications of the "little horn" of Daniel 7 and the
"beast" of Revelation 13. Those who take either the preterist or the
position are unable to recognize the actual Antichrist as he carries on his
work. When no one is on the alert to his nefarious schemes, he will seek to
deceive the whole world; so much so, that ultimately men will declare,
"Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?" and
"all the world" will wonder "after the beast" (Rev. 13:4,
The work of Antichrist will be brought to an end by the second advent of our
Lord. We read in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 of one who is called the "man of
sin." We read of his blasphemous claims in verse 4, of his signs and lying
wonders in verse 9. But God's Word declares unmistakably that he will be
consumed by "the brightness of his [Christ's] coming" (2 Thess. 2:8).
Though all the organizations of apostasy, with all their wicked works, should
combine, their activities will come to an end at the time our Lord returns from
heaven (Rev. 19:19, 20).
8. Second Advent Marks Beginning of Millennial Period.—The
millennial period is mentioned definitely in Revelation 20 under the expression
"thousand years." Verses 4-6 speak of the first resurrection.
"They came to life again, and reigned with Christ a thousand years"
(Rev. 20:4, R.S.V.). Those having part in it are called "blessed and
holy." Further, "they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they
shall reign with him a thousand years." The resurrection of the saints,
taught in 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4, takes place at the coming of
our Lord. And inasmuch as those thus raised reign "with Christ a thousand
years," it is clear that this resurrection marks the beginning of the
millennial period. Seeing that the rest of the dead (the
wicked) "did not come to life again until the thousand years were
ended" (Rev. 20:4, R.S.V.), it likewise seems clear that this second
resurrection marks the close of the millennial period. (For further discussion
of the millennium, see Questions 38, 39).
9. New Testament Expressions Advanced By Rapturists.—Among these
are to be noted (a) "The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the
night" (1 Thess. 5:2) and (b) "The one shall be taken, and the other
left" (Matt. 24:40). The likening of the coming of Christ to a thief in
the night, must, it seems to us, be understood as having some limitations. One
would surely not wish to push the illustration to the extreme. We would hardly
think of the Saviour's coming like a thief who prowls around, working in the
dark, afraid of being discovered. That could never be a likeness of our
The context of 1 Thessalonians 5:2 clearly indicates what the apostle meant by
describing the second coming of Christ as a thief. He is talking about the
unexpectedness of Christ's coming. No one expects a thief; therefore he is able
to do his nefarious work undetected. The apostle describes the heedless at that
day as expecting peace and safety when sudden destruction is in immediate
prospect (verse 3). But they are not expecting it. He cautions the faithful not
to fall asleep, lest the second advent overtake them as a thief (verses 4, 5).
He urges them to "watch and be sober" (verse 6) in expectation of the
second coming of Christ.
The idea, therefore, is of unexpectedness rather than of secrecy. Of course,
the advent of Jesus will catch
some professing Christians asleep, but that will be their own fault, and not
part of God's plan. They should be alert and watching for His appearing. But
even those who are awake, unless they are fully surrendered to God, will be
caught unawares. The coming of the Lord will also be unexpected for them. In
other words, they are not actually looking for Him to return; they are not
waiting for Him. Hence, Christ's coming will, to them, be as a thief in the
As to the other passage—"The one shall be taken, and the other
left"—there are two schools of interpretation among commentators. Some
feel that those "taken" are taken in destruction; others, that they
are taken to be with the Lord. But whatever the correct interpretation, one
point stands out clearly: No concept of secrecy is involved in the words used.
It is the fact of being "taken" or of being "left" that is
stressed. There is no indication in the words themselves as to just how the one
is taken and the other left.
The passage indicates clearly that this will be a day of separation. To
introduce the idea of secrecy into the text is, we believe, wholly unwarranted.
Nowhere in the Bible is there any indication that when the one is taken and the
other left, certain persons will awaken the next morning to find loved ones
"missing." The thief-in-the-night illustration was obviously given by
our Lord to indicate the suddenness of His appearing and the danger that faces
not only the world but even the church of being unprepared and so being taken
Advocates of the "rapture" theory also advance the case of Enoch in
support of their concept. As to Enoch
the Scripture declares, "By faith Enoch was translated that he should not
see death; and was not found, because God had translated him" (Heb. 11:5).
It is maintained that the expression he "was not found" indicates
that a search was made, and so implies secrecy in his being translated. But in
this connection it must be remembered that the term "ascension"
itself surely does not connote secrecy. Elijah also was translated, but in full
view of Elisha, and with chariot and whirlwind. Again, when our blessed Lord
"was taken up" (Acts 1:9), it was in full, open view of His
Furthermore, why should the expression "was not found" be thought to
indicate secrecy? Similar expressions are found in other connections and they
could not mean secrecy, or refer to something done in a corner. Thus we read
that in the last days "the mountains were not found" (Rev. 16:20); of
Babylon, that it "shall be found no more at all" (Rev. 18:21); and of
its inhabitants, that none "shall be found any more in thee" (verse
22). On what linguistic or exegetical authority, then, can one introduce the
idea of something happening secretly?
10. Second Coming "Blessed Hope" for the Church.—In
summation: Seventh-day Adventists believe that Christ's second advent will be
personal, visible, audible, bodily, glorious, and premillennial, and will mark
the completion of our redemption. And we believe that our Lord's return is
imminent, at a time that is near but not disclosed. Adventists' joy, hope, and
expectation over the prospect are well expressed by the following excerpts from
the writings of Ellen G. White:
One of the most solemn and yet most glorious truths revealed in the Bible is
that of Christ's second coming.—The Great Controversy, p. 299.
The coming of Christ to usher in the reign of righteousness has inspired the
most sublime and impassioned utterances of the sacred writers.—Ibid., p. 300.
The proclamation of Christ's coming should now be, as when made by the angels
to the shepherds of Bethlehem, good tidings of great joy. Those who really love
the Saviour cannot but hail with gladness the announcement founded upon the
word of God, that He in whom their hopes of eternal life are centered is coming
again, not to be insulted, despised, and rejected, as at His first advent, but
in power and glory, to redeem His people. —Ibid., pp. 339, 340.