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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Coming Again

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COMING AGAIN.—Though He had appeared in the world to found the kingdom of God and fulfil the Messianic hope in its true spiritual meaning [See Advent], Jesus repeatedly gave it to be understood that the object of His mission would not be perfectly attained in that first coming among men. There was to be a break in His visible connexion with earthly affairs (Matthew 16:21); He would depart for a time (John 14:19; John 16:7); but He promised that He would come again to continue His work and carry it on to complete fulfilment. As the clouds of danger gathered, and a violent death loomed in view, He began to speak with growing frequency of a marvellous and triumphant return, in which His living presence and power would be gloriously revealed. His sayings on this subject, however, are not always easy to interpret; they do not all refer to the same event; we find in them traces of His having in His mind more than one coming, and, in several cases, it is only by a careful study of the context that we can discover to which coming His words were meant to point.

The comings of which Jesus spoke from time to time may be distinguished as follows:

1. His coming after His death to make patent to the disciples His continued and exalted life, and thereby to establish their faith in Him as their ever-living Lord. He predicted a meeting with them in Galilee (Matthew 26:32, Mark 14:28), and indicated that though for a little while they should not see Him, yet after a little while again they should see Him (John 14:19; John 16:16).

2. His coming to enter into fellowship with the disciples in a closer spiritual reunion. As the Risen One, He was to return to them and abide with them continually (John 14:8-22), manifesting His presence through the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, and guiding, teaching, sustaining them by His gracious working in their hearts (John 14:16-17, John 15:26, John 16:14). It would appear that in this sense Jesus regarded His coming again as a vital experience, to be shared by all believers in all after generations, thus foreshadowing His abiding presence through the Spirit in the Christian Church.

3. His coming to remove the disciples from their toils and struggles on earth, and take them to the place He would prepare for them in His Father’s house (John 14:2-3), that where He was they might be also.

4. His coming at the great crises of history to bring to their disastrous issues the sins of societies, nations, and religious institutions, and to vindicate His power over all the corrupt agencies in the world that oppose His truth. In the solemn discourse on the future recorded in Matthew 24 and Mark 13, there are certain passages which, as usually interpreted, convey the impression that the destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of the Jewish State was one such momentous crisis that Jesus had particularly in view (Matthew 24:15-22; Matthew 24:32-34, Mark 13:14-23; Mark 13:29-30; cf. Luke 19:41-44; Luke 21:20-23; Luke 21:32-33; Luke 23:28-30), although His words may be recognized as covering also all other marked epochs in history, in which His triumphant glory and the impotence of all the world-powers that come into conflict with Him are made clear. The course of events which was to culminate in the ruin of Jerusalem was to be the first startling revelation of His victorious energy in asserting His supremacy in the affairs of men and nations; and this is apparently suggested, in vivid figurative language, by the statement to the high priest, ‘Henceforth’—from this time onward—‘ye shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven’ (Matthew 26:64), as if a process of judicial and retributive manifestations of His power in human history would then begin.

5. His final coming at the end of the dispensation He had inaugurated, to sit in judgment over all classes and nations of men, to apportion their merit and demerit, decide their destinies, overthrow all evil, and bring the kingdom of God to its supreme triumph and glory. This final and most decisive coming—which will be more fully discussed under Parousia—is described in terms that betoken the appearance of Jesus in august splendour and irresistible authority. He is to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and reward every man according to his works (Matthew 16:27); seated on the throne of His glory, He is to gather before Him all nations, and separate them one from another as a shepherd divides His sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-32). That is to be the Last Day, the termination of the existing order of things, when all pretences will be exposed, obstinate unbelief and ungodliness punished, and faithfulness crowned with its eternal reward.

That these several comings were present to the mind of Jesus, seems sufficiently evident when His recorded utterances are duly weighed. We may assume that they were regarded by Him as the forms of manifestation by which, in the future, He would give proof of His living presence and conquering power. They were the varying stages in the development, after His death, of His victorious work for the establishment of righteousness and the destruction of evil. Hence they could all be conceived and predicted under one name; but, as Beyschlag remarks, under the conditions of prophecy, each stage was not seen as something apart; they were felt and described as so many phases of the whole, according to the suggestion of the moment (NT Theol. i. 202). On that account there is discernible in the predictions of Jesus an occasional blending of one coming with another; at least in the reports furnished by the Evangelists it does not always distinctly appear to what precise form of His future manifestation His words apply. Probably in the consciousness of Jesus all His future comings were wrapped up, as in a seed, in the thought of His spiritual coming, His coming in the fulness of His spiritual life and power, as an effective and abiding force on the side of God, to act on the hearts and lives of His faithful followers, and also on the general life of the world. This view makes His several comings fall into line as phases or stages of a continuous process, in which, sometimes through the quickened vitality of His Church, sometimes through the catastrophic action of the moral laws and forces which lie behind the movements of human society, His invincible operation should be revealed, until the final consummation is reached in the sovereign manifestation of His authority and glory at the end of the age.

It has been suggestively shown by Wendt (Teaching of Jesus, vol. ii. 297, 305) that it is on the utterances of Jesus regarding His spiritual coming in the hearts of believers that the Fourth Gospel lays the principal and almost exclusive stress; and probably it is in the light of Jesus’ predictions of this spiritual or dynamical coming that we are to find the clue to what He meant in His sayings respecting the historical coming or comings, and the great apocalyptic coming, which the Synoptics report with special fulness and detail. The coming again of Jesus may thus be conceived as a series of manifestations of His living presence and activity in the world, culminating in a glorious triumph at the Last Day, when He shall sit as Judge of all.

G. M‘Hardy.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Coming Again'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 25th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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