When the first Christians finally grasped the fact of Jesus’ intended Second Coming, that knowledge resolved all sorts of perplexities. Basically, it enabled them to see how God could keep his word in the Old Testament about the Messiah’s role. Bible students had previously assumed that the prophets were speaking of one triumphant advent of the Messiah. The prophets had not distinguished what the Christians were now told: that the advent would be in two distinct parts, the first in humility, to make sacrifice for the sins of the world, the second in glory, with judgment for unrepentant sinners.
Paradoxically, the revelation of a Second Advent that solved interpretative difficulties for the first Christians has led to continuing difficulties among their successors. Of the four main elements in the message about Christ, his Lordship, his atonement, and his resurrection find nearly universal agreement in all chief particulars among evangelicals today. But beyond the bare affirmation that Christ will indeed return, there is a wide range of disagreement on the Second Coming.
This lack of common understanding is evident in the New Testament itself. The Thessalonian correspondence was written in large part to attempt to clear up misunderstandings. For examples and discussion of the current diversity, see the review of several 1971 books on prophecy in our May 26 issue, page 14, and in our June 9 issue see L. Nelson Bell’s column, page 25, and the review of George Ladd’s Commentary on the Revelation of John, page 33.
While every writer on prophecy naturally thinks that his is the correct picture, the very diversity of interpretation even among men who accept the entire truthfulness of Scripture should (but all too often does not) lead ...1
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