What will Happen when Jesus Comes Again?
On numerous occasions throughout the last two thousand years, small groups of “faithful followers” have huddled on mountaintops or in secret rooms, waiting for the Second Coming of Christ as predicted to occur on a certain day, and at a certain time, by some religious leader. Yet, although the predictions of Christ’s return have been copious, each group of expectant “believers” has been disappointed to find that they had been misled. When will Christ return, and what will occur on this Earth when He does come back the second (and last) time?
The first question regarding the time of Christ’s Second Coming is rather easy to answer, thanks to material found within the Bible. In Matthew 24:36, after describing the signs that would lead to the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus shifted the topic to His Second Coming. In contrast to the many signs that the early Christians were told to expect prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus made it clear that there would be no signs whereby one could predict His Second Coming. He stated: “But of that day and hour no one knows, no, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only…. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him” (Matthew 24:36,44). In another portion of Scripture, the apostle Paul told the Thessalonian brethren that the day of the Lord would come “as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). When will Jesus return? The simple answer to that question is—nobody on this Earth has any idea.
The next question dealing with the events that will occur at the Second Coming requires a much more extensive answer. When Christ ascended to heaven, forty days after His resurrection, He “was taken up, and a cloud received Him” out of the sight of His apostles (Acts 1:9). Immediately following His ascension, two men clothed in white apparel stood by the awe-stricken apostles and said to them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). From that moment, the apostles waited for Christ’s Second Coming.
The Second Coming, in fact, provided one of the main themes of the apostles’ preaching. Paul, especially, emphasized this event as one that would be glorious and joyful for the faithful in Christ—both those who were living when Christ returned, and those who had died in Christ. In relating some of the events that would accompany Christ’s Second Coming, Paul wrote: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). The event, as Paul described it, would be one of splendor and comfort for those faithful to Christ. Christ will not send an angel or some other dignitary to bring Christians to heaven, but He will come “Himself.” His coming will be announced with a loud shout, the voice of an archangel, and the trumpet of God. According to Paul, Christ will not “sneak back” to Earth, but will be announced in a glorious fashion for all to see.
How long will it take for the faithful followers of Christ to be ushered up into heaven with their Lord? Paul answered this question in 1 Corinthians 15 in his discussion of the resurrection of the saints. He wrote: “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep [meaning that not all Christians will die physically before the Second Coming—KB], but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). In a single instance, as fast as an eye can blink, the resurrection of the saints will be accomplished at the Second Coming of Christ.
Other events that will accompany the Second Coming deal with the ultimate end of this physical Universe. The apostle Peter, in a discourse dealing with scoffers who attempt to deny the Second Coming of Christ, wrote:
But the day of the lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with a fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:10-13).
Peter’s description of the destruction of this physical Universe leaves little to the imagination: the Earth and the heavens (i.e., the totality of this physical Universe) will utterly melt with a fervent heat, and will be destroyed once and for all. There will be no reign of Christ on this Earth at His Second Coming, since Peter clearly depicts the destruction of the physical Earth. The new heaven and the new Earth for which Peter says faithful Christians yearn, are the spiritual homes promised by Jesus in John 14:1-6, and described so vividly in Revelation 21 and 22. They will not be of physical matter like the present heavens and Earth, but instead will be designed especially for the new spiritual bodies discussed by Paul. When Christ comes again, this physical Universe will be destroyed.
What will happen to those who have not been faithful to Christ during their lives on this Earth? Since there will be no physical Universe on which they can continue to live, where will they go? The Bible paints a grim picture for those who reject Christ. John, quoting the words of Christ, wrote that “the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His [Jesus’—KB] voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29). The apostle Paul later confirmed this statement when He wrote about the time “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8).
On that fateful day, all of Earth’s inhabitants—both those that have died in the past and those that are living at the time—will be led into the final Judgment in which Christ will divide the righteous from the unrighteous, as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats. The righteous will be ushered into heaven (prepared for them by Jesus Himself), while the unrighteous will “go away into everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46). All those who have rejected God and Christ, whose names are not found written in the Book of Life, will be cast into the lake of fire with the devil, and “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10-15).
Although many strange and contrived stories have been concocted regarding the Second Coming of Christ, the Bible presents a crystal clear picture of what will happen: Christ will appear to the entire world, the heavens and the Earth will be burned up, and at the final Judgment, every person who ever lived will either live eternally in heaven or hell. There will be no second chances once Christ comes back. “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of person ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness” (2 Peter 3:11)?