Probably no topic is debated and disagreed upon more in Christianity than the second coming of Christ. In my opinion, this confusion is due to a lack of understanding of hermeneutics. Christians today simply do not know how to interpret the Scriptures. So, for the next two weeks we are going to be looking at what Matthew has to say about the second coming of Christ.
The first two chapters of Matthew's Gospel deal with events surrounding the birth of Yeshua the Christ. Chapter 1 shows that Christ is of the lineage of David and presents Him to be the heir to David's throne. Chapter 2 presents the worship accorded to Him by the wise men from the east who honored Him with gifts befitting One born to rule.
As we come to the events of Matthew 3, Yeshua is about 30 years of age. Matthew now wants to present to us the person who has the responsibility to introduce Yeshua as the Messiah to the nation Israel. After all, Yeshua is the King, the Messiah. As such, it is fitting that He have someone come and announce Him and prepare the way for Him.
Without any background, we have the greatest of all the First Testament prophets introduced to us in:
Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, Matthew 3:1 NASB
John the Baptist comes on the scene as a prophet of Yahweh after 400 years of silence. Let me give you a little background here so you can understand the significance of John's appearance in relation to the second coming.
The First Testament cannon of Scripture closes with the book of Malachi. The book of Malachi is one long and terrible impeachment of the nation Israel. Malachi is
the prophet of doom. Coming judgment is the burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi:
"Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me," says the LORD of hosts. Malachi 3:5 NASB
"For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze," says the LORD of hosts, "so that it will leave them neither root nor branch." Malachi 4:1 NASB
That this is not a vague and meaningless threat is evident from the distinct and definite terms in which it is announced. Everything points to an approaching crisis in the history of the nation when God would inflict judgment upon His rebellious people. "The day" was coming - the day that shall "burn like a furnace". This period is more precisely defined as "the great and terrible day of the Lord" in:
Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. Malachi 4:5 NASB
That this "day" refers to a certain period and a specific event, is clear. Yeshua tells us that the predicted Elijah that was to come before "the great and terrible day of the Lord" was in fact John the Baptist:
And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. Matthew 11:14 NASB
This enables us to determine the time of the event referred to as "the great and terrible day of the Lord." It must be in the time period of John the Baptist. It seems clear that the allusion is to the judgment of the Jewish nation in A.D. 70, when their city and temple were destroyed, and the entire fabric of Judaism was dissolved.
Malachi represents John as the precursor of the coming Judge:
Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming," says the LORD of hosts. Malachi 3:1 NASB
That this is a coming to judgment is clear from the words which follow describing the alarm and dismay caused by His appearing:
But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. Malachi 3:2 NASB
This is not talking about Christ's first coming, but His second coming. There is a distinct allusion to this passage in:
Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they *said to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" Revelation 6:15-17 NASB
It is clear that the "He is coming", in Malachi 3:1, is the same as "the great and terrible day of the Lord", in chapter 4:5, and that both are referring to "'the great day of their wrath" in Revelation 6:17. We can see from this that the prophet Malachi speaks, not of the first coming of our Lord, but of the second. And the second coming is to be in the time period of John the Baptist.
That Malachi is speaking of Christ's second coming is further proved by the significant fact that, in chapter 3:1, the Lord is represented as "suddenly coming to his temple." Which, according to verse 2, is an occasion of terror and dismay, "But who can endure the day of His coming?" This expression speaks of His second coming in judgment. The temple was the center of the nation's life, the visible symbol of the covenant between Yahweh and His people; it was the spot where "judgment must begin," and which was to be overtaken by "sudden destruction." So, the sudden coming of the Lord to his temple, the dismay attending the day of his coming, His coming as "a refiner's fire," His coming "near to them to judgment," "the day coming that shall burn as a furnace," "burning up the wicked root and branch," and the appearing of John the Baptist, the second Elijah, previous to the arrival of "the great and terrible day of the Lord," make it clear that the prophet Malachi here foretells the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, when Christ returned in judgment upon the nation Israel.
We must understand that Malachi's prophecy has a distinct and specific reference to the land of Israel. The message of the prophet is to Israel; the sins which are condemned are the sins of Israel; the coming of the Lord is to His temple in Israel; the land threatened with the curse is the land of Israel. All this points to a specific local and national catastrophe. History records the fulfilment of the prophecy, in exact correspondence of time, place, and circumstance, in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
The four centuries between the conclusion of the First Testament and the beginning of the New are a blank in Scripture history. During this period, synagogues were established throughout the land, and the knowledge of the Scriptures was widely extended. The great religious schools of the Pharisees and Sadducees arose, both professing to be expounders and defenders of the law of Moses. Above all, the nation cherished the hope of a coming deliverer, an offspring of the royal house of David, who should be the theocratic king, the liberator of Israel from Gentile domination. But, for the most part, the popular conception of the coming king was earthly and carnal. There had not in four hundred years been any improvement in the moral condition of the people, and, between the formalism of the Pharisees and the scepticism of the Sadducees, true religion had sunk to its lowest level. There was still, however, a faithful remnant who had truer conceptions of the kingdom of heaven, and who looked for redemption in Israel. As the time drew near, there were indications of the return of the prophetic spirit, and premonitions that the promised deliverer was at hand. Simeon received assurance that before his death he should see the Lord's anointed; a similar revelation seems to have been made to the aged prophetess, Anna. Such revelations, it is reasonable to suppose, must have awakened eager expectation in the hearts of many and prepared them for the cry which soon after was heard in the wilderness of Judea: "Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" A prophet had again risen up in Israel!
There is nothing more distinctly affirmed in the New Testament than the identity of John the Baptist as the Elijah of Malachi:
And His disciples asked Him, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" And He answered and said, "Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist. Matthew 17:10-13 NASB
The disciples knew the prophecy about Elijah, apparently they thought it would be fulfilled physically. It was actually fulfilled, but it was not physically fulfilled. John came in the Spirit of Elijah. Speaking to Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth about John, the angel said:
It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Luke 1:17 NASB
The Jews expected the reappearance of the literal Elijah, and John replies to that mistaken notion in:
They asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" And he said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No." John 1:21 NASB
Yeshua is telling them if you want to understand the second coming of Elijah, you've got to look at the spiritual.
For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. Matthew 11:13-14 NASB
So we see that John the baptist is the fulfillment of the prophecy of the coming of Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord.
Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, Matthew 3:1 NASB
John was preaching "in the wilderness of Judea"- a phrase indicating the rolling bad lands between the hill country of Judea to the west and the Dead Sea and the lower Jordan to the east, stretching northward to about the point where the Jabbok flows into the Jordan. It is a desolate expanse of barren chalky soil covered with pebbles, broken stones, and rocks.
Interestingly, John did not go into the city of Jerusalem. You would think that one coming with a message to proclaim the introduction of the King of Israel would go to the capital, perhaps even to the temple, to make his proclamation. But that is not the case. He went to the wilderness, and the people flocked to him in order to hear him. His ministry of preaching indicates he was a herald, one who is given a message to proclaim or announce. John was given the ministry of announcing the coming and presence of Yeshua the Christ.
John comes preaching with a proclamation:
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew 3:2 NASB
John told them that the reason it was so crucial for them to repent was because "...the kingdom of heaven is at hand," an expression meaning that it is drawing near. The same expression is used later in the Gospel as Yeshua was drawing near to Jerusalem. It indicates that something is on the verge of coming. It is close. John is telling them that they need to repent, because this kingdom is at hand-a kingdom which will be set up by the Messiah.
The Jews all were familiar with this from the First Testament Scriptures. They knew that the first thing which would occur in that kingdom would be a judgment of those who have not repented. They were so familiar with those facts that John did not even have to go into the details from the First Testament. They knew that the kingdom would be set up by the Messiah, who would begin by judging the rebels in the nation and excluding them from His kingdom.
Matthew describes the appearance of John, and even his dress is reminiscent of a prophetic ministry:
Now John himself had a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Matthew 3:4 NASB
John is identified as a prophet, especially with the ministry of Elijah. Elijah's ministry to Ahaziah is recorded in 2 Kings 1. The king was ill following an injury and decided to inquire from the false gods if he was going to recover from his illness. But Elijah, the prophet of Yahweh, intercepted his message:
But the angel of the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, "Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and say to them, 'Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?' "Now therefore thus says the LORD, 'You shall not come down from the bed where you have gone up, but you shall surely die.'" Then Elijah departed. 2 Kings 1:3-4 NASB
After Ahaziah was told that he would die, the king asked for a description of the man who gave the message regarding death:
They answered him, " He was a hairy man with a leather girdle bound about his loins." And he said, "It is Elijah the Tishbite." 2 Kings 1:8 NASB
Since the prophet has a hairy garment bound with a leather girdle about the waist, the king immediately recognizes this as the dress of the prophet Elijah. So when Matthew describes the dress of John, he identifies him as a prophet in connection with Elijah's ministry.
After describing John's clothing and diet in verse 4, Matthew proceeds to describe the response of the people to his message in:
Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; Matthew 3:5 NASB
In order to understand the significance of what was happening, it is important to picture this tremendous scene. Some commentators estimate that there could have been between 200,000 and 500,000 people who participated in John's ministry in this way. Matthew is not describing the appearance of a half dozen people who followed John. This prophet came on the scene in such a striking way that after the Spirit of God had prepared the people's hearts, the whole nation recognized John as a prophet, and the leaders even feared him after his death because of the people's high regard for him as a prophet.
The trip from Jerusalem to the Jordan River was not just a little hike. It was 20 miles from Jerusalem to the Jordan, and it was a 4,000 foot drop. Imagine a 20-mile hike that drops 4,000 feet to the river. As hard as that was, the trip back was doubly hard. Think of this! People walking 20 miles and more to hear a man preach!
In Matthew 3:7, John begins to confront the religious leaders of his day. The two groups of leaders in Israel were known as the Pharisees and the Sadducees. This is their first appearance in Matthew's Gospel where they are seen as religious hypocrites. Matthew wrote:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Matthew 3:7 NASB
John, dressed as a prophet with the message of a prophet, came with the same approach the prophets had. The Pharisees and Sadducees had great pride in their religious traditions.
John addressed them as a "brood of vipers". Vipers were poisonous snakes. The interesting thing about these snakes was that they could look like a stick or twig in the desert, but without warning they would strike out with their venom.
John told those religious leaders that they were just like vipers-they were deceptive! They looked so harmless, but in reality they were deadly. Such charges from John were tremendously offensive for the Pharisees and Sadducees, who prided themselves on being so far above the common people.
Speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees, John said, "Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" The words "to come" are from the Greek word mello. The Greek verb "mello" means: (in the infinitive) "to be about to", and "be on the point of" (see Thayer, Arndt & Gingrich, New Englishman's Greek Concordance and Harper's Analytical Greek Lexicon). So, John is saying to his first century audience, "Who warned you to flee from the wrath about to come?" The wrath that John was talking about was the destruction of Jerusalem.
John was trying to teach them that physical relationships were inadequate. John put his finger right on the problem in:
and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father'; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. Matthew 3:9 NASB
These Jews had been taught and had believed that every physical descendant of Abraham was going into the kingdom. Therefore, all they had to do to make sure they were going into the kingdom was to trace their lineage back to Abraham. But John informed them that being a physical descendant of Abraham has nothing to do with getting into the kingdom. God could even turn stones into children of Abraham if He wanted to. John was telling them that they had no more chance than stones of getting in just because of their relationship to Abraham.
What I want you to see this morning is that at the heart of John's message was the theme of coming judgment. John announced in verse 2 that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, meaning it was very near. The kingdom of heaven will be ushered in with a time of judgment. John speaks of that judgment in:
The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Matthew 3:10 NASB
In order for the kingdom to be consumated, there must be a time of judgment. The axe is there at the root ready to cut down any tree that is not bearing good fruit. John places an emphasis on fire again in verses 11 and 12. In those verses, there is a reference to the coming destruction.
Several First Testament prophets predicted judgment preceding the glory of the kingdom, and that is why John is warning that the axe is at the root of the tree. Because of the teaching of the prophets, the Jews were well aware that the kingdom was to be ushered in by judgment. Isaiah wrote:
When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and purged the bloodshed of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning, then the LORD will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy. Isaiah 4:4-5 NASB
The order is first judgment, then glory.
Ezekiel wrote about bringing the nation Israel back and establishing them in the kingdom:
I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick; but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with judgment. Ezekiel 34:16 NASB
The fat and the strong have been feeding on the weak, so they will face God's judgment. Judgment is the key element.
Malachi, the last prophet in Israel until the time of John the Baptist, prophesied of judgment and burning:
"For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze," says the LORD of hosts, "so that it will leave them neither root nor branch." "But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. Malachi 4:1-2 NASB
In these passages, it is hard to miss the emphasis on judgement.
The Jews of John's day knew these prophecies of the First Testament. They understood that before the kingdom would be consummated, God's judgment would fall on unbelievers, who would be rooted out of the kingdom as the Messiah established His rule and reign.
As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Matthew 3:11 NASB
The baptism with fire, which John mentions in verse 11, is the judgment that John elaborates in verse 12:
"His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." Matthew 3:12 NASB
He will winnow the grain until all the chaff is gone. The judgment will be thorough and complete, "and He will gather His wheat into the barn". Then the warning again, "but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire". Judgment precedes the Kingdom.
In Matthew 13, Yeshua explained the parable of the wheat and the tares. This passage is preparatory to the setting up of the kingdom where the angels will come and remove the wicked. This is paralleled in Matthew 24 when two shall be in the fields, one will be taken and one is left. In that context, the one taken is the one taken in judgment.
The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 13:41-42 NASB
Verses 49 and 50 continue:
So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 13:49-50 NASB
When does Yeshua say that the angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire? He says it will happen "at the end of the age". The KJV wrongly translates this: "the end of the world." But the Bible does not talk about the end of the world.
To the Jews, time was divided into two great periods, the Mosaic Age and the Messianic Age. The Messiah was viewed as one who would bring in a new world. The period of the Messiah was, therefore, correctly characterized by the Synagogue as "the world to come." All through the New Testament we see two ages in contrast: "This age" and the "age to come."
Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. Matthew 12:32 NASB
So, the age that was to end was the Jewish age. It would end with the destruction of the Jewish temple and the city Jerusalem. The end of the age did not happen at the cross or at Pentecost but at the destruction of Jerusalem. The world was not going to end, but the age of Judaism was. The disciples knew that the fall of the temple and the destruction of the city meant the end of the First Covenant age and the inauguration of a new age.
J. Stuart Russell writes:
These warnings of John the Baptist are not the vague and indefinite exhortations to repentance, addressed to men in all ages, which they are sometimes assumed to be; they are urgent, burning words, having a specific and present bearing upon the then existing generation, the living men to whom he brought the message of God. The Jewish nation was now upon its last trial; the second Elijah had come as the precursor of 'the great and dreadful day of the Lord:' if they rejected his warnings, the doom predicted by Malachi would surely and speedily follow; 'I will come and smite the land with the curse.' Nothing can be more obvious than that the catastrophe to which John alludes is particular, national, local, and imminent, and history tells us that within the period of the generation that listened to his warning cry, 'the wrath came upon them to the uttermost."
John's message is one of judgment and it is to first century Israel! Messiah, the judge, is coming, repent! The coming of Christ is not in our future but in our past. Christ returned in A.D. 70 bringing judgement upon the nation Israel and bringing in the kingdom of God.
The next verse that we come to that gives us a time indicator is found in Matthew 10. Here Christ says that He was to come in the life time of His disciples:
But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes. Matthew 10:23 NASB
To understand this verse, the first thing that we have to know is who is Yeshua talking to? Who is the "you"? To find out, let's back up to verse 1 and notice the personal pronoun, "you" in this text:
Yeshua summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Matthew 10:1 NASB
These twelve Yeshua sent out after instructing them: "Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; Matthew 10:5 NASB
Now, is there any doubt as to who Yeshua is talking to? He calls the twelve to him and gives them authority. He then "instructs them":
But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. Matthew 10:17-18 NASB
These events actually happened as trials took place and scourging occurred in the synagogues. Yeshua warned tthe twelve that they would be brought before government officials, because of their testimony for Him in verses 19-22, and then he says:
But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes. Matthew 10:23 NASB
So who is Yeshua talking to here? The twelve! That is very clear from the context. Yeshua didn't switch from talking to the twelve to talking to some yet future to us generation. Throughout this discourse, Yeshua has His present audience in mind. Yeshua uses the second person plural throughout the discourse to make this point more than clear. There is nothing in the passage that gives any indication that Yeshua has any other audience in view other than His immediate audience.
Now to most Christians, who read the Bible like a newspaper "You" doesn't mean "the twelve" in the first century; "You" means "US" in OUR century. But understanding the hermanutical principle of audience relevance, we know that "You" means the twelve that Yeshua was speaking to in the first century.
Matthew 10:23 makes it clear that Yeshua is talking about His Second Coming as the Son of Man: "you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. The phrase, "Son of Man," comes from Daniel 7:13 and refers to the Son of Man being presented before the Ancient of Days. Yeshua is saying to his twelve disciples that they will not have fled through all the cities of Israel, fleeing from their persecutors, until the Son of Man comes. This is promised deliverance for them-the twelve!
This seems so clear and simple to me, so why do so many Christians miss this? I think that you are all aware that our paradigms can blind us from seeing certain truths. If, in your eschatological paradigm, you see the second coming of Christ as the end of the physical world, a cataclysmic, earth burning, total destruction of life as we now know it, you will certainly miss what Yeshua is saying here. Because life goes on, you can't believe that Yeshua returned as He said He would. It just won't fit your paradigm. Let's look at a verse that shatters the paradigm that views the second coming as the end of the world:
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Yeshua Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 NASB
Now, if the Thessalonians believed that the nature of the second coming was an earth burning, total destruction of planet earth, how could they be deceived about its arrival? If the Second coming was as many view it today, Paul could have written them and said, "Look out the window, the earth is still here so the Lord has obviously not come." They thought it had already happened, so they must have viewed the nature of the second coming differently than most folks today view it.
The first century Thessalionians were looking for the second coming of Christ, and they were concerned that they might have missed it. But when Yeshua talked to the twelve about the coming of the Son of Man, they did not understood this to mean a future return of Christ, because they did not understand that He was leaving.
So what did they understand when he told them, "...you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes"? Good question. The answer is in understanding the Jewish concept of the parousia. The word meant: "arrival or presence", and not return. It didn't refer to any future return of Christ. To the disciples, the "parousia" of the son of man signified the full manifestation of His Messiahship; His glorious appearing in power. William Barclay says of parousia, "It is the regular word for the arrival of a governor into his province or for the coming of a king to his subjects. It regularly describes a coming in authority and in power."
They didn't know he was leaving, but they looked for a time when He would appear in full glory and power bringing in the Kingdom and judging God's enemies. And from Matthew 10:23, it is clear that this was to happen in their life time! This is a very strong and very clear time reference as to when the second coming was to occur. The question you need to answer is, "Do you believe Yeshua?" He told the twelve that His second coming would happen before they had time to flee to all the cites of Israel. If you believe Yeshua, you must believe that He kept his word and returned in the first century.
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