The Second Coming is a subject that seems to always get people's attention. This is because the majority of Christians are still waiting for his coming. They think it will be soon. This means that they believe that it has been soon for over 2000 years. Yeshua said:
"And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book." Revelation 22:7 ESV
Can an event be said to be "soon" in the first century and also be "soon" in the 21st century? Not if the word really means soon as we understand the word. The Greek used here is tachu which according to Strong's Greek dictionary means "shortly, that is, without delay, soon, or (by surprise) suddenly."
So, if Yeshua said that his second coming would be soon in the first century, how can people today say that his coming will be soon? If it is soon now, it could not have been soon in the first century. The only conclusion is that Yeshua was wrong! I can't live with that. So I believe that Yeshua was right about his soon coming and people today have it wrong.
For our study this morning, I want to look at what one of the biblical writers had to say about Yeshua's Second Coming. I want us to look at what the writer of Hebrews has to say about this subject.
There has been much debate concerning the authorship of Hebrews because the letter itself does not indicate who the author is. Perhaps the most common conjecture through the centuries has been that the apostle Paul is the author.
Those holding to Pauline authorship suggest that Paul omitted his name because he, the apostle to the Gentiles, was writing to the Jews who would have likely dismissed the letter if they had known the source. The stylistic differences from Paul's other letters is attributed to his writing in Hebrew to the Hebrews with the letter's being translated into Greek by Luke.
In modern times, few accept the idea that a Lukan translation of Paul's letter would account for all the stylistic differences in vocabulary, sentence building, and imagery. About the only thing some commentators are certain of is that the author is not Paul.
There are many guesses as to who wrote the book of Hebrews, and no one candidate stands out clearly. My guess, if you are interested, is that Barnabas wrote it—the Barnabas who was Paul's friend and missionary companion. Barnabas' name pops up 23 times in the book of Acts and 5 times in Paul's letters. We first read about Barnabas in Acts 4 in the accounts of the early Christians sacrificially selling their possessions and giving the proceeds to the apostles for distribution to the needy. In that context, we read:
Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet. Acts 4:36-37 ESV
So, Barnabas' real name was Joseph, but the apostles nicknamed him "Barnabas" because he was such an encourager. Barnabas' love gift must have been an encouragement to the leaders and all of the people of the church!
In Acts 9:26-27, after the conversion of Paul, the disciples were scared to death of him because of his past, but Barnabas introduced Paul as a "brother in Christ" to the apostles. What an encouragement he was to Paul! Barnabas was the first pastor of the flock in Antioch after the Gospel had spread beyond Jerusalem following the persecution of Stephen.
In the second century, Tertullian taught that Barnabas wrote the book of Hebrews. And according to the book of Galatians, Barnabas did have an experience in Antioch in which the Jews were being pressured to return to Judaism and to reject unity with the Gentiles. These are the very issues at stake in Hebrews. We do know that Barnabas knew about these tensions because he failed in some of the same areas early in his Christian walk. Also, in the book there is a long description of the Levitical priesthood, and Barnabas was a Levite. And he was a self-effacing man, the kind of man that might easily have kept himself in the background even in his own book. So, for those and perhaps other reasons, Barnabas is a good candidate.
The date of the writing of this letter is widely accepted as about A.D. 65. We might have to guess as to who the author of this epistle is, but we can be fairly certain of the date.
Let's see what Barnabas has to say about Christ's second coming.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV
The writer of Hebrews says that they (first-century Christians) were in the "last days." Most Christians would agree that the last days began around the time of Christ. The big debate comes over when the last days end. Most believers think that we are currently in the last days. This means that the last days have lasted over 2,000 years. Hold that thought and let's see what we can learn about the last days from the Scriptures.
Then Jacob called his sons and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come. Genesis 49:1 ESV
I don't think that this is a very good translation. Young's translates it as "the latter end of the days." The KJV says, "in the last days." The Complete Jewish Bible has:
Then Ya`akov called for his sons and said, "Gather yourselves together, and I will tell you what will happen to you in the acharit-hayamim. Genesis 49:1 CJB
The "acharit hayamim" [ha-reit Hi-a-mem] is the Hebrew for the "last days." Consider carefully to whom the phrase "last days" is primarily addressed. Jacob is talking to his sons (the twelve tribes of Israel), and he pronounces the general evil that would come upon them. So, it seems that Israel is the subject of the last days, and the last days concern Israel. Isaiah predicts these last days for Israel as well.
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, Isaiah 2:1-2 ESV
The vision was concerning Judah and Jerusalem. This is speaking of the New Covenant that is inaugurated in the "last days." Nowhere is the phrase "last days" used to refer to the physical earth, but, rather, it is referring to the "last days" of the nation Israel.
Moses tells us that the "last days" of the Jews would be characterized by devastation and their ultimate scattering.
When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice. Deuteronomy 4:30 ESV
Michael the archangel spoke to Daniel, associating the latter days with Daniel's people.
and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come. Daniel 10:14 ESV
The phrase "your people" is referring to Israel. Israel is Daniel's people. The time of this writing is about 536 BC. He says that the vision of what will happen to Israel in the latter days is a long way off—"the vision is for days yet to come." So, in Daniel's time, the "last days" were a long way off. This means that 500 years was a long time to the biblical writers.
It is evident, or at least it should be, that physical Israel was the main subject involved in these texts dealing with the "last days." The nation of Israel has not existed for nearly 2000 years. National Israel was destroyed in A.D. 70. Those in the Middle East who affirm themselves as Israel have no right to do so. The "last days" were the "last days" of Israel. The last days ended when the nation of Israel ended.
The writer of Hebrews clearly says that they were in the "last days."
but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. Hebrews 1:2 ESV
Yeshua was speaking in the last days. What last days? The last days of the Mosaic age, the Old Covenant age. When was it that Yeshua appeared? He was born, not at the beginning, but at the end of the ages. To suppose that he meant that Yeshua's incarnation came near the end of the world would be to make his statement false. The world has already lasted longer since the incarnation than the whole duration of the Mosaic economy, from the exodus to the destruction of the temple. Yeshua was manifest at the end of the Jewish age.
Notice what the writer of Hebrews says at the end of verse 2, "through whom also He created the world." This is not a good translation. Look at Young's:
in these last days did speak to us in a Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He did make the ages; Hebrews 1:2 YLT
The word "world" is not kosmos, but aion, which means "the ages." His discussion here involves the Old and New Covenant ages. It is these two ages that are contrasted throughout this book. He consistently shows how the New Covenant is superior to the Old. He is not only the cause of the "ages," but he is the reason for which they were created. The Bible only speaks of two age—the Old Covenant age and the New Covenant age. 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."
And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. Matthew 12:32 ESV
So, there are two ages, the Mosaic Age and the Messianic Age. Notice what the writer of Hebrews has to say about the end of the Mosaic or Jewish age.
And, "You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end." Hebrews 1:10-12 ESV
Here the writer of Hebrews tells us that the heavens and earth will perish. Most want to have this referring to the Genesis account. God did create the heavens and the earth. But could this possibly be referring to a different "heaven and earth" than the physical creation of the world? Is that even a possibility? I think it is a strong possibility.
If you want to know what a term means in the New Testament in relation to prophecy, you need to go back to the Tanakh and see what it meant there. If it was used a certain way in the Tanakh, wouldn't it make sense that the New Testament writers would use those expressions in the same way? Again, we must get our understanding of "heaven and earth" from the Tanakh.
In biblical apocalyptic language, "heavens" can refer to governments and rulers, and "earth" can refer to the nation of people. This can be seen in the book of Isaiah.
The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: "Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. Isaiah 1:1-2 ESV
Here we see "rulers" used for "heavens" in verse 2 and "people" used for "earth." So, the terms "heaven and earth" can be used to speak of rulers and people of a nation. Please, store that in your memory banks! It is possible that the expression "heaven and earth" has or may have a meaning other than the literal physical heaven and earth.
I am the LORD your God, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the LORD of hosts is his name. And I have put my words in your mouth and covered you in the shadow of my hand, establishing the heavens and laying the foundations of the earth, and saying to Zion, 'You are my people.'" Isaiah 51:15-16 ESV
Please notice carefully that the planting of the heavens and the laying of the foundation of the earth referred to here was performed by God when He "stirs up the sea so that its waves roar" (ver. 15). This is a reference to the dividing of the Red sea.
Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over? Isaiah 51:10 ESV
Verse 16 says that at this time He gave the law (He "put my words in your mouth," and said to Zion, "You are my people").
What do those terms speak of? God did this when He took the children of Israel out of Egypt and formed them in the wilderness into a covenant nation. He planted the heavens and laid the foundation of the earth, that is, He brought forth order and government. So, the term "heaven and earth" is used in Scripture for something other than the physical creation. It is used to speak of the nation Israel.
The theme of Hebrews is "The superiority of the New Covenant over the Old covenant." This letter was written to encourage those suffering Christians to persevere in spite of the tribulation they were experiencing. First, the writer stressed that Yeshua is better in every way compared to the Old Covenant system. Second, the New Covenant is better in every way compared to the Old Covenant. And third, the faith of the New Covenant is better in every way compared to the faith of the Old Covenant. He seriously tried to demonstrate to these struggling Christians that the new age that was dawning would bring to completion the new and much better covenant.
With all of this in mind, the writer of Hebrews, in Hebrews 1:10-12, is showing that the Old Covenant, which was mediated by angels, is temporary, but that the New Covenant, which Christ brings, is permanent and demonstrates Christ's superiority over the angels. Let's move on to the next couple of verses and see if we can make this even clearer.
…they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end. Hebrews 1:11-12 ESV
In other words, "heaven and earth" will perish, but Christ will remain. Now, does he mean that the physical "heaven and earth" will perish? The Bible talks about the end of the age but never the end of the world. The verses that speak about the destruction of "heaven and earth" are speaking not about the end of the world but about the end of Judaism, the end of the Old Covenant.
Hebrews 1:10-12 is a word-for-word quotation from Psalm 102. If all we had was the prophecy of David in Psalm 102, we might think that this is referring to the physical earth. But the New Testament gives us insight and illumination to the Tanakh. The writer of Hebrews tells us that the fulfillment of these verses is related to the establishment of the eternal kingdom of Christ.
But of the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions." Hebrews 1:8-9 ESV
The heavens and the earth (Old Covenant Israel) would perish, but Christ and his throne would remain forever and ever. The superiority of Christ over angels is shown in that he created the world wherein they were ministering spirits.
How is the world or the heavens and earth of old going to perish? David said in Psalm 102:26 that they shall, "grow old like a garment," and then they would be "changed." Is it just a coincidence that the Bible speaks of the passing away of the old covenant using the exact same language?
In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. Hebrews 8:13 ESV
The same Greek word palaioo, which means "to make worn out, or declare obsolete," is used in Hebrews 1:11 of the heavens and earth and 8:13 of the Old Covenant. The writer here says that the old covenant is about to pass away. About 5 years later it did— with the destruction of Jerusalem.
The writer of Hebrews is not talking in our text about the end of the world but of the end of Old Covenant Israel which was even then in its last days. And because he is quoting Psalm 102, this is exactly what David was talking about. The Old Covenant that was mediated by angels was about to end, but Christ's kingdom will never end, thus Christ is superior to angels.
Notice what Peter says:
He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you. 1 Peter 1:20 ESV
Yeshua came during the last days of the age that was the Old Covenant age, the Jewish age. That age came to an end with the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, which was the destruction of heaven and earth.
Contrary to popular opinion, we are not living in the "last days" but rather in the first days of the New Covenant age. The New Covenant age is "the eternal covenant."
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Yeshua, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, Hebrews 13:20 ESV
An eternal covenant has no last days or last hour. We are living in the first days of the eternal age. Missing these important time statements causes many people to misapply numerous time statements in the Bible. As a result, their timing is off by nearly 2000 years!
Now let me ask you this: What brought the "last days" to an end? It was the Second Coming of Christ. So, if Christ has not yet returned as most believers think, then we are still in the "last days." This means that we are still in the Mosaic age. Notice what the writer of Hebrews has to say about the second coming.
so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Hebrews 9:28 ESV
This is the only place in the New Testament where the return of Christ is called a second coming. In Young's Literal Translation it says, "a second time, apart from a sin-offering, shall appear."
Please notice carefully that at the second coming of Christ, he was to "save those who were eagerly waiting for him." Who was eagerly waiting for Christ to return? Again, we must remember the hermeneutical principle of audience relevance. It was the first-century Christians who eagerly awaited His return. This certainly could not be said of twenty-first century American Christians.
The words "eagerly wait" are from the Greek word, apekdechomai. This Greek word is made up of three words: (1) the word "to receive," which speaks of a welcoming or appropriating reception such as is tendered to a friend who comes to visit, (2) the word "off," (speaking here of the withdrawal of one's attention from other objects), and (3) the word "out," (used here in a perfective sense, which intensifies the already existing meaning of the word). The composite word speaks of an attitude of intense yearning and eager waiting for the coming of the Lord.
This Greek word is only used seven times in the New Testament and every one of them is in reference to the Second Coming.
so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Yeshua the Christ, 1 Corinthians 1:7 ESV
Paul says here that the first-century Christians at Corinth were "eagerly waiting" for Yeshua's second coming. It was the first-century Christian who eagerly waited for Christ. And the author of Hebrews says that he was going to come to "them."
Our text says that "he will appear a second time." At this time, he would not deal with sin; he would save those who eagerly waited for him. At his second coming, he was to "save" those who eagerly waited for him. What does the text mean by "save"? "Save" is the Greek word soteria, which we know has a broad range of meanings. The context dealing with the Day of Atonement would tell us that he uses it here of redemption. Full and complete redemption came at the second coming.
And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." Luke 21:27-28 ESV
The "these things" in the context of this verse is the destruction of Jerusalem. Redemption was complete when the Lord returned, destroying Jerusalem and ending the Old Covenant.
Redemption involves the imputation of Christ's righteousness. At the time of Paul's writing, righteousness was still a hope.
For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. Galatians 5:5 ESV
If righteousness was already a fulfilled or completed event, Paul made a big mistake in making "righteousness" by faith a matter of hope. You don't hope for what you have.
Mark tells us that eternal life was a condition of the age to come.
Yeshua said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. Mark 10:29-30 ESV
Only at the second coming could believers have eternal life. Notice what John says.
Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:2 ESV
When Christ returned, all believers were made like Him. To be like Him is to have His righteousness. Salvation was not a completed event in the lives of the first-century believers; it was their hope, and they looked forward to its soon arrival. Peter also states that their salvation was not yet complete.
who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:5 ESV
Salvation was ready to be revealed. When? In the last time, at the return of Christ.
so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Hebrews 9:28 ESV
Christ, "will appear a second time"—this was a future reference to the first-century saints, but it is a past event to us. Christ came in judgment upon Israel, thus bringing the old covenant to an end and consummating the new covenant.
The background of Hebrews 9 is the Day of Atonement - where Aaron would enter the Holy of Holies to atone for the sin of the people. Our author is contrasting Christ to Aaron to demonstrate the superiority of the appearing of Christ and the salvation he alone brings. Our author is demonstrating the superiority of the Lord Yeshua the Christ to all who went before.
So, when was it to happen? When were the last days to end, when were the old heaven and earth to be destroyed, and when would the second coming happen? Barnabas tells us very clearly.
For, "Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; Hebrews 10:37 ESV
"For yet a little while"—the Greek is very expressive and emphatic. The author used a word which signifies "a little while," and then for further emphasis added a particle meaning "very." He further intensified the force of his statement by repeating it. The clause literally reads: "For yet a very, very little while, and He that shall come will come." Remember he is writing this letter in A.D. 65. Within 5 years the end came.
The idea which the author wishes to convey is evidently that the time of their deliverance from their trials was not far remote. The reference is undoubtedly to the second coming of Christ. If this is a reference to the second coming of Christ, and if he has not yet come as most of the Church believes, then what did this mean to the people to whom it was written? It could have meant nothing! Nothing at all!
What does it mean to us? Can we understand, "For yet a very, very little while, and He that shall come will come" to mean over 2,000 years? If the Lord did not return in the first century, this would have meant nothing to the Hebrews. To tell you the truth it would have been deceptive to them.
God inspired the author of Hebrews to write at around A.D. 65 to the first-century saints, "For yet a very, very little while, and He that shall come will come." How could he have made it clearer that the second coming of Christ would happen SOON to them?
Do you believe that the Bible is God's inspired Word?
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV
Because the Bible is from God and God is perfect or infallible, shouldn't the Bible be infallible as well? More specifically, if the inspired Bible made a promise that something would happen within a specified time frame and if that event did not happen when and as promised, the Bible's claim to inspiration would fail.
Notice what God says about those who speak His Word.
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.' And if you say in your heart, 'How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?'— when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. Deuteronomy 18:18-22 ESV
Most Christians believe that the Lord has not yet returned and unintentionally make the writer of Hebrews a false prophet. But the problem is that it wasn't just the writer of Hebrews who said that Yeshua was to return in the first century, Yeshua himself taught this.
For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." Matthew 16:27-28 ESV
Yeshua was speaking to his disciples when He said that some of them would still be alive when he returned in the second coming. Was Yeshua wrong? If he was, then according to Deuteronomy, he was a false prophet. If Yeshua was a false prophet, then we are all dead in our sins and under the wrath of God.
If God does not keep the WHEN part of his promises, he has not kept his promise! The inspiration of the scriptures demands complete fulfillment of every aspect of God's promises. But if Yeshua is Lord, then what he predicted was true, and he returned in the second coming before all of his disciples had died.
The Bible is God's word to MAN! The time statements about the second coming were made to those men who lived in the first century. The time statements in the Bible were spoken to man to encourage or to warn man. If God did not mean, "For yet a very, very little while, and He that shall come will come," what did he mean? Wouldn't it have been misleading for God to say something was going to happen "in a very, very little while" when it was really not to happen for centuries?
In our passage in Hebrews, the author very emphatically tells these believers that the Lord's coming was not far distant, and he therefore urges them to endurance during the little time of trial that remained. It was only to be a very, very little while until Christ returned and destroyed their enemies, the Jews.
So, Barnabas' view of the second coming of Christ was that it would happen very soon after the time of his writing. This is not just Barnabas' view; it was Yeshua's view and the view of all the New Testament writers. So why don't we believe them?