The Parousia or “Second Coming” (sometimes called the Second Advent) is a Christian concept regarding the future return of Christ and his followers after his “first coming” and ascension to heaven about two thousand years ago. The belief is based on messianic prophecies found in the canonical gospels and is part of most Christian eschatologies. Views about the nature of Jesus’ Second Coming vary among Christian denominations and among individual Christians.
Most English versions of the Nicene Creed include the following statements: “…he ascended into heaven and is seated at the Right Side of the FATHER. He will come again in his glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. … We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the World to come.”
Several different terms are used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ:
In the New Testament, the Greek word ἐπιφάνεια (epiphaneia, appearing) is used five times to refer to the return of Christ.
The Greek New Testament uses the Greek term parousia (παρουσία, meaning “arrival”, “coming”, or “presence”) twenty-four times, seventeen of them concerning Christ. The word is also used six times referring to individuals (Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus,[1Co.16:17] Titus,[2Co. 7:6-72] and Paul the Apostle [2Co. 10:10][Phil 1:26][2:12]) and one time referring to the “coming of the lawless one”.[2Thes 2:9]
The Lexicon of Joseph Henry Thayer defines the Greek word parousia as Strong’s G3952:
…In the N. T. [New Testament] esp. [especially] of the advent, i.e., the future, visible, return from heaven of Jesus, the Messiah, to raise the dead, hold the last judgment, and set up formally and gloriously the kingdom of GOD.
The Bauer-Danker Lexicon provides the definition:
…of Christ, and nearly always of his Messianic Advent in glory to judge the World at the end of this age.
The Catholic Encyclopedia article on the “General judgment” states:
In the New Testament the second Parousia, or coming of Christ as Judge of the World, is an oft-repeated doctrine. The Saviour Himself not only foretells the event but graphically portrays its circumstances (Matthew 24:27 sqq. [Olivet Discourse]; Matthew sqq. [Judgment of the Nations]). The Apostles give a most prominent place to this doctrine in their preaching (Acts 10:42,Acts) and writings (Romans 2:5-16; 14:10; 1 Cor. 4:5; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 4:1; 2 Thess 1:5; James 5:7). Besides the name Parusia (parousia), or Advent (1 Cor. 15:23, 2 Thes. 2:1-9), the second coming is also called Epiphany, epiphaneia, or Appearance (2 Thes. 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 4:1; Titus 2:13) and Apocalypse (apokalypsis), or Revelation (2 Thess. 2:7 1 Pet. 4:13). The time of the second coming is spoken of as “that Day” (2 Tim. 4:8) “the day of the Lord” (1 Thess. 5:2), “the day of Christ” (Phil 1:6), “the day of the Son of Man” (Luke 17:30), and “the last day” (John 6:39-40).
Gustav Adolf Deissmann (1908) showed that the Greek word parousia occurred as early as the 3rd century BC to describe the visit of a king or dignitary to a city – a visit arranged in order to show the visitor’s magnificence to the people. The Roman advent coins struck by the cities of Corinth and Patras for Nero’s visit reveals the correspondence between the Greek “parousia” and the Latin “Adventus” and their relationship to the Greek word “epiphany” that means “appearing”.
According to historian Charles Freeman, early Christians expected Jesus to return within a generation of his death and the non-occurrence of the second coming surprised the early Christian communities.
Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.— 1 John 2:18
The position associating the Second Coming with 1st century events such as the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Jewish Temple in AD 70 is known as Preterism.
Some Preterists see this “coming of the Son of Man in glory” primarily fulfilled in Jesus’ death on the cross. They believe the apocalyptic signs are already fulfilled including “the sun will be dark”, the “powers … will be shaken,” and “then they will see”. Yet some critics note many are missing such as “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 fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10) And “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in Heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30)
Moreover, Jesus was reported to have told his disciples, “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” (Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32) Given that in his next statement Jesus notes that the exact day and hour is unknown even to himself, the simple meaning of his previous statement is that the Second Coming was to be witnessed by people literally living in that same generation. Some, such as Jerome, interpret the phrase “this generation” to mean in the lifetime of the Jewish race; however, other scholars believe that if Jesus meant “race” he would have used genos (race) not genea (generation).
Catholic and Orthodox
Most English versions of the Nicene Creed in current use include the following statements about Jesus: “…he ascended into Heaven and is seated at the Right Hand of the FATHER. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end. … We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the World to come. Amen.”
It is the traditional view of Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, preserved from the early Church, that the second coming will be a sudden and unmistakable incident, like “a flash of lightning”.[Mt 24:27] They hold the general view that Jesus will not spend any time on the earth in ministry or preaching. They also agree that the ministry of the Antichrist will take place right before the Second Coming.
Orthodox layman Alexander Kalomiros explains the original Church’s position regarding the Second Coming in River of Fire and Against False Union, stating that those who contend that Christ will reign on earth for a thousand years “do not wait for Christ, but for the Antichrist.” The idea of Jesus returning to this earth as a king is a heretical concept to the Church, equated to “the expectations of the Jews who wanted the Messiah to be an earthly King.” The Church instead teaches that which it has taught since the beginning—Christ will not return to Earth, rather the Kingdom of Heaven, the New Jerusalem, will be established through the Resurrection of the dead.
The many denominations of Protestantism have differing views on the exact details of Christ’s second coming. Only a handful of Christian organizations claim complete and authoritative interpretation of the typically symbolic and prophetic biblical sources.
A short reference to the Second Coming is contained in the Nicene Creed: “He [Christ] shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead; and His kingdom shall have no end.” An analogous statement is also in the biblical Pauline Creed.[1Cor 15:23].
Some Protestant churches proclaim the Mystery of Faith to be: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Latter-day Saints have particularly distinct and specific interpretations of what are considered to be signs stated in the Book of Revelation. Their scriptures say that Christ will return, as stated in the Bible. Their church also teaches that “When the Savior comes again, He will come in power and glory to claim the earth as His kingdom. His Second Coming will mark the beginning of the Millennium. The Second Coming will be a fearful, mournful time for the wicked, but it will be a day of peace for the righteous.”
Fundamental Belief #25 of the Seventh-day Adventist Church states:
The Second Coming of Christ is the blessed hope of the church, the grand climax of the Gospel. The Saviour’s coming will be literal, personal, visible, and worldwide. When He returns, the righteous dead will be resurrected, and together with the righteous living will be glorified and taken to heaven, but the unrighteous will die. The almost complete fulfillment of most lines of prophecy, together with the present condition of the World, indicates that Christ’s coming is imminent. The time of that event has not been revealed, and we are therefore exhorted to be ready at all times. (Titus 2:13; Heb. 9:28; John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; Matt. 24:14; Rev. 1:7; Matt. 24:43, 44; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; 2:8; Rev. 14:14-20; 19:11-21; Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; 1 Thess. 5:1-6.)
Recent surveys show that about 40% of Americans believe that Christ is likely to return by 2050. This varies from 58% of white Evangelical Christians, through 32% of Catholics to 27% of white mainline Protestants.
Belief in the Second Coming was popularised in the US in the late nineteenth century by the evangelist Dwight L. Moody and the premillennial interpretation became one of the core components of Christian fundamentalism in the 1920s.
In the early developments of the Rastafari religion, Haile Selassie (the Ethiopian Emperor) was regarded as a member of the House of David, is worshipped as GOD incarnate, and is thought to be the “Black Jesus” and “Black Messiah” – the second coming of Christ. It was claimed that Marcus Garvey preached the coming of the black Messiah on the eve of Selassie’s coronation. Due to this prophecy, Selassie was the source of inspiration of the poor and uneducated Christian populations of Jamaica, who believed that the Emperor would liberate the black people from the subjugation of European colonists.
Last Day counterfeits
Some Christian writings say that there will be a great deception before the Second Coming of Christ. In Matthew 24, Jesus states in the following passage:
If anyone says to you then, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will arise, and they will perform signs and wonders so great as to deceive, if that were possible, even the elect.— Matthew 24:21, 24
Ellen G. White, the early Seventh-day Adventist leader, wrote:
As the crowning act in the great drama of deception, Satan himself will impersonate Christ. The church has long professed to look to the Saviour’s advent as the consummation of her hopes. Now the great deceiver will make it appear that Christ has come. In different parts of the earth, Satan will manifest himself among men as a majestic being of dazzling brightness, resembling the description of the Son of GOD given by John in the Revelation. (Revelation 1:13-15). The glory that surrounds him is unsurpassed by anything that mortal eyes have yet beheld. The shout of triumph rings out upon the air: “Christ has come! Christ has come!” The people prostrate themselves in adoration before him, while he lifts up his hands and pronounces a blessing upon them, as Christ blessed his disciples when he was upon the Earth. His voice is soft and subdued, yet full of melody. In gentle, compassionate tones he presents some of the same gracious, heavenly truths which the Saviour uttered; he heals the diseases of the people, and then, in his assumed character of Christ, he claims to have changed the Sabbath to Sunday, and commands all to hallow the day which he has blessed.— The Great Controversy, p. 624
Specific date predictions and claims
A number of specific dates have been predicted for the Second Coming of Christ, some now in the distant past, others still in the future.
Victor J. Stenger notes that Jesus is recorded as saying, ” …there are some standing here, which shall not taste death, till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom “, Matt 16:28. He makes similar predictions in five other places in the Gospels; Mark 9:1, Mark 13:30, Matt 24:34, Luke 9:27, Luke 21:32. In Stenger’s view, when the coming did not happen within the life-times of his disciples, as Jesus prophesied, Christianity changed its emphasis to the Resurrection and promise of eternal life.
Other views and commentaries
In Islam, Jesus (or Isa; Arabic: عيسى ʿĪsā) is considered to be a Messenger of GOD (ALLAH in Arabic) and the Masih (Messiah) who was sent to guide the Israelites (banī isrā’īl) with a new scripture, the Injīl. The belief in Jesus (and all other messengers of GOD) is required in Islam, and a requirement of being a Muslim. However, Muslims recognize Jesus as a great Prophet. In the Quran, the second coming of Jesus is heralded in Az-Zukhruf (the Quran’s 43rd surah or chapter) as a sign of the day of judgement.
And (Jesus) shall be a Sign (for the coming of) the Hour (of Judgment): therefore have no doubt about the (Hour), but follow ye Me: this is a Straight Way. 43:61
In his famous interpretation of the Qur’an or Tafsir al-Qur’an al-Azim, Ibn Kathir also uses this verse as proof of Jesus’ second coming in the Qur’an.
There are also Hadiths that clearly foretell of Jesus’ future return such as: Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 43: Kitab-ul-`Ilm (Book of Knowledge), Hâdith Number 656:
The Hour will not be established until the son of Mary (i.e. Jesus) descends amongst you as a just ruler, he will break the cross, kill the pigs, and abolish the Jizya tax. Money will be in abundance so that nobody will accept it (as charitable gifts).
According to Islamic tradition, Jesus’ descent will be in the midst of wars fought by the Mahdi (lit. “the rightly guided one”), known in Islamic eschatology as the redeemer of Islam, against the Masih ad-Dajjal (literally “false Messiah”, synonymous with the Antichrist) and his followers. Christ will descend at the point of a white arcade, east of Damascus, dressed in saffron robes—his head anointed. He will then join the Mahdi in his war against the Dajjal. Christ, considered in Islam as a Muslim (one who submits to GOD) and one of GOD’s Messengers, will abide by the Islamic teachings. Eventually, Christ will slay the Antichrist Dajjal, and then everyone from the People of the Book (ahl al-kitāb, referring to Jews and Christians) will believe in him. Thus, there will be one community, that of Islam. Sahih Muslim, 41:7023
Sahih al-Bukhari, 3:43:656: Narrated Abu Hurairah:
ALLAH’s Apostle said, “The Hour will not be established until the son of Mary (Mariam) (i.e. Jesus) descends amongst you as a just ruler, he will break the cross, kill the pigs, and abolish the Jizya tax. Money will be in abundance so that nobody will accept it (as charitable gifts).”
After the death of the Mahdi, Christ will assume leadership. This is a time associated in Islamic narrative with universal peace and justice. Islamic texts also allude to the appearance of Ya’juj and Ma’juj (known also as Gog and Magog), ancient tribes which will disperse and cause disturbance on earth. GOD, in response to Jesus’s prayers, will kill them by sending a type of worm in the napes of their necks. Christ’s rule is said to be around forty years, after which he will die, (according to Islam Jesus did not die on the cross but was taken up to heaven and continues to live until his return in the Second Coming). Muslims will then perform the Salat al-Janazah (funeral prayer) for him and bury him in the city of Medina in a grave left vacant beside Muhammad.
The Ahmadi sect, who identify as Muslims, believe that the promised Mahdi and Messiah arrived in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908). This is rejected by many Muslims, who consider the Ahmadiyya not to be Muslims.
The hadith (sayings of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad) and the Bible indicated that Christ would return during the latter days. Islamic tradition commonly depicts that Jesus, upon his second coming, would be an Ummati (Muslim) and a follower of Muhammad and that he would revive the truth of Islam rather than fostering a new religion.
The Ahmadiyya movement interpret the Second Coming of Jesus prophesied as being that of a person “similar to Jesus” (mathīl-i ʿIsā) and not his physical return, in the same way as John the Baptist resembled the character of the biblical prophet Elijah in Christianity. Ahmadis believe that Ghulam Ahmad demonstrated that the prophecy in Muslim and Christian religious texts were traditionally misunderstood to suggest that Jesus the Nazarene himself would return, and hold that Jesus had survived the crucifixion and had died a natural death. Ahmadis consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (the founder of the movement), in both his character and teachings, to be representative of Jesus; and subsequently, he attained the same spiritual rank of Prophethood as Jesus. Thus, Ahmadis believe this prediction was fulfilled and continued by his movement.
Judaism believes that Jesus is one of the false Jewish Messiah claimants because he failed to fulfill any Messianic prophecies, which include:
- Build the Third Temple (Ezekiel 37:26-28).
- Gather all Jews back to the Land of Israel (Isaiah 43:5-6).
- Usher in an era of World peace, and end all hatred, oppression, suffering and disease. As it says: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall man learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4)
- Spread universal knowledge of the GOD of Israel, which will unite humanity as one. As it says: “GOD will be King over all the World ― on that day, GOD will be One and His Name will be One” (Zechariah 14:9).
Regarding the Christian idea that these prophecies will be fulfilled during a “Second Coming,” Ohr Samayach states “we find this to be a contrived answer, since there is no mention of a second coming in the Jewish Bible. Second, why couldn’t GOD accomplish His goals the first time round?” Rabbi David Wolpe believes that the Second Coming was “grown out of genuine disappointment. […] When Jesus died, true believers had to theologically compensate for the disaster.”