What Second Coming?

Richard Carrier notes in On the Historicity of Jesus (p560) how Paul never speaks of a ‘second coming’, prompting me to look at all the predictions of Christ’s future arrival in the New Testament. Here’s a selection of verses, some of them supposedly the words of Jesus himself, where this coming is ‘prophesied’:

And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory (Mark 13.26).

You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven (Mark 14.62).

For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24.27).

For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man… they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24. 37, 39)

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all his angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of glory. (Matthew 25.31).

You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Luke 12.40).

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God (1 Thessalonians 4.16).

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5.23).

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11.26).

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord… Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand (James 5.7-8).

Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ (Titus 2.13).

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him (Revelation 1.7).

Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done (Revelation 22.12).

Isn’t this strange? None of them refer to Christ’s arrival as a ‘return’ or ‘second coming’. You’d be hard pushed to find any such ‘prophecy’ in the New Testament*. His appearance here on Earth is described as the coming of a celestial being. Even Jesus is made to talk about the manifestation of such a figure, taken by Christians to mean his own future self, as if he’s talking about someone else: the Son of Man, who hasn’t yet appeared but will do so in the near future. It’s as if the gospels’ fictional Jesus is being made to predict the arrival of the ‘real’, celestial Jesus.

More importantly, the Son of Man and Paul’s version of the same figure, the Christ, are spoken of as ‘coming’ or ‘descending’, not ‘returning’ or coming again. It’s as if Paul, the writers of the synoptic gospels, John of Patmos and other first-century Christians* didn’t believe that the Christ had already visited the Earth. They talk instead as if he’s about to arrive for the very first time. When he does, they believed, he would be coming as an avenging angel, rescuing those who believe in him – as a celestial being who carried out his salvific work in the heavenly realms (1 Corinthians 15, Galatians 1.11-12 etc) – and slaughtering those who don’t. This is the apocalypse – the revealing or uncovering of the heavenly Christ for the very first time.

That Jesus will ‘return’ or make a second coming is an assumption made by later believers on the basis of verses like those above. In fact, they say no such thing. The earliest Christians wrote as if they didn’t believe their envisaged hero had ever been on Earth. For them, his one and only arrival was still to come.

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* An exception appears to be Hebrews 9.28 which says, ‘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, however, regards the Christ only as a supernatural high priest, operating in the heavenly realms. This second appearance then can only refer to this character, who is not conceived as having had any existence here on Earth.

4 thoughts on “What Second Coming?

  1. Lets just take one of the passages you’ve collected:

    You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Luke 12.40).

    This is Jesus speaking. He regularly used the title Son of Man and in the third person when speaking about himself. The context, however, always indicates that he was speaking about himself. See earlier in Luke 12.

    “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.

    The Luke 12:40 passage is an allusion to Daniel 7:13,14 where the Son of Man is said to receive an eternal kingdom.

    14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed (Daniel 7:14)

    In Luke Jesus is identifying himself with the Son of man in Daniel. He is speaking in this parable in Luke of the coming of the master to his servants (the Son of Man) after a wedding banquet and expecting that his servants would be ready for his return.

    In a passage you did not quote, John 14:1-4 Jesus speaks about this return for his servants.

    Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”

    These speak about the same thing though one is a parable other simple direct speech.

    What you have done in your selection of passages to quote is to bias your quotes toward those that speak of the glorified resurrected Jesus and ignore the earthly Jesus. To be fair, you need to consider both.

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    • The Jesus character in Mark’s gospel refers to the Son of Man in the third person because this figure is a third person. It is not Jesus referring obliquely to himself (why would it be?)
      Gospel Jesus is to a significant extent, perhaps entirely, a fictional character. He is the construct created to embody, literally, the celestial being ‘seen’ by early visionaries like Cephas and Paul, in their hallucinations and ‘revelations’. These illusions came first; the constructed ‘earthly’ Jesus is then made to predict the arrival on Earth of this celestial being, referred to as the Son of Man. This is why no-one in the pre-gospel epistles refers to the celestial being’s arrival on Earth as a ‘second’ coming or return. His descent from the heavens to establish the Kingdom of God on Earth was to be his first visit here.
      As we know, none of this happened. Visions and ‘revelations’ have a habit of not materialising in reality.

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  2. I think you are under the spell of Richard Carrier. He makes all these claims, as you have here, and without the least evidence.

    Neil: This is why no-one in the pre-gospel epistles refers to the celestial being’s arrival on Earth as a ‘second’ coming or return.

    There are really no pre-gospel epistles. The gospel in oral form predated the written Gospels and the epistles. That is why Paul could on an early visit with the Apostles (Gal. 2:1,2) compare the gospel he had been preaching with the gospel the Apostles had been preaching. He did not want to be mistaken. He found that they approved because their gospels were the same.

    Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain.

    That oral gospel was the same as the later written Gospels. How do we know? Because there was no correction from the Apostles. It was the gospel they had been preaching after all.

    But as for the “second coming.” That was a bit confusing for the disciples early on as well. They, like everyone else, expected the Messiah to appear and establish the Messianic kingdom at his coming. When that did not seem to have happened, many were disillusioned.

    The disciples, however, could not get away from the fact that Jesus by every other measure was the Messiah. One of the sub-plots, so to speak, in all four Gospels is their coming to that conviction and their wrestling with the fact that Jesus did not satisfy that final expectation of establishing the kingdom. They ask about that in Matthew 24 after Jesus has told them that the temple is going to be destroyed.

    “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

    Jesus’ answer was not now but later. Why? Because the first step in establishing the kingdom is to gather the subjects of the kingdom. That is why Jesus told them that he would not return until the good news of the kingdom had been preached in all the world.

    And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. ( Matthew 24:14)

    That btw was what Paul understood to be his mission.

    So, what the disciples and everyone else who waited for the Messiah expected was modified by Jesus to be an extended time of presenting the good news and inviting people of every tribe, tongue, people, and nation to receive the news and choose to follow the Messiah. At that point Jesus would return to be their king.

    The preaching of the good news has been proceeding apace. There are now more than 2 billion people from around the world who are followers of the Messiah. They appear to include people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And that is why, among other reasons,I believe the arrival of the king is not far off.

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    • You have evidence of an oral tradition, Don? It’s only a conjecture and even if such a tradition existed, there would undoubtedly have been numerous versions of the story, not one accurate report passed round by word of many mouths. I know you also believe in the Q document. It is equally hypothetical. Such a precious document would have been referenced by NT writers and would surely have survived in some form. Yet not a scrap of it remains.

      But still you claim that Richard Carrier provides no evidence for his thesis that Jesus is unlikely to have existed. I take it you haven’t read any of his books then, in which he presents such evidence, almost 700 pages of evidence and argument in On The Historicity alone. I’m not in thrall to him; I reached my own conclusion and then read him. The books of the New Testament itself, if read in the order they were written clearly reveal how your cult started and how, eventually the earthly Jesus was constructed.

      I’m not going to respond in any detail to your flights of fancy about this same fictional character parachuting down from heaven in the near future. You Christians have been claiming this for 2000 years now.

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