We’ve often seen cartoons mocking those who—with long beards, flowing robes, and sandaled feet—stand on city streets and carry signs that say things such as “The end is near. Repent!” Most of the time, those who pass by tend to write off these “prophets of doom” as kooks and cranks (which they often are). In the past few years, however, with worldwide events shaking (literally in some cases) the very ground beneath our feet, these prophets of doom may find people paying a bit more attention to their warnings.
And little wonder. From some unknown and unpronounceable volcano in Iceland that shut down air traffic in Europe for days to earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Mexico, and China; to floods and tsunamis; economic turmoil; the threat of nuclear terrorism; and even NASA warnings about asteroids—of course, people are nervous about the future!
Christians, on the other hand, see signs in these events that this world isn’t getting better and better but is actually getting worse and worse, and that it will continue to do so until Christ returns. We can be assured, though, that none of these calamities will themselves doom our world. The end will come when Jesus returns, not before, and only then will this present existence with all its suffering and evil finally and forever cease and a new existence begin. The Bible promises that a day is coming when “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4, KJV).
One of the most graphic and powerful depictions of Christ’s second coming in the Bible, and what it will be like, appears in the book of Revelation.
Some Christians teach that the second coming of Jesus will be a quiet event, even secretive. According to this theology, which was popularized by the well-known Left Behind series of books and films, most people will not even realize that the Second Coming has even happened. All they will know is that a bunch of people have suddenly and inexplicably disappeared. Friends, spouses, parents, children, and coworkers will all simply vanish. Granted, something like this would certainly get people’s attention, but it isn’t how the Bible depicts the Second Coming.
Using highly symbolic language, Revelation 19:11–21 presents a dramatically different description of Christ’s return: “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God” (verses 11–13). The first thing to notice is that the One on the white horse coming down from heaven is Jesus. The blood on His robe symbolizes His great sacrifice, in which He shed His blood on the cross in order to redeem fallen humanity. Even more revealing, the texts say that His “name is the Word of God,” and in the Gospel of John, Jesus is described as “the Word” (John 1:1). Two other names, “Faithful and True,” also apply perfectly to Jesus because the Bible describes Him as “faithful” (Hebrews 3:2), and He referred to Himself as “ ‘the truth’ ” (John 14:6). So there is no question that this passage describes Jesus returning to our world.
However, He will not come as the humble Carpenter from Nazareth, the One who was “ ‘gentle and humble in heart’ ” (Matthew 11:29). When Jesus returns to our planet, He will come as a warrior. The horse imagery is drawn from Old Testament times, when horses were commonly used in battle. While we are accustomed to the idea of war as unjust and evil, in this case, the imagery presents the ideal of justice, of judgment, and of righteousness, all of which are so lacking in human wars and conflicts. The promise is implicit here that justice and judgment, which our world cries out for, will come, but only when Jesus returns.
Though much more could be gleaned from these verses, one thing is certain: Jesus’ return, with eyes like blazing fire and many crowns on His head, is not going to be a secret or quiet event!
An iron scepter
On the contrary, Revelation continues this description of Christ’s return, and what it presents is radically different from the Left Behind theology of a secret return of Christ. The military imagery continues with these words: “The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:14–16).
Who are these “armies of heaven”? Most scholars view them as a retinue of angels. This is a symbolic description of what Jesus Himself said about His second coming: “ ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory’ ” (Matthew 25:31).
The sword, of course, is an instrument of war. Revelation’s description of the sword coming out of His mouth probably symbolizes the great truth that God’s Word represents His power, His might, and His strength. According to Genesis, He spoke the world into existence, and this power will be profoundly evident at His return.
The strong, almost harsh imagery clearly reveals the great truth that Christ’s return will be a worldwide event of apocalyptic proportions. Many see in these texts a description of Armageddon (see Revelation 16:16), the final, climactic battle on earth that ends with the Second Coming. It’s a battle in which Jesus will be victorious over all the forces of evil.
And finally, Revelation 19 depicts Jesus as “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” Unlike His first coming, when many didn’t know who He was, no one will mistake Him this time!
The great supper
Jesus will win an overwhelming victory over the forces of evil in the world, for Revelation goes on to say, “I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, ‘Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great’ ” (Revelation 19:17, 18).
While the language is gruesome, it describes the physical reality of what will happen when the end does come. The world has been in rebellion against God, His law, and His truth. These texts show us that this rebellion will ultimately be quashed. Humanity’s warfare against God, revealed in the evil that so permeates our planet, will not last forever. Justice will be done; Christ will return; and evil, sorrow, and injustice will be eradicated once and for all.
However terrible this time will be for those who are in rebellion against God, Christ’s second coming will offer great hope for those people who have put their trust in Him. Revelation 19:18–21 focuses on the fate of the lost, but other texts all through the Bible depict the Second Coming as the greatest event in all history, when Christ will return to collect His ransomed people. “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–18).
There can be no question that we live in frightful times. We don’t need a barefoot prophet to tell us that. What we need is a life that “is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3)—a life of faith, so that when we look up and see the One riding on the white horse from heaven, we can rejoice because we know that our Lord has come for us, finally and forever.