A funny but sobering story comes out of the Manhattan Project—the gargantuan American undertaking in the 1940s to produce the atomic bomb. After spending US$2 billion (more than US$25 billion in today’s currency), 130,000 people, working for years in deep secrecy, had finally produced the superweapon.
Or so it was hoped.
The date was July 15, 1945. In the evening, the main scientists on the project were gathered together, talking. The next morning the first nuclear test was to take place. The atmosphere was tense and heavy. Would their years of hard work and dedication climax in the world’s first man-made nuclear explosion—or would it end in a fizzle, even a dud?
As they talked, another scientist, Hans Bethe, entered the room with a piece of paper and a pencil in hand. With a sternlook, he warned that, after some last-minute calculations, he feared that if the bomb did go off, it would start a nuclear chain reaction in the atmosphere that would destroy the world.
The room went dead silent. Nothing on the magnitude of a man-made nuclear explosion had been done before—ever. Fears like this about an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction had been discussed more than once too. But now one of their own top physicists, the day before the test, walks in and throws something like this in their faces!
Bethe turned and left. The men sat there, too dumbfounded to say much of anything. What do you say when you think that, perhaps, your work could literally destroy the world?
A little later, Bethe returned, the same paper and pencil in hand, but with a big “gotcha” grin across his lips. “Oh,” he said, “I looked over my figures again and realized that I made a boo-boo with a decimal point. We will be fine.”
the end of the world
The world, of course, did not end on July 16, 1945. But most everyone agrees, even atheists, that sooner or later, one way or another, our present world will end. If nothing else, what scientists call the heat death of the universe—when (in the simplest terms) the entire universe has leveled out to one uniform temperature—will, in a few billion years, destroy our existence. Other “scientific” theories also predict the demise of our world billions of years into the future.
But these are not the only warnings about the earth’s future. The Bible also predicts the end of our world but an end radically different from what these theories proclaim and one much more relevant to today’s inhabitants than a scenario supposedly billions of years away. It predicts an end much closer in time. And instead of leaving us desolate and destroyed, the Bible promises a new beginning—a whole new heaven and Earth.
This great hope centers on the second coming of Jesus. What is this teaching? What assurance do we have that it will come to pass? And what hope does it offer us in contrast to, for instance, the cosmic heat death?
a full body X-ray
We often talk about how short life is. Old people lament about how fast life goes by. Young people hope they have time to fulfill all their dreams. But as we all know, someone alive and well today can be dead and gone by tomorrow. In this sense, then, what matters isn’t so much the end of the world, whenever it comes, but the end of our own world—the end for each one of us, individually—which for billions of people has already happened and for any one of us could happen before this day is over.
Thomas Mann wrote The Magic Mountain, a novel about a man who, in the early years of the twentieth century, spent time at a Swiss sanatorium. One day he had a full body X-ray, somewhat of a novelty back then. As he was looking at his own X-ray, it hit him: this was his future. That skeleton he was looking at would eventually be all that was left of him. Want a glimpse of what’s ahead for you? Get a full body X-ray.
In short, for most people, long before this world ends, their own personal ones will.
the resurrection of the dead
The second coming of Jesus, while it brings the end of this old world, offers us amazing hope. Why? Because at Christ’s return, all of His people who have died will experience the promised resurrection of the dead, which leads to eternal life.
Speaking of when He would return, what He called “the last day,” Jesus said, three times in a row, what would happen. “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day” ( John 6:40).1 Then, a few verses further: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day” (verse 44). And just a little later, He again promised the same thing: “I will raise him up at the last day” (verse 54).
In another conversation about His second coming, Jesus said, “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. . . . They [will] see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matthew 24:30, 31, NIV).
Paul, too, added this wonderful promise about what happens when Christ returns: “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” (1 Thessalonians 4:16, NIV).
the first and second coming
Raised from the dead at the second coming of Christ? What a wonderful promise! The question is, How can we know for sure that it will come to pass?
One answer, perhaps the strongest, is the certainty of Jesus’ first coming, when He died for our sins. At His first coming, Jesus died so that we have the promise of eternal life at His second coming.
The apostle Paul wrote, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3). And then, directly tying Christ’s death and resurrection to our own resurrection at the Second Coming, Paul wrote, “For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (verse 16). In other words, because Christ died and was resurrected, we have the promise of our own resurrection, and this happens at the Second Coming.
Jesus also said: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). A ransom? That ransom was His own life, the life of the Creator Himself, for as John wrote about Jesus: “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” ( John 1:3). He, the Creator, gave His own life as a ransom for ours!
Imagine someone pays a kidnapper a huge ransom for the return of their kidnapped child—and then does not return to get what cost so much. That’s what it would be like if Christ didn’t return. In a real sense, if there were to be no second coming of Jesus, He wasted His time coming the first time, and who would believe that? So, yes, the certainty of Christ’s death and resurrection at His first coming is our assurance of His second.
Unfortunately, many popular books and movies depict the return of Jesus as invisible, even quiet and secret. They say that one day people whom you know will just mysteriously vanish. Perhaps they will be sitting next to you in a car or even in an airliner 30,000 feet in the air, when, suddenly, they will be gone. We are told that when that happens, we can know that Jesus has, indeed, returned.
However, the following texts paint a radically different picture of the Second Coming. Jesus said, “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matthew 24:27, KJV2). Lightning across the sky? Hardly sounds secret, does it?
Paul, too, talks about what happens when Christ returns. “For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead will be raised” (1 Corinthians 15:52). Two things here. First, there is the sound of a trumpet. Trumpets are loud generally, and if this one is loud enough to, yes, wake the dead, then this is not going to be a secret, quiet return. On the contrary, it’s about as far from secret and quiet as it could possibly get. And this leads to the second point. Dead people, perhaps millions (or more), are resurrected from their graves. Something like this is bound to be noticed, is it not?
Again, in reference to His return, Jesus said, “Then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30, KJV). Not only will the world be aware of His return, but for all on Earth who don’t know Him, it will be a time to mourn. Certainly, there is nothing secret about this event.
And John, writing about Christ’s return in the book of Revelation, is pretty clear as well. “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him” (Revelation 1:7; emphasis added).
the certainty of the Second Coming
No question, this world will not last forever, at least as it is now (and thank God for that). The Bible says, “Looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat[.] Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:12, 13).
After Jesus returns, a whole new existence will begin for those in Christ: a new heaven, a new earth! That’s a vastly different and vastly better future than, for instance, what the heat death theory offers us. And it’s a future that, because Christ came 2,000 years ago, we can be certain awaits us at, and after, His second coming.
Clifford Goldstein is the editor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s daily Bible-study guide and a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times®.
1. Unless otherwise noted, Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Version.
2. Bible texts marked KJV are from the King James Version.