Section 9: The End Times
Week 1: Christ’s Return
Day 1: Jesus Will Physically Return to Earth
After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples on several occasions, and then returned to heaven. During his earthly ministry, though, Jesus pointed to a day when he would return (Matt 24:30, 26:64, Mark 13:26, Luke 21:27, John 14:3). The most natural way to understand those statements is that Jesus was pointing to a time when he would physically return to earth. Some, however, disagree. They argue Jesus was referring to a spiritual return that happened on the day of Pentecost. Since then, Jesus has been present among his people through the Holy Spirit.[i]
It is true Jesus is present with us through the Spirit. However, the Bible is talking about more than his spiritual presence when it talks about his return. After all, at the ascension, as the disciples were standing around looking up into the sky, they were told Jesus would return in the same way they saw him leave (Acts 1:10-11). Given that Jesus had a body when he left, you’d expect him to return with one too.
What’s more, Jesus made it clear God had something big planned – something that hasn’t happened yet.
“So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. Immediately after the distress of those days, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ At that time, the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of sky, 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” (Matt. 24:26-31).
Jesus may already be present with us in one sense through the Spirit, but nothing like the return described above has happened yet. That’s why we look forward to the something even greater. We look forward to the day when he physically returns, and we get to see him face to face.
Look up these verses and consider what Jesus is promising: Matt 24:30, 26:64, Mark 13:26, Luke 21:27, and John 14:3.
Does it seem to you like he is talking about a physical return? Do you think it matters? Why? How is a physical return more reassuring than a spiritual one?
[i] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, Second Edition, Grand Rapids: Baker Books (1998), 1195.