The Second Coming of Jesus
Implications of the Return of Jesus to Earth
One of the great beliefs Christians and Muslims hold in common is the eventual return of Jesus Christ to earth. Although we may differ in our understanding of the events that led up to his ascension to heaven, we both agree that he was taken up alive at the end of his earthly life and will return from heaven at the end of this age. Here, again, there are differences in our convictions about how he will appear and what he will come to accomplish, but the very fact of his return is a crucial meeting-point between Christians and Muslims and one we can build on in our witness to them.
On the last night that he was with his disciples, during the famous Last Supper just before his crucifixion, Jesus had a very intimate conversation with them. He revealed to them deeper truths than he had done at any other time during his ministry. The whole text of this dialogue is found in the thirteenth to the sixteenth chapters of Johns Gospel and many of his statements touched on his ultimate return to earth. He began:
In my Fathers house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. John 14:2-3
"I will come again" was his promise, one he repeated again and again that evening. "I will not leave you desolate, I will come to you," he added (John 14:18). "So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice; and no one will take your joy from you" – another statement that he would return (John 16:22). Later the same evening, when he stood before the Jewish High Priest Caiaphas, he testified:
But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven. Matthew 26:64
He kept emphasising this theme as a comfort to his followers and a warning to his foes. He taught plainly that his return would herald the Day of Judgment and that all mankind would be separated into two camps, some for glory, others for damnation. Their attitude to him would determine their destiny. His followers would join him in the kingdom of heaven, the rest would be cast into eternal darkness. He summed this up in these words:
When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, and the goats at the left. Matthew 25:31-32
The Quran does not teach the second coming of Jesus in such emphatic language but as we have seen the Muslim world has long held that the following verse, which we considered in an earlier chapter, specifically refers to the return of Jesus to the earth:
And there is knowledge of the hour. Surah 43:61
This is the literal translation of the text, though Muslim scholars state that, as the immediately preceding texts cover the subject of Jesus, this text is a conclusion to the narrative, and Yusuf Ali, filling in the gaps in brackets, translates it: "And (Jesus) shall be a Sign (for the coming of) the Hour (of Judgment)". A record from the Hadith gives the Muslim position on the purpose of his return:
Abu Huraira reported that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said: By Him in Whose hand is my life, the son of Mary (pbuh) will soon descend among you as a just judge. He will break crosses, kill swine and abolish Jizya, and wealth will pour forth to such an extent that no one will accept it. Sahih Muslim, Vol.1, p.92
Muslims believe Jesus will return to destroy the Antichrist and his hosts, that he will turn all men and women on earth into followers of Islam, and that he will usher in an age of unprecedented prosperity. We do not agree with this expectation, but the important point in witness to Muslims is the mere fact of his return, and here Christians have tremendous material for witness of his glory and eternal purposes.
The idea that a human being ascended alive to heaven two thousand years ago, has lived there in perfect health ever since, and will one day come back to earth, begs further scrutiny. The event will be totally unique and its climactic character begs the conclusion that there must be something very special about the man Jesus Christ. During their lifetimes all the prophets only influenced their immediate environment and age, yet Jesus will return to transform the earth and radically affect all the nations scattered across it. What is it about him that will result in such an awesome event at the end of time?
Perhaps the answer lies in the expression used by many Muslim commentators on the Quran, such as Yusuf Ali and Maulana Daryabadi. They speak of the second coming of Jesus, a common Christian expression to describe his return. We use the expression "second coming" because we believe he came from heaven the first time as well. If there is to be a second coming, there must have been a first coming. If Muslims tell you they believe in the second coming, challenge them about the implications of this description. Jesus himself is the source of our conviction that he came from heaven the first time as well. He is recorded as saying:
For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. John 6:38
In response to this the Jews asked: "How does he now say, I have come down from heaven?" (John 6.42) When even some of his own followers began to murmur at his teaching he said to them:
Do you take offence at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? John 6:61-62
He regularly stated that he was no ordinary human being but had come down from heaven. "I am from above ... I am not of this world" (John 8:23). This is why he returned to heaven at the end of his earthly life – because he had come from there in the first place! He summed it all up in one emphatic statement:
I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father. John 16:28
All other men, both small and great, including Enoch and Elijah, have returned whence they came. "No one has ascended into heaven, but he who descended from heaven," Jesus proclaimed (John 3:13). Moses was buried by the Lord, David lies buried in Jerusalem, and even Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, whom Muslims believe to be the last and greatest of Gods messengers, lies buried in Medina. None of them lived beyond a normal lifespan, nor did Abraham, Joseph or any others of the great prophets of old. Why, then, did this one man ascend to heaven to remain alive there, the only living man among myriads of angels, until he returns to earth at the end of time?
There can only be one logical conclusion. He returned to heaven because he came from there in the first place. Muslims speak of the nuzul-i-Isa, the "descension of Jesus," to describe his second coming. What the Bible shows is that it will be very similar to his first nuzul, his first descension to earth when he became the man Jesus of Nazareth. We do not have to rely on speculations here because, as we have seen, he himself taught that he was in heaven before the world began. A passage of scripture says, "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:17). Jesus confirmed this when he said:
I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Luke 10:18
According to the Bible, the fall of Satan took place when he attempted to usurp the throne of God in heaven and make himself like the Most High (Isaiah 14:14). This took place before the creation of Adam and Eve, which is obvious because, when he tempted them, he had already become the greatest of all devils. The Quran places the fall of the great Shaytaan, whom it names Iblis (which is derived from the original Greek word which gives us our word "diabolical"), at the beginning of creation, saying that he refused to bow to Adam at Gods command (Surah 2:34), complaining that Adam had only been made of dust while he had been made of fire (Surah 7:18). Nonetheless both books place Satans fall at a very early age and Jesus emphatically stated, "I was there, I saw it happen."
On another occasion, Jesus declared that he had shared his Fathers glory "before the world was made" (John 17:5), another statement confirming that he had been in heaven for ages before he came to earth. From these statements we can explain to Muslims why he is going to return to earth and, once the uniqueness of his two comings is fully appreciated, you can move on to reveal to them precisely who Jesus really is and why he will one day come back to call the whole earth, both the dead and the living, to the day of destiny and the separation of all men to eternal life or everlasting condemnation. An important point here is how Jesus will appear when he returns, and we will proceed to examine this question first before moving on to the full implications of his second coming.
How Jesus will be Identified on His Return
Muslims believe Jesus will return to the great mosque of Damascus in Syria and that he will land on one of its minarets before coming down to earth. I have often asked Muslims how Jesus could be identified on his return if he was to return as no more than an ordinary man. If someone was to appear in Syria and be interviewed one day on TV, claiming, "I am Isa. I returned from heaven earlier today. No one saw me but here I am," how would anyone know it really was him? Some Muslims, aware of the need to be able to positively identify him, believe he will have a bone missing in one of his fingers. This is no more than a typical myth but it does show the problem of identifying any ordinary, bearded man dressed in white, as Jesus if he claims to be him. Significantly, there is a tradition in Islam telling Muslims how to recognise him. Muhammad is recorded as saying:
There is no prophet between me and him, that is, Jesus (pbuh). He will descend (to the earth). When you see him, recognise him: a man of medium height, reddish hair, wearing two light yellow garments, looking as if drops were falling down from his head though it will not be wet. Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol.3, p.1203
A Muslim friend of mine once said to me, "When Jesus comes I believe he will come from heaven shining like a light." I replied, "Why do you say this? This is what Christians believe." He answered, "Look where he is coming from. You cannot come from heaven looking like this," pointing to himself. He made a crucial point. The issue is not whether Jesus will return to Damascus, Mecca or Jerusalem, the question is where he is coming from. He will be coming from heaven. Having been alive there for thousands of years it is highly unlikely that he will come back in an ordinary, earthly form. Coming from heaven, he will surely bear the glory of heaven. Jesus himself confirmed that he will return in heavenly splendour in these words:
Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heaven will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of man 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; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Matthew 24:29-31
When even the sun casts a shadow a new brightness will appear. All the earth will see the glory and power of Jesus as the heavens are opened and his presence fills the skies. His light will be so splendid that even the stars and galaxies will recede before him. This is one of the greatest facts about the second coming of Jesus that you need to emphasise with Muslims and you have the testimony of Jesus himself to support it.
This will not be something entirely new. When the Apostle Paul saw Jesus in a heavenly vision on the road to Damascus, a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shone around him and those who were with him (Acts 26:13). When the Apostle John had a vision of the glorified Christ on the island of Patmos, "his face was like the sun shining in full strength" (Revelation 1:16). Even while he was on earth he gave three of his disciples, Peter, James and John, a vision of his heavenly glory as he was transfigured before them. "His face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light." (Matthew 17:2)
We have no doubt therefore how he will be recognised when he returns. No one will fail to recognise him. He will not descend as a man of flesh and blood, he will be revealed from heaven in all his splendour. Another key text can be quoted here:
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so, Amen. Revelation 1:7
More than five billion people currently populate the earth. Billions of others have been buried in previous generations. Prophets and saints, kings and tyrants, small and great, have all alike perished and gone back to the dust from whence they came. But right now one man is alive in heaven where he ascended and from where he will return. He has been there almost two thousand years whereas very few other men ever reach a hundred years. It is surely absurd to believe that he is, to this day, nothing more than an ordinary human being.
As I have already mentioned, I have often chatted with Muslims about the fact that Jesus is the only person who ever lived who has three tombs on earth (two in Jerusalem and one in Medina). Three tombs for one man! Yet Jesus fills none of them and never will. They can dig a thousand graves for Jesus and will be wasting useful energy.
For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. Romans 6:9
If Jesus had not died but had simply been raptured alive to heaven as Muslims believe, there would have been no point keeping him there once those who sought his life had passed away. He should have been sent back to earth to complete his mission. This is exactly what happened when Herod sought to kill him when he was only two years old. When Herod died, however, Jesus and his family returned from Egypt to Galilee in Israel (Matthew 2:21). The ascension of Jesus to heaven after his death and resurrection, however, makes much more sense and it explains why he has been alive in heaven, in perfect health, ever since. He is glorified in heaven, and it is from the same heaven, with the same glory, that he will return. Impress this glorious truth on Muslims.
The First and Second Comings of Jesus
I believe, however, that the most effective Christian witness at this point to Muslims centres on the two advents of Jesus on earth taken together. One needs to look at the second coming in context with his first coming. We have already seen that Jesus plainly taught that he came from heaven in the first place. He consistently also taught that he would return to heaven, a fact which is not only confirmed in the Bible but is believed universally by Muslims. He will return from heaven to earth at the end of time.
The key question here for Muslims is why Jesus dwelt on the earth for such a short period of only thirty-three years when he had spent millennia in heaven before this and has done so ever since. There must have been a special purpose for his coming to earth the first time. You can give the Muslims two fundamental reasons for his appearance on earth as an ordinary human being two millennia ago.
Firstly, he came to bridge the gap between heaven and earth, between the God of holiness and sinful men. No one has beaten death and ascended to heaven to live there for ever (John 3:13). All men die and wither as their bodies decay in the ground. A chasm exists between heaven and earth for this reason:
Behold, the Lords hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, so that he does not hear. Isaiah 59:1-2
The God of heaven dwells in unapproachable light with his holy angels. Sinful men and women on earth cannot enter the portals of the Most High. Muslims believe that, when Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden for their transgression, they were subsequently forgiven, but they were never let back into the Garden. They died and perished like all their descendants do. Jesus came from heaven to close the gap which we could not bridge from earth. He did this by bringing something of heaven into this world, namely himself. The divine spirit of the second person of the Triune God took human form and, by uniting man to God and God to man, brought the presence of God in human form to all humans who walk the face of this lonely planet.
Secondly, he bridged the gap between earth and heaven by dying for our sins as an ordinary human being. On the cross, he endured the wrath of God against universal human sin so that we could be forgiven, be born of the Spirit of God, and eventually be transformed ourselves into heavenly beings who will ascend likewise to the eternal heavenly realm where we too will live for ever! To do this Jesus had to become like us. Because we are only flesh and blood, "he himself likewise partook of the same nature" (Hebrews 2:14). He came, "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Romans 8:3) to redeem it. He has become the mediator between man and God and, by his death and resurrection, has become the door through which we can walk into the highest heavens where our God and Father dwells.
Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:17
Jesus did not come like some alien Superman who can fly through the skies at his own discretion, exercise awesome physical power to achieve his purposes, and be immune to all diseases, bullets and bombs. He became like us in every respect. He assumed the very weaknesses of our human nature, and ultimately he died as we will die. He bridged the gap between God and men from both sides – from heaven to earth by becoming a human being, and from earth to heaven by conquering sin and death on the cross.
Muslims believe Jesus did not complete his earthly mission and must return to do so. In denying his crucifixion, death and resurrection, it is no wonder Islam misses the accomplishment of his task. Reveal to Muslims how this was the supreme work for which Jesus came and was the greatest victory any human being has ever achieved on earth – to conquer death. As he approached his crucifixion he asked:
And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. John 12:27
As he died he cried out: Accomplished! (John 19:30) Most translations mitigate the force of the single Greek word (usually in this form: "It is finished!"). No, in a remarkable way, one his disciples could not possibly have discerned at the time, his sudden, unexpected, humiliating death was itself the victory to surpass all others and would be confirmed three days later when he rose from the dead.
Jesus came to earth the first time to become just like us in every respect to save us from our sins. Yet, when he returns the second time in all his heavenly glory, he will come to make us like himself. We have seen how many texts speak of Jesus shining like the sun in full strength in his heavenly splendour. This is precisely what he says will happen to us when he returns to earth:
Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Matthew 13:43
He came the first time in all humility in ordinary human form to redeem us from our sins. He will return the second time in all his glory so that we might share it with him. He brought himself down the first time to earth. He will take us to himself in the heavenly realms when he returns the second time. In your witness to Muslims emphasise the fact of the second coming and how it inevitably links to his first coming. Show Muslims how they too can become partakers of the divine nature and receive the forgiveness of their sins by becoming disciples of Jesus now, and how they can be transformed when he returns and be raised with the same glory he presently radiates.
The nuzul-i-Isa in Islam, his second coming to earth, is a tremendous point of common ground for a very effective witness to Muslims.
Sharing the Gospel with Muslims [Table of Contents]
Materials by John Gilchrist
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