The Creator’s Grand Design—Part 10

Christ’s Return and the End of the World

THE second coming of Christ and the end of the world are both taught in the Bible, but these teachings became greatly distorted during the Dark Ages. It is quite generally supposed that Christ returns in the flesh and that as he approaches the earth it will become enveloped in flames and be completely destroyed. This is presumed to occur within a period of twenty-four hours, and in this same short space of time the righteous, according to this idea, will be caught up into heaven, while the wicked are consigned to a hell of torment. This crude conception of Christ’s return and the end of the world has turned many away from the study of the Bible.

It is true that the end of the world follows, and is the result of, Christ’s second advent, but the foretold end of the world as described in the Bible does not mean the destruction of the earth. We are assured by the Bible that the earth will never come to an end, that it abides forever. (Eccles. 1:4) We are also informed that the earth was not created in vain but was formed to be inhabited. (Isa. 45:18) In Acts 3:19-21 we find the Apostle Peter declaring that following Christ’s return there will be “times of restitution of all things,” not the destruction of everything, and that this future time of restoration has been foretold by the mouth of all God’s holy prophets since the world began. These promises of God concerning the restoration of the human race to health and life could not be fulfilled if the earth were destroyed.

In the prophecies of the Bible the word “world” is often used to indicate a social order, and in the New Testament it is a translation of the Greek word kosmos. In other instances “world” means an age, or a period of time, and is a translation of the Greek word aion. There are three main periods of time, or worlds, in God’s grand design for the redemption and recovery of the human race from death. One of these began with man’s creation and came to an end at the time of the Flood. Peter speaks of this era as “the world that was.” (II Pet. 3:6) We refer to it as “the world of yesterday.”

Another “world” began with the Flood, and the Bible teaches that this world will come to an end when Christ establishes his kingdom, following the destruction of this present evil world, or social order. We speak of this period as “the world of today.” It is appropriate that it should be called evil, for Satan is its god and prince. Its complete destruction will be a great blessing to mankind.

Then there is “the world of tomorrow.” Paul speaks of this as “the world to come.” (Heb. 2:5) It is not an “earth” to come but a new social order on this earth, which God created to be man’s eternal home. The spiritual rulers in that new social order will be Christ and his faithful followers; and the ancient worthies, restored to human perfection, will be the human representatives of the highly exalted Jesus and his followers.

God’s work in the earth during the first two worlds has been largely the selection and preparation of those who will manage the affairs of the messianic kingdom, which will rule throughout the earth during the first thousand years of the world of tomorrow. Throughout the time of the first two worlds, the people of God have been a persecuted and suffering people. It will be in the third world that the rebuke of God’s people will be taken away. Then the righteous will flourish, and all the willfully wicked will be destroyed from among the people.—Acts 3:23

The End of the World

The Bible’s prophecies show clearly that the present evil world does come to an end as a result of Christ’s second presence, but this is the ending of a social order, not of the earth. In the prophecies much symbolic language is used to portray the end of the world. Literally the world of today is destroyed by what the Prophet Daniel described as “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation.” (Dan. 12:1) Jesus referred to this same trouble as a great tribulation that would come upon the people of the earth. (Matt. 24:21,22) He described this “tribulation” as “distress of nations, with perplexity,” and said that men’s hearts would fail them for fear.—Luke 21:25,26

This time of distress and trouble that destroys what men call civilization is symbolized in the prophecies by “fire,” “earthquakes,” “storms,” etc. In the Dark Ages the symbol “fire” was seized upon by the creedmakers and used in an effort to prove that the earth would be burned up, thus giving an entirely wrong understanding of the Bible’s prophecies pertaining to the end of the world.

The Apostle John saw the new heavens and new earth—that is, the coming new social order—in his vision on the Isle of Patmos; and among other things he tells us that in this new social order under Christ “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Rev. 21:1-4) This will be the consummation of the Creator’s grand design, when that which was lost through Adam will be restored through Christ.

The Second Advent

But this glorious consummation of the divine plan had to wait for the return of Christ and the subsequent establishment of his kingdom. Not understanding this, leaders developed the erroneous theory that Christ’s kingdom was established at Pentecost and that it has been increasing with each new conversion to Christ. One of the texts used to establish this error is the one which, in the King James Version reads, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” (Luke 17:21) A better translation would be, “The kingdom of heaven is among you,” and the passage is thus translated in many versions. The Emphatic Diaglott translation makes it even clearer. It reads, “God’s Royal Majesty is among you.” These words were addressed to the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day, and our Lord would hardly say that the kingdom of heaven was within them. But he was the prospective King of kings in his coming kingdom; and even though the time had not come for him to reign, he could say that “God’s Royal Majesty” was among them, or in their midst.

John the Baptist preached that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and so did Jesus. They simply meant that the preparatory work for the kingdom was beginning, that the King had come, not to begin his reign at once, but to lay down his life to redeem the world from death. Throughout the age since then, further preparatory work for the kingdom has been in progress, in that those to be associate rulers with Jesus in his kingdom were being selected and proved worthy. However, the kingdom in “power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30; Luke 21:27) had to wait for the return of the King and the destruction of this present evil world. To see this great truth is essential to our understanding of the plan of God as a whole.

No Longer a Man

But many who believed that Jesus would return to set up his kingdom have had an erroneous understanding of the manner of his return. They have supposed that he would return as a human, with wounds in his hands and feet and in his side. The Scriptures teach that when Jesus was raised from the dead he was no longer a human but a powerful divine being—“the image of the invisible God.” (II Cor. 5:16; I Pet. 3:18; Col. 1:15) This means that by nature Jesus is now invisible. It is this divine Christ who returns to earth at the second advent; hence the fact of his return will have to be recognized otherwise than by seeing him with the natural eye. In Romans 1:20 we read concerning God, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” Here is a key which will help us to understand the significance of the prophecies pertaining to the second coming of Christ. Christ is now invisible to human eyes, even as is the Heavenly Father; hence at his second advent he can be recognized only by the visible things that transpire and that can be identified through the prophetic pages of the divine Word as the “signs” which were to mark his return.

We have another illustration of this in the works of Satan. The Bible teaches that there is a personal Devil, yet no human has ever seen him. But we have all seen the results of his nefarious influence. The Apostle Paul tells us that Satan is “the god of this world” (II Cor. 4:4), the one who “now worketh in the children of disobedience.” And he also explains that Satan is a spirit who is “the prince of the power of the air.” (Eph. 2:2) Jesus speaks of Satan as “the prince of this world.” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) If we believe the Bible, we must believe that this powerful, invisible being has, throughout the centuries, been exercising control over the affairs of men.

It is the highly exalted, divine, and invisible Jesus who returns to prepare to set up his kingdom; and that kingdom will constitute a new world, a new social order. That Christ’s second presence would be invisible to human eyes has long been concealed by a mistranslation. As we all know, the Bible was not written originally in the English language; hence we who use the English language must depend upon translations from the original Hebrew of the Old Testament and from the Greek of the New Testament. While in most instances in our English Bibles very little of the exactness of meaning has been lost through mistranslation, there are exceptions, in which faulty translations have operated to conceal true and important teachings. As an example of this, we call attention to a Greek word which appears a number of times in the New Testament prophecies pertaining to Christ’s second visit to earth. It is the word parousia. In our Authorized English Version of the Bible this word is often mistranslated “coming,” whereas it should always be translated “presence.” Thus the prophetic signs of Christ’s second presence outlined in the prophecies were incorrectly interpreted as signs that his coming was near. This has led to a serious misunderstanding of the manner and purpose of our Lord’s return.

When, for example, the disciples inquired of Jesus, “What shall be the sign of thy coming [parousia, presence]?” (Matt. 24:3), they were not asking how they might know in advance when he would come but how they could know when he had come. In harmony with Romans 1:20, they wanted to know what visible things they were to look for as evidence that the invisible Christ had returned to establish his kingdom.

Archaeological discoveries reveal that the Greek word parousia was used in ancient times to describe the visits of kings and emperors to various cities and provinces of their realms. One discovery reveals that taxes to pay the expenses of such a visit were raised by issuing a special “parousia coin.” How appropriate, then, that this word should be used in connection with the visit to earth of the King of kings and Lord of lords! But, as in the case of the earthly rulers whose visits were thus described, so with Jesus, parousia does not mean the moment of arrival but covers the entire duration of the visit.

Jesus described the manner of his presence when he said to his disciples, “If they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning [Greek astrape, bright shining] cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming [parousia, presence] of the Son of man be.” (Matt. 24:26,27) When I return, Jesus is saying, you will not find me hidden away in some secret chamber, as you might find a man or a woman. Rather, you will discern my presence even as you discern the existence of God, and that is by the great things which you ascribe to him.

We behold the sunshine and the rain, warming and watering the earth that it might bring forth and provide for those upon it, and we say that this is evidence that God exists. So, Jesus explains, we will know of his second presence because it will be like a bright shining, similar to the sun, which comes out of the east and shines even unto the west.

This suggests the dawning of a new day, and this is what Christ’s second presence will eventually mean to the world of mankind. Jesus is prophetically referred to as the Sun of Righteousness” which arises “with healing in his wings.” (Mal. 4:2) Because of the shining of this “Sun,” the knowledge of the Lord will fill the whole earth “as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa. 11:9) From pole to pole that Sun will shine, and upon every continent and the isles of the sea. Its light and life-giving powers will be felt for good everywhere.

Solving World Problems

There will be no unsolved problems anywhere that are not taken care of by the bright shining of the Master’s presence, for nothing short of an east-to-west dispensation of this glorious Sun’s healing rays can fulfill Jesus’ own promise concerning the manner and object of his coming. Consider the problem of war. When the kingdom first begins to function, it will find mankind devastated by the ravages of war, revolution, and anarchy. But in due time the Lord will say to the nations, “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen [Gentiles], I will be exalted in the earth.” (Ps. 46:10) It will be then that the nations will “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks,” and nations shall learn war no more.—Mic. 4:1-4

We hear much these days about “war on poverty.” Poverty is indeed one of the major problems in the world. But through the agencies of Christ’s kingdom a “feast of fat things” will be made “unto all people,” and every man will dwell under his vine and fig tree, and there will be none to molest or make afraid. (Isa. 25:6; Mic. 4:4) We read further concerning this problem that “he [Christ] shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. … For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper [the forgotten man].”—Ps. 72:4,12

The problems of religion will also be solved then. Today earth’s millions worship a multiplicity of gods, and even those who attempt to worship the true God are hopelessly divided into factional groups from which there comes a jargon of conflicting claims, dogmas, and doctrines, some even claiming that “God is dead.” But all this will be changed, for the promise is that the Lord “will … turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent.”—Zeph. 3:9

Then there is the major problem of sickness and death. Unless this problem can be solved, mankind would still need to travel “through the valley of the shadow of death.” In such an event there could be no lasting peace and happiness anywhere, for every peaceful and happy home would be intermittently blighted by that dread enemy which counts its victims by the millions. But this problem will also be solved through Christ’s presence and kingdom.

In the solution of the problem of death, none are to be overlooked, for even those who have fallen asleep in death are to be awakened from that “sleep.” This means that none will need to lament the fact that Christ’s kingdom did not come sooner, before their father, mother, or other dear ones died, because these will all be restored to life. The power of that blessed One who broke up funerals in Judea more than nineteen centuries ago, simply by raising the dead to life, will again be exercised, not on behalf of a limited few, but for the restoration of all the families of the earth. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Only those who render obedience to the laws of the new kingdom will be saved from death everlastingly. Full obedience will be required, for full enlightenment will be provided. There will be no misunderstanding of the Lord’s requirements, all of which will be just and righteous. And those who willfully disobey “shall be destroyed from among the people.” (Acts 3:23) Nothing will be permitted to mar the perfection of God’s new world.

The enlightening rays of Christ’s presence will fill the earth with a knowledge of the glory of God. This means that all “doctrines of devils,” all superstitions, all human creeds and dogmas, all human precepts by which men are taught to fear God rather than to love him, all political intrigues, as well as the thousand and one other evils that have plagued a dying world are to be swept away and replaced by a true knowledge of God and his righteous laws.

With the knowledge of the glory of God filling the earth, there will come also the destruction of all the myriad citadels of sin and vice and crime. As that glorious Sun of Righteousness forces its enlightening and healing rays into the various dens of iniquity, the satanic darkness of these rendezvous of evil will give place to the glorious enlightenment of the new day.

There will not be a nook or corner in the earth where the light from that glorious “Sun” will not penetrate. The warmth of its healing rays will pervade the slums of our great cities and radiate into the institutions of suffering that we call hospitals. How thankful we are for these hospitals today, but how wonderful it will be when the bright shining of the Master’s presence destroys the diseases that make them necessary! The beds of sickness in the cottages of the peasants and also in the palaces of the rich will all be reached. Indeed, the distinctions between the rich and the poor will be dissolved, because all will be made rich, for the promise is that there shall be a feast of fat things for all.—Isa. 25:6-8

The prospect for the suffering peoples of earth is truly a glorious one. It has been well said that the hopes of the world are as bright as the promises of God, and these are very bright indeed. And not only bright, but sure. How glad we are to know that Christ does not return to destroy the earth but to bless the people with peace, health, and life, and that through the powerful agencies of his kingdom he will fulfill all the good promises of the Bible, that “all the families of the earth” will truly be blessed.

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Dawn Bible Students Association
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