The implications of the Second Coming

“The return of Jesus to earth at the end of time is yet another of those unique features that implies that Jesus was far greater than the other prophets. Christians and Muslims may differ in what they expect Jesus to accomplish on his return but both expect him in any event to take control of all the earth with himself as Judge of all. This alone puts him head and shoulders above all other men in accomplishment and again makes him unique among men - a uniqueness which is vested in heavenly majesty and glory.

Of no other man in history can we read of such a phenomenal beginning and end to his life on earth. No one else compares with him. In his birth, ascension and second coming, in his character, destiny and ultimate glory, he stands high above all other men who have ever lived on earth. Let us see just how his second coming can also be used as a means to lead Muslims to see the fulness of his glory and the truth of the Christian Gospel.

In their comments on Surah 43.61 we found both Yusuf Ali and Maulana Daryabadi speaking of the "second coming" and "second advent" of Jesus respectively. Some years ago Adam Peerbhai, a South African Muslim author, wrote a booklet canvassing the various traditions referring to the return of Jesus to earth and titled it Hadis Text on the Second Coming of Jesus. A key to the implications of this anticipated phenomenon is found in just one word used by all three authors without much reflection on its immediate implications - the word second. Each speaks of the second coming of Jesus.

The implication is this - if there is to be a second coming, there must have been a first coming. Christians have become accustomed to using the expression "second coming" simply because they believe that Jesus came from heaven the first time. Muslims have some dispute among themselves as to where he will land on his return to earth. Most believe he will descend to the eastern minaret of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus, some believe he will descend upon the Dome of the Rock or the Mount of Olives, while yet others that he will land in Mecca or Medina. None of these beliefs is important the important thing is where he is coming from. He is coming from heaven.

I have often suggested to Muslims that if they can believe that Jesus will return from heaven when he comes to earth the second time, it should not be too hard for them to believe that he might have come from heaven the first time. There is much to be gained at this point by quoting the words of Jesus himself to this effect and I have already given a selection of quotations from the Gospels in which he made it plain that he had in fact come down from heaven. Another quote that I have found very useful in this respect is the statement of Jesus, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (Luke 10.18). Muslims believe, following the Qur'n (Surah 7.8), that Satan was cast down in disgrace right at the beginning of creation. When Jesus said that he saw him fall, it was his way of saying "I was there, I saw it happen"- a telling testimony to his presence in heaven even from the beginning of the world. Another useful text emphasizing the presence of Jesus in heaven centuries before his first coming to earth is this one where Jesus prayed:

“And now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made.” John 17.5

As the Muslims concede that he has been in heaven for nearly twenty centuries since his first sojourn on earth, notwithstanding their prejudices against the Gospel I have found them quite open at this point and willing to consider that he could just as logically have been there at least twenty centuries before he came into the world.

Our witness at this point must lead to two thrusts - the purpose of his first coming to earth and the real meaning of his second coming. Let us consider them in order. If Jesus was alive in heaven for centuries before he came into the world and has been so ever since, then the key question is why he ever descended to earth to live among us for thirty-three years of which only the last three had any real public significance. In the context of all we have said thus far I do believe there are two points that should be made. The first that we shall consider is that Jesus came to bridge the gap between heaven and earth, the chasm that exists by nature between the Holy God and sinful men.

In conversation with Muslims I have often said that most fairy stories begin “Once upon a time..." and end "... and they all lived happily ever after.” Not so the reality of life. It might begin the same way but the ultimate truth about all men is that none lives happily ever after but all come to disaster. We all die like moths and come to nothing. ”No one has ascended into heaven", Jesus said (John 3.13), for there is a gaping chasm between God and men, between heaven and earth, for which the prophet Isaiah gives the reason:

Behold, the Lord's 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.

No one from earth can bridge the gap. Sinful men are, by nature, incapable of rising above the realm of the world in which they were made. They are nothing more than mortal flesh and blood and "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable" (1 Corinthians 15.50). This explains why Jesus came into the world from heaven the first time. He bridged the gap by bringing something of heaven into the world - his very own self. He assumed an earthly body and lived as an ordinary man, but within him dwelt a divine spirit which had come down from heaven.

He not only closed the gap between heaven and earth but bridged the gap the other way as well. When he came to the earth he came, as the Qur'n rightly puts it, as a ruhun minhu - a spirit from him (i.e. God). But when he returned to heaven he returned as an insaan, a human being. His divine spirit returned to its heavenly abode but he took something of earth to heaven with him - he took the human nature he had assumed when he first came into the world. He came then purely as a spirit, but he returned as a man, as a human being. He thus fully bridged the gap between heaven and earth and his living presence in heaven as a human being is our pledge and assurance that we too, though mortal men of flesh and blood, can one day be in heaven with him in eternal glory and bliss.

The second point, and perhaps the greatest reason for the first coming of Jesus into the world, was to become like us in every respect so that he might save us from our sins. Because we are only flesh and blood, "he himself likewise partook of the same nature" (Hebrews 2.14) so that he might deliver us from the power of Satan, from our natural enslavement to sin, and redeem us to God.

"He had to be made like his brethren in every respect" (Hebrews 2.17), he had to assume a body of flesh and blood, so that he might conquer both the power and penalty of sin in the very realm where for so long it had maintained its domain - the human body.

When God wanted to send prophets to the world, he simply chose out ordinary men who were born naturally and who were destined to die naturally, to do his work. If Jesus came from heaven and returned there, surely there must have been another reason for his advent.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ, so complacently overlooked in Islam as an unsuccessful plot of the Jews, alone explains why Jesus came from heaven the first time and why he will return again. He came not to be a mere prophet, he came as God's chosen Deliverer and Redeemer to save millions of men and women by dying for them on the cross, where he endured what was due to all of them for their sins, so that they might receive the hope of eternal life by following him as their Lord and Saviour.

He did not come like the Superman of the American comics, a man who can fly through the skies at his own discretion and from whose body bullets simply bounce off. He came like us in every respect and at no time did he use his divine powers to give himself any advantage over us. Be came as a normal human being and he suffered, died and was buried so that he might bridge the gap between heaven and earth completely - not only between God and men but to the very extreme of sinful man's separation from the Lord of heaven - between God and sinful men who lie hopelessly dead and buried in the dust of earth.

It is against the background of Jesus' unique beginning and end to his life - a virgin-birth made necessary because of his heavenly origin and his ultimate ascension to heaven - that Christians can really show Muslims why Jesus came into the world the first time.

What of the second coming? Let us first consider how Jesus shall appear before we decide how to relate this to the Gospel in our witness to Muslims. Jesus himself gave a number of illustrations to show how he shall be when he returns to earth of which we shall consider just two which fully describe the impact that there will be when he is revealed:

"For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of man be in his day.” Luke 17.24

"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 heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the eatth 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.

In these words we have a far clearer picture of how Jesus will return. The sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its light, the stars of the sky will fall, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken, and then, in their place, a new brightness will appear. The whole earth will see Jesus appear in a cloud with heavenly power and glory as he calls out all those who are his own. The contrast between the present order and the new order he will bring in is finely described in the second quote. The glory, brightness and power of the present order will recede before the revelation of his majesty and power when he returns from heaven.

The point Jesus was making was this: when he appears even the sun will cast a shadow and be darkened. Before his glory not only the sun but all the stars will fade and recede. All the energies and powers in the universe will be shaken. His light will be so splendid that even the sun's light will not compare with it. When the Apostle Paul had his great vision of the glory of Jesus on the way to Damascus he said that he saw "a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining round me and those who journeyed with me" (Acts 26.13). The Apostle John likewise had a vision of Jesus in heaven after his ascension and testified that "his face was like the sun shining in full strength" (Revelation 1.16).

The issue is how this will affect us. He came into the world the first time as an ordinary man so that he might be made like us in every way. He will come a second time, as he really is, so that he might make those who believe in him just like himself. All his followers will be transformed into his image to share his glory for ever and ever. Jesus himself stated it plainly: "Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matthew 13.43). In another passage of Scripture we have a similar promise:

Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3.2

He will return shining with all the brightness of his heavenly glory, and then those who are his will be transformed into the same image to share his glory. Those who have died in ordinary human bodies, who nevertheless followed him as their Lord and Saviour will, on that glorious Day, be raised from the dead and taken up to be with him in heavenly glory for all eternity. Their present bodies are perishable, but they will be raised imperishable. They are mortal now, but then they will be raised immortal. They share now the ordinary human body of flesh that Adam, their first father, shared, but on that Day they will inherit the same resplendent, heavenly body of spirit and life that Jesus Christ, their eternal Saviour and Lord, already shares.

As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 1 Corinthians 15.48-49.

Here the Christian has, in my view, an ideal way of explaining the three unique features we have considered, namely the virgin-birth, ascension and second coming of Jesus. By setting each against the background of the heavenly realm to which Jesus by nature belongs, from which he came, to which he returned and whence he will come again, we can very effectively communicate the Gospel to Muslims. The essence of our witness in this context should always be twofold - the first coming, in which Jesus became like us to redeem us from sin, and the second coming, by which we shall become like him to share his glory for ever and ever.

We need to show Muslims that the unique circumstances we have considered, which they readily admit, imply that Jesus was far more than a prophet, that he was in fact the Son of God who came into the world to save us from our sins. Each one loses its meaning in the Qur'n when this is denied. It is only in the Bible, where we behold a Divine Saviour who came to redeem men from their sins, that these unique features take on meaning and have any real significance.

It is that 'more' upon which the whole New Testament proceeds - the 'more' of Messianic action to redeem, the 'more' of God's loving engagement with the sequel to rejected 'education' of the world, the 'more' of a divine expressing of the Word, hitherto only spoken, but now in flesh and personality, in suffering and salvation. (Cragg, Muhammad and the Christian, p. 126).”

The Implications of the Second Coming

Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews
“This is a book by a Christian and a Jew, written for religious and nonreligious people alike, about a teaching central to both our traditions: the teaching that at the end of time God will cause the dead to live again. Although this expectation, known as the resurrection of the dead, has been a part of Christianity from its beginnings nearly two thousand years ago, and a part of Judaism even longer, it is widely misunderstood by both believers and nonbelievers. We intend this book to clear up some of the confusion by telling the fascinating but little-known story of the origins of the belief in resurrection, exploring why in ancient times some Christians and Jews actually opposed the teaching, and showing why others insisted that the belief was essential to their faith and must never be surrendered or reinterpreted out of existence. Along the way, we explore a neglected continuity between Christianity and Judaism, and in our last chapter, we discuss ways in which these two religious traditions relate their respective practices in the here-and-now to the new life that they believe will follow upon the anticipated resurrection.

For whom have we written this book? We have not had our fellow scholars primarily in mind, but rather the layperson who may have an interest in the Bible and in ancient Christianity and Judaism but lacks specialized training in those highly technical and often frustrating subjects, with all their foreign terms and complex histories. Our goal is to communicate to a larger readership some of the rich insights into the resurrection of the dead that have emerged among scholars of antiquity in recent decades and yet mostly remain, unfortunately, unknown to the general public.

One of the most common misunderstandings of resurrection is that it is the same thing as immortality, that is, life after death. Many people think that "resurrection is just an old-fashioned religious word for the survival of our souls after the inevitable deaths of our bodies. In fact, however, resurrection envisions the return of the whole person, body and soul together, not simply the continuing survival of his or her "spiritual" dimension. It is thus not at all a natural event what could be more natural than death? but rather a reversal of death brought about by the God who is the creator of nature and thus the sole master over it. Indeed, for ancient Christians and for their contemporaries, the early Talmudic rabbis, the resurrection of the dead was the prime example of the incomparable power of God. The hope that the dead would rise from the grave thus rested not on an analysis of human nature but on the conviction that God would prove faithful to his promises. It was a matter of faith in the classical biblical understanding of the word: unwavering trust in God. It did not, in the first instance, speak to the self-interested question, "Will I have life after death?" but to the more encompassing and vastly more profound question, "Will God prove faithful to his promises?"

Because Christians associate "the Resurrection" (with a capital R) with the reports in the gospels of Jesus' rising from his grave, they are often surprised to find that Jews had believed in resurrection long before Christianity emerged. And Christians and Jews alike who think that Judaism is defined by the plain sense of the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament, as Christians eventually came to call it) may for that reason, too, think that resurrection was a Christian innovation with no parallel in Judaism. For the Hebrew Bible rarely speaks of the reversal of death. But in this book we show that things were actually quite different. The Hebrew Bible occasionally attests to God's power over death and even tells a few stories of how he raised dead individuals. But, more centrally, it speaks with great frequency of God's everlasting promise to Israel, the Jewish people, a promise that they would recover from even the most deadly adversity. In that promise, we show, lay the seeds of the belief in a future resurrection of the dead, brought about by the faithfulness of the God of Israel to the people Israel. About the time that the Christian church was emerging, rabbis found the promise of resurrection even in the five books of Moses or the Pentateuch and they made the belief in resurrection an obligatory aspect of Judaism. Although both Christians and Jews often think otherwise, one cannot understand Jesus or the early church apart from ancient Judaism in general and the question of how the Jews read their scriptures in particular.

This is the story we tell. Let it begin.”

Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews
Jon Douglas Levenson, Yale University Press (April 24 2008)

Product description

"This book brims with provocative insights and reveals many connections between the well-known Christian faith in resurrection and lesser known or previously unnoticed precedents and parallels in Jewish thought, the Hebrew Bible, and cognate literature." Jonathan Klawans, Boston University (Jonathan Klawans)

"This is a gem of a book. Jon Levenson and Kevin Madigan address and correct a number of widely held misconceptions about Judaism, Jesus, and Christian origins, which continue to distort Jewish-Christian relations to this day." Matthias Henze, Rice University (Matthias Henze)

"No one will think the same about resurrection after reading this wonderful volume. Powerful and persuasive readings of the Bible adorn nearly every page. It will provide a fruitful ground for Jews and Christians to explore the roots of their shared faith in the world to come." Gary A. Anderson, University of Notre Dame (Gary A. Anderson)

"This marvelous study of the resurrection of the body offers us the very best of Jewish and Christian scholarship on the two traditions, resulting in a book that will surely become the standard work on the subject for Jews and Christians alike and indeed for all who want insight into our shared hope for a life beyond the grave." Richard J. Mouw, Fuller Theological Seminary (Richard J. Mouw)

"Two Harvard scholars, one Jewish and the other Catholic, have co-authored this superb and readable treatment of a core belief in Judaism and Christianity resurrection and suggest how belief in resurrection can change one's life." Richard J. Clifford, S.J., Boston College School of Theology and Ministry (Richard J. Clifford, S.J.)

"How did Roman era Jews and Christians learn to trust God's faithfulness to raise the dead? Resurrection is a luminous scriptural story, beautifully told by Madigan and Levenson." David L. Tiede, Augsburg College (David L. Tiede)

"Accessible and engaging for the non-specialist, yet also with nuggets for the expert, Madigan and Levenson wonderfully clarify the biblical meaning of resurrection and illuminate both Christian and Jewish faiths." Walter Moberly, Durham University (Walter Moberly)

"Cogent and accessible. . . . The deft historical arguments of Resurrection will draw adherents of both [Christianity and Judaism] to explore their 'neglected continuity.'" Michael Peppard, Commonweal (Michael Peppard Commonweal 2008-05-09)

"In Resurrection, Madigan and Levenson provide a unique and groundbreaking entry into the concept of resurrection. As such the book is truly a landmark work." Gary A. Anderson, First Things (Gary A. Anderson First Things 2008-06-01)

"An important, even urgent book that comes with vigor and passion." Walter Brueggemann, The Christian Century (Walter Brueggemann The Christian Century 2008-07-01)

Product Description
This book, written for religious and nonreligious people alike in clear and accessible language, Although this expectation, known as the resurrection of the dead, is widely understood to have been a part of Christianity from its beginnings nearly two thousand years ago, many people are surprised to learn that the Jews believed in resurrection long before the emergence of Christianity. In this sensitively written and historically accurate book, religious scholars Kevin J. Madigan and Jon D. Levenson aim to clarify confusion and dispel misconceptions about Judaism, Jesus, and Christian origins.

Madigan and Levenson tell the fascinating but little-known story of the origins of the belief in resurrection, investigating why some Christians and some Jews opposed the idea in ancient times while others believed it was essential to their faith. The authors also discuss how the two religious traditions relate their respective practices in the here and now to the new life they believe will follow resurrection. Making the rich insights of contemporary scholars of antiquity available to a wide readership, Madigan and Levenson offer a new understanding of Jewish-Christian relations and of the profound connections that tie the faiths together.

About the Author
Kevin J. Madigan is professor of the history of Christianity, Divinity School, Harvard University. His previous books include The Passions of Christ in the High Middle Ages. Jon D. Levenson is Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies, Divinity School and Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University. He is the author of Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life, published by Yale University Press.

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