By Pastor Glenn Pease
Life is full of serendipity, which is the finding of things you are not looking for, when you are searching for something else. Columbus was looking for Asia, and instead he found America. Edison was looking for the electric light, and he found the phonograph. Pasteur was looking for a way to keep wine from turning sour, and he found the process of pasteurization. The world is full of discovers which are made by people looking for something else. It happens to all of us. We go to the attic or garage looking for something and we discover something else we forgot we had, and we are delighted that we found it.
This is what is called serendipity. The word was coined in 1754 by Sir Horace Walpole who read the Persian tale of Three Princes of Serendip who were always finding things they were not looking for. He called this experience serendipity. It was my experience of serendipity that changed my whole perspective on Matt. 24. I was reading for my Sunday School class on Revelation, and I was seeking to grasp the views of Dr. Henry Morris, who got his degree from the University of Minnesota, and who worked for years at the Institute For Creation Research in California. He is famous for his work in this field, and is also a Professor of Apologetics at Christian Heritage College in San Diago.
In his book The Revelation Record, he begins with a look at the Apostle John and the strange rumor that ends his Gospel. Jesus had just told Peter about the way He would die. Peter responded by saying, "What about John?" Jesus says in John 21:22, "If I want him to remain until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." Now Jesus did not say John would live until the second coming, but only that it was his business and not Peter's. The rumor, however, spread that John would not die but live to see the return of Christ.
Now why in the world would John end his Gospel with a false rumor about his living to the second coming? Could it be because it turns out not to have been a false rumor after all, and that he did, in fact, live to see Christ come again? Dr. Morris opened my eyes to a whole new world dealing with the coming of Christ. He made this comment on John's visions in the book of Revelation: "In one sense, John did indeed tarry until Christ came. On the wonderful Lord's Day when John received the book of Revelation Christ did "Come" back to John's presence...So that John saw his beloved Lord once more. Furthermore John was allow to see all the events that would be associated with Christ's eventual second coming to the earth, so that he could record them for the instruction and inspiration of all believers between his day and the last day."
Before John died he saw the second coming of Christ in all its glory and power. The entire future of God's plan for man was unveiled and unfolded, and John saw it with his own eyes, and he put it in a book where all of us can see it. Did John really see the second coming? Yes he did! He could not have recorded it if he had not seen it. This is a serendipity experience for me, for I was looking for ideas about Revelation, and suddenly I discover the very piece of knowledge I needed to understand the mysteries of Matt. 24. Jesus clearly says he is coming in power and great glory immediately after the tribulation, that is the worst tribulation that was ever to happen to the generation He was speaking to-the generation that killed the Son of God.
We know this happened in 70 A. D., but did Jesus come after 70 A. D. as He said? It appears not from our perspective, and so this whole passage is stood on its head and made to mean everything but what it clearly says. To protect Jesus from being a false prophet Christians have ignored His clear statements and made Him say something entirely different from what He actually said. I followed these teachers myself, and made this the hardest and most complex chapter of the Bible to interpret, until I learned that it is possible to believe Jesus, and take Him at His word, and see that He really did come in power and great glory just as He said.
He came to John in power and glory, and by way of John to the whole church by means of the book of Revelation. But my question was, are there other comings of Christ after His death and before His literal coming in the flesh, which will end history. I began to study the words of the New Testament that described the coming of Christ, and I discovered that the answer was yes.
One of the key words for His coming is the Greek word parousia. At least 15 of the 17 times it is used of Jesus it refers to His second coming. But look at the very interesting exception where it is used of His first coming, or, rather, a second coming during His first coming, which happened on the Mt. of Transfiguration. Listen to II Peter 1:16-18, "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye witnesses of His majesty, for He received honor and glory from
God the Father when the voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory, saying, this is my Son whom I love, with Him I am well pleased. We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain." Peter, James and John were permitted to see Jesus come in power and glory and majesty even before He died. The future of their Lord broke into time, and they experienced the parousia even before the first coming had ended. Jesus had already appeared in power and glory to the three of His inner circle.
The point I am making is that God can reveal the parousia at any time. The coming of Jesus in power and great glory is not limited to the coming that ends history. It is not out of line with the New Testament at all to believe Jesus when He says He will appear in power and great glory to the world after 70 A. D. This becomes all the more easily to see when we study the word coming in Matt. 24:30. "They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory." The Greek word for coming is erchomai, it is the same word used in 24:39 where we read, "That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man." The same word is used in 24:42, "Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come." Also in 24:44, "So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him." It is used 8 times in this chapter. It is the number one word used to describe the second coming of Christ.
Jesus then used this word to describe a coming of Himself to the people of His generation, and a coming that was different than His just being there. When He sent His 12 out to preach the Gospel of the kingdom to the lost sheep of Israel He concluded His instructions with these words in Matt. 10:23, "I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes." This is a shocking prophecy, for Jesus is saying that before the church goes into all the world, and even before Israel is fully reached there will be an erchomai-a coming of the Son of Man.
Now you have a choice. You can follow the liberals that just say Jesus was plain wrong. He had a misconception and just did not know what He was saying, or you can follow those who twist plain language to mean something else than what it obvious means. Or you have the third option which is believing Jesus knew what He was saying, and believing it was prophecy that was fulfilled. The coming of Christ can be literal, or it can be in an historical event, or it can be in a spiritual experience. We need to see this to understand the coming of Christ. In John 14:18, Jesus in the context of telling His disciples He was about to leave them says, "I will not leave you as orphans: I will come (erchomai) to you."
He goes on, "Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you." On what day is this that Jesus will come again after leaving them? I is obvious the Jesus is speaking of the day of His resurrection. Jesus left this world in death, but He came back again, and the word used for that coming is the same word used for His second coming all through the New Testament. Easter was, in fact, a second coming for Jesus, for He had ascended to the Father and then came back into time, and to the earth in His new body. He left, and then came back again. That is what a second coming is.
The hope of God's people all through time is for God to dwell with them, and make His home in their midst. This dream is finally fulfilled in Rev. 22:3, "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people and God himself will be with them ad be their God." Now this will not be until after the final second coming and the end of history, but the fact is, the future has already come in Christ's coming after His resurrection. Jesus using this same word erchomai says in John 14:23, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." This is the ultimate goal of life-to live with God in the same house, and Jesus says this can happen in a coming that is long before the final coming. It is a coming that can and does happen every time a person anywhere on this planet opens their heart to Jesus in conversion, or in renewed surrender. Christ is coming again to people all over the world every day of history.
Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, and so He not only comes to bring eternal life to us, He comes again to bring us to eternal life. He says in John 14:3, "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may be where I am." In our careless reading of this promise we think this is the second coming, but if that was the case, the thief on the cross was taken to heaven that very day of Christ's death, and yet the 12 Apostles are still waiting to be taken there at the second coming. Paul, however, says that to be absent from the body is to be with the Lord. He went to be with Christ the day he died. If this coming back to take the 12 is not until the second coming, then they will be just about the last people in paradise.
This promise to the disciples only makes sense when we see it as a promise to come and take each of them to heaven when they die. What a comfort that is to all believers. You are not left to wander through strange tunnels and be alone. Jesus says He will come(erchomai) and take you to the Father's mansion. He is our Shepherd and Guide, and just when we need it most He will be there. Every death is a mini-rapture where Jesus comes to each child of God and takes them up to meet the Father, and be with Him forever. This means there is a second coming of Christ every day in history as He comes to take His own home. He is ever near and we never know when He will be coming to receive us to Himself.
We see this clearly in the experience of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. In Acts 7:55-56 we read, "But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Look, he said, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." The crown rushed on him and stoned him to death. Stephen had his own private rapture as he prayed before he died, "Lord Jesus receive my spirit." He was taken directly into the Father's mansion by Christ as he died.
This became a traditional way of describing death for the believer. Eusebius, the early church historian, in the account of the death of James has him saying to his killers, "Why do you ask me about the Son of Man? He is seated in heaven at the right hand of the great power, and is about to come on the clouds of heaven." Jesus comes again in power to take his own to heaven. This was the early tradition, and it is based on the promise of Jesus to come again to receive His own to Himself.
We need to also face the reality of Jesus coming in judgment. In Revelation the word erchomai is used 7 times for the second coming, but it used also for a coming that is before that final coming. It is used in Rev. 2:5 where we read, "If you do not repent I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place" This is a promise to come again to discipline the church of Ephesus. Jesus does not wait for the second coming to do all his judgment. He comes into history along the way and disciplines His people. There is not way to know how many times Jesus has come back into this world. All we can conclude is that it has been many times, and often in probably every period of history. In a very real sense, there are second comings that are going on continuously, and will continue until history ends in His final coming in the flesh.
In Rev. 2:16 Jesus says it again to the church of Pergamum, "Repent therefore! Otherwise I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth." This is a warning, and a case where Christians are being told to prevent this second coming of Jesus, for it is a coming in judgment. If they repent they will prevent His coming, and this is a good thing. What a paradox! Here are Christians who are urged to do all they can to prevent Christ coming to them. Not all comings of Jesus are good, for He will also come in judgment. This is a "Just wait until your father gets home," type of coming, and Jesus does not want to come in that way.
Jesus wants to come into history and our lives, but always as a friend and guide. That is why He says in Rev. 3:20, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will go in and eat with him and he with me." That is the way Jesus wants to come into each of our lives-at conversion, at renewal, and on every occasion that we are willing to invite Him to join us.
Now what is the value of seeing all of these pre-second coming second comings? The value is that we see Jesus is not way off in another universe, but is actively involved in this world that He died to save. He is active in history, lives, and churches, and was from the start. Right after the cross Jesus began His coming back into time and history, and He has never ceased. One day He will come for the last time, and the curtain will fall on the play of life in time once and for all. But meanwhile we need to be aware of His comings. If you are locked into just His final coming, and you fail to see the many others, then many of the things Jesus said will not make sense. Especially this whole scene He describes as following immediately after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A. D.
Verses 29-31 sound so much like the final coming that few ever dream it could be on of the many pre-second comings that run all through the New Testament. But Jesus says it is a pre-second coming because He says in v. 24 that it will happen before that generation passes away. Now if this was an isolated statement, it could be considered a mystery we just cannot understand, but when you find every one of the Gospels have similar statements by Jesus, and that He clearly planned to return from heaven to that generation of people, then you cannot escape its clear meaning.
Listen to these texts that say clearly that Jesus will be seen by the people of His day.
1. In John 1:51 Jesus says to Nathaniel, "I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."
2. Jesus responded to the question of the high priest at His trial, "Are you the Son of the Blessed One?" by saying in John 14:62, "I am and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." That, of course, was the last straw, and for that kind of language they judged Jesus worthy of death. It was blasphemy for Jesus to say they would see Him as their Lord and King. Of course, it was not blasphemy if He really was, but they did not believe it.
3. Jesus said to the crowd in Mark 9:1, "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God come with power."
4. Matthew makes it even stronger in Matt. 16:28, "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."
5. Stronger yet is the text of Matt. 10:23 where Jesus says, "When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes."
6. Mark 13:30 has Jesus saying, "Amen, I tell you, that this generation will not pass away before all these things happen."
7. Luke 21:32 has Jesus saying, "I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened."
Our major problem is that we do not have an adequate concept of just how important that generation was in God's plan. We have no idea of the significance of 70 A. D. because, even though it was the end of an age, and in a very real sense the end of the world for the Jewish system of worship, and the generation that rejected Jesus, we seldom hear about it. Yet Jesus said it was going to be the worst experience of tribulation the world has ever known, or will ever know. This is confirmed by the radical language used to describe His coming on that generation. Jesus made it so clear that He was coming again to judge that generation that it was one of the reasons they sought to kill Him.
In Matt. 21 He told the parable of the tenants who refused to pay the land owner his share of the crop. He sent servants to collect, but they drove them away and killed them. He sent His Son, and they threw Him out and killed Him too. Then Jesus uses violent language. The owner comes in anger, and in verse 41 Jesus says, "He will bring those wretches to a wretched end." Mark states it, "He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others."
In His parable in Matt. 22 Jesus tells the same story in a new context. The king is giving a wedding banquet for his son, but those invited reject the invitation, and they kill the servants who bring the invitation. Jesus says in Matt. 22:7, "The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city." This is what happened in 70 A. D. Look at the last verse of Matt. 24: "He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." The most violent language in the New Testament revolves around the coming of Christ in judgment on that generation. Did the leaders of Israel get the point? Yes they did, for Matt. 21:45-46 says, "When the chief priests and Pharisees heard Jesus' parables they knew He was talking about them. They look for a way to arrest Him."
Jesus kept His word, and He did return in judgment on that generation in 70 A. D., and the reason the language sounds so radical like the final coming and end of the world is because it was a preview of that final end. It was a type of the day of judgment, and the rapture of the church out of that judgment. But its primary focus is on the fulfillment of all Jesus said was coming on that generation. Jesus ended the history of God's people, and began a whole new history with a new people of God.
What I have done in this message is to make it clear that Jesus comes in many ways in history before He comes to end history. He comes to judge; He comes to take us at death; He comes to indwell us at conversion, and He comes to renew and empower us when we submit anew to His Lordship.