Think with me about the two advents of Christ:
All Christians who read and study the Bible believe in the coming again of Jesus Christ. I would not say that all Christians are in agreement as to the details of His Coming. However, the fact of it is as unquestionable as is the historical proof of His first appearing, that the Lord Jesus Christ will return to earth a second time in the full power and glory of His Deity is a major theme of scriptural revelation.
The importance that God Himself attributes to the doctrine of the return of Christ in Scripture is in itself significant. Many of the prophecies in the Old Testament, pertaining to Jesus Christ, have to do with His appearing on earth in glory and majesty to reign. Someone has counted 319 verses in the New Testament, which are devoted to the return of Christ. This means that one out of every twenty-five verses in the New Testament is related to this major doctrine.
The First Prophecy!
Almost all-evangelical scholars are in agreement that the first overt prophecy that has to do with Christ and His redemptive work is Genesis 3v15.
"And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel."
We shall not attempt a full exposition of this verse. Actually it is not one single prophecy, but a compound prophecy. It is the fountainhead of all prophecy from which flows the ever-increasing stream of testimony to the promised Deliverer. One great promise respecting the Redeemer is that He should be of the human race, but peculiarly of the woman’s "seed," not the man’s. To fulfil this promise, Jesus Christ cannot, therefore, be begotten by any man. He must be born of a virgin. This is precisely what Isaiah prophesied more than 3000 years after the promise was first given:
Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Emmanuel (Isaiah 7v14).
In spite of atheistic denials and rationalistic evasions, this verse is a direct prophecy of the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ and supports Genesis 3v15. This fact is settled in view of the quotation of Isaiah’s prophecy in the New Testament:
"Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us (Matthew 1v22 + 23). And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore, also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" (Luke 1vv31-35).
These passages prove that the birth of Christ is the only possible fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy in support of God’s words to Satan in Genesis 3v15. Thus: "When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman" (Galatians 4v4). This verse attests the real humanity of Jesus Christ and declares the method and manner by which the eternal Son became Incarnate. By escaping the natural processes of ordinary generation, and being conceived in the Virgin’s womb by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, He remained free from the sin that affected the whole human race consequent to the fall of Adam and Eve. Paul is not here presenting a case for the virgin birth, but his subject matter is vital nevertheless. If Christ was born of a human father, He was then like the rest of the human race, full of sin; but we know that He had no human Father.
What we now desire to emphasise in the Edenic prophecy in Genesis 3v15 is that Christ shall bruise Satan’s head.
It (He) shall bruise thy head.
We have already stated that this verse contains a compound prophecy combining both the first and second appearances of Christ on earth. When Jehovah said to the serpent, "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed," He was announcing an age-long warfare that was to culminate in the final overthrow of Satan. The first appearance of the woman’s seed was to result in his being bruised, but not in a vulnerable spot. Jehovah said to Satan, "Thou shalt bruise his heel." On the cross "He was bruised for our iniquities" (Isaiah 53v6). "It pleased Jehovah to bruise Him" (Isaiah 53v10). Christ appeared the first time to complete the redemptive program (Hebrews 9v26), but He must appear again to complete the final overthrow of Satan and establish the kingdom program.
A bruised heel can be healed, but at the same time a crushed head spells utter defeat, a destruction from which there is no recovery. Our Lord rose again from the dead and is presently in heaven at the Father’s right hand awaiting that moment in the divine program when He will return to the earth and terminate the conflict. The Apostle Paul wrote: "And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen" (Romans 16v20).
Satan’s efforts against the saints will continue until Christ comes again, at which time the woman’s seed will bruise him. While Paul’s statement refers to Satan’s opposition against the saints in Rome, there is doubtless an allusion to the prophecy in (Genesis 3v15). The word "shortly" (Gr. en tachei) may mean "quickly, speedily" as in (Revelation 1v1 + Ch.22v6); thus, Christ will accomplish Satan's overthrow with rapidity, in a sudden manner. When the seventy disciples returned from their mission, rejoicing in the power of Christ over demons, Jesus said, "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven" (Luke 10v18). This is Satan’s history from beginning to end. He had a swift fall from his angelic position as Lucifer, and his final fall into hell will be with equal suddenness when Christ comes again. The origin and destiny of Satan are each marked by a fall, both of which are recorded, in one comprehensive passage:
"How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer . . . Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell . . ." (Isaiah 14vv12-15).
A Principle of Bible Study
Whoever reads the Bible for the first time cannot escape the mental confusion that is bound to come to one who has not been taught to distinguish between things that differ. Certain subjects and topics in the Bible may look alike or have certain similarities, yet be vastly different. The inability to put divine truths in their proper places, and to apply them to the people addressed, results in a tragic misunderstanding of the Bible. The divinely given method of the study of the Scriptures is suggested in the following verse: "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (II Timothy 2v15).
The obligation of every minister of Christ is to meet the specifications required of him by God. He must cut straight and handle rightly the Word of God. An approved workman will plough straight, he will give a straightforward exegesis.
First, it is needful that we distinguish between those Scriptures which, apply immediately to the Jew, to the Gentile, or to the Church of God: "Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles nor to the church of God" (I Corinthians 10v32). Since the Bible has a message to all three, we must conclude that "all the Bible is for us, but not all the Bible is about us." The Jew, the Gentile and the Church, each having its peculiar relationship to God and its own pathway of prophecy must be distinguished the one from the other.
Second, it is essential that we distinguish between law, grace and the Kingdom. Each is a different dispensation characterised by contrasting principles. In point of time the first is past, the second is present and the third is future. Our Lord Jesus Christ has a direct bearing on each. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1v17). For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth (Romans 10v4). Law is God prohibiting and punishing. Grace is God seeking and saving. Law utterly condemns the best of men. Grace freely justifies the worst of men. Under the personal reign of Christ at His Second Coming to the earth, both law and grace will be in evidence. The law was given expressly to Israel, thus the seat of His power during the Millennium will be Jerusalem and He shall reign over restored Israel. Moreover, the saved of this Dispensation of Grace that make up the Church which, is His Body, will be associated with Him. Our Lord’s disciples did not clearly understand this distinction (Luke 24v21; Acts 1v6 + 7).
Third, we must distinguish between the two Advents of Jesus Christ. Any person reading the Old Testament for the first time may fail to see the distinction between Christ’s first coming to earth in weakness and humiliation to suffer and to die, and His Second Coming to earth in sovereign power to rule and reign as earth’s glorious King. The religious leaders of Christ’s day rejected Him simply because they did not make this distinction.
Now there are a number of other distinctions which the Bible makes and which we should understand, such as faith and works, salvation and rewards, the Christian’s standing and state, the Christian’s two natures, and the two resurrections. We shall give neither time nor space to them at this writing. Helpful books are available which discuss these distinctions more fully.
A Principle of Prophetic Interpretation
This introduced a principle of prophetic interpretation, which is illustrated in (Genesis 3v15). It is the fact that the time element in prophecy is frequently ignored. When God uttered this prophecy to Satan in the hearing of Adam and Eve, He did not indicate that at least four thousand years would elapse before Messiah would suffer, or that nineteen hundred years, and we know not how many more, would intervene between the "sufferings" and the "glory." Words spoken in one breath, and written in one sentence, may contain prophetic events millennia apart in their fulfilment.
These two appearings of Christ, the first to die for man’s redemption and the second to reign over the earth, are described in the New Testament in terms of "suffering" and "glory." After our Lord’s Resurrection He encountered two tired and troubled disciples on their way to the village of Emmaus. Their unbelieving hearts had cast them into a spirit of dejection. Jesus said to them, "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?" (Luke 24v25 + 26). Notice the order here. The suffering precedes the glory. The cross must come before the crown. When one is reading the Old Testament it might appear that the sufferings and glory of Christ were to appear together, that both would take place at one appearing of Christ to the earth. However, almost 2000 years have passed since He suffered, and Satan is still the prince of this world, and the age becomes increasingly worse. The earth waits Christ’s coming again in glory. The Apostle Peter wrote of the compound prophecy concerning Christ’s two appearings. He said: "Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow" (I Peter 1v10 +11). The "sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow" were like two mountain peaks which, when viewed from a distance, might appear to touch each other, but as they are approached they are seen to be divided by a wide valley. The prophets wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but they did not always understand all they wrote (see Daniel 12v8 + 9). The "sufferings" of Christ and the "glory" that should follow were subjects of the prophets, but those holy men of old did not always see the gap between the two mountain peaks of prophecy. That gap is the present dispensation of grace between the cross and the Glory of Christ. Even Christ stated that the prophets did not know the time elements related to the prophecies they wrote. In His parables in (Matthew 13) He presents a picture of the course of this present age. Concerning these times He said, "For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them" (Matthew 13v17).
Not only were the prophets and peasants unaware of the time element between Christ’s two appearings, but angels likewise did not distinguish between them. There are passages in God’s Word, which show that angels are not perfect in understanding. At the birth of our Lord, the angels manifested a genuine interest in the spiritual needs of humanity. They evidently are concerned about the salvation of the lost (Luke 15v12). The Angel Gabriel was sent to Mary to announce to her that she was to become the mother of the Messiah: And the angel said unto her, "Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1vv30-33).
This remarkable prediction takes us back to Genesis 3v15. The woman’s "Seed" is now to make His entrance into the world. Apart from His name, "JESUS," a translation of the Hebrew word "Joshua," meaning "Jehovah is the Saviour" (See Matthew 1v21), the Annunciation by Gabriel to Mary contained nothing of the salvation He would bring to sinners through His sufferings and death. Two things only are mentioned. They are the greatness of His character and His imperial reign on the earth. To Him shall be given the royal might and sovereignty promised of old to the Messiah-King, the descendant of David (II Samuel 7v14; Psalm 2v7; Daniel 2v44; Daniel 7v14, etc.). From this announcement one might be left with the idea that His throne would be established at His first Advent. But two thousand years have passed already. Thus we see in this one passage both the "near" and "far" fulfilment of prophecy, the two Advents of Christ.
Concerning Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, we have a good word from the pen of Dr. J. C. Ryle, the late Lord Bishop of Liverpool. He said, "Let us beware of spiritualising away the full meaning of these words. The house of Jacob does not mean all Christians. The throne of David does not mean the office of a Saviour to all Gentile believers. The words will yet receive a literal fulfilment, when the Lord Jesus comes the second time, and the Jews are converted. The promise of Gabriel is parallel with (Jeremiah 30v9). The kingdom of which he speaks is the glorious kingdom foretold in (Daniel 7v27), before which all other kingdoms are finally to be overthrown at Christ’s Second Coming."
When an angel announced our Lord’s birth to the shepherds, he said: "Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord (Luke 2v10 + 11). Then we read that at that same time a multitude of angels burst forth in praise to God, saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2v14).
In these verses we see angels announcing both mountain peaks of the great compound prophecy, but the majority of them were wrong. The announcement of the multitude of them, "on earth peace," was premature. When Peter wrote of the incomplete knowledge of the prophets concerning the two appearings of Christ, he added the words, "which things the angels desire to look into" (I Peter 1v12).
Peter is saying the same thing about the angels as he did the prophets. The coming of the Messiah excited the deepest interests of holy men on earth and holy angels in heaven, but neither men nor angels could see clearly the distinction in time between Christ’s sufferings and glory.
Isaiah prophesied of both the sufferings and glory, and judging from Peter’s statement of the prophet’s ignorance of any time element between the two, we may conclude that Isaiah did not see the gap. In one statement he speaks of Christ’s birth and governmental rule: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulders: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom to order it, and to establish it with judgement and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this" (Isaiah 9v6 + 7). Here again we meet the compound prophecy, the first part of which has already been fulfilled, for indeed the Child was born and the Son was given. But during the days of His first appearing the government was not upon His shoulder, nor did He rule in peace. The vision of the prophet is that the long expected Messiah is to be born, but not immediately after Isaiah received his vision. He knew neither the time element of the birth of the Child nor the period when He would rule as King in peace and righteousness.
Of particular interest is the phrase, "Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end." There had been no lasting peace before Christ’s first appearing; there was none during His brief span on earth, and certainly the world has not known peace since He ascended from the earth to return to His Father’s throne in heaven. At no time was the government upon His shoulder, nor did He rule in peace. Contrariwise He said, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10v34).
It is true that Christ is the "Prince of Peace," the great Peacemaker, but He foreknew that His first appearing would result in strife and division. He knew that those who rejected Him would hate and persecute their nearest of kin who would stand with Him. In every society where the Gospel of Christ has been preached, it has caused dissension, simply because there are always those who refuse to obey its demands, and Christ cannot pronounce His benediction of heavenly peace upon those who oppose Him. Every true Christian knows something of the opposition which unbelief creates against the truth, and this sometimes becomes one of the severest trials of the children of God. When men reject the King they cannot have His kingdom of peace, and time has proved that no just and lasting peace can be consummated through the efforts of men. The world must wait the second appearing of Christ for the fulfilment of the second phase of the compound prophecy.
Still more obvious is this compound prophecy in Isaiah 11: "And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots, And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge, and of the fear of the LORD, And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked" (Isaiah 11v1-4).
The first three and one-half verses are doubtless a prophecy of our Lord "in the days of His flesh" To look for a fulfilment of this prophecy in Hezekiah or Josiah, or in any man other than Jesus Christ, would be an idle pursuit. The description of His human relationship with David and the perfection of His attributes fit no other man in history. How exquisitely the Lord Jesus Christ is portrayed in His birth and earthly life! The royal house of Judah may be cut down, but it will send forth from its stump a Branch, even the predicted Emmanuel (Isaiah 7v14; 9v6 + 7. See also Jeremiah 23v5).
But in the middle of Isaiah Ch.11v 4 there is a break. The rest of the chapter depicts the millennial conditions of subjection, righteousness, peace and the gathering of Israel a "second time" (Isaiah 11vv. 4b + 5 + 11). Notice conditions in the animal world (Isaiah 11vv. 6-9). These cannot be regarded as symbolic. Any attempt to spiritualise these Old Testament prophecies concerning the Kingdom is faulty. If this prophetic chapter says anything, it says that Christ is to appear again, for most of its prophecies were not fulfilled when He came the first time.
Now listen to Isaiah as he speaks again:
"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek, he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified" (Isaiah 61v1-3).
I doubt seriously whether many of us would have detected in this passage the compound prophecy of our Lord’s two Advents apart from that incident in the beginning of His ministry recorded by Luke. This is the passage from which Christ read in the synagogue at Nazareth. Let us read it carefully:
"And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him" (Luke 4v16-20).
At once you are struck with the fact that this is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy. But did you notice where He stopped reading and closed the Book? He stopped in the middle of a sentence, in the middle of Isaiah 61v2. Why did He not go on and finish the sentence? The reason is obvious. The remainder of the passage "The day of vengeance of our God" was not being fulfilled at the time of His first Advent. The first one and one-half verses of Isaiah’s prophecy tell of Christ’s mission to the world when He came the first time. It was a mission of mercy to which our Lord’s hearers responded with warm enthusiasm (Luke 4v22). This ancient prophecy was then an outline of Christ’s gracious ministry of succour and salvation, which He has already provided at His first coming. He did not come the first time to usher in "the day of vengeance of our God." You see, the entire dispensation in which you and I live is represented in the comma which appears after the word "Lord" in Isaiah 61v2.
Are we to assume that what follows the comma in Isaiah is unimportant? Certainly not! The day of God’s vengeance upon the unbelieving nations of the world is a future event, which will take place when Christ comes back to earth again. Our Lord said:
"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats" (Matthew 25v31 + 32).
The prophet Micah likewise presents in one prophecy the "near" and "far" fulfilment:
"But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting" (Micah 5v2).
With Micah’s prophecy the picture of Messiah’s appearing becomes clearer. "The little town of Bethlehem" is distinctly indicated as the place of His birth. The name "Bethlehem" means House of Bread. Here He was to be born who was indeed the Bread of Life (John 6v48). The chief priests and scribes correctly understood this prophecy to refer to the place of Messiah’s birth (Matthew 2v1-6) and many of the people as well (John 7vv40-42).
Again we have in one sentence, and almost in one breath, the "near" and "far" fulfilment. Micah says that He is to be "ruler of Israel." The chief priests and scribes recognised this also (Matthew 2v6). The compound prophecy in this one verse in Micah is beyond the highest range of human thought. It is timeless and yet timed. It goes back into eternity past to introduce the eternal and ageless One "whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." It looks forward seven hundred years to His Incarnation at Bethlehem, through two thousand years more of this present dispensation of grace, and on to His Second Advent when He shall govern the nations in peace and righteousness.
If man only knew His worth, he would acclaim Him to be the ruler of his life now. But the divine, pre-existent One will come as the Holy Conqueror, and "every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2vv10 + 11).
The prophets saw His suffering and His sovereignty, but there was one mystery they did not see: even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1vv26 + 27). They saw Christ on the cross and on the throne, but they did not see the gap between the two, when Christ would dwell in the heart of every believing sinner who would receive Him. And so, for the child of God there is peace with God (Romans 5v1), while we wait His appearing.