By John F. Walvoord
The Second Coming of Christ and the Millennial Kingdom
The Second Coming of Christ in the Old Testament
The Second Coming of Christ is a major doctrine of both the Old and New Testaments, and all orthodox creeds include the fact of His second coming as a part of essential doctrine. The Psalms, though mostly devotional, contain a number of references to Christ’s second coming. Early in Psalm 2 the writer says that the Lord scoffs at those who rebel against Him. The Psalm states:
Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery” (Ps. 2:5-9).
The trilogy of Psalm 22, 23, and 24 gives a panoramic view of Christ. Psalm 22 speaks of His work as the Good Shepherd dying on the cross for our sins (John 10:11). Psalm 23 speaks of His present care for His own as the Great Shepherd (Heb. 13:20), interceding for them in heaven. Psalm 24 describes Christ as the King of Glory, the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4), who will enter the gates of Jerusalem.
Another major revelation is given in Psalm 72, revealing Christ’s reign over the whole earth. After describing how He will judge the people, defend the afflicted, and deliver the righteous, the psalm continues:
In his days the righteous will flourish; prosperity will abound till the moon is no more. He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. The desert tribes will bow before him and his enemies will lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring tribute to him; the kings of Sheba and Seba will present him gifts. All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him (Ps. 72:7-11).
The Psalm concludes by stating that all nations will be blessed through Him and that the whole earth will be filled with His glory (Ps. 72:17-19).
Another major passage dealing with Christ in His second coming is found in Isaiah 11, where the righteous reign of Christ and the blessings of the millennial kingdom are revealed.
Daniel 7:13-14 states that the Second Coming marks the termination of the times of the Gentiles and the beginning of the reign of God’s kingdom on earth:
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
This passage, as all others on the second coming of Christ, makes clear that it refers to an event not yet fulfilled that will consummate the plan of God for the ages.
Zechariah 2:10-11 also anticipates the coming of the Lord and His residence in the earth, “‘Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.’” In that future day Scripture declares that Christ will claim the Holy Land as His own. Zechariah says, “The Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem” (Zech. 2:12).
A dramatic description of the second coming of Christ is recorded in Zechariah 14, which describes an attack upon Jerusalem. Zechariah states, “Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south” (Zech. 14:3-4). This prophecy makes clear that Christ has not come in His second coming because the Mount of Olives is still intact, awaiting the coming of Christ.
The Second Coming of Christ in the New Testament
In the New Testament, in addition to prophecies concerning the Second Coming, the rapture of the church is revealed for the first time. The rapture of the church is the occasion when Christ will come to take the church, living and dead, out of the earth to heaven. It is an event entirely different from the Second Coming, as the two comings are described.
About twenty passages deal with the subject of the Second Coming in the New Testament. They serve to emphasize that this is a major doctrine of Scripture (Matt. 19:28; 23:39; 24:3-25:46; Mark 13:24-37; Luke 12:35-48; 17:22-37; 18:8; 21:25-28; Acts 1:10-11; 15:16-18; Rom. 11:25-27; 1 Cor. 11:26; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; 2 Peter 3:3-4; Jude 14-15; Rev. 1:7-8; 2:25-28; 16:15; 19:11-21; 22:20).
Though liberal interpreters attempt to find some fulfillment of the second coming of Christ in present human experience, all conservative interpreters describe the Second Coming as a future major divine event fulfilling the revelation in Revelation 19:11-15. Also, there is general agreement that Christ will come personally and bodily in a return to the earth, which was prophesied in Acts 1:9-10. His return will be similar to His ascension in that He will return bodily, and it will be gradual and visible, with clouds as the angels prophesied when they said, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Some interpreters have attempted to incorporate the rapture of the church as a part of the Second Coming. A careful study of Revelation 19-20 reveals no textual support for a rapture in that sequence of events. The revelation of Christ at His second coming is painted graphically in Revelation 19:11-16:
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
king of kings and lord of lords.
There is no similarity whatever between this and His coming at the Rapture as brought out previously. At the Rapture there is no statement of anyone accompanying Him; there is no record that He ever judges the earth or that His purpose is to end the times of the Gentiles. In Revelation the second coming of Christ is pictured in contrast to His first coming. In His first coming He came quietly to live a life on earth; in His second coming He comes in His glory accompanied by the hosts of heaven. At the Second Coming there is no “catching up” of the church and taking it out of the world as is true of the Rapture. In the Second Coming the saints and angels will accompany Christ in His return and will remain in the earthly sphere to share in the millennial reign that follows. At His second coming Christ will destroy the armies of the world that were gathered to conquer the Holy Land. It is a terrible picture of divine judgment upon a wicked world that rejected Christ. The world leader described as the beast and the false prophet associated with him will be cast alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur (Rev. 19:20).
Immediately after Christ returns and judges those who wickedly oppose Him, Satan will be rendered inactive for the first time, as Revelation 20:1-3 states:
I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.
Distinction must be made in the interpretation of this passage between what John saw and what he was told. He saw what appeared to be Satan, described here also as the dragon, the serpent, and the devil. John saw him thrown into the abyss and saw the abyss locked and sealed, but he could not understand why unless he was told. God had to reveal that Satan would be bound for a thousand years and that he would not be able to deceive the nations in that thousand-year period. It also was revealed that at the end of the thousand years he would be set free for a short time (Rev. 20:3). The explanation should be understood as a literal interpretation.
This prophecy is certainly not fulfilled in the present age because the present age is not a thousand years and Satan is not bound in the present age. In fact, Scripture makes it clear, as in I Peter 5:8, that “your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” In the present age while Satan is limited by God, he is not bound or inactive and, as a matter of fact, is deceiving millions of people. As presented in Revelation 20, Satan’s binding is the logical result of Christ’s coming to judge the world, restore righteousness, and install His kingdom in which Satan will be inactive for the entire period of the thousand years.
In connection with the events following the second coming of Christ, John also saw the resurrection of those who had been martyred in the Great Tribulation during the three-and-a-half years preceding the Second Coming. John writes:
I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4- 6) .
It is significant that the resurrection of the tribulation saints, who died three-and-a-half years before in the three-and-a-half-year period leading up to the Second Coming, is accomplished in anticipation that they would in their resurrected life reign with Christ a thousand years. This introduces another important factor that bears on the Second Coming: it is premillennial, that is, it occurs before the thousand years. This is required by the resurrection of the martyred saints killed in the period just before His second coming: In fact, the coming of Christ results in the establishment of the millennial kingdom, which otherwise would not come about. In this passage the martyred dead of the tribulation are resurrected and subsequently reign for a thousand years with Christ.
The doctrine that there is one general resurrection of all people is also repudiated here because verse 5 states that the resurrection of the martyred dead is a selected resurrection and that the rest of the dead, that is, the wicked, will not be raised until after the thousand years. This is confirmed in the passage that follows, as described in Revelation 20:7-10, when the devil is released after the thousand years, begins to deceive the nations, and gains a large following, which surrounds Jerusalem and attempts to conquer it. Fire will come down from heaven and devour them, and Satan himself will be cast into the lake of burning sulfur where he will be tormented forever and ever. The resurrection of the wicked follows.
Judgments at the Time of the Second Coming of Christ
At the second coming of Christ there will be a series of judgments. Already mentioned is the judgment and reward of the martyred dead of the Great Tribulation. Also mentioned is the judgment of Satan, which causes him to be bound for a thousand years.
The Scriptures also speak of a general judgment of the nations, or the Gentiles (Matt. 25:31-46). This is a judgment of Gentiles living in the world at the time of the second coming of Christ who have survived the Great Tribulation. Those counted worthy are described as sheep, and they will be eligible to enter the millennial kingdom. Those who are counted unworthy, designated as goats, are put to death.
A similar judgment of the people of Israel is described in Ezekiel 20:33-38. Those counted worthy enter the millennial kingdom; those not counted worthy are put to death.
Not mentioned in Revelation is the resurrection and judgment of Old Testament saints as revealed in Daniel 12:2. Daniel writes, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” The righteous are raised and will enter the millennial kingdom. Though it is mentioned in the same verse, the judgment of the wicked, which is also mentioned, actually occurs a thousand years later as Revelation 20:5 makes clear. At the beginning of the millennial kingdom all the righteous have been raised from the dead, and those living, both Gentiles and Jews, who survived the Great Tribulation will enter the Millennium in their natural bodies and will perform natural functions in that kingdom. Only those who are wicked will still be in the grave and not resurrected.
The New Testament does not detail the characteristics of the millennial kingdom because this is covered in many passages in the Old Testament.
Characteristics of the Millennial Kingdom
Scripture speaks of kingdoms in various forms, sometimes kingdoms relating to this world and sometimes spiritual kingdoms, where God is recognized as the ruler. The millennial kingdom is primarily a political kingdom, though it has spiritual aspects and Jesus Christ is the King of Kings, who has come to reign over the earth. Because it is an earthly kingdom with Christ on the throne, it obviously cannot be fulfilled in the present age when Christ is in heaven, though Christians form a part of the kingdom of God in a spiritual sense.
Jesus Christ will serve as King of Kings and Lord of Lords in the millennial kingdom and will fulfill the promises that He will sit on David’s throne over the house of Israel (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:20-37; Isa. 11:1-16; Jer. 33:19-21). In His relationship to Israel as her king, He was born to rule over her (Luke 1:32-33). The people of Israel rejected Him as their king (Mark 15:12-13; Luke 19:14). In His death it was posted on the cross that He died as a king (Matt. 27:37). It is in keeping with this that when He comes again, He comes as the King who will fulfill prophecies of His ruling over the Davidic kingdom (Rev. 19:16).
In addition to reigning over Israel as the Son of David, Christ is also King of Kings over the entire earth, and this includes, of course, the Gentile world. As Psalm 72:8 states, “He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”
The fact that Christ will reign over the entire world is taught by many Scriptures (Isa. 2:1-4; 9:6-7; 11:1-10; 16:5; 24:23; 32:1; 40:1-11; 42:3-4; 52:7-15; 55:4; Dan. 2:44; 7:27; Micah 4:1-8; 5:2-5; Zech. 9:9; 14:16-17). These verses demand a literal kingdom and a literal reign of Christ on earth.
In Christ’s reign over the people of Israel, David will be resurrected as king and serve as a regent under Christ (Jer. 30:9; 33:15-17; Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:24-25; Hosea 3:5). The twelve apostles also will have part in the reign of Christ on earth and will judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28).
The divine kingdom of Christ in the Millennium is clearly over the entire earth in fulfillment of Psalm 2:6-9 (Ps. 72:8; Dan. 2:35; 7:14; Micah 4:1-2; Zech. 9:10). This is in keeping with His title in Revelation 19:16 as “king of kings and lord of lords.” The millennial kingdom will be an absolute rule of Christ, and it will involve judgment on any who oppose Him (Ps. 2:9; 72:9-11; Isa. 11:4).
Righteousness and justice will characterize the millennial kingdom, in contrast to the corrupt governments of our present world. In keeping with this, Psalm 2:10-12 speaks of His wrath, and Isaiah 11:3-5 gives assurance that the poor and the meek will be dealt with righteously. Because all those who enter the Millennium are either resurrected saints or people who have been born again, in the early stages of the Millennium, particularly, there will be a righteous manner of life in the world such as the world has never seen.
The Spiritual Life in the Millennium
Though the millennial kingdom is a political kingdom, it nevertheless will provide a context for a high level of spiritual life and experience. Though Christ reigns in the hearts of His followers now, in the millennial kingdom this will be universal, political, and visible.
An important part of this is the fact that Christ will be visibly present and the world will be able to see His glory (Matt. 24:30). Psalm 72:19 also mentions that the whole earth will be filled with His glory.
In addition to other aspects of the spiritual life, full knowledge of God and His ways are indicated, as stated in Isaiah 11:9 : “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” In contrast to the Mosaic Law, which was written on tables of stone, God will put His truth in the heart of man, and all will know the facts about Jesus Christ (Jer. 31:33-34). God will also forgive their sins and pour out His blessings upon them. The spiritual life in the Millennium will be manifested in righteousness among the saints, who will flourish (Ps. 72:7).
In addition to the kingdom being righteous in relation to spiritual life, it will also be a time of peace, when nations no longer fight each other, and interpersonal relationships will be peaceful. Isaiah 2:4 states, “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”
In keeping with righteousness and peace, there will be universal joy, as stated in Isaiah 12:3-4: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. In that day you will say: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted.’”
In keeping with these predictions, the power of the Holy Spirit will work in the millennial scene. Saints in the Millennium will be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, even as they are in the present age (Isa. 32:15; 44:3; Ezek. 39:29; Joel 2:28-29). The millennial kingdom will manifest a high level of spiritual life unequaled in any previous dispensation.
The Millennial Temple
In Ezekiel 40:1-46:24 the millennial temple is described, a huge building rich in spiritual meaning. The spiritual significance of the millennial temple will differ from the importance of the temple under the Mosaic Law, but it will provide a means of worship of God, including animal sacrifices. Though animal sacrifices in themselves do not provide any relief from sin, as was true in the Old Testament, millennial sacrifices will look back to the cross even as sacrifices in the Mosaic period looked forward to the cross. Though some have opposed the idea of animal sacrifices in the Millennium on the ground that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient, there does not seem to be any other suitable explanation of the details of the millennial kingdom and the details of the sacrificial system in the millennial kingdom as provided in Ezekiel. During the present age the Lord’s Supper is the scriptural reminder of the sacrifice of Christ.
The Social and Economic Characteristics of the Millennium
The Millennium will also provide a high level of social and economic characteristics for the entire earth. Probably the majority of those living in the Millennium will be saved. Only saved people will enter the Millennium, and those born during the thousand years of Christ’s reign will, of course, need to receive Christ as Savior and be born again. Because there is such universal knowledge of Christ and because Satan is bound and cannot oppose this, it would seem that the great majority of those who live in the millennial kingdom will be saved even though at the end of the Millennium there will be a rebellion on the part of those who are not actually saved. The millennial kingdom will also be a time of great prosperity, and there will be no poor people or people suffering from lack of economic needs. The curse on the ground pronounced after Adam’s sin will be lifted, and even the desert will produce abundant crops (Isa. 32:14-15; 35:1-2). It will be a time of general prosperity for the entire earth (Jer. 31:12; Ezek. 34:25-29; Joel 2:21-27; Amos 9:13-14).
In the millennial kingdom each of the twelve tribes of Israel will have its designated portion of the promised land as indicated in Ezekiel 48.
One of the outstanding features of the Millennium is that there will be no war. Accordingly, expenditures necessary to support a military branch of the government will be turned into improvement of the social and economic life in the Millennium.
Contributing to peaceful circumstances, there will be universal justice. As stated in Isaiah 11:4, “With righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.”
The earth, which was cursed following Adam’s sin, will now bring forth abundantly as stated in Isaiah 35:1-2, “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the
wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.” There will be abundant rainfall (Isa. 30:23; 35:7).
In general, there will be prosperity under the ideal government of Christ (Jer. 31:12; Ezek. 34:25-29; Joel 2:21-27; Amos 9:13-14).
Apparently, sickness will be less prevalent in the Millennium than in any previous dispensation, and physical difficulties may be healed (Isa. 29:18; 33:24). Even those who are lame will be healed and those who are dumb will be able to speak (Isa. 35:5-6). In general, longevity will characterize the human race, for a person who dies at the age of one hundred will be considered a child (Isa. 65:20).
Because the earth’s population has been decimated by the events of the Great Tribulation, those in the Millennium will witness a large increase in the birth rate. In the book of Jeremiah the Lord says, “From them will come songs of thanksgiving and the sound of rejoicing. I will add to their numbers, and they will not be decreased; I will bring them honor, and they will not be disdained. Their children will be as in days of old, and their community will be established before me; I will punish all who oppress them” (30:19-20). The Millennium will be a golden age to a far greater extent than any previous dispensation.
Jerusalem in the Millennium
In the Millennium Jerusalem will be exalted as a city and raised topographically above the surrounding land. According to Zechariah 14:10, “The whole land, from Geba to Rimmon, south of Jerusalem, will become like the Arabah. But Jerusalem will be raised up and remain in its place, from the Benjamin Gate to the site of the First Gate, to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the royal winepresses.” Jerusalem will be greatly enlarged but will include some of the old landmarks such as the Benjamin Gate (Jer. 37:13) as well as other gates (tech. 14:10).
Any close examination of the many particulars that abound in prophecy of this kingdom on earth will make it clear that these prophecies are not being fulfilled in any sense now and that they require a second coming of Christ, a personal return of Christ on earth, and the establishment of His kingdom on earth for a thousand years before the eternal state begins. The millennial kingdom will not be fulfilled in the new earth (Rev. 21-22), as in the Millennium there will be sin and death and divine judgment as well as other factors not found in heaven. The Millennium will be fulfilled in the present earth, even though some changes will be made in the earthly situation.
1. To what extent is the doctrine of the Second Coming recognized as a future event in orthodox interpretation of the Bible?
2. What are some of the predictions of the second coming of Christ in the Psalms?
3. How do the Psalms describe Christ’s rule on earth after His second coming?
4. What is added concerning the future millennial reign of Christ in Isaiah 11?
5. How does Daniel 7 describe the second coming of Christ?
6. How is the second coming of Christ in Daniel 7 distinguished from His first coming?
7. What does Zechariah add concerning the coming of Christ?
8. To what extent is the subject of the second coming of Christ revealed in the Gospels, the book of Acts, the Epistles, and the book of Revelation?
9. How does the second coming of Christ relate to His ascension into heaven?
10. Is the Rapture ever found in the Bible in passages dealing clearly with the second coming of Christ to the earth?
11. How does Revelation 19 describe the second coming of Christ?
12. How does the second coming of Christ in Revelation 19 contrast to Christ’s coming at the Rapture?
13. How does the second coming of Christ differ from the Rapture in regard to the outcome of the clash between Christ and the armies of the world at the time of the Second Coming?
14. What happens to the future world dictator and the false prophet at the time of the Second Coming?
15. What happens to Satan at the time of the Second Coming?
16. How does the prophecy of Revelation 20:1-3 differ from the present state of Satan in the world?
17. Why is it necessary for Satan to be bound to achieve the world situation described in the Millennium?
18. What happens to those who were beheaded for their witness of Christ in the Great Tribulation?
19. What are the martyrs raised to do after their resurrection?
20. How does this prophecy concerning the resurrection of the martyred dead prove that the millennial kingdom is still future?
21. Why is the prediction of the general resurrection of all people at one time in one place contrary to what the Scriptures teach?
22. When are the wicked dead raised?
23. What happens to Satan at the end of the Millennium?
24. What are some of the general judgments on the Gentiles at the time of the Second Coming?
25. What is the general judgment on Israel at the time of the Second Coming?
26. When will the Old Testament saints be raised from the dead?
27. Who will remain in the grave after the Millennium begins?
28. To what extent is the millennial kingdom a political kingdom?
29. How will the reign of Christ fulfill the prophecy of Christ sitting on David’s throne?
30. In what respect is Christ King of Kings over the entire earth? How is this supported from Scripture?
31. Why is David raised from the dead? What will he do in relation to Christ’s kingdom reign?
32. To what extent will righteousness and justice characterize the millennial kingdom?
33. To what extent is the Millennium also a time of unusual spiritual life?
34. Indicate some of the aspects in which the spiritual life in the Millennium will be different than it is today.
35. What part does war have in the millennial kingdom?
36. Will the millennial kingdom be a time of joy and peace?
37. How is the Holy Spirit related to saints in the Millennium?
38. What is the purpose of the millennial temple described in Ezekiel 40:1- 46:24?
39. How do we interpret the fact that the new temple predicts animal sacrifices?
40. If animal sacrifices are offered, what will be their spiritual significance?
41. In contrast to the millennial sacrifices, what was the meaning of Old Testament sacrifices?
42. Does the fact of animal sacrifices in the Millennium contradict the fact that Christ died and His death is sufficient for all?
43. What are some of the social and economic characteristics of the millennial kingdom?
44. What portion of the earth will the twelve tribes of Israel have during the Millennium?
45. To what extent will the earth bring forth fruit abundantly in the Millennium?
46. What will be the characteristics of sickness and physical difficulty in the Millennium?
47. What will be the population of the millennial earth in view of the fact that people will live longer?
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