Is Jesus' second coming just a fall-back position for a failed ministry?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

Question: Jews believe that Jesus is not the messiah because he did not fulfill all of the messianic prophecies. They say that Jesus failed and the theory of the second coming is a fallback excuse where Jesus will complete what he did not do the first time. Why do Christians believe in a first and second coming of Jesus? Is this biblical? Where does it say (in the Old Testament specifically) that this will be two separate events? 

Answer: Thank you for submitting such an interesting question. Those who say that Jesus did not fulfill all of the messianic prophecies are correct. He did not fulfill them all… not yet, anyway. So, is this a problem? This could only be a problem if Jesus were supposed to have fulfilled them all by now, but who says that that is true? This is the critical issue for your question, because if that is not true, then that complaint dissolves, and the idea that Jesus’ second coming was an invention of Christian desperation likewise evaporates.

Most people (and not just Christians) believe in Jesus’ first coming because he was both a historical and a biblical person. Jesus did appear in the Old Testament also, but in theophanies (which are instances of God appearing to men in angel or human form). However, these appearances are highly interpretive, and I doubt that any Jewish reader would credit these as an appearance of Jesus with or without the New Testament input. But Christians believe in his second coming because the New Testament teaches it directly, all the while clarifying some of the Old Testament references to it. So yes, both comings of Jesus Christ are indeed biblical — and are indeed referenced in both Testaments…but without looking through the lens of Jesus Christ, the Old Testament will be out of focus to anybody.

As for the second coming, Jesus said of himself that he would return.

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:3, ESV)

Additionally, at Jesus’ ascension, two angels announced his return.

“And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”” (Acts 1:10–11, ESV, cf. Luke 1:26; 2:9; 22:43; Matthew 1:20; John 20:12).

(Please note that God only sends angels at critical points in his dealings with people. So, when these appear, we should be hyper-alert to God’s purposes. An angelic visit is an uncommon event, and it would never be part of a common narrative. True, every movement in the Bible is important — but these are also emphatic. God is saying, “Note this well.”)

The Old Testament contains innumerable references to times future — the near-future, intermediate and the far-future. The prophetic works are well known to do this, of course, but many references to the future lie outside of the prophetic books. These often take the forms of biblical types, which are specialized symbols concerning redemption that are usually fulfilled in Jesus Christ. These are very important for interpreting the Bible rightly… and in this, we can see the problem for the intractable Jew. We need Jesus to interpret the symbols correctly — and the Jews will have none of that.

So, if you are looking for direct Old Testament verbiage stating that Jesus is the Messiah, that his coming will be split into two separate events and that the messianic kingdom will not be fulfilled until his second trip, you will be disappointed. They are just not there. What this means for your question is that since no person can understand the Bible’s parts correctly until they understand the Bible wholly, you will not win this scriptural debate with people who dismiss the New Testament out of hand.

Am I saying that the Old Testament did not stand as God’s special revelation? Not at all! But it no longer stands alone as God’s special revelation…nor has it for the last 2000 years. This speaks to one’s personal responsibility to the truth as it relates to time. Our ancient and faithful forebears who only had the Old Testament Scripture were not responsible to see clearly the things that we can see clearly. This is not a problem with either Scripture or its students. This is how progressive revelation works — and that is the kind of revelation that God handed out.

For example, Adam traveled from innocence to sin. Noah saw the world vanish beneath him—but entered a new world after the flood. Abram became Abraham on his journey to becoming the father of all the faithful. Moses knew God — but then he knew God codified — as he descended Sinai with the tablets of stone. David, faithful with his father’s flock, defeated giants and united the nation Israel. Each of these people began their journey with some information from God and ended it with more, but each also benefited by the accumulated experience of his predecessors.

But the Jews of Jesus day (that is, the religious establishment) went way out of their way to reject Jesus out of hand, refusing to consider what his testimony might mean to their accumulated knowledge. So, while God’s program is marching forward in the year 2014 AD, the Jews are camped out in the fourth century BC. This is a failure on the part of their nation — not on the part of Jesus. As for your question, those who remain unconverted will find ways to justify their own failure via such arguments as you describe. The rest? Well… they are Christians!

The Jews should not assume that we Christians are in agreement about the details of the Second Coming. There is a broad consensus (although not total consensus) that the event is still future. The New Testament gives us the hope of his coming, but not the dates — and not the exact details. Yet, isn’t that what we seek? We want to know which of the future events will happen at what particular time. But this is not our purview, nor are we alone in this. Jesus’ disciples also wanted this answer. In fact, it was their final question to Jesus before his ascension.

“So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” (Acts 1:6–7, ESV)

What does this have to do with your question? If Jesus himself said (and during the last moments of his corporal ministry) that even the most enlightened of us will not know these things by the father’s design, it would be unreasonable to insist that the Old Testament should provide this specific knowledge. The problem, of course, is that the people of your question refuse to advance to the New Testament, dismissing the claims of Christ a priori — but here is their special peril: by giving credence to the Old Testament, they admit that God has spoken… but they will not let him complete his sentence. That is some dangerous territory! How is that not blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? (Matthew 12:31)

An overarching theme in Scripture is Redemption, which is the process of returning fallen people to God. Although redemption’s arch rests with one leg in eternity past and one in eternity future, its particular workings occur on a timeline that extends that entire distance. What this means is that today’s Christians have a more complete view of redemption than did the ancient Hebrews. That’s nobody’s fault; that is just how time works. So, each act of redemption contributes its necessary revelatory moment to the whole picture, building one upon another. The problem for people in the middle is that they do not have a view of the end — not a clear view, anyway. Let me give you an example.

We consider Psalm 22 to be messianic — and well we should. Reading the Psalm with 21st-century eyes cannot help but reveal the stunning predictions concerning the crucified Christ. But what did David know specifically when he wrote, “they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” (Psalm 22:18, ESV)? Did he understand that these, his own words, would apply to the Messiah a thousand years hence? No. God gave the utterance but not the interpretation. That came with the next inspired writer, the Apostle John.

“When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things,” (John 19:23–24, ESV, emphasis mine)

Both David and John were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write their portions of Scripture, yet it was for John — and not David — to interpret the Psalm and to connect it to Jesus, whom he knew (through the progression of revelation in his life [Matthew16:16-17]) to be the Messiah.

As for your question, David’s picture was appropriate in time, but he knew nothing of crucifixions. This shows us that God designed that Psalm to be connected to the Christ at a future time — and not merely to stand alone as a poem (although it does that very well). So, anyone who refuses to give credence to the New Testament revelation has decided to ignore God’s design for Scripture… and ignoring design is a recipe for failure. Such people will never “get” the whole of Scripture because they do not “get” Jesus Christ. This is not a bail-out position for a failed messiah; this is how Scripture works.

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