The concept of Christ’s Second Coming remains a fundamental tenet of Christian belief. Theoretically speaking, its importance is massive in terms of its overall role in the salvation story. But the truth is that the concept of the Second Coming doesn’t actually make logical sense.
New Testament scripture is filled with references to the Second Coming. Indeed, it seems clear that Jesus’s followers (assuming one accepts the historicity of Jesus’s life) believed that his return would occur during their generation. And Jesus didn’t disabuse them of that belief. See, for example, Matthew 16:27-28. Well, it didn’t happen then and it still hasn’t happened.
Many Christian sects have recognized this and have downplayed the importance of the Second Coming. I think this is particularly true for mainstream Protestant denominations, as well as for the Catholic church. However, if one digs deep enough, one finds that those sects still include the Second Coming as a fundamental doctrine. They really have no choice, considering the clear scriptural support for and importance of the Second Coming in the overall salvation story. Those sects simply don’t talk about the Second Coming except in an indirect, abstract sense.
There are, on the other hand, a few sects that have retained the Second Coming as a core doctrine. Notable among these is the Seventh-day Adventist church, the sect in which I spent my childhood. Not only has the Second Coming represented one of the core doctrines of the SDA church—the “advent” in the church’s name is a reference to the Second Coming— historically the church has presented the Second Coming as being imminent. Having said that, I believe that even in the SDA church the Second Coming and its imminence are not nearly as prominent as they were half a century ago.
As I understand it, the Second Coming is supposed to serve three functions: The gathering of all the righteous, both living and resurrected, to be taken to heaven and ultimately to a new earth; the punishment and destruction of the wicked, both living and resurrected; and the punishment and destruction of Satan and his evil angels. Given the fact that God is presumed to be omnipotent, why would he (i.e., Christ--this trinity thing is still confusing to me) need to appear in the clouds of glory to great fanfare, to be physically present in order to accomplish these goals? Why all the folderol over a Second Coming? Why wouldn’t God simply welcome into paradise those worthy of salvation and consign to nonexistence (or worse) those that are not? Why not do it as soon as each individual completes this life? And, in fact, that is what many Christian sects tacitly teach: “He’s in a better place,” “She’s looking down on us,” etc., etc.
Why am I highlighting these logical problems with the Second Coming? I wanted to point up the fact that that concept, like so many other religious traditions, reflects a primitive, unsophisticated, illogical view of the world. If the Christian god had the omnipotence that Christians attribute to him and if the souls he was saving (or destroying) are in fact noncorporeal, then they could be dealt with one soul at a time and there would be no need for a physical Second Coming. Satan and his minions could be disposed of in the same way. What is God waiting for anyway? Moreover, the Second Coming is a failed promise. Jesus’s followers understood that he was returning during their generation, but it didn’t happen. So the dream of a Second Coming has had to be converted to a longer term promise, one that still has not materialized and shows no evidence of doing so.
Here’s the bottom line: If you were taught from an early age—and you continue to accept—that the Second Coming is an irrefutable, revealed truth, then your only course is to continue to modify that belief so that it remains consistent, at least nominally, with actual history. But on closer analysis, as the concept of the Christian god has continued to evolve, even this modified rationale proves to be illogical, revealing this fundamental pillar of Christian doctrine to be what it is—simply another outdated myth.
© 2016 John M. Phillips