The first coming of Jesus to this earth was based in humiliation. It was humbling for a person of the Godhead to come into this world by being born a man. When He took the role of a servant, He was becoming the least of all men. But the humiliation didn’t stop there. He willingly summited Himself to one of the most despicable deaths known at that time – death on the cross. This first coming is history, and we may read about it in the gospels. It is what is meant by the theological phrase, “the humiliation of Christ.” Although this phrase cannot be found in Scripture, its use in Christian teachings is just (Phil. 2:5–8, Heb. 10:5–10)
The phrase, “the return of Christ” can’t be found verbatim in Scripture either but is a phrase which teachers and theologians often use. Logically, it means Jesus was here before, and that He is coming again. In prophetic passages, the return of Christ is usually referred to as “the coming of the Son of Man.” This is found often, mostly in the words of Jesus Himself (Dan. 7:13–14, Matt. 16:28, 24:37,39, 44, 26:64, Mark 13:26, 14:62, Luke 12:40, 21:27). Other places find reference to His return as that of the Lord, or of the Lamb, and as the King of kings, Lord of lords (Jam. 5:8, Jude 14, Rev. 17:14, 19:11–21).
Jesus is both the Son of God and the Son of Man. He is both human and divine. And He is the only example of this combination of natures. He is the only one that will ever be this. It is difficult for our finite human minds to apprehend with much depth this mystery of godliness. How was this possible? How can two natures be complete in one person? Mysteries are matters of faith, dependent on God’s word being impressed by the Holy Spirit on our Christian consciences. They are never the direct engagements of the human intellect and reasoning. We see Scripture passages which speak of Jesus as God (John 1:1–14, 18, 5:21–26, 8:57–58, 11:4, 14:1, 10–11, I John 1:1–3); others reference His humanity (Matt. 4:1–4, Luke 18:31–33, John 12:23–24, I Tim. 2:5–6, Heb. 2:5–18, 10:12); still others seem to reference both (Matt. 1:21–23, Luke 1:35, John 5:26–27, 17:4–5). There is a similar duality concerning His return – sometimes it is Jehovah coming, while other times it is the glorified Man. However, in both viewpoints it is always Jesus who is coming or returning.
Here is a simple biblical distinction in the dispensational system: Jesus has gone away from the world and back to heaven for the entire time of the Christian dispensation. His absence defines and characterizes the present dispensation. But the coming of the Son of Man is Jesus physically returning back to the earth and signals the soon beginning of a new dispensation. And His coming this time will not be in humiliation, but in great power and glory.212
212 [The first contrast is between the Christian dispensation and the millennium – Jesus is absent from the earth for the Christian dispensation, but He is present on the earth for the millennium. The second contrast is between the Jewish dispensation and the millennium – at the end of the Jewish dispensation Jesus came into the world in humiliation, but at the beginning of the millennium He comes to the world in power and glory.]
He returns to judge the world, and this will include the Jews.213 Immediately at His return, we see great destruction brought upon the world, its civil powers, and its great armies (Rev. 19:11–21). All those who worshiped the beast and received his mark during the tribulation will experience the full strength of the wrath of God’s indignation (Rev. 14:9–11). But for the disobedience of the Jews, for their history of failure in their particular responsibilities (both in breaking the law and their rejection of Christ), and for their idolatry and rebellion under the Antichrist, God has reserved His vintage judgment (Rev. 14:17–20) – at His return, Jesus will tread the great winepress of the wrath of God against the vine of the earth (the Jews and Judaism).
213 [Here is yet another important dispensational distinction. Jesus’ first coming was not to judge the world, but to save it (John 12:47). Thus, in the Christian dispensation, the gospel is God’s offer to the world of mercy and grace through the work of the cross. But Jesus’ second coming (in power and glory) will be to judge the world. You might be wondering about the judgement of the Christian believer, for surely everyone will be judged. But the work of the cross means the Christian believer will never come into judgment, but has passed from death into life (John 5:24). There is no judgment to condemnation and death for him, for the blood of Christ has washed all his sins away, forever. The true Christian has been judged already by the condemnation and wrath Christ endured on the cross from the hand of God (Rom. 8:3, 2 Cor. 5:21, Heb. 9:26, I Pet. 2:24, 3:18). But Christ’s second coming is of a different character – it is for judgment. We must remember the true church will not be found in the world when Jesus returns to judge it. The rapture takes place before the tribulation]
The future tribulation is the period of transition between the Christian dispensation and the millennium. It involves numerous providential judgments from God coming down from heaven upon the world. And it is the time when Satan desperately tries to maintain his grasp on the throne of this world by featuring the two beasts of Revelation thirteen. These instruments of evil are his last-ditch efforts in opposition to the earthly glory of Christ. By them the devil will bring upon the earth the worst time of wrath and destruction known in the history of man (Mark 13:19).
Mark 13:24-26 (NKJV)
24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; 25 the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.
The return of Christ is not part of the tribulation period, but is the event which ends it (Matt. 24:29). The beast of civil power, who holds the throne of this world for Satan, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, will be gathered together to make war with the Lamb (Rev. 17:12–14, 19:19). Jesus will capture him, as well as the second beast, which was given great power of religious deception. He will cast these two alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. He destroys their armies with the sword of His mouth (Rev. 19:20–21). Then one of the Lord’s angels comes down from heaven and binds Satan with a great chain in the bottomless pit. His confinement will be for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1–3).
One of the first things Jesus will do after He returns will be to send out His angels with a great sound of a trumpet to gather together the Jewish remnant from one end of heaven to the other (Matt. 24:31). This will be the birthing of the Jewish nation in one day, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy (Isa. 66:7–13). His return has been to Jerusalem in Judea, so He brings His elect back to the land. The glorified Son of Man will soon sit on His throne of glory and judge the living. He judges the Gentile nations according to their behavior towards His elect during the tribulation period (Matt. 25:31–46). Although He saves the remnant of Israel, He judges the rest of the Jews (Isa. 65:2–25, Ez. 20:32–44).
Acts 17:30–31 (NKJV)
30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
In a general way, what Paul declares in this passage spans the three dispensations. The Jewish dispensation could be considered the times of ignorance. It is in this present time that men have opportunity to repent – in the Christian dispensation when the gospel of God’s grace through Jesus Christ is preached to the world, and all men are called by it. But God has appointed a future day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. This Man is Jesus Christ, the one that God raised from among the dead. This judgment of the world will commence at the return of Jesus Christ to this world.
Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen. (Rev. 1:7)
All the tribes of the earth will mourn at His return, because seeing Him, they intuitively know He comes for judgment. Particularly pointed out in this verse are the Jews – those who pierced Him. God will be publicly justified in His judgment before all, as well as bringing in blessing, by setting aside in power the evil, and replacing it by His own reign in good.
This is the great moral difference of our present state (as well as that of the true saints in previous times) from that of the world to come; also, it will be a large difference in character between the first two dispensations and the last. True Christians have the power of God internally, through grace and by the Spirit, to make good the will and glory of God in the midst of evil; whereas in the millennium, righteousness will be enforced by the presence of Christ, and evil will be put away by His power. He will reign in righteousness and peace, and the glory of God will fill the earth (Ps. 72, 85:10–13, Isa. 32:15–18, 60:17–22).214
214 [Prophecy speaks of the great and terrible “day of the Lord” that will come on the world (Mal. 4:1, 5). It is a time of great judgment and destruction on both the Jews and Gentiles. It will generally begin with the return of Jesus Christ. It is not a single day, but should include the entire millennium. This also brings in the thought that Jesus is not just the Son of Man, but also is Jehovah, the Lord God of Israel. See also Ps. 110, Isa. 2:5–21, 13:4–13, 24:19–23, 25:6–9, Joel 1:15, 2:1–11, 30–31, Amos 5:16–20, Zeph. 1:14–18, 2:1–3, 3:8, Zech. 14:1–9]
In summary: The return of the Son of Man in power and glory will mean the end of Gentile world dominion. Satan and his wicked spirits will be bound from the earth. The living in the world will be judged. The curse and corruption of creation will be lifted. The age that follows will be the Son of Man sitting on His throne of glory reigning in justice and righteousness, bring in peace and blessing. He will systematically put down all evil in the world. His return means the end of this present age and dispensation, and the soon ushering in of the millennium.