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Coming in Like Manner

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PFRS Home > Doctrinal Studies > Preterism

Coming Again in like Manner
Copyright © Tim Warner - 010/2003

All orthodox Christians acknowledge the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That Jesus was raised from the dead in the same body that was crucified is quite plain from Scripture. Yet, this simple truth creates serious problems for preterists. Here's why.

If Jesus came in AD70 as preterists claim, no one saw Him. There is no record in Church history of such a coming. The "dead in Christ" were not resurrected bodily in AD70. In fact, the whole early Church lived through AD70 without ever suspecting that Jesus' second coming had occurred. They remained in a state of expectation of Christ's future coming both before and after AD70.

Preterists avoid the problem of no historical evidence by claiming that Jesus' coming was "spiritual" and "invisible." He therefore did not come "in the flesh," as He did at His first advent. The question is, what kind of "coming" do the Scriptures predict?

We could list many passages of Scripture that announce the details of the second coming. For example, the Olivet Discourse states plainly:

Matt 24:29-31
29 "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
30 "Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
31 "And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Preterists simply interpret such passages allegorically. The details of the second coming are not to be taken literally, according to preterists. Allegorical interpretation of prophecy is nothing new. It has been fairly common since the third century, being employed by all those who deny Israel's future blessedness mentioned many times in Old Testament prophecy. Therefore, taking the details of the second coming mentioned by Jesus in a mystical way is not much of a stretch for those who are used to doing this with Old Testament prophecy (a-millennialists).

However, Luke recorded something that is not so easily dismissed by those who allegorize Bible prophecy.

Acts 1:1-12
1 The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,
2 until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen,
3 to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
4 And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, "which," He said, "you have heard from Me;
5 "for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."
6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, "Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"
7 And He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.
8 "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
9 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.
10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel,
11 who also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven."
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey.

According to the two angels, Jesus' second coming will be "in like manner" as His ascension into heaven. This begs the question, in what manner did Jesus ascend into heaven? The answer is in our text. Jesus was with the Apostles in person, in His resurrected state. Verse 3 says they saw Him for forty days prior to His ascension. Verse 4 says Jesus was "assembled together with them." Verse 9 indicates that the Apostles observed Jesus' ascension into the sky until a cloud obscured Him from their view. From this historical narrative we know without question that Jesus ascended in full view of His Apostles in person, visibly. The angels told them that "this same Jesus" would be coming back "in like manner as you have seen Him go into heaven."

This is of course a prophecy. But, it is not so easily allegorized, as preterists are fond of doing. The reason is the words "this same Jesus" and the words "in like manner" connect the prophesied event with a historical event they all witnessed, the ascension. "Jesus" was His human name given Him by Mary. We are left with no alternative than to accept that Jesus' second coming will be bodily, in person, in the full view of believers. This agrees with other statements of Scripture, such as Matt. 24:30 and Rev. 1:7, which indicate Jesus' coming will be visible to both believers and unbelievers alike.

Preterists have a real dilemma here. The Bible states plainly that Jesus was raised in the same physical body that hung on the cross. 

Luke 24:37-43
37 But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.
38 And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?
39 Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.
40 And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.
41 And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat?
42 And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb.
43 And he took it, and did eat before them.

The purpose of showing them His hands and feet was so they could see the physical scars from the crucifixion. Notice Jesus' interaction with Thomas.

John 20:24-29
24 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.
25 The other disciples therefore said to him, "We have seen the Lord." So he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."
26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, "Peace to you!"
27 Then He said to Thomas, "Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing."
28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!"
29 Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is all about the resurrection of the body. And it was in this resurrected body that the disciples watched Him ascend into heaven. In the very next chapter Peter preached that when Jesus ascended into heaven, He sat down at the right hand of the Father. Peter got this from the prophecy in Psalm 110:1. "The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool." This is one of the Psalms Jesus explained to the disciples on the Sunday of His resurrection (cf. Luke 24:26-27,44-45). Jesus ascended into heaven in the same body that bore the marks of the crucifixion. He is seated at the Father's right hand. And "this same Jesus ... will come again in like manner" as the Apostles saw Him go into heaven, visibly, in person, bodily. In fact, that is what the Greek word "parousia" means, which is used repeatedly for His coming. It means the presence of His own person. It cannot refer to some mystical invisible apparition.

The question preterists cannot answer is "What happened to Jesus' resurrected body?" And how could "this same Jesus" have come again in AD70 "in like manner" as the Apostles saw Him go into heaven, when no one saw Him?

Just as problematic for preterists as "this same Jesus" are the passages that refer to the "Son of Man" coming in the clouds of heaven.  Justin wrote, "He said then that He was the Son of man, either because of His birth by the Virgin, who was, as I said, of the family of David and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham; or because Adam was the father both of Himself and of those who have been first enumerated from whom Mary derives her descent," (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 100). And Irenaeus wrote, "For it was for this end that the Word of God was made man, and He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man, having been taken into the Word, and receiving the adoption, might become the son of God....He therefore, the Son of God, our Lord, being the Word of the Father, and the Son of man, since He had a generation as to His human nature from Mary who was descended from mankind, and who was herself a human being was made the Son of man." (Irenaeus, Bk. III, ch, xix). The term, "Son of Man," refers to Christ as a human person, being physically born from the womb of Mary. In all the following passages of Scripture, Jesus as "Son of Man" (the human being) is to come in the clouds of heaven. This cannot be some mystical apparition, but the actual incarnate person of Jesus Christ.

Matt 16:27
27 "For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.

Matt 24:26-30
26 "Therefore if they say to you, 'Look, He is in the desert!' do not go out; or 'Look, He is in the inner rooms!' do not believe it.
27 "For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.
28 "For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.
29 "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
30 "Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

Matt 25:31
31 "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.

The phrase, "the coming of the Son of Man" in Matt. 24:37 includes the Greek word, "parousia," translated "coming." This Greek word means the personal "presence" of the subject. In this case, the subject is the "Son of Man," the one born from the womb of Mary. In essence, this language explicetly states that Christ Himself in the person of His flesh will be present at His "coming."

Preterists need to come to terms with the fact that any diminishing of the nature of the second coming of Jesus in person must necessarily diminish the incarnation and the nature of His resurrection. And that calls into question the Gospel itself. An invisible mystical second coming simply cannot satisfy the biblical promises.

Some object to Jesus' description of His coming on the grounds that it is impossible for "every eye" to see Him at His "coming," since people will be living all over the globe. But, this objection is actually resolved for us by Christ Himself in this very passage. He said, "For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be." That is, His coming will include movement from east to west, across the sky. There is every reason to suppose that His coming will be seen by all. First, verse 29 indicates that the sun and moon will be darkened. Verse 30 indicates that He will come in "power and great glory." Therefore, His coming will be in brightness, against the dark background, and will flash across the sky in a westerly direction prior to his descent from the clouds to the Mt. of Olives. We can extrapolate from this that He will actually circle the globe during this period of darkness, ending up above Jerusalem.

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