3.2. THE CENTRAL POINT OF CHRISTIAN ESCHATOLOGY: THE SECOND COMING OF JESUS CHRIST
Much of the Christian doctrine was conceived during the dark times of the Roman persecution and of the Middle Ages. Therefore, the dominant Christian point of view depicts a human order deeply and hopelessly wrong, decadent, beyond human powers of correction. Yet, the end of the world is not a divine punishment for the sins of humanity, but its salvation from self-destruction and the hope of a better world; it is not an apogee of God’s anger and retribution, but the fulfillment of the love story between God, the Creator, and mankind, his Creation.
According to the Book of Genesis, the existing human order was born out of sin. When Adam and Eve, the primordial people, bit the fruit of knowledge, they disobeyed God’s commandment, they committed a sin and were banished from Paradise to the earth. As a result, the relation between Creator and Creation became disharmonious; the Creation came to experience good and evil, took an unstable nature and started to suffer transformations. The committing of original sin led to the perpetuation of the dual knowledge toward the descendants of the primordial couple and the birth of a world dominated by spiritual and material instability. Good and evil became defining parts of man, every moment of his life being a choice between the two.
The relation between man and God remains forever the same: Creation and Creator. Likewise, God is always and forever the same: the Supreme Good, the Absolute Love and the Supreme Wisdom. Although the human being was perverted, the Creator continues to love his Creation. God does not want the death of the sinner, but his redemption and spiritual stability. Consequently, God designed a plan for human beings to return at the Edenic state, a plan that will culminate with the destruction of the actual world and the revealing of the perfect world. The first step in this direction was made through Abraham, Moses and the naming of the Hebrews as the chosen people. The second step was the First Coming of Christ. The third step will be made in the future through the Second Coming of Christ.
For Christians, Jesus Christ is the central character of human history. In the past he incarnated and sacrificed himself for the salvation of human beings. In the future he will come on the clouds in the sky to put an end to the current human order and to start a new world order. The phrase “Second Coming” is nowhere mentioned in the Bible, but it clearly emerges from the words of Jesus Christ and the apostles throughout the New Testament: “and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30). The event of the Second Coming of Christ is also called “Parousia” (Romanized Greek: Parusia) or “Advent” (Latin: Adventus), both terms meaning “coming” or “presence” (visible).
Parousia does not bring the total destruction of the world, but its radical change. It is indeed a short-term event, instantaneous, but it does not mark the end, but the beginning of the end. In the gospels Jesus makes no distinction between his Second Coming and the end of the world, referring to both by the phrase “the end times.” But, according to Revelation, the last book of the Bible, the end of the world consists of several sub-events: it starts with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, continues with the victory over the Beast (Revelation 19), the victory over the Dragon, the establishment of the Millennial Kingdom under the rule of Christ and the binding of the Dragon, the passing of the 1,000 years and the unleashing of the Dragon to deceive the nations to turn against God at the Battle of Armageddon, the final victory of God and the Last Judgment (Revelation 20), and in the end the total replacement of the old world with the new heaven and the new earth for eternity (Revelation 21). Thus, Parousia is a single event, while the end of the world consists of several events, not just one. The Second Coming marks the end of the existing order and the installation of a new order, the Millennium, when Christ will directly rule the world. Parousia and the establishment of the Millennium is not the end; it is the third major step of God’s plan for the salvation and rehabilitation of people to the heavenly status. The fourth and final major step is achieved with the total destruction and reconstruction of humanity (Revelation 21).
Given the scenario depicted by Revelation, the end of the world can be seen from two points of view: in a broader sense, when it includes all the events happening from the Second Coming until the emergence of the new heaven and the new earth; and in a narrow sense, when it refers only to the event of the emergence of the new heaven and the new earth, the complete destruction of the current world and its replacement with the perfect world. Most Christians think of the end of the world in a broader sense, as being one and the same with Parousia.
Indeed, both Christian and Jewish eschatology depict the end of the world as being identical to the coming of the Messiah, but the differences between the Christian Parousia and the Jewish messianic occurrence are crucial and irreconcilable. For Christians, the promise made by God to Adam, Abraham and Moses, that he will send a savior, materialized in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Christian messiah is God himself and the salvation he brought is spiritual in nature. He incarnated, died for the sins of mankind, resurrected after three days and ascended to Heaven with the promise to return and establish the Kingdom of God. Unlike the Jewish messiah, Christ says that salvation depends on the actions we make, not our ethnicity. On the contrary, Jews deny the importance of Christ’s teachings; they believe that the coming of the Messiah is a unique and future event: his first coming will be the only one.
God revealed his plans for mankind through the Book of Revelation and other biblical prophetic passages. In this way, theoretically, the believers may recognize the apocalyptic signs that herald Parousia in advance or at the moment of their occurrence. All the apocalyptic signs (entities and events) that eventuate in the earthly plane seem to unfold within the coordinates of time and space and in a certain order. There is no doubt that the Antichrist (the Beast coming up out of the sea) will appear before Christ, or that Judgment Day will be followed by the destruction of the world and the revealing of the new heaven and the new earth. However, there are apocalyptic signs that do not have the same successive clarity and their place in the big picture is subject to debate. In addition, determining the temporal coordinates of the apocalyptic signs is almost impossible. Any attempt to find the time of Parousia is absolutely reprobated: “But of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).
The evangelical passage expresses as clearly as possible that Parousia will remain an unknown until the moment of its manifestation, being an exclusive secret of God. Therefore, given the fact that the Second Coming is one and the same with the end of the world (in a broader sense), inside Christian dogma there can be no statements about one apart from another. Saying that the end will come in the year 2100 is one and the same with saying that in that year Christ will return, which from a Christian point of view is a blasphemy. The one who believes that Christ is God also believes that his words are true; God does not lie. On the contrary, anyone who attempts to appoint, calculate or foretell the moment of the Second Coming disregards Christ’s message and commits a sin. In fact, the temporal censorship applies to all apocalyptic signs. In the Book of Revelation the apocalyptic events are indeed being fulfilled in a sequence, but placing them on the temporal ladder, even with approximation, means, in the end, to determine the time of Parousia.
Finally, although every apocalyptic sign pre- and post-Parousia is interpretable, the Bible states that Christ’s descent for the second time will be identical to his ascension to Heaven in Jerusalem:
And when he had said these things, as they were looking, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they were looking stedfastly into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; who also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye looking into heaven? this Jesus, who was received up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye beheld him going into heaven (Acts 1:9-11).
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