I write on diverse religious issues, often analysing perspectives from the Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and Bahá’í).
Religious Perspectives on the Second Coming
While the Second Coming of Jesus is always a challenging subject to discuss, it is nevertheless of critical importance to every religious group, in one way or another. This is because the Advent, when it does occur, is expected to affect everyone on the planet.
Of the different religions represented in my interfaith circle, some are in urgent expectation of a messianic appearance in our time, as their coreligionists before them had been over the centuries and millennia. Some, however, claim that the event has already occurred, while others are not sure what to make of it all. This article will try to wade through this minefield of religious beliefs and expectations to see what can be learned.
The True and Final Religion?
We begin with the fundamentals. One of the things that tend to woefully mislead worshippers and divert their attention from reality is a belief that theirs is the only true faith of God, that other religions are flawed, if not in complete error. From this standpoint, they often go further to claim, in effect, that their religion is also the last and that no new faith can arise in the world after it. This way of thinking can be found amongst worshippers of diverse religions, no matter how ancient or recent.
In most cases, they come to such a conclusion by holding on to the literal interpretation of some verses of their respective holy books while closing their eyes to other conflicting verses. At other times it is by being overly confident in the soundness of their sectarian doctrines—doctrines which, on account of being man-made, cannot but lack divine authority.
Let’s look at a few examples of some of these misconceptions:
The Jewish Example
In the Jewish holy book, God announces to Moses that “the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever….” (Exodus 31:16-17).
Accordingly, the Sabbath was instituted by Moses as “a perpetual covenant” between God and the Jewish people and “a sign” between Him and the people “for ever.” Note the words: “perpetual” and “for ever.” Words such as these could have misled Jewish worshippers into believing that their religion (of which the observance of the Jewish Sabbath was a small part) was meant to be forever. Yet they failed to acknowledge the caveat that emerged later, in the Mosaic prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:15, to the effect that a Prophet of the same rank as Moses would be raised by God from their midst and to whom they were to listen.
That prophecy was meant to open to them the prospect of a new religious system and new laws to replace the religion and laws of Moses in a subsequent age. Christians will claim that this was achieved with the coming of Jesus of Nazareth.
The Christian Example
When it comes to Christianity, the belief is that Jesus of Nazareth, who walked the streets of Palestine over 2,000 years ago, is the self-same person returning to earth in the end times because he said so himself. He did also say in Matthew 24:35 that “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” And we read in Revelation 22:12-13: “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.”
These are all powerful words that leave the impression that no Emissary other than Jesus can ever come from God. Except that this understanding is contradicted in the 14th to 16th chapters of the Gospel of John, whereby the coming of the Spirit of truth (also designated as the Comforter and the Holy Ghost) is promised. Some Christians attribute this promise to the outpouring of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles at Pentecost. However, the context, the detailed description, and the far-reaching outcome of this promised event make the Pentecost association highly unlikely. For, this Spirit of truth is destined to “teach” “all things” and “guide” the faithful “into all truth.” This he would accomplish by declining to “speak of himself, but whatsoever he shall hear [from God], that shall he speak.” (John 14:26; 16:13).
Moreover, Revelation 3:12 makes it clear that the Christ who comes will have a “new name,” a name other than Jesus Christ. From this promise, we can also appreciate why, in Revelation 2:17, those who overcome the obstacles of the day will also have a “new name,” a name that would, presumably, be different from their current name, “Christian.” Interestingly, only those receiving this new name would know. Why? Because those who don’t overcome their doubts, scepticisms, and inhibitions would not believe in the message of a messianic appearance, and so even when they are told of the new name, they would refuse to accept it as the one promised.
The Muslim Example
With Islam, the followers point to a verse in their holy book (Qur’an 33:40) that asserts that Muhammad is “the Seal of the Prophets”—a statement some Muslims interpret to mean no new Prophet can ever come after their Prophet. Yet, this interpretation is undermined by their belief in the imminent return of Prophet Isa—Isa being their name for Jesus, whom they believe to be a Prophet.
The Finality of Faith: Fact or Fiction?
So, among adherents of these religions, you encounter a similar situation—a belief in the finality of their faith and its founder based on a verse in their respective holy books, and then another verse elsewhere in the same book calling the interpretation of the earlier verse into question.
Why are we discussing this here? We are because it is telling us not to closed-mindedly overlook the possibility of the coming of a new Emissary from God, with a new name and a new, more potent religion to supersede all other religious dispensation of the past. Moreover, it does raise questions about the popular interpretation of scripture, an interpretation that is usually very literal and selective.
Contradictory Messages in Prophecy
The end-time prophecies, when looked at together, do often give contradictory signals. Take, for instance, the prediction in Revelation 1:7 that “he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him....” Now, is the idea that everyone would see the Advent occur not contradicted by the warning in Revelation 16:15 that “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame”?
Why would a believer walk naked if he fails to watch? Because he would likely miss the Christ and be left deprived (when he does “come as a thief”). Those who watch and attain would be filled with new insights and would see the other’s deprivation and loss, in effect his nakedness.
…no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation… Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who… will bring to light the hidden things of darkness….
— (II Peter 1:20; I Corinthians 4:5)
The Difficulty of Interpreting Prophecy
The reason for all this difficulty on the part of worshippers is because the interpretation of prophecy was never meant to be a straightforward matter. Little wonder that the Apostle Peter warns in II Peter 1:20-21 that “no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
So, even the idea of attempting an interpretation of the end-time prophecies is strongly discouraged in the above verse. Why? Because the prophecies contain hidden meanings which can only be laid bare with the coming of the Christ himself.
This is what is alluded to by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 4:5: “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts….”
Who Knows the Meaning of Prophecy?
So, it is clear from this that it is the Lord, the Christ of the Second Coming himself and himself alone, who has the unrivalled wisdom, penetrating insight, superb acumen, and exclusive mandate to explain what the end-time prophecies truly mean.
Therefore, the advice to any seeker of truth is: Don’t trust yourself in the matter of prophecy. Don’t trust your understanding of what the last day brings. Don’t trust the literal interpretation of scripture. Don’t trust all the doctrines and dogmas out there. Man-made canons and creeds lack divine authority and can never compare with the insights that the true Christ brings in our time.
The bottom line is: Don’t hesitate to fully investigate any messianic claim that comes to your attention.
We close with a rhetorical question from Jesus. In Luke 18:8, he asks: “Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?”
If the Christ will find no faith on earth at his appearance, how would that manifest itself? Something to ponder over.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Kobina Amissah-Fynn