In the past two weeks of the season of Advent, the season of celebration and waiting for the coming of the Lord, I’ve talked about the long-expected yet unexpected Incarnation, which we sometimes call the “First Advent,” though this is rather imprecise at best—did not the Son take part when God visited his people before the first century? Many prophecies and promises were fulfilled during those few short years the Anointed One walked the roads of the Promised Land. But not all, and he made more promises that were not fulfilled before his ascension. Many of those promises dealt with some future advent.
It’s become unfortunately common to conflate nearly all of these promises into “the Second Coming.” But that is unwarranted, and is in fact contradicted by the obvious plain meaning of many of the texts in question. Jesus and his disciples clearly predicted at least two distinct then-future advents, including “the end of the age” and “the resurrection.”
For example, the passage beginning in the end of Matthew 23, and continuing through the entire next chapter and even into the next, clearly describes a cataclysmic judgement that would fall on some of his hearers, and in particular on the city of Jerusalem and the recently-completed temple, but that those who listened to him could escape. His disciples call this “your coming” and “the end of the age,” but his predictions—as well as the corroborating, strikingly detailed prophecy given to the Apostle John, which included rather precise lengths of sieges and details of the bizarre imperial succession crisis that intervened but complicated by symbolism less easily penetrable to us less-Biblically-literate modern readers—match the First Jewish War accurately, and make sense of the previously “sealed” bit of Daniel that he quoted to his disciples. Just as God came in judgment—and “on the clouds”—on Israel, Judah, Babylon, and other nations that were destroyed, uprooted, or otherwise devastated before the coming of the Christ, Jesus came in judgment on the people and the generation that had rejected him.
But after that passage, moving from one parable to another, he moves from discussion of “the end of the age” to the last judgment, at the resurrection. Similarly, the prophecy given to the apostle John also moves from the then-imminent future to the end of all things at the resurrection of the dead. Here we have a promise for whose fulfillment we can and should look forward: some in gladness, and some in fear, according to their hope. Hasten the day of that last advent!