If Jesus has already returned, where is he?
Revised: 2012 Jun 23
Jesus is in Heaven.
To understand this issue, we must recognize the two reasons for Christ’s return:
- To execute vengeance upon his enemies;
- To provide redemption for his people.
This is made clear in both the Old and New Testaments:
“1The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me… 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God” (Isa. 61:1–2, ESV throughout);
“20But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near… 22for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written… 28Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:20-28).
Actually, most Christians already know this. Almost everyone would agree the Judgment, which includes rewards for both the righteous and wicked, was to occur at the Second Coming of Christ. In the following, we see this again along with the assurance it would all take place within the lifetime of Christ’s disciples:
“26For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matt. 16:26-28).
Christ’s coming against his enemies was similar to visitations by God in the Old Testament when he came against Israel in the form of human armies. God has a solid history of using pagan armies to punish his own people and other nations as well. Notice these examples:
- God used Assyria as a “rod” against Israel “to tread them down like the mire of the streets” (Isa. 10:5-6);
- Later he used the Babylonians: “22…I will stir up against you your lovers from whom you turned in disgust, and I will bring them against you from every side: 23the Babylonians and all the Chaldeans, Pekod and Shoa and Koa, and all the Assyrians with them…” (Ezek. 23:22-23);
- Then, he used the Medes and Persians to punish the Babylonians: “28…your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians… 30That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. 31And Darius the Mede received the kingdom…” (Dan. 5:28-31).
Consequently, we should not be surprised to find a human army being the manifestation of Christ’s “vengeance” (Luke 21:22). In fact, one could argue it would be completely out of character for him to accomplish it in any other manner.
Notice this verse from Christ’s wedding feast parable: “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city” (Matt. 22:7). This parable foreshadows Christ’s vengeance upon Jerusalem in the first century, and once again, it was accomplished using “troops.”
Assyria’s invasion of Egypt was another judgment from God. Isaiah described it this way: “…Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt…” (Isa. 19:1).
In none of the examples above was God actually visible, although the damage resulting from his presence certainly was. It becomes clear the only sensible approach is to expect the coming of Christ to follow the same pattern so clearly set in the past by all these precedents. The last example even portrays God “riding on a swift cloud” just as Jesus was to come “on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 24:30; 26:64). Also, we can see that some historical background is crucial if we are to grasp the intended meaning of predictive prophecy.
We can safely conclude it was unnecessary for Christ to be actually seen by his enemies. Granted, the book of Revelation says, “every eye will see Him” (Rev. 1:7). For an explanation of this, please read Did “every eye” see Christ’s return? (See the link below.)
It was different for Christ’s faithful servants. They had just completed their mission to take the gospel to the Roman world of their day, and it was time for them to receive their reward. This was predicted by the prophet Daniel:
“2And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Dan. 12:2–3).
Many of the faithful Christians had been martyred and would be resurrected. Obviously, the Resurrection of the Dead occurred in the spirit realm and was not seen by anyone on Earth. However, some of Christ’s servants – those who had turned many to righteousness – were still alive. They were to receive their reward at the same time through the Rapture, the moment they would be “changed” to spirit and rise to meet Jesus. (See 1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:15, 17.) These people did see Jesus. However, once again, since the event occurred in the spirit realm, no one who might have recorded it was a witness to its occurrence. For an explanation of issues surrounding the Rapture, please read Was there a first-century rapture? (See link below.)
The enemies of Christ did not see him. The faithful Christians did see him. However, since the Resurrection of the Dead and the Rapture of the Living occurred in the spirit realm, no one in the earthly realm witnessed it.
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