The Return of Jesus: How Many Times Is He Coming Back?

bright sun in sky for post about the return of Jesus

Few things in the Bible attract more attention than prophecies about the end times. Even people with only a passing acquaintance with the Bible know that it foretells a second coming of Jesus. Those who study the Bible know the book of Revelation reveals that the second coming brings an end to the reign of the antichrist (the “beast”; Rev 19:11–21). The risen Christ, the incarnation of God, returns to earth not as a suffering Savior, but as the glorious warrior-king. But does the Bible describe an earlier return of Jesus—one that precedes this triumphant arrival?

The “Rapture”

Some Christians believe that 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 describes how all believers will be taken from earth, dead or alive, at an appearing of Jesus before the second coming described in Revelation 19.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord (1 Thess 4:16–17).

This earlier return of Jesus is called the “rapture” by believers who embrace this idea. The term is derived from the Latin word rapiemur (from rapio, meaning “to carry off”) used by the translator of the Latin Vulgate for the Greek word harpazō (ἁπιτάζω), translated “caught up” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

Other Christians, however, reject the idea that 1 Thessalonians 4 speaks of a different event than the return of Jesus to earth described in Revelation 19. For them, there will only be one return of Jesus in the future. So, who’s right?

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The answer to the question is “it depends.” If we were to read all the passages in the New Testament that speak of Jesus’ future return, along with Old Testament passages that speak of a final, climactic visitation by God on earth that will put an end to evil (“the Day of the Lord”), we would notice immediately that they do not agree in the details or descriptions. For example, 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 seemingly has Jesus returning in the air, gathering believers into the clouds, whereas the prophet Zechariah foretold the physical arrival of the pierced Lord on the Mount of Olives with his holy ones at the Day of the Lord (Zech 12:10; 14:1–5; compare Rev 19:14).

Interpreters are forced to make a decision: Should we take these verses and split them into two events, or should we harmonize them? The former approach produces two events: a rapture and a second coming. Harmonization, the second approach, eliminates the rapture and leaves only one event: the second coming. Harmonization is a tried-and-true method frequently used by interpreters to resolve disagreements between the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. It is also used to reconcile Old Testament accounts of Israelite history recorded in Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. But many see the harmonized differences as “inconsistencies” between biblical prophecies.

The Bible doesn’t telegraph which interpretive approach is correct. There is no appendix on interpretation following the book of Revelation. Both views are based on choices we bring to the text. Neither is self-evident as the “biblical position.” That realization should prompt us to act with humility and charity toward each other, no matter what position we take.

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Written by
Michael S. Heiser

Michael S. Heiser is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (M.A., Ancient History) and the University of Wisconsin- Madison (M.A., Ph.D., Hebrew Bible and Semitic Studies). He has a dozen years of classroom teaching experience on the college level and another ten in distance education. He is a former scholar-in-residence at Logos Bible Software.

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  • So very true! Bring to mind the following: “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity” attributed to the German Lutheran theologian of the early seventeenth century, Rupertus Meldenius. The rapture and tribulation discussions are in many way non-essential to our faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

    • Totally disagree! Paul tells those who are suffering persecution to “encourage one another with these words.” “Christ in you, the hope of glory!” The reason God told us the future was to embolden and encourage us. It is essential to living the Christian life. So much so that Paul excommunicated Hymenais and Alexander over a priblem with their eschatology!

      • So much for humility and charity. Quite a difference in speculating the future and saying the future has already happwned.

        • Part of the problem with how humility and charity is expressed is the fact that anyone who is passionate about his/her faith or are confident of what they believe, can be seen as being without humility or being charitable. I saw nothing wrong with Steven Moutoux’s post. A part of showing humility and charity is allowing your “opponent” the right to disagree with you. Especially in texting it is best to give the benefit of the doubt.

  • It does seem significant to me that in 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul emphasizes the importance of the order of what he discusses in the passage. The dead in Christ are resurrected first, then they are caught up with those who are alive at Christ’s coming, and together they meet Christ in the air.
    In Revelation 19-20 the saints are with Christ when he returns, and it is after he returns to earth that the dead are raised.
    The different order, especially when Paul makes a point of the order, points to two distinct events.
    I would, however, not refer to these as two different comings but as two aspects of the complex of events that make up Christ’s Second Coming.

    • I agree with what you say, Brian. I think a large portion of the problem is when we take the Greek or Hebrew text, define it in English words and cast that into concrete. My point is that if we would discuss the parousia instead of the “coming” one might be able to see the parousia as a whole with two “comings” more easily.

  • you miss out one elephant in the room, Rev 14:1ff the Lamb will stand on mount Sion with the 144000 Jews.

    • I would say, Christ’s return is one Series of events. Rev 14:1 ties in with Zech 14:3-4. Standing on Mount Sion, then using a sharp sickle and destroy the enemies.

  • The rapture, tribulation and second coming all convey the the blessed hope of the soon return of author and perfector of our faith, Jesus Christ; and therefore these topics, in my humble opinion, are inextricably woven into one’s faith. Just as blessed hope of the His first coming fueled the faith of Israel to endure harsh persecution, the aforementioned topics will fuel all have put their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. One need only to listen to the Holy Spirit regarding these topics; He alone will lead us into all truth and quash human translation disparities.
    Romans 3:1–4 (HCSB): 3 So what advantage does the Jew have? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 Considerable in every way. First, they were entrusted with the spoken words of God. 3 What then? If some did not believe, will their unbelief cancel God’s faithfulness? 4 Absolutely not! God must be true, even if everyone is a liar, as it is written:
    That You may be justified in Your words
    and triumph when You judge.

    • Hi, Jim: So, are you saying that those who hold to a pre-tribulational view of the rapture are listening to the Holy Spirit, and those who hold to a post-tribulational view are not listening to the Holy Spirit? Who makes that type of determination? How is that done?

      Pre-trib, post-trib, or mid-trib, etc. views differ on the chronology, but how does one view uphold or deny the “blessed hope” any more than another view? If you think pre-trib is the better interpretation of the text, then fine. That would be your “humble opinion.” But why throw another believer in Christ under the bus if they fail to hold your specific view on a non-essential matter like this?

      • Clarke, I think you may have misunderstood Jim’s post. When he said: “One need only to listen to the Holy Spirit regarding these topics; He alone will lead us into all truth and quash human translation disparities.” I thought he was saying whether you are pre-trib, post-trib or whatever; let the Holy Spirit guide you. It is apparent that he is pre-trib. I didn’t get the feeling that he was saying that his theology was the only way. JMHO! May God richly bless you. Maranatha!

        • Amen Brother! That is precisely what I was attempting to convey! There is way too much emphasis on “Thus say my group/denomination” and too little on ”Thus say the Lord!” Even Paul would delineate between his assertions/interpretations and the immutable Word of the Lord! The only way we can find the truth regarding these matters is by the leading of God’s Holy Spirit! These are truly exciting and terrible times that we are living! And we would do well to accept that our faith will be tried by fire, trials/persecution not wrath and indignation! The true church/bride will be made ready for the Lord’s soon return! No time for human assertions, only submission to God’s Holy Spirit!

          I did have one typo, “ all who have put their faith in Jesus Christ, as Lord and Savior.”
          May we, as brothers and sisters, seek the Lord on these seemingly disputable matters; being sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading!

          • Jim, looking back this over a week later, I extend my apology to you, as I apparently misread your comment. Thanks to Sam, too, for alerting me. Ultimately, I would call myself a “pan-millennialist”, in that it will all “pan” out in the end, according to His sovereign purposes. I would most definitely agree that some folks take their eschatology a bit too seriously. I am sorry that I pinned that on you! Blessings to you in your journey with Jesus.

  • Every Christian should believe in a rapture…when the rapture occurs can be debatable, not the rapture itself. The rapture is about Christians being caught up to be with Christ, and as far as I know, all eschatological theology’s believe Christians will be caught up with Christ, after all, it is in the Bible.

  • I wholeheartedly agree that we should neither attack nor criticise those who hold different views, as long as they are within general biblical parameters. However, in this particular case we should pay better attention to the inspired words of the text. The Rapture speaks of the Lord meeting us IN THE AIR. Whereas the Second Coming according to various passages sees Him coming TO EARTH. Zechariah pictures His feet physically touching the Mt. of Olives, whereupon it splits in two.
    For me the key has been not only the wording of the Scriptures but also a study of traditional Jewish wedding customs, which throw enormous light on this matter, especially on John 14: 1 – 3.
    Rather than attack anyone, may I humbly recommend that we all focus on both the exact wording of Scripture and also the original context of our Jewish Lord’s culture, the society in which He & His hearers lived.
    If we read the Bible through only C21st eyes and as those who have relegated all things Jewish to the ash heap of history, then it’s no surprise that we struggle to make sense of Christ’s sayings.
    Bless you all.

  • I’m thinking that I have a preference for what I’d like to be true, but honestly can not KNOW exactly what God is going to do. For some reason He has allowed a certain amount of “mystery” here. What then is necessary is for me to know and camp on the fact that God knows what He is about and trust Him with that. The fact is, I am His, He will return, I will be with Him forever…when/how/why is not essential for me to know, but to live in light of what I do know and trust Him with all the rest.

  • Thank you for your honesty! (“we would notice immediately that they do not agree in the details or descriptions”)
    Far too often the differences (one might even say discrepancies) are overlooked, or falsely harmonized via exegetical acrobatics.
    I believe that taking the Bible seriously means noting exactly what you said about various texts not agreeing.

  • “The Bible doesn’t telegraph which interpretive approach is correct. There is no appendix on interpretation following the book of Revelation. Both views are based on choices we bring to the text. Neither is self-evident as the “biblical position.” That realization should prompt us to act with humility and charity toward each other, no matter what position we take.”

    In a way I disagree with the above quote from the article.

    1 Joseph of Egypt was a type of Christ and what was going to happen in the future. Note that Joseph married a “gentile bride”. So will Christ (Gentile Bride of Him being the Church).
    Before Joseph revealed himself for who he really was to his brothers, he sent everyone out of the hall (meaning that his gentile bride was in the royal chambers).
    Likewise, when Christ reveals to the Jews, the “Gentile bride” (wife by then) will be in heaven (Church body of Christ).

    2 When we take a look at the Bride of Christ, she was conceded to wear fine linen. It seems too coincidental, that the saints that come with Jesus Christ to save the believers going through the tribulation wear fine linen too. (possibility is that those saints coming from heaven after the wedding of the Lamb.

    3 Psalm 27:5 hints at what will happen…

    NET Bible
    He will surely give me shelter in the day of danger; he will hide me in his home; he will place me on an inaccessible rocky summit.

    King James Bible
    For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.

    4 but wait, the ones that will go through the tribulation are the foolish virgins that did not have enough oil in their lamps, they were lukewarm many lacking the hot state by the filling of the Holy Spirit, and the lukewarm state is what will have them spit into the tribulation.

    The wise virgins who had plenty oil (filling of the Holy Spirit), will go to the marriage of the Lamb.

    So in my view, it is commendable that Dr. Heiser advices to be humble, and display Christlike agape to our fellow believers, but I definitively would not dare say that the Bible does not telegraph what interpretative approach seems to make more sense.

    Kind regards.

    P.S. none of the above has been deduced nor induced by me, use L8 to investigate, plenty of brothers past and present across denominations have been illuminated about this.
    The challenge is to keep an open mind and see clearly the articulation of different groups, then check the Scriptures to see if things are so.
    Checking Scriptures to see if things are so and retaining the good is an undelegable responsibility each individual believer has.

  • I like this topic and enjoyed reading the various expected replies.

    One comment said that we need to let the Holy Spirit guide us and this is one of His jobs according to Jesus in John, to teach us truth. We have the ability and privilege of putting everything to the test, regardless of who says it. The Contrast between the Bereans and the Thessalonians in Acts 17:11 is an example.

    I agree that there is no index of interpretation in the book of revelation but there are little glimpses right through the bible that can link together to get a composite picture. There are 2 sides to a coin and we have the tendency to look only at one side.
    Yes, there are “mysteries” that God seems to hide, but is He hiding if “from” us or “for us” and that we have to search truth for ourselves as per Pro 25:2 etc. The parable of the sower and the seed in Mark 4 is more about the word of God than anything else. Jesus said so and He revealed everything to the disciples and others, but not to the crowd.

    Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:10 onwards that God has revealed things to us, not hidden them from us, but we have to find them.

    Someone quoted the ten virgins, but all ten were asleep when the bridegroom arrived…all 10! Only the watchman saw him arrive.

    We all need to weigh up scripture against scripture from the beginning and get the overall picture to avoid leaping to conclusions and following the crowd. Jesus’ first appearing is misunderstood just as much as His return. He may not have been born in December but September. He might not have been in Bethlehem when the wise men came and could have been 2 years of age. The bible never says that there were 3 wise men, but we assume so.

    We may be assuming many things about the Lord’s return also. Jude says that He will come with the thousands of His saints. Who are they? All believers are called saints, so does that menace will be coming with Jesus then? If so, we must go to be with Him beforehand and then return.

    Personally, I believe in the rapture teaching.The Lord has taken me to heaven several times and the first time was like the way I imagine the rapture will be like…in the twinkle of an eye.

    Many we all be open minded and not fall into preconceived mindsets and theories and open our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit.

    • Hi Robert:

      You mentioned the watchman in the parable of the virgins. Who in your opinion does he symbolize? Pastor?, Holy Spirit?, prophet?, or watch standing believer?

      In your opinion, what is referred as “heaven”, is it a nice part of “Sheol”? (as in the Bosom of Abraham?), is it the 3rd heaven where some think God inhabits?

      When the new Earth is set, and the New Jerusalem comes down, will it be the new dwelling place of God?

      I assume that some of your experiences have prompted into researching more into certain topics to try understand what was lived, so if you care sharing some of what you think have discovered please do.


  • I believe it is only one event. There is no place that Jesus says you have two chances to have eternal life with Him. Those that believe in a ‘rapture’ would have to accept a ‘second chance’ for those who were ‘left behind’. Paul also wrote clearly that at the resurrection, those who are left, believers who remain alive on earth, are (Gk harpazo) means the sense of sudden and violent action, snatched away. In 382 the pope commissioned Jerome to translate the bible into Latin for the Catholic church. Jerome used the word raptus for harpazo and the false doctrine of the rapture had its beginning. Those who ignore the trumpet sound in verse 16, are not correct.

  • I will comment on only one point of your post.

    Jan Lawson says: Those that believe in a ‘rapture’ would have to accept a ‘second chance’ for those who were ‘left behind’.

    What would make you say this? I know of no pretriber who believes this.

Written by Michael S. Heiser