10 truths about the return of Jesus

200321147-001Few passages of scripture cause more controversy among evangelical Christians than Rev. 20:1-10, in which John mentions a 1,000-year period six times.  The main point of debate is whether the “millennium” should be understood literally or figuratively.

Generally, those who believe the 1,000 years are literal and in the future are called premillennialists. They look for Christ to return and establish a “millennial kingdom,” or a reign of 1,000 years, after which He puts down Satan’s final revolt, resurrects and judges unbelievers (Christians are judged before the millennium), and creates new heavens and a new earth.

Those who believe Christ is returning after the millennium are called postmillennialists. The 1,000 years are not necessarily a literal time frame, but they represent a period during which much of the world turns to faith in Jesus.

Those who see all references to the 1,000 years as figurative and without merit as a reference point concerning the timing of the Lord’s return are called amilllennialists.

There is diversity within each of these camps as to the order of events surrounding the second coming.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, it’s important to follow a biblical principle for exploring tough passages: Start with the simple and straightforward teachings of scripture, and seek to understand the difficult passages in the light of the simpler ones.

With that in mind, let’s rally around 10 simple truths regarding the return of Jesus.

10 simple truths

First, Jesus is returning one day. While we do not know the day or hour of His glorious appearing (Matt. 24:36; Titus 2:13), and while we may disagree about the order of events surrounding the Day of the Lord, we can rest assured that He will come back and fulfill all things (John 14:3; Acts 1:9-11; 3:19-21).

Second, His return is personal, physical, and visible. When He splits the heavens, every eye sees Him, and the marks of His crucifixion verify His identity (Matt. 24:27-30; Acts 1:11; Rev. 1:7; 5:6-10).

Third, He avenges Himself and His people by destroying the wicked. There is a day of reckoning for those who reject Christ and persecute His followers (Rom. 12:19; 1 Cor. 15:24-26; Heb. 10:30-31; Rev. 6:9-11; 19:11-21).

Fourth, He resurrects and judges all people (John 5:28-29; Rev. 22:12). While there is considerable debate as to whether the righteous and the wicked are raised at the same time or in stages, it is clear that once all judgment is completed, Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire; no one is left waiting (Rev. 20:14).

Fifth, believers stand before the judgment seat of Christ, are rewarded according to the stewardship of their Christian lives, and are given places of service in His eternal kingdom (Rom. 14:10-12; 1 Cor. 3:11-15; 2 Cor. 5:10).

Sixth, unbelievers stand before the great white throne and are given varying degrees of punishment; all are separated eternally from God in hell, which Jesus describes as “outer darkness” where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 8:12; 13:40-42, 47-50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Rev. 20:11-15).

Seventh, Jesus creates new heavens and a new earth. He purges the cosmos of the effects of the Fall and restores it to its original perfection (2 Peter 3:10-13; Rev. 21-22).

Eighth, Jesus urges us to be prepared for His return. “This is why you must be ready,” He tells His disciples, “because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:44). He commends faithful and sensible service in light of His unannounced return (Matt. 24:45-51), and He concludes the parable of the 10 virgins with these words, “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour” (Matt. 25:13).

Ninth, Christians spend eternity with fellow Christians who disagree with us. Entrance into the kingdom of heaven is not based on doctrinal perfection but on the finished work of Christ (John 5:24; Rom. 4:4-5; 10:9-10; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Eph. 2:8-9).

Tenth, the Lord corrects our faulty views as He shepherds us throughout eternity (John 14:2-3; 1 Cor. 13:12; 1 Peter 5:4; Rev. 21:3-4).

This column first appeared Dec. 3, 2013, in The Pathway, the news journal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. 


  1. Pingback: Understanding The Millennium (1000 Years Reign) Part 3 | When is Jesus Coming Back?
  2. Barry Bade

    I’m not sure that I see varying degrees of punishment indicated in the Bible. Hell is always described in the Bible as being horrible; and, really, isn’t eternally being out of God’s presence, away from His love, and away from all that is good, about as bad as it can get? I’m wondering what there could be about that situation that would make it a little better for one soul than for another. The Bible says that everything that comes not from faith is sin, and don’t we believe that all sin ranks equally with God? If all sin is the same to God, why would he make some suffer in hell more than others? We, on this side of heaven, want to believe that some people, even though they have rejected Christ, were good enough that they don’t deserve the same punishment as those who led evil lives. God made it so that no one need end up in hell. Those who go there made their choice to go there. (Despite what this message sounds like, I’m not really intending to argue this point with you. I’m wanting to learn, and if you can teach me, then that’s great. I don’t really know what will happen to people in hell and I don’t think anyone else does either. The Bible isn’t that clear about this issue, and I think it’s because God doesn’t really want us to know about hell except to be certain it’s a place we don’t want to enter!)

  3. rphilli

    Many thanks for writing, Barry. In Revelation 20:11-15, unbelievers are judged “according to their works,” which implies varying degrees of punishment in hell. In addition, Jesus tells the religious leaders of his day that they will receive “greater condemnation” or “greater punishment” for their hypocrisy (see, for example, Matt. 23:13-14, Mark 12:39-40 Luke 20:47). Jesus and the apostles also speak about the day when everyone will be judged for thoughts and deeds. While these are not explicit statements of degrees of punishment, they strongly indicate it. They also run parallel to the biblical concept of degrees of rewards in the afterlife for believers.

  4. Barry Bade

    Could you please explain where you come about the idea that unbelievers ” are given varying degrees of punishment”?

  5. J. W. (Jim) Wilcox,Jr.

    I hold to the principle that whenever a passage or a word can be taken literally, that is what I do.
    Therefore, I believe the 1000 year reign of Christ on the earth means just that. Daily I agree with John, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”