This is a very basic survey of various views of the second coming. Nicholas has provided greater detail and some implications of the various positions in his post on the Millennium. For clarity I should also state the position I prefer is that of ‘Historical Pre-Millennialism’.

There are a number of views of how and when the 2nd coming will occur. They are identified in terms of their relationship to ‘The Millennium – the 1,000 year reign of Christ Rev. 20. Each view teaches the visible, personal and physical return of Jesus to the earth.

1) A millennialismAugustine’s:  There is no 1,000 year reign it is symbolic of the victory of the church since Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire. This symbolic millennium will proceed until the kingdom of God is fully established on earth through the church. When this is accomplished Christ will return.

2) Post millennialism: Jesus will return at the end of the millennium. The millennium reign of Christ will be brought about through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the church then Jesus will return.

Both 1) and 2) have something in common with current ‘Dominion Theology’ which has over the last few years caused dispute and some concern in evangelical circles. My concern over ‘Dominion Theology’ and the dominance of the church prior to Christ return is the potential for the church to seek secular power with a view to enforcing it upon the populace i.e. somewhat akin to the times of Constantine.

3) Historic Pre-millennialismIrenaeus? It is argued by some that this was the church view prior to Augustine. Christ will return prior to the establishment of His 1,000 year reign on earth, the’ 1st resurrection of (Christian) saints takes place (i.e. of the church or perhaps only the over-coming part of it) takes place and then Christ establishes His Millennial reign with these saints.

As every one will eventually be resurrected we need to consider what Paul meant by his desire to attain to the resurrection of the dead, which he says he did not consider himself to have attained to. I consider Phil. 3:10-15 should read ‘In order that I may attain to the out resurrection from among the dead.’ This sounds an awkward translation but I am told that it is more accurate. It implies that Paul strived to obtain a part in the first resurrection and to rise from amongst the dead prior to the ‘general resurrection’. If this is the case it indicates that all Christians will not necessarily be raised in the 1st resurrection in order to reign with Christ through the Millennium Kingdom. This is confirmed by a number of scriptures: e.g.

2 Timothy 2:12 “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us”.

Revelation 20:4-6 ‘…they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years”.

4) Pre-millennial – modern rapture theory: This ‘Futurist Interpretation’ was developed by a Catholic priest Lucunsa in the 1700s. A motivation for its development may have been to combat the ‘Historical Interpretation’ of Revelation – which sees the book as an outline of future history from the time of Christ till the end of the age – in this interpretation Babylon was often presented by reformers as the post apostolic apostate Roman Catholic Church. Some ‘Rapture Theorists’ contend that the ‘Rapture’ is the subject of Revelation 4:1 stated in the words “the sound of a trumpet speaking to me said. ‘Come up here’.” It is argued that from here on the rest of Revelation has nothing to do with the true church until the text takes up with the first resurrection.

An Irvingite Mary McDonald had a vision of saints caught up in the air with Christ & returning to the earth.  

J. N. Darby of the Plymouth Brethren was influenced by Mary’s vision and popularised the theory – see the book ‘The Late Great Pre Tribulation Cover Up’.

The view gained wide acceptance through the ‘Schofield Reference Bible’. This view teaches ‘the immanent any moment secret rapture of the church prior to the 2nd coming Jesus’. It claims Jesus will return secretly to earth’s atmosphere and catch away ‘rapture’ the saints. The resurrection of the saints will take place (1st resurrection) and they will be caught up to Christ in the air along with the Christians alive at that time. The rest of the world will simply be aware that millions of Christians have disappeared. At that time others must hope they are not on a plane or train operated by a ‘born again Christian’. Through the ‘rapture’ believers will have gone with Christ to heaven and may escape what is called ‘The Great Tribulation’ which is thought to be a time of catastrophic evil on earth lasting for 7 years. I say may escape as are there are three ‘Rapture Theories’ pre tribulation, mid tribulation or post tribulation rapture of the saints Matt. 24:36-44, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, Revelation ch. 4:1.

The word used in Matt. & Thess. for the Lord’s coming is ‘parousia’. It means arrival and consequent presence. It was commonly used in secular language of the time for the visit of the emperor to a city, the citizens would go out to meet him and escort him into the city. This fits the picture of Christ’s return in Thessalonians 4, without the necessity of believing the church is secretly whisked away to heaven. This then fits the Historic Pre-millennialism scenario.

Part of the original ‘Rapture Theory’ deals with what are called the ‘Tribulation Saints’ during the ‘Tribulation’ the Lord will reinitiate His work through the Jews, represented by the 144,000 Rev. 7. They will preach the ‘Gospel of the Kingdom of God’. Those responding to this gospel of the coming ‘Millennial Kingdom’ will be saved if they ‘endure to the end’ (Matt. 24:13) of the ‘Tribulation’. They are referred to as ‘The Tribulation Saints’. This gospel is thought to be different to the gospel we now preach during this ‘Church Age’. Jesus preached (they say) the Gospel of the ‘Kingdom of God’ to Israel at His 1st coming, i.e. as their Messiah He offered to establish an earthy kingdom with them. They rejected Him so God’s work with the Jews was suspended and the church launched through the preaching of ‘The Gospel of The Grace of God’. The church a secret hidden entirely from the OT prophets, a mystery revealed to Paul, is a parenthesis in the work of God through Israel Eph. 3:3-10, 6:19, Col. 1:26-27

The ‘Rapture Theory’ teaches that ‘the 2nd. Coming {proper so to speak}’ will take place at the end of the ‘Tribulation’ – so as such we have a two stage second coming although it is not spoken of in these terms. At the second coming it is said Christ returns and set up His Millennial Kingdom and reign on earth from Jerusalem through the Jewish people over the whole earth followed by Armageddon, the judgement & new heaven & earth. There will be two peoples of God Israel & Church, they will exist in two different locations Israel on earth / Church in heaven & they will be saved by two different gospels ‘The Gospel of the Kingdom’ for Israel and ‘The Gospel of The Grace of God’ for the church.

The important and to my mind damaging implications of this full blown and original ‘Rapture Theory’ is that it is not the task of the church to preach Christ gospel to the whole world prior to His return. This is the task of the ‘Jewish Tribulation Saints’. As one old Plymouth Brother explained to me the equivalent of 144,000s Jewish Billy Graham’s will in 7 years accomplish what the church failed to do in 2,000 years.

Variations on this have done away with the concept of two gospels, two peoples, two destinations and ‘tribulation saints’ and many (probably the vast majority) of rapture theorists’ are unaware that all this was part of the original ‘Rapture’ teaching.