Hebrews 9:28, speaking of Christ, says “… and the second time he appears…” How can Christ APPEAR a second time if he will not have a visible return to earth? Stumper Question #43
Of all the so-called “stumper questions” this one actually is a stumper for Jehovah’s Witnesses and the leadership of the Watchtower. That is because from the very beginning the Watchtower has proclaimed that Christ’s return and his presence among his followers will be unseen by human eyes.
One of the very first writings of Charles Russell, entitled The Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return (1877), explained the manner of Jesus’ return and presence (parousia) as being invisible. In that pamphlet Russell stated:
“We believe the scriptures to teach, that, at His coming and for a time after He has come, He will remain invisible; afterward manifesting or showing Himself in judgments and various forms, so that ‘every eye shall see Him.’”
While it is surely true that Jesus will not be literally manifest to the world, what is the purpose of his being present if his presence is no different than his absence? Or, expressed another way, since Jesus assured his followers that he would be with them all the days until the conclusion of the system of things, shouldn’t we expect that during the conclusion Jesus will be with them in an extraordinary way?
Originally it was believed that Jesus returned in 1874. Then in 1930 the date for the return of Christ and his parousia was reset from 1874 to 1914. That in itself should cause Jehovah’s Witnesses to question the entire doctrine. After all, if Christ had been invisibly present among the Bible Students beginning in 1914 would they not be aware of that fact? And if the parousia began in 1914 why would Jesus wait for 15 years to publicize his presence? It simply doesn’t add up.
And the fact that the Watchtower had undeniably promoted a false parousia from 1874 up until the adjustment in 1930 stands as a testimony that the overriding compulsion is to justify placing the coming of Christ in the past, whether 1874 or 1914.
One of the key passages upon which the notion of an invisible presence is based is taken from the account in the opening chapter of Acts regarding the ascension, which reads: “After he had said these things, while they were looking on, he was lifted up and a cloud caught him up from their sight. And as they were gazing into the sky while he was on his way, suddenly two men in white garments stood beside them and said: ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus who was taken up from you into the sky will come in the same manner as you have seen him going into the sky.”’
The reasoning of Pastor Russell, which remains the basis for the Watchtower’s teaching to this day, is that after his resurrection Jesus did not reveal himself to anyone but his disciples. That is in keeping with what Jesus told his followers, that the world would behold him no more.
While that is surely true, the fact remains that Jesus not only visibly appeared to many of his disciples after his resurrection, but they literally saw him lifted up into the sky. And he was only concealed from their view as he ascended into a cloud. It was at that moment the two angels appeared in their midst and told them that Jesus “will come in the same manner as you have seen him.”
The question for Jehovah’s Witnesses to consider is this: Did the disciples see Jesus ascend into the sky? Of course, the answer is yes. Jesus was quite visible to their eyes until he became obscured behind a cloud. Not coincidently, the prophecy of Daniel depicts the Son of man coming upon the clouds of heaven —the same manner in which he departed.
But the important point of differentiation is that Jesus revealed himself to his followers, while his post-resurrection presence and ascension was concealed from non-believers. Not only that, but he appeared to his disciples individually, beginning with Mary and Martha first and then the male disciples. Lastly, he appeared to Saul after his ascension.
In a perverse way the Watchtower’s 1914 doctrine has served a vital function. It has insured that the coming of Christ will be at an hour you do not think likely. And as in the first century, Christ’s future presence will result in individuals seeing him over a period of time, while others will not be privy to his presence. This is what Jesus was alluding to when he said: “For just as the lightning comes out of the east and shines over to the west, so the presence of the Son of man will be. Wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”
In other words, only the “eagles” will see Christ the second time he appears.
Related articles: The Visible Presence of Jesus Christ