Speech Given at the High School Division Saint John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival Greek Orthodox Archdiocese 2006
THE SECOND COMING
Lia Eliades - 2006 Oratorical Festival
Senior Division - San Francisco Diocese
Topic # 3: At the Ascension of Jesus, the angels were heard saying: "Why do you stand looking into Heaven? This Jesus will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven." What do the Church Fathers teach us about the "Second Coming?"
As we sat around the Thanksgiving table a few years ago, my family was discussing how quickly technology had progressed in recent decades. My aunt, a devout Protestant, told us that she had always wondered how everyone on earth, simultaneously, would be able to see Christ at his Second Coming, since, according to Revelation, "He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him." (Revelation 1:7) After a short, striking pause, she exclaimed, "TV!"
I knew very little about the Second Coming then, but something about this idea rang false with me, and I began researching the teachings of our Church on this enigmatic subject, which has been interpreted so differently by so many people. I found the Church Fathers emphasized that we must always be prepared for Christ's return, as He "is coming at an hour we do not expect," (Matthew 24:44). This being said, they have set wonderful parameters within which we may see the book of the Revelation and other eschatological passages of Bible. What I found in the Scriptures and in the writings of the Fathers assured me that any "Jesus" we see coming back on TV is not our Lord and God, but an antichrist.
"An" antichrist? Yes. Herod was an antichrist, Nero was an antichrist, and even heretics like Arius were antichrists. An antichrist, according to St. John the Theologian, is "anyone who denies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh," (1 John 4:3) or, in other words, anyone who doesn't believe in the unconfusedly united divine and human nature of Christ.
Yet, before the Second Coming of Christ, we will see one Antichrist-with a capital "A." The tradition of our Church teaches us that he will not be a vicious killer like Nero or Hitler. In fact, most people-far from recognizing him as the Antichrist-will love and respect him, and perhaps even believe that he is Christ returned to the earth. He will walk about and perform miracles, perhaps bring "peace" and economic prosperity to the world, live a chaste life in apparent virtue-he'll be an all-around "good guy," and many people will forsake the true God and follow this impostor. Unfortunately, the Antichrist will even deceive many Christians.
Does this surprise us? It shouldn't! Christ Himself said, "Many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many... for false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand." (Matthew 24:5, 24)
This is why it is critical to be "wise as serpents" (Matthew 10:16) in listening to teachings on the end times. When I typed "The Second Coming" into Google, I came up with 360 million results, and it would not surprise me if over 99 percent of them were riddled with the misinterpretation and false information which inevitably arise when we become, "Wise in our own eyes," as the Prophet Isaiah writes. (Isaiah 5:21)
One well-known, false teaching on the Second Coming is the concept of "pre-tribulation rapture," or the idea that before the Antichrist appears and the plagues described in the book of Revelation come upon the earth, all the "good Christians" will be raptured into heaven and escape the trials and tribulations of the last days. Yet a careful reading of the Scriptures, a good look at the lives of the Saints-especially the martyrs-of the Church, and even a minimal knowledge of the teachings of the Church Fathers, will help us to clearly see the fallacy here.
In the Scriptures, Christ constantly warns His disciples that following Him is not for those who want a comfortable, easy life! "They will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake." (Matthew 24:9) "Blessed are you when men revile and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake." (Matthew 5:11) "He who loses his life for My sake will find it." (Matthew 10:39) "Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Matthew 7:14) The apostles died dreadful deaths after lives of intense hardship, the martyrs of the Church were brutally mutilated and suffered terrible torments, and Christians in all centuries have been persecuted for their faith in and love for Christ.
How, then, can we believe that Christ-to keep "good Christians" from tribulation-will rapture them up into heaven before they experience pain and torment? On the contrary, the Church Fathers even envy those Christians who we understand will live and suffer in the last days. "Who will be these fortunate Christians, who will have the opportunity to confess and martyr during the years of the Antichrist? I consider these to be the greatest of martyrs!" exclaims St. Cyril of Jerusalem. (From his fifteenth catechism on the Holy Spirit.)
A second heresy pertaining to the Second Coming is "chiliasm" or "millennialism," based on a passage in Revelation, "Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshipped the beast or his image... and they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years." (Revelation 20:4) Proponents of the millennial heresy believe that Christ will come back and establish a peaceful kingdom on the planet earth where He will reign with the "good Christians" for a thousand years.
The Church Fathers, however, including St. Andrew of Caesarea, have always taken the "thousand years" to be a symbolic number referring to the period between the first coming of Christ on earth and the Second Coming. During this period-right now this very moment! -Christ's saints are reigning with Him in the heavens.
It is crucial to understand this. If we believe that Christ is coming back to earth just like a normal human being, to walk around and perform miracles, and to establish a kingdom here full of "good people" living in "peace" and economic prosperity, we're setting ourselves up to be deluded. Many will believe him to be Christ-the Christians and even the Orthodox will fall away from the Church and follow him. We will face great tribulation, and it will be extremely difficult in those days for us to preserve our faith and to hold on to our true Lord Jesus Christ.
When Christ comes back, WE WILL KNOW! There will be NO DOUBT! He will come as He left on the day of His ascension, "In the clouds of heaven," (Matthew 24:30; Revelation 1:7) and "As the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west." (Matthew 24:27) "Every eye shall see Him!" (Revelation 1:7) All the dead will rise from their graves! (1 Thessalonians 4:16) Time will stop! "The heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat!" (2 Peter 3:10)
The event will be unmistakable, to say the least. Nothing will be left of the world as we know it, except those who have faithfully followed "the Lamb," (Revelation Chapters 5 through 22) our Christ, "whose kingdom will have no end."
We won't see this on TV. Our Lord's awesome Coming will follow the reign of the Antichrist, and will initiate the complete transformation of the world. Then we shall see the eternal and indescribable kingdom of God. Let us struggle to keep the faith here and now, that by God's grace we may all be participants in this glorious kingdom. Amen.