Every serious student of the Bible knows that some statements in it can be taken literally at face value, and others have to be interpreted allegorically. Much of the disagreement over what the Bible really means comes from difference of opinion about which parts are factual and which are metaphorical. For example, everyone would agree that the statement, ‘The Lord is my rock’ (Psalm 18:2), is metaphorical. But what about the prophecy that the moon will turn to blood? (Joel 2:31).
About 350 years ago, Galileo was condemned for teaching that the earth orbits the sun. The inquisition claimed that the Bible teaches that the sun moves and the earth stands still. From their point of view, it seemed reasonable to take literally statements like, “The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it arose” (Ecclesiastes 1:5). In this age of space shuttles we have a different perspective. We know that such statements were never intended to be taken literally.
Many people were waiting for Christ when He first came. Yet His coming was different from what most people expected. They thought He would be a glorious King—a military hero. They wanted Him to lead the armies of Israel into battles of victory and destruction, and to establish a new government with Israel in power. Compared to the hurricane they envisioned, however, His coming was like a gentle breath of fresh air. Many people living at the time did not even know that anything important had taken place. The reason people were mistaken about His coming is that they interpreted the prophecies in a very literal way.
Jesus showed that many of the prophecies about His coming were symbolic. For example, prophecy said Jesus would redeem the children of Israel, but He showed that the true Israelites are all the children of God who hear and obey His Word (John 8: 37-47; Matthew 3:9; Colossians 3:11; Galatians 3:28; Romans 3:29, 10:12). Or, as Paul said, “He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter” (Romans 2:28, 29).
The Jews knew the Old Testament prophecy about Christ’s coming: “I will show wonders in the heaven and in the earth: blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord” (Joel 2:30-31). Some who read these prophecies expected that there would be natural disasters and great political upheavals when Christ came. The Bible says that these prophecies were fulfilled when Christ came (Acts 2:14-21), but not in the dramatic way that people expected.
In place of a worldly kingdom and a physical battle, Jesus ruled a heavenly kingdom and fought a spiritual battle (John 6:15; Luke 22:49; Matthew 26:52). “My kingdom is not of this world,” He said. “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). Or, as Paul said later, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, and against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). In each case, the Lord showed that prophecy is primarily concerned with spiritual events, not political ones.
Jesus did little while He was on earth to change the natural order of things. Kingdoms have continued to rise and fall. There have still been wars, famines and plagues; births, marriages and deaths. But on a spiritual level, things were quite different. The power of hell had been overcome. A new era of spiritual freedom began.
Like the first coming of Christ, the second coming is primarily a spiritual event. We needn’t be looking for dramatic changes of government or climate, because the Lord’s kingdom is not a civil authority or a geographical location. His kingdom is concerned with the government of the human mind–with a life according to divine laws. The signs that He has come again should be the changes in our own hearts. “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20,21).
When Jesus came on earth the first time, He changed the world with His truth. When Pilate asked Him what kind of king He was, He answered, “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth” (John 19:37). His miracles healed a few people; His truth healed countless people. He said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31).
Jesus promised to give us still more truth—deeper truth—at His second coming. “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will not longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly of the Father” (John 16:25).
God is present everywhere. He is not limited by space. So we can’t really talk about Him “coming” or “going”. God didn’t come to earth, because He is everywhere. But Jesus was a manifestation of God and a revelation of His truth. Likewise, Jesus said that His second coming would be a manifestation of Himself and revelation of His truth. He said He would come as the Spirit of truth–the Helper or Comforter. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:12-14). “You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:15-18).