Jesus’ Return Is Part of the Gospel
by Samuel Whitefield
Artists and Authors
Largely adapted from It Must Be Finished: Making Sense of the Return of Jesus.
The return of Jesus is part of the gospel message. If we only speak of His first coming without including His second coming, our gospel message is incomplete. This does not mean that every time the gospel is preached we must talk about the return of Jesus. Nor does it mean that speaking only of Jesus’ first coming is ineffective. However, regularly sharing about the first coming without the second coming is not communicating the full significance of the gospel.
Throughout the Bible, God has chosen to reveal Himself primarily by what He does. The Bible does declare God’s attributes, but most of the Bible does not consist of statements of His attributes; instead, it tells the story of His interactions with mankind. In those interactions, we learn who God is and what He is like. The study of the return of Jesus is not primarily the study of end-time events—it is the study of a person. And the beauty of this person is revealed in a fresh way by studying His story and His commitment to His people.
God is not only revealed in the stories of what He has done; He is also revealed by the predictions of what He will do. God has revealed ahead of time how He will act in the future so we will know what He is like. For example, the Bible tells us God will release His judgments and bring justice to the nations at the end of the age. Most of the earth right now is longing for justice, and it is the study of the return of Jesus that reveals God’s passion for justice.
To understand the gospel, we have to view the cross correctly. The cross is an event with no equal. It is perhaps the ultimate revelation to humanity of who God is. It was the result of centuries of prophecy, and it fulfilled many promises God had made. The cross is often thought of as the climax of the redemptive story when, in reality, it sets the stage for the climax of history. The cross does not fulfill all the promises of God; it secures them. Jesus’ return brings the fulfillment of promises secured at the cross—promises that include the resurrection from the dead, the judgment of the wicked, and the restoration of creation.
Because the first coming did not fulfill all the promises of God, the gospel is not just what Jesus has done; it is also what Jesus will do. Paul said that “we are of all men most to be pitied” if the future promises of the gospel are not true.
If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19 NASB)
Paul also said all of creation is groaning for God to fulfill His promises.
For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.
For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:19, 22–23)
Accordingly, Paul said the gift of the Holy Spirit we currently enjoy is just a down payment of the future fulfillment of the promises of God.
In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:13–14)
Paul knew the cross had secured God’s promises but that without the second coming we do not receive our promised inheritance. The New Testament gospel is a forward-looking message that sets our hope on the return of Jesus and everything that surrounds and accompanies that return. Accordingly, the apostles had an apocalyptic view of history. They understood the return of Jesus was the only thing that could bring resolution to the crisis in the earth. The apostles commanded the nations to repent because Jesus would return.
Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead. (Acts 17:30–31)
Things will not always be the way they are right now. Jesus is going to deliver His people. He will also judge the nations. He will rule as King. To unbelievers, the message of Jesus as sacrificial Savior is foolish (1 Corinthians 1:18). But perhaps the most controversial part of the gospel is that the suffering Savior is also a victorious King who will return and dismantle the wicked powers—both human and demonic—that have influence in this age. The apostles’ message of a King greater than Caesar fueled the early persecution of the church even more than the message of Jesus as a Savior.
Well-known pastor and theologian John Piper summarizes the hope of the gospel this way:”Biblical hope is not finger-crossing. It is a confident expectation of good things to come. . . . We set our hope on the second coming of our Lord. . . . The second coming of Christ is the completion of His saving work. If you take it away, the whole fabric of His saving work unravels.”¹
The return of Jesus was the greatest hope of the New Testament church and her motivation toward holy living (1 Thessalonians 2:19; Titus 2:13; 1 John 3:2–3). The New Testament apostles preached an apocalyptic gospel as an example for the Church in succeeding generations. We must follow their witness and set our hope where the New Testament church set it.
How can you set your hope on Jesus’ return?
If you’re seeking a place to recenter on first love for Jesus, prepare for the dynamics of His return, and gather with like-minded believers, we invite you to the RETURN conference, a hybrid in-person and online event in Kansas City, taking place now through September 22–24. Join with others who are pursuing the message of Jesus over everything and seeking His wisdom and power for the end times. Learn more >>
- John Piper, “Our Hope: The Appearing of Jesus Christ,” Desiring God, accessed July 27, 2022, http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/our-hope-the-appearing-of-jesus-christ.
Samuel Whitefield serves as faculty at IHOPU.