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The Relationship of the Second Coming to the Cross

November 30, 2010


This essay will explore two of the relationships that exist between the Cross and the Second Coming, namely, eschatology and soteriology.[1]


The New Testament (NT) makes it clear that the cross of Christ marked the beginning or inauguration of the eschatological age.   Paul addressed the believers in Corinth as those “upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11).  The author of Hebrews expresses the same thought, speaking of Christ as our true high priest, since “He has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb. 9:26).  These verses, and others,[2] are a clear indication that the NT believers were conscious that they were living in the last days.

However, while the NT teaches that the cross ushered in the eschatological age, it also points forward to “the age to come.”  This is presented most distinctly in the gospels.  In Luke, for instance, we read of the blessings of both the present and future age: “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life” (18:29-30; cf. Matt. 12:32).

We therefore see that NT eschatology looks back to the cross and affirms that the last days have arrived.  But it also looks forward to the final consummation yet to come, thus creating a bridge between the first and second advents.[3] This principle is demonstrated most clearly by the NT teaching of the kingdom of God.

The gospels present the message of the kingdom as twofold.  On the one hand, Jesus proclaimed throughout His ministry that the kingdom of God had arrived,[4] while on the other, He also taught that the kingdom is yet to come.[5] The concept of the kingdom is therefore presented to us in the gospels as a present reality in the life of Christ, but also a “future prospect, an experience as well as a hope.”[6] This principle of “now” and “not yet” provides an important link between the Cross and the Second Coming.  It identifies the two phases of the kingdom as distinct, but not separate in terms of God’s purposes.  That which God has initiated, He will complete.[7]


The purpose of the Cross is to put an end to sin in order to save mankind.  The NT begins by declaring that Jesus came to “save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21; cf. 1 John 3:8).  The gospel accounts make it clear that His death would forever destroy the curse of sin.[8] However, while it is clear that the power of sin has now been broken (Col. 2:14-15), the presence of sin still remains (Eph. 6:12).  Therefore, in order for the purpose of the Cross to reach its full completion, for God’s people to be entirely saved from sin, something further must take place.  George Eldon Ladd points out that “in his cross and resurrection Christ won a great victory over the powers of evil; by his second coming, he will execute that victory.”[9] Oscar Cullmann states further that “The hope of the final victory is so much the more vivid because of the unshakably firm conviction that the battle that decides the victory has already taken place.”[10] Therefore, the future consummation of God’s plan of salvation is based on Christ’s victory in the past, providing a further demonstration of the relational unity that exists between these two pivotal events in the plan of salvation.

Paul speaks of our salvation as a process which began with the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and will reach its climax at His return.  He thus writes that we have been saved (Eph. 2:8), are being saved (2 Cor. 2:15) and shall be saved (Rom. 5:9), indicating the past, present and future aspects of our salvation.[11] The Christian lives within this matrix of tension that exists between salvation past and salvation future – the “now” and the “not yet” – between the Cross and the Second Coming.[12]

Though the Bible clearly teaches that the atoning sacrifice of Jesus was offered and completed at the cross,[13] Hebrews 9:28 seems to hint at a future aspect of the atonement: “So Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.”  William Lane highlights that the imagery in this verse is drawn from the sequence of events that took place on the Day of Atonement.  “The people waited anxiously outside the sanctuary until the high priest emerged from the Most Holy Place… His reappearance provided assurance that the offering he had made had been accepted by God.”[14] It could thus be said that the atonement has been supplied at the cross and will be ratified at the Second Coming, when God’s people will be at one with Him both spiritually and physically once again.[15] We can therefore view the past and future aspects of the atonement creating another strand in the rope that binds the Cross and the Second Coming together.


It has been demonstrated in this essay that eschatology and soteriology provide two relationships between the Cross and the Second Coming.  Though these two pivotal events in God’s plan of redemption are distinct, they are in no wise separate.  The evidence has shown that one cannot exist without the other as the latter is a continuation of the former: inaugurated eschatology must be consummated; salvation from the power of sin must also include salvation from the presence of sin; the sacrificial atonement supplied at the Cross must be ratified at the Second Coming.  We can thus say with certainty that the Cross of Christ is a guarantee of His Second Coming.[16]

[1] The importance of this study is highlighted by the fact that all true theology must find its centre in Christ event. “In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the word of God… must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary.” Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1915), 315. See also Fritz Guy, Thinking Theologically: Adventist Christianity and the Interpretation of Faith (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1999), 132-135.

[2] See also Acts 2:16-17; Rom. 13:12; Heb. 1:1-3; 10:37; 1 John 2:18.

[3] “What specifically characterized New Testament eschatology is an underlying tension between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ – between what the believer already enjoys and what he does not yet possess.” Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1979), 14.

[4] See Matt. 11:12; 12:28; Mark 10:15; Luke 17:21.

[5] See Matt. 6:10; 8:11; Mark 9:47; 14:25.

[6] John M. Fowler, “The Second Coming: The certainty of an appointment with Christ.” Ministry (June/July 2000), 56.

[7] George Eldon Ladd has pointed out that “before the eschatological appearance of God’s kingdom at the end of the age, God’s kingdom has become dynamically active among man in Jesus’ person and mission.” The Presence of the Future (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 139. This would suggest that the kingdom of God was established spiritually at the first coming, and yet remains to be established physically at the second coming.

[8] See John 12:31; cf. Rev. 12:9.

[9] George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), 252, 253. Making a similar point, LaRondelle states that “redemption from the guilt and power of sin must precede redemption from the very presence of sin and death.” Hans K. LaRondelle, “The Grand Climax.” Ministry, March 1983), 16. Also compare the cry “It is finished” in John 19:30 with Rev. 16:17 and 21:6.

[10] Oscar Cullmann, Christ and Time (London: SCM Press, 1971), 84, 87. Cullmann illustrates this concept when he speaks of the decisive battle (D-day) usually being won in the early stages of war, while the war still continues for a time until victory day (V-day).  D-day represents the decisive defeat of sin at the Cross, while V-day represents the final removal of sin at the Second Coming.

[11] These three phases are often referred to as justification, sanctification and glorification and provide a clear, unbroken link between what Christ began at the Cross and what He will finish at the Coming (Phil. 1:6).

[12] Rom. 8:23; cf. 7:24; 2 Cor. 5:2-5; 1 Cor. 15:42-50.

[13] See 1 John 2:2; Heb. 9:28; 10:10. Questions on Doctrine also highlights a present aspect of the Atonement: Christ “now ministers the benefits of that atonement [provided at the cross] for those who accept His mighty provision of grace” Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1957), 351, emphasis theirs.

[14] William L. Lane, Hebrews 9-13 (Word Biblical Commentary v. 47B) (Dallas, TX: Wordbooks, 1991), 250.

[15] See Rev. 22:4. It should also be pointed out in this connection, that the Cross began a phase of judgment, as did the antitypical Day of Atonement.  Jesus said that it was for this purpose that He came into the world (John 9:39; cf. 3:18-19; 12:31).  Yet the NT also teaches that God’s judgment has a future aspect (Acts 17:31; cf. 2; Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:10).  Therefore the verdict of the judgment for both the saved and lost that began at the Cross must be executed when Jesus returns to give to everyone according to that which he has done (Rev. 22:12).

[16] See Acts 1:11; Phil. 1:6; Heb. 9:27-28; Titus 2:11-13; Rev. 22:13. Ladd concludes: “Apart from His glorious return, God’s work will forever be incomplete. At the center of redemption past is Christ on the cross; at the center of redemption future is Christ returning in glory.” George Eldon Ladd, The Blessed Hope (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1956), 6.

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