(from The Fundamentals, 1917)
By personal is meant all that may be suggested by the words visible, bodily, local; and all that may be contrasted with that which is spiritual, providential, figurative. Of course, the spiritual presence of Christ is a blessed reality; one of the most comforting and inspiring of truths is the teaching that Christ does come to each believer, by His Holy Spirit, and dwells within, and empowers for service and suffering and growth in grace; but this is to be held in harmony with the other blessed truth that Christ will some day literally appear again in bodily form, and “we shall see Him” and shall then “be like Him” when “we see Him as He is.”
Nor yet did that special manifestation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost fulfill the promise of Christ’s return. Subsequent to Pentecost, Peter urged the Jews to repent in order that Jesus, whom for a time “the heavens had received,” might be “sent back again;” he wrote his epistles of comfort based upon the hope of a returning Lord, while Paul and the other inspired apostles, long after Pentecost, emphasized the coming of Christ as the highest incentive for life and service.
According to the interpretation of others, Christ is said “to come” in various providential events of history, as notably in the destruction of Jerusalem. This tragedy of history is supposed by many to fulfill the prophecies spoken by Christ in His great discourse on the Mount of Olives, recorded in Matthew 24, and Mark 13, and Luke 21. When one combines these predictions, it becomes evident that the capture of the holy city by Titus was a real but only a partial fulfillment of the words of Christ. As in the case of so many Old Testament prophecies, the nearer event furnished the colors in which were depicted scenes and occurrences which belonged to a distant future, and in this case to “the end of the age.” When Jerusalem fell, the people of God were not delivered nor the enemies of God punished, nor did “the sign of the Son of Man” appear in the heavens, as was predicted of the time when He comes again; and long after the fall of the city, John wrote in Gospel and in Apocalypse of the coming of the King.
Nor is the coming of Christ to be confused with death. It is true that this dark messenger ushers us into an experience which is, for the believer, one of great blessedness; “to depart is to be with Christ, which is far better,” “to be absent from the body” is “to be at home with the Lord;” but death is for us inseparable from pain and loss and sorrow and tears and anguish; and even those who are now with their Lord, in heavenly joy, are waiting for their bodies of glory and for the rewards and reunions which will be theirs at the appearing of Christ.
More marvelous than the scenes at Pentecost, more startling than the fall of Jerusalem, more blessed than the indwelling of the Spirit or the departure to be with the Lord, will be the literal, visible, bodily, return of Christ. No event may seem less probable to unaided human reason; no event is more certain in light of inspired Scripture. “This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.” “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him” (Acts 1: 11; Rev. 1: 7).