There are many predictions in the NT of the return of Jesus Christ (e.g. Acts 1:9-11; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 2 Timothy 4:1; Hebrews 9:28), and there are particular elements that accompany these predictions. First, Christ will return in person. Second, His return will be visible. Third, His return will be in glory; it will be attended by majestic fanfare.
THEORIES OF CHRIST’S RETURN
Many scholars argue that the NT writers and Jesus Himself expected and taught His personal return within the lifetime of the first generation of Christians. Because it did not happen, they say, we can safely discard the NT documents as unreliable and understand Jesus as merely a model of love.
C.H. Dodd spoke of “realized eschatology,” meaning that all the NT prophecies about the future and Christ’s return were in fact fulfilled in the first century. In passages like Matthew 16:28, Dodd said that Jesus was referring not to a future return but to the visible manifestations of His glory that took place at the transfiguration, the resurrection, and the ascension.
In Matthew 24 Jesus describes future events, including the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem, as well as His return (some think Jesus spoke only of the destruction of Jerusalem and not His return). Jesus’ disciples asked Him: “Tell us, when will these things be. And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (24:3). Jesus answered, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (24:34).
Jesus clearly says these things would take place within the span of a single human generation, which in Jewish terms, was approximately 40 years. If Christ’s crucifixion took place sometime around AD 30, one would expect fulfillment of that prophecy around AD 70, which happens to be the date of the destruction of the temple and the fall of the city of Jerusalem to the Romans.
Full preterism teaches that all references in Matthew 24 to the coming of Christ refer to His “coming in judgment” on the Jewish nation in AD 70. It was not the end of history, but it was the end of the Jewish age. Full preterism is heretical, as it denies an essential truth of Scripture: Christ shall come “to judge the living and the dead at His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:1).
Partial preterism teaches that in the first half of Matthew 24 (vv.4-35), Jesus is speaking chiefly of the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. But in the second half (vv.36-51) Jesus is referring to His future visible return and the consummation of His kingdom.
[Adapted from R.C. Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian]
The following is an excerpt from Berkhof’s Summary of Christian Doctrine
According to Scripture several important events must precede the return of Christ.
a. The calling of the Gentiles. The gospel of the kingdom must be preached to all nations before the coming of Christ, Matt. 24:14; Mark 13:10; Rom. 11:25. This means that the nations as a whole must be so thoroughly evangelized that the gospel becomes a power in the life of the people, a sign that calls for decision.
b. The conversion of the full number of elect Jews and Gentiles (Romans 11)
c. The Great Apostasy and the Great Tribulation. The Bible teaches repeatedly that toward the end of time there will be a great falling away. Matt. 24:12; 2Thess. 2:3; 2Tim. 3:1-7; 4:3-4.
d. The coming of the Antichrist. The spirit of Antichrist was already in evidence in the apostolic age, 1John 4:3, and many antichrists had made their appearance, 1John 2:18. But the Bible leads us to expect that at the end of the age a single individual will stand out as the incarnation of all wickedness, “the man of sin,” “the son of perdition, he that opposes and exalts himself against all that is called God or that is worshiped; so that he sits in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God.” 2Thess. 2:3-4.