The Brightness of His Coming
“And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of his mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (II Thessalonians 2:8)
This scripture has been usually understood to portray the picture of Christ descending in the advent skies while before Him precedes great flowing sheets of devouring fire that reaches out to consume whoever of the impenitent have somehow managed to survive the plagues.
Such an interpretation of this scripture, obvious as it may appear, is out of harmony with the character of God and Christ. If fire emanating from Him kills the wicked, then there is a direct destructive work associated with His presence. Therefore, He would be an executioner after all. But He is not, nor will He ever be.
When He came to this earth the first time, Jesus testified that He had not come to destroy people’s lives but to save them, and that purpose does not change with His second coming. Once again, His intention is to deliver His people’s lies but to save them, and that purpose does not change with His second coming. Once again, His intention is to deliver His people from an earth that has been reduced to almost nothing by the final disasters. Certainly, He would save every individual who has ever been born if this were possible, but tragically, so few are prepared to accept His saving grace. He does nothing to them. He has not come for them. They have taken themselves out of the circuit of His responsibility, and their fate is entirely a matter of their own, appointment.
There are statements that explain this text and which harmonize with this principle. “Then shall they that obey not the gospel be consumed with the spirit of His mouth and be destroyed with the brightness of His coming. II Thessalonians 2:8. Like Israel of old the wicked destroy themselves; they fall by their iniquity. By a life of sin, they have placed themselves so out of harmony with God, their natures have become so debased with evil, that the manifestation of His glory is to them a consuming fire (The Great Controversy p. 37).
It is most important to note that parallel drawn between the way in which Israel perished and the destruction in the last day. As the one perished, so will the other. This is to indicate that the Israelites were likewise destroyed with the brightness of His coming. This is true, for that is exactly how they did come to their end. It may be immediately objected that Jesus did not come with outshining glory at His first advent. Furthermore, He was far away in the distant heavens when the Jews met their fate, so there is no visible evidence of them having been consumed with the brightness of His glory. Such an interpretation depends on the understanding of what the brightness of His glory is and how humans are consumed by it. Defining that expression is the key to solving the problem.
The sequence was as follows:
· The Jew were in a state of apostasy,
· Christ shone on them the brightness of His coming, the glory of His character.
· They rejected this influence and thus separated themselves from His protection.
· The actual destruction was accomplished by the unleashed natural forces.
· In exactly the same way, there is recorded the identical procedure that leads to the destruction of the wicked in the final overthrow of humankind.
· They will be in a state of deep apostasy.
· The brightness of His coming will be revealed tot hem in the loud cry.
· Their rejection of this influence will drive them to separate themselves from God’s protection.
The actual destruction to befall them will be accomplished by the unleashing of the world passions within them and by the unrestrained forces of nature.
Basically then, it is the brightness of His coming that destroys them, but not in the sense that they are struck down by it. That is left to the unrestrained forces in humanity and nature, the destruction from which the brightness of His coming would have saved them if they had related to it correctly.
The sacred writings reveal the entire sequence.
In the mad strife of their own fierce passions, and by the awful outpouring of God’s unmingled wrath, fall the wicked inhabitants of the earth – priests, rulers, and people, rich and poor, high and low. “And the slain of the Lord shall be at the day from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth: they shall not be lamented, neither gathered, nor buried.” Jeremiah 25:33.
At the coming of Christ the wicked are blotted from the face of the whole earth – consumed with the spirit of His mouth and destroyed by the brightness of His glory. Christ takes His people to the City of God, and the earth is emptied of its inhabitants (The Great Controversy, p. 657).
Placing these two statements in this order side by side perfectly expresses the destiny of the unrepentant. The immediate and seemingly obvious means of their destruction will be the terrible onslaught of abandoned human beings and nature. But the deeper, underlying cause is not to be overlooked. Prior to the coming of the physical calamities, divine love will have sent the revelation of Christ’s character in the brightness of His soon coming. They rejection of those saving provisions will place them where destruction is free to descend upon them.
Those who do not understand this and believe that the death of the wicked will be directly and physically accomplished by flaming fire emanating from the person of Christ would need to have the statement written differently to justify their stances. For them it should appear as follows:
In the mad strife of their own fierce passions, and by the awful outpouring of God’s unmingled wrath, fall (the larger proportion of) the wicked inhabitants of the earth – priests, rulers, and people, rich and poor, high and low. “And the slain of the Lord shall be at that day from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; they shall not be lamented, neither gathered, nor buried.” Jeremiah 25:33.
At the coming of Christ (the remainder of) the wicked are blotted from the face of the whole earth – consumed with the spirit of His mouth and destroyed by the brightness of His glory. Christ takes His people to the City of God, and the earth is emptied of its inhabitants. (ibid).
The second version provides for the theory that when Christ appears there will be such an out shining of flaming power that the wicked who manage to survive the seven last plagues and the bloody internecine warfare will be consumed by it. If the statement was written in this way, those who believe would have been an incontrovertible proof for their belief.
But it is not written that way. Instead, we have the truth stated and then repeated in different words of just how the wicked will perish. They are parallel declarations, each saying the same thing in different words. To be slain by the brightness of His coming is to perish under the seven last plagues and the fierce battles they will fight.
In all of the discussion of the brightness of His coming at the second advent we have only been touching upon the ultimate destruction of the wicked who are alive to witness the second coming. The ultimate destruction of the wicked comes at the second death, which is after the third coming at the end of the millennium. The destruction is also effected by the brightness of His coming, which by definition, is the final outworking of their rejection of the light of His character as seen at the time of His first and second advent. In fact, for every one that is finally lost, including those who lived before the first advent, it will be this same brightness of His coming that destroys them, according to the same principles as discussed here. For the gospel of Christ has been in the world since sin entered through Adam.
It is shown in inspiration how at the final coronation of Christ and the Great White Throne judgment the full implications of their rejection of the saviour are brought to their realization. They see the full righteousness of His character in contrast to their own cherished attributes. By their lives they have declared, “We will not have this Man (Jesus) to reign over us” (The great Controversy p. 668). It is at this time that the emotional agonies of their chosen fate calls for the full separation from the life of God, and they receive the second death, which culminates in the lake of fire in which all the elements melt with fervent heat, going into dissolution. There comes at this time the full wrath of God, and actual cessation of entire existence, mind, soul, and body, but this is not due to fire emanating from the person of God or Christ.
It is revealed in inspiration how at the end of the millennium, in the final confrontation around the city of God, it is not the pulsing forth of some kind of blinding physical energy from Christ that destroys the wicked. The wicked will come quite close to the presence of Christ, who is just as powerful then as when He returns the second time. But they are able to march against the city in which resides the presence of God and of Christ. They are able to stand there right through the revelation of the mystery of Christ, and they are able to see all that God wants them to see without being consumed with physical fire from the presence of God and His Son.
Therefore, if the fire surrounding Christ does not consume them at the end of the thousand years, why should it do so at the beginning unless Christ personally decided that it should? If he did, then of course He would be acting arbitrarily, which God never does, and He would become a direct destroyer which, for Him, is impossible.
It is argued that fire comes from God to kill the impenitent in certain instances, such as when the drunken sons of Aaron – Nadab and Abihu – went into the sanctuary without the protection of the incense. In this case it is found that they entered into God’s presence with their own fire, and their own righteousness, which cannot endure before Him.
The same principle applies to the two hundred and fifty princes in the story of the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. These men had also come before the Lord with their own fire. Such is done by the rebel, as if to state, no, as truly stating, “We will not have this Jesus reign over us.” They are making a fundamental statement of intent “to stand on their own and in defiance of God’s righteousness as their only covering they boldly try to come before Him on their own merits. God honors their final choice in the matter, and we have them, and they “consumed,” not in a physical rapid oxidation from the great heat, but they die immediately by the cessation of God’s sustaining power within their being.