The second coming of Christ is the blessed hope of the church, the grand climax of the gospel. The Saviour’s coming will be literal, personal, visible, and worldwide. When He returns, the righteous dead will be resurrected, and together with the righteous living will be glorified and taken to heaven, but the unrighteous will die. The almost complete fulfillment of most lines of prophecy, together with the present condition of the world, indicates that Christ’s coming is near imminent. The time of that event has not been revealed, and we are therefore exhorted to be ready at all times. (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21; John 14:1-3; Acts1:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 5:1-6; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; 2:8; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 9:28; Rev. 1:7; 14:14-20; 19:11-21.) (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21; John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 5:1-6; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; 2:8; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 9:28; Rev. 1:7; 14:14-20; 19:11-21.)
There was just one minor change in this fundamental in San Antonio, the word “imminent” was changed to “near” because the latter word is a biblical term, the former is not. As with the other FBs, the biblical reference texts have been reorganized.
We cannot overestimate the importance of the doctrine of the Second Coming to Adventist theology and experience. For many Adventists this is probably the single most important of all the fundamentals. At the very center of Adventism is the conviction that whether or not we live until the Second Coming, the first face we will see is that of Jesus.
While this fundamental speaks about heaven, there is no mention at all of what heaven is or where it is located. The Adventist fundamentals are written for Adventists and often assume things that others would not understand. Adventists have tended to take the Second Coming very literally, hence the location of heaven in the general direction of Orion has been for many an important insight. But the framers of these fundamentals were often wise in leaving out things that were not central or were held by some Adventists but not most.
The imminence of Jesus’ return has been a central theme within Adventism until very recently. Most Adventists have thought that Jesus would return within five or ten years, certainly within their lifetimes. But it is hard to maintain that kind of urgency, certainly not over several generations. This doctrine has also been infused with a lot of fear. The Second Coming is not so much a beacon of hope as a time of trouble and many other horrible things. It is the destruction of wicked people as much as the rescue of the righteous. But as time goes by Adventists are increasingly realizing that the time of trouble theme in the Bible is not nearly as pervasive as the narratives that have grown up around it.
More recently Adventists have assumed more of a New Testament approach to this doctrine, the Second Coming is about a theology of hope. It is the experience of Christ’s presence in the here and now that creates the anticipation of the “then.” The Second Coming provides the vision and incentive for Loma Linda’s mission of healing. So one of the goals of healing at Loma Linda is to provide a down payment on the glorious wholeness of God’s New Earth. While our efforts today can never equal that future, they can provide a foretaste of it. But because of this focus on healing, the how and when of the Second Coming seems less important than the meaning of the Second Coming. The Second Coming means that human suffering, as in refugee camps and Ebola clinics, is not the end of all things. Something better is coming. It is particularly when you lose someone close to you that the theology of hope that we find in the Second Coming becomes more real.
As one reads the end-time texts of the Bible it is helpful to know that the visions of the end that God gave in the Bible were always natural extensions of each prophet’s time and place. As a result, the pictures of the End were constantly shifting and it is wise not to take the details too seriously, as the Pharisees did. The Pharisees had the future so carefully charted out that they rejected the Messiah when He came, because He didn’t fit their prophetic expectations. So it is important to study the prophecies carefully, but not to take the details so seriously that we miss the real thing when it comes.
In many ways, Adventist expectation of the End has been a lot like that of the Early Church. The Early Church passed through a period of intense and imminent expectation followed by a long-term settling in to the mission that Jesus left them. An important delay text is 2 Peter 3. A day with the Lord is like 1000 years. The answers to the delay in the New Testament are great ones, but they are not found in this fundamental or in the texts listed below it (although 2 Peter 3 is mentioned in Fundamental 28).
The doctrine of the Second Coming is important enough to Adventists that four different fundamentals are needed to address different aspects of it (FBs 25-28). And the story does not end with the Second Coming itself. In John 14 and 1 Thessalonians 4, the Second Coming means that we go to God. But at the end of Revelation 20, God comes to us. None of the Second Coming hymns talk about this! God is coming to us. He wants us in heaven, but then when the new earth is renewed, He comes to earth with us! He not only comes to us but He stays with us. In the larger picture of the Bible, God comes to us at least four times; in creation, in salvation, at the Second Coming and at the Third Coming (see also Fundamentals 27 and 28).