12. The JST on the Second Coming of Christ

By Keith W. Perkins

Keith W. Perkins, “The JST on the Second Coming of Christ,” in The Joseph Smith Translation: The Restoration of Plain and Precious Truths, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1985), 237–49.

The JST on the Second Coming of Christ

Keith W. Perkins

 

Keith W. Perkins was an associate professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU when this was published.

 

As with all of the work of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible adds some very important information to our gospel understanding. There are additional verses which illuminate many aspects of the life and ministry of the Savoir that cannot be found in any other book. A classic example of this concerns the period of time following the visit of the boy Jesus at age twelve to the temple in Jerusalem. The present biblical record is almost silent on this stage of Christ’s ministry. Luke alone makes any mention of this period: He “came to Nazareth and as subject unto them. . . . And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” (Luke 2:51–52.)

For this juncture of Jesus’ life, however, three critical verses have been added to the Gospel of Matthew by the Prophet Joseph Smith. Had they been found in the Holy Land, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, these verses would have been proclaimed as one of the greatest biblical discoveries of our age. Not only have these verses been ignored by biblical scholars, which we would expect, but they have generally been ignored by Latter-day Saints, which should not be the case. These verses give us a great deal of insight into the years of preparation by the Son of God.

And it came to pass that Jesus grew up with his brethren, and waxed strong, and waited upon the Lord for the time of his ministry to come.

And he served under his father, and he spake not as other men, neither could he be taught; for he needed not that any man should teach him.

And after many years, the hour of his ministry drew nigh. (JST Matthew 3:24–26.)

As it is with these verses, so it is with our understanding of the second coming of Christ. Truths are taught in the JST that are found nowhere else in scripture, taught which have not only been ignored by biblical scholars but also frequently overlooked by latter-day Saints. Let us first look at the changes Joseph Smith made in Matthew chapter 24, mark chapter 13, and Luke chapter 21, which provide great insights into the Second Coming.

One of the most significant changes made by the Prophet in Matthew 24 is the rearrangement of the verses. The following chart shows these changes.

Significant Changes in Verses

 

Matthew 24

 

Joseph Smith-Matthew

v. 6

v. 23, 28

v. 7

v. 29

v. 8

v. 19

v. 14

v. 31

v. 15

v. 12, 32

v. 33

v. 39

v. 34

v. 34

v. 35

v. 35

v. 36

v. 40

 

This rearrangement becomes very significant when it is realized that the Prophet Joseph Smith rearranged the verses so that those signs that apply to the destruction of the temple, Jerusalem, and the Jews following the death of Jesus are placed in the first portion of Matthew 24, while those verses concerning the second coming of Christ are placed together at the end of the chapter.

Another significant change is the many additions made by the Prophet in Mark 13 so that it now reads basically the same as Matthew 24, with a few additions and deletions.

Let us first examine what the Savior said about the destruction of the temple. Jerusalem and the Jews, and see how this can help us as we prepare for his second coming. From the JST we learn very plainly concerning the two questions the apostles were asking Jesus: “Tell us when shall these things be which thou hast said concerning the destruction of the temple, and the Jews; and what is the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world, or the destruction of the wicked, which is the end of the world?” (JS-M 1:4). Notice that in this version by the Prophet we get the definition of what the Savior meant by the end of the world—the destruction of the wicked.

Jesus further warned them in this chapter of a number of things that would happen prior to both events. Before the destruction of the temple there would be false Christs who would deceive many (v.6). The apostles would be hated by all nations and eventually they would be killed (v. 7). False prophets would arise who would deceive many (v. 9). Iniquity would abound and the love of many would wax cold (v. l0).

In addition to these signs given both in Joseph Smith-Matthew and JST Mark, Luke 21 also gives us interesting insights into those events that would precede the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem. In discussing how they will be hated by all nations, Jesus gives some additional detail as to how they would be treated. They would be tried in the synagogues before kings and rulers, and finally cast into prisons (Luke 21:12), but there would be something which must have seemed even worse: they would be betrayed by parents, brethren, kinsfolk, and friends—and in some cases these close associates and relatives would cause them to be killed (Luke 21:16). The Lord promised them, however, that their suffering was only a temporary thing—for this life—and in the Resurrection “not an hair of your head [will] perish. In your patience posses ye your souls” (Luke 21:18–19; cf. Alma 40:23).

Next Jesus warned them of the great destruction coming upon Jerusalem and how the former-day Saints would be able to escape this disaster. Both JS-M and JST Mark talk about the abomination of desolation which Daniel had predicted. Contrary to the many things that some have felt this meant, the JST plainly teaches us that it had reference to the destruction of Jerusalem (JS-M 1:12; Mark 13:14) But in Luke 21:20, we are given even further detail on how this time can be determined: “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.” In an earlier account of the Savior’s prophecy concerning what was coming upon Jerusalem, Luke records, “Thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation” (Luke 19:43–44).

Thus the warning of the coming abomination of desolation was very clear: Jerusalem would be encircled by an invading army which would bring about its complete destruction. This prediction was very dramatically fulfilled when in a.d. 70 the city was leveled to the ground by the Romans, and according to Josephus, the Jewish historian, approximately one million Jews were killed. [1]

Not only did the Lord tell his faithful Saints what was coming upon Jerusalem, but he detailed how they could avoid the impending destruction. He instructed the early Saints that when they saw the signs that he had forewarned them of they were to immediately leave Jerusalem. Those in Judea were to flee into the mountains (see JS-M 1:13). The disaster was coming so rapidly that leaving immediately was essential for their temporal salvation. Those on the housetop were not even to take time to return into the house to take their belongings with them (see JS-M 1:14). Those in the field were not to return back to their own homes to take their clothing (see JS-M 1:15). They were to remember Lot’s wife and not look back at what they had to leave (see Luke 17:32).

The Savior expressed concern over those who might be expecting a child at the time and also that their flight not be in the winter or on the Sabbath because of the speed with which they had to flee (see JS-M 1:16–17). He further instructed them that despite the terrible things that had befallen the Jews before (capture by the Babylonians, Assyrians, etc.) the coming destruction would be the worst tribulation that had ever befallen the nation of Israel or ever would befall them at Jerusalem (see JS-M 1:18). All one has to do to see the fulfillment of the prophecy is read of the destruction that came upon Jerusalem as described by Josephus. [2]

Obedient to this command of the Savior, the Jewish converts to Christianity immediately left Jerusalem when the predicated sign came to pass. The Christian historian Eusebius gibes us a vivid description of what took place:

The rest of the apostles who were harassed in innumerable ways, with a view to destroy them, and driven from the land of Judea, had gone to preach the gospel to all nations. The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella. Here, those that believed in Christ, having removed from Jerusalem, as if holy men had entirely abandoned the royal city itself, and the whole land of Judea; the divine justice, for their crimes against Christ and his apostles, finally overtook them, totally destroying the whole generation of these evil doers from the earth. [3]

Thus, by being obedient to the commanded of the Lord, these early Saints escaped the terrible destruction that came upon Jerusalem. This is very important because the rest of Joseph Smith-Matthew, and the other similar scriptures, tell us what events are going to precede the second coming of the Savior; they also tell us how we can avoid many of the problems that are coming. By learning from the past, we too may escape to a degree those terrible predictions that are connected with Christ’s second coming.

Verses 18 through 21 of Joseph Smith-Matthew seem to be the transitional verses between the events associated with the destruction of Jerusalem at the time of the ancient apostles and the second coming of Christ. Verse 21 tells us that prior to the Second Coming there will again be tribulation upon Jerusalem. Once more there will be false Christs and false prophets who will attempt to deceive the very elect (see JS-M 1:22). President Joseph F. Smith helps us understand the meaning of this verse in a statement of the First Presidency on 2 August 1913, entitled “A Warning Voice.”

At other times people who pride themselves on their strict observance of the rules and ordinances and ceremonies of the Church are led astray by false spirits, who exercise an influence so imitative of that which proceeds from a Divine source that even these persons, who think they are “the very elect,” find it difficult to discern the essential difference. Satan himself has transformed himself to be apparently “an angel of light.” [4]

There will be wars and rumors of wars. This is not to concern us, for this is exactly what the Savior predicted would precede his coming. But the end is not yet (see JS-M 1:23–24). We are not to follow those who try to deceive us when they say Christ is in the desert or in the secret chambers, for the Second Coming will not be done in secret but will be made known to all the earth (see JS-M 1:25–26).

As it was with the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem, so the Second Coming will be one of great tribulations and persecutions. Nation will be against nation; there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in many places (see JS-M 1:29). But there will also be the gathering of the elect from the four corners of the earth (see JS-M 1:27). There will not only be great physical tribulations but there will be those tribulations within families: iniquity will abound and the love of many will wax cold. We can see how fully this is being fulfilled in our own day. However, if we are not overcome by these problems, the Lord promises us that we will be saved. (See JS-M 1:30.)

Another important sign of the Savior’s second coming is the preaching of the gospel to all the world—then the end will come, which is the destruction of the wicked (see JS-M 1:30–31). Sometimes Latter-day Saints seem to feel that we have almost accomplished this goal. But, upon more careful examination, the nations who have at this date had missionaries among them represent approximately one-third of the world. There are some very significant nations that we have yet to reach: China, the Soviet Union, most of India and Africa, as well as all those smaller countries that still have not had missionaries in their midst. Truly we must lengthen our stride and accept with greater enthusiasm the call we received from President Spencer W. Kimball for every worthy young man to go on a mission as well as many, many more of our retired couples.

Once again there will be the abomination of desolation which was predicted by Daniel (see Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). Will there once again be terrible destruction upon Jerusalem by invading armies? This will undoubtedly be the time when the two prophets (not young missionaries, but General Authorities who hold the sealing power) will be killed, left to lie in the streets for three and one-half days, and then be resurrected (see Revelation 11:3–13). Immediately following this great tribulation, the sun will be darkened, the moon shall not giver her light (other sources talk about the moon turning to blood, becoming as blood, bathed in blood; see Joel 2:31; Revelation 6:12; D&C 45:42; 88:87), and the stars shall fall from heaven (see JS-M 1:33) or refuse to give their light (see Isaiah 13:10; Ezekiel 32:7).

This is one of the most universally taught doctrines in all the scriptures, since it is in every standard work of the Church: the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. In the generation that these signs are given, all the Christ has predicated will be fulfilled (see JS-M 1:34). As one reads the account by Josephus of the terrible destruction of the Jews and Jerusalem, one begins to gain an appreciation that the Savior was trying to tell us something about the great tribulation that will once again come upon the earth, this time prior to his second coming.

This will also be the generation in which the times of the Gentiles will be fulfilled; that is, their time for receiving the gospel will be over (JST Luke 21:25, 32). This will not be one grand event, but will cover a long period of time—apparently the entire dispensation prior to the Second coming. Then will come the time for the Jews to again receive the message of salvation. [5]

Following the great tribulations which will include the powers of heaven being shaken, there will appear “the sign of the Son of Man” in heaven. This will cause the tribes of the earth to mourn, while the righteous will rejoice when they shall see the Son of Man coming in “the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory” (JS-M 1:36). One is reminded of the great destruction upon the American Continent prior to the first coming of Christ, and also that following this great tribulation came the great joy of seeing Jesus Christ descending from heaven (see 3 Nephi 8–11). We cannot help but feel that this is simply a type and a shadow of things to come. Will the sign of his first coming—the new star, the day and night and day as though it were one day—be the same sign of his second coming? (see Zechariah 14:6–7).

There are, however, several things that the righteous must do in order to witness the Second Coming. First, we must treasure up Christ’s words which he has given us so that we will not be deceived (see JS-M 1:37). Next, we must watch, pray always, and keep the commandments, so that we may be counted worthy to escape the tribulations that will come, and also that we will be worthy to stand before Christ when he comes (see JST Luke 21:37). The Doctrine and Covenants expresses this a little differently, indicating that we should be looking for the signs of his coming, because he “that watches not for me shall be cut off” (D&C 45:39, 44). We must be like the wise virgins who had oil in their lamps; that is, we must take the Holy Spirit as our guide so we will not be deceived (see Matthew 25:1–13; D&C 45:57). No wonder we are given so much detail about the signs of the coming of Christ, so that we will be watching and thus be ready for this great and dreadful day (great for the righteous and dreadful for the wicked). May we be as ready as were the former-day Saints, those who escaped the terrible destruction of Jerusalem because they watched and obeyed.

Before that day the remainder of the elect will be gathered together from “the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (JS-M 1:37). To further illustrate this, the Savior told the disciples that two would be in the field, one taken and the other left, and that while two would be grinding at the mill, again one would be taken and one left (see JS-M 1:44–45). Once again the JST clearly explains what Jesus meant by this.

Where, Lord, shall they be taken [the disciples asked Jesus]. And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is gathered; or, in other words, whithersoever the saints are gathered, thither will the eagles be gathered together; or, thither will the remainder be gathered together. This he spake, signifying the gathering of his saints; and of angels descending and gathering the remainder unto them; the one from the bed, the other from the grinding, and the other from the field, whithersoever he listeth. (JST Luke 17:36–38.)

To help the apostles understand the signs of the times and their relationship to his coming again on the earth, Jesus gave the parable of the fig tree. When one saw the leaves of the fig tree, he would know that summer was near. So it will be with the elect who are watching for Christ’s return to earth: they will know that it is near, “even at the door,” by the signs that are given (JS-M 1:39).

The Time of His Coming

No one knows the precise time of the second coming of the Lord, for it will come like a thief in the night to the wicked (see JS-M 1:47). It will be like it was in the days of Noah when the people did not realize the flood was coming until it was there (see JS-M 1:43). For the righteous, however, the coming of the son of God will not be as a thief in the night: “And again, verily I say unto you, the coming of the Lord draweth nigh, and it overtaketh the world as a thief in the night—Therefore, gird up your lions, that you may be the children of the light, and that day shall not overtake you as a thief (D&C 106:4–5; emphasis added).

For faithful members of the Church, the coming of the Lord will not be as a thief in the night, but as a woman in travail. Although the expectant mother does not fully know the hour of delivery, she does know the approximate time. So it is for those children of the light who are watching for his return and not sleeping (see 1 Thessalonians 5:2–6). Even though no man nor the angels know the day or the hour, our Heavenly Father knows. One of the interesting insights from the JST is that in discussing who does not know the time of the Second Coming, it is significant that the Son of Man is not one of those so listed (see Mark 13:32 and JST Mark 13:47). This is logical; since the Father and the Son are one, the thought and knowledge of one is the thought and knowledge of the other.

The time of the Second Coming has been of interest to every generation of Saints, former-day as well as Latter-day Saints. Following the death of Jesus, it was obvious that many members of the Church felt that he would return in their lifetime. The same is true of some Latter-day Saints in this last dispensation. It appears that in every generation since this prophecy was given by the Savior, many believed that in their lifetime they would witness the Second Coming. [6] It is essential, therefore, that we learn what the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible teaches us concerning the time of the Second Coming and in what age he will come.

The Joseph Smith Translation brings out a truth that cannot be found anywhere else in scripture. In Luke 12:36–37, we learn that we are like men who wait for the bridegroom returning from the wedding. We are told that we should be found watching, so that we can be invited to the wedding banquet. It is at this point we learn one of the profound realities from the JST.

For, behold, he cometh in the first watch of the night, and he shall also come in the second watch, and again he shall come in the third watch.

And verily I say unto you, He hath already come, as it is written of him; and again when he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, blessed are those servants when he cometh, that he shall find so ding. (JST Luke 12:41–42.)

Here is a great truth. It is not wrong that every generation feels it is their day when Christ will come, for according to this scripture, he comes in every watch of the night; that is, in every generation. Indeed, he has come already. Elder Bruce R. McConkie gives an excellent interpretation of this important scripture:

One of the great incentives which encourages and entices men to live lives of personal righteousness is the doctrine of the Second Coming of the Messiah. Many revelations speak of the signs which shall precede our Lord’s return; others tell of the tragic yet glorious events which shall attend and accompany his return to earth; and still others recite the good and ill which shall befall the living and the dead at that time. All this is preserved in holy writ so that men will be led to prepare themselves for the day of the Lord, the day when he shall take vengeance upon the ungodly and pour forth blessings upon those who love his appearing. (D&C 133:50–52; 2 Thessalonians 1:7–10.)

Deliberately and advisedly the actual time of his coming has been left uncertain and unspecified, so that men of each succeeding age shall be led to prepare for it as thought it would be in their mortal lives. And for those who pass on before the promised day, none of their preparation will be wasted, for both the living and the dead, speaking in the eternal sense, must prepare to abide the day. . . .

All of the Lord’s ministers, all of the members of his Church, for that matter all men everywhere (“What I say unto one, I say unto all”), are counseled to await with righteous readiness the coming of he Lord. However, most men will die before he comes, and only those then living will rejoice or tremble, as the case may be, at his personal presence. But all who did prepare will be rewarded as though they had lived when he came, while the wicked will be “cut asunder” and appointed their “portion with the hypocrites” as surely as though they lived in the very day of dread and vengeance.

Thus, in effect, the Lord comes in every watch of the night, on every occasion when men are called o face death and judgment. The phrase, “He hath already come, as it is written of him,” pointedly inserted in verse 42, is a witness that even then he ministered among mortal men and that they were judged by their acceptance or rejection of him. [7]

What a thought! No preparation that we make for the second coming of Christ is in vain, for in effect he comes in every generation. If we die prior to his coming, it will be just the same as if we were living on the earth when he finally does return in great glory. When we die, therefore, it is in reality the Second Coming for us. If we are righteous it does not matter whether we come with him in the Second Coming or are caught up to meet him when he descends with the Saints in the greatest reunion of all time.

And the Lord said unto Enoch: As I live, even so will I come in the last days, in the days of wickedness and vengeance, to fulfill the oath which I have made unto you concerning the children of Noah. . . .

And the Lord said unto Enoch: Then shalt thou and all thy city meet them there, and we will receive them into our bosom, and they shall see us; and we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other;

And there shall be mine abode, and it shall be Zion, which shall come forth out of all the creations which I have made; and for the space of a thousand years the earth shall rest. (Moses 7:60, 63–64.)

What a wonderful experience this will be!

Let it not be misunderstood. There will be an actual time when Christ will return to earth again to greet those in the flesh who are so privileged to meet him in that day. There is that day which has been set aside by the Father from the beginning when his Beloved Son will return a second time on earth in a formal second coming. But, the insight we gain from the Joseph Smith Translation of Luke 12 is that no matter when we live or have lived, none of our preparation will be vain. If we have died before he comes we will be with him in the Second coming. If we are alive at the time we will be caught up to meet him. All will be treated the same in this great event. With this knowledge we need not worry so much about the day of his coming, but rather concern ourselves with our preparation to meet him, regardless of the day. That is the most important thing. Come he will “in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory,” but whether it will be a day of great joy or a day when there will be weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth will all depend on us. Our personal preparation will be the deciding factor. May we so prepare that we may be able to receive the greatest reception that will ever be received by any of us: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of the lord” (Matthew 25:21).

Notes

[1] Flavius Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book VI, chapter 9, in William Whiston, trans., Josephus: Complete Works (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1960), 587.

[2] Ibid., 556–88.

[3] Isaac Boyle, ed., The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, Bishop of Caesarea, in Palestine (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1955), 86.

[4] James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75), 4:285; emphasis added.

[5] Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966–73), 1:656.

[6] Bruce R. McConkie, The Millennial Messiah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1982), 33–34.

[7] McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:674–77; emphasis added.