When He had spoken these things, while they looked, He was taken up. And a cloud received Him from their sight.Acts 1:9–11 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
While they looked intently toward heaven as He ascended, suddenly two men stood by them in white garments. They said, “Men of Galilee, why stand looking toward heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you to heaven, will come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”
I was just reading where someone was attempting to claim Jesus has already returned in the first century. That is, He came to Paul. Given the testimony above, let’s examine the evidence for such a claim.
As he went he drew near Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?”Acts 9:3–9 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
He said, “Who are You, Lord?”
The Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” Trembling and astonished, he said, “Lord, what will You have me do?” The Lord said to him, “Rise up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but seeing no one. Saul rose up from the ground. And when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
“As I journeyed and came near Damascus, about noon suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?’Acts 22:6–11 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
“I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’
“He said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ Those who were with me saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who was speaking to me.
“I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’
“The Lord said to me, ‘Rise and go into Damascus. There you will be told what you have been appointed to do.’ Since I was blinded by the glory of that light, those who were with me led me by the hand into Damascus.
These are the two accounts of Paul’s experience. The latter seems to be a quotation of Paul recounting the event to others. Let’s note some things.
The angels at Jesus’ ascension said Jesus would come again in like manner. To wit: “a cloud receive Him from their sight.” Do notice that there are multiple eyewitnesses to this event. The angels said this same Jesus would come again in like manner. They… Many… Saw Him go into heaven.
In contrast to the Damascus Road experience. Neither Paul nor his companions saw Jesus come from heaven. His companions didn’t see Jesus.
There is also something that is easily overlooked. Jesus had a body as He ascended. If He has a body at Damascus Road, how is it such was veiled from Paul’s companions, who heard a disembodied voice?
Luke helps with another witness of the event.
While He blessed them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.Luke 24:51 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
We clearly see that there are multiple eyewitnesses present at Jesus’ ascension to heaven. For the Damascus Road experience to qualify as the second coming, it necessitates multiple eyewitnesses to the event. As we’ve covered Paul’s experience, at best, there could only be one eyewitness. It is debatable that Paul did not see Him there either, since his own testimony declares he was blinded by the light.
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, which is a Sabbath day’s walk from Jerusalem.Acts 1:12 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
We also see another qualification for the like manner… Location. To meet the qualifications the angels gave to the eyewitnesses, As Paul “came near to Damascus,” this is now not even near the Mount of Olives.
I must also point out the reaction to Paul’s companions. They were in fear!
Read what Paul writes about this event…
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly, righteously, and in godliness in this present world, as we await the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all lawlessness and purify for Himself a special people, zealous of good works.Titus 2:11–14 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
Unless there is a third time Jesus comes, Paul’s experience by his own testimony cannot qualify as the second coming.