The following is a brief work regarding a very tough question that has become close to my heart over the last few years. And, because mainstream Christianity has not answered this question, it has become her “problem”. Christianity must definitively address this (apparent) problem if we expect to remain and increase as a people of influence and truth in the earth. I believe that this question, now more than ever demands a solid biblical answer. The question is this:
Did Jesus and the New Testament writers truly expect His return (second coming-Parousia) within the lifetime of their first century generation or not?
Below is a quote from an internet article by Dr. D M Magee:
“The first Christians expected the Parousia “soon”, and 2000 years later they are still expecting it “soon”. If Christians were misguided or wrong on such a crucial issue as Christ’s return, how can anyone believe anything they say? Can they be trusted to tell us the truth about salvation and immortality?”
I believe statements like these need to be taken seriously. If Jesus and the New Testament disciples all truly expected His return within their lifetime, but it did not happen, then the sceptics have a genuine right to doubt the claims of Christianity….and so do Christians! I believe it is high time for Christianity to take an unbiased look at the scriptures from a historical first century perspective. We must be ready to follow the truth regardless of where it leads and be willing to lay down church creeds and traditions at the altar of biblical truth.
The word “Parousia” is a Greek noun which technically means “presence”. It is often translated as “coming” in the New Testament, and is widely accepted to refer to what Christians call the “second coming” (although not all texts referring to the second coming of the Lord use the word Parousia). Nevertheless, throughout this the word “Parousia” will refer to what Christianity calls the second coming (return) of Christ.
The following few texts (as well as a brief exegesis) are powerful evidence of a first century expectation of the Parousia.
THE PAROUSIA ACCORDING TO JESUS
“And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes”. (Mathew 10:23)
Note that the “end” in v 22 is in the context of the coming of the Lord. If we are to let “scripture interpret scripture”, this “end” should be interpreted as the “end of the age”, that is, the end of the Mosaic age that had come upon the first century generation (Daniel 12:4,9, Mathew 13:39-40, Mathew 24:3,14, 1 Corinthians 10:11, Hebrews 9:24). The point is, Jesus connects his coming not with the “end of time”, but with the end of Israel’s pre-messianic (Old Covenant) age which was to occur within the first century generation (Mathew 24:30-34, Luke 21:20-32, Hebrews 12:26-28).
“For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” (Mathew 16:27-28)
Verse 27 literally reads “is about to come”. The words “is to” are translated from the Greek word “mello”, which means “is about to, to be about to”. Also, the phrase “he will repay every man for what he has done” is a quotation from Isaiah 40:10 and Isaiah 59:18, both of which prophecy the coming of the Lord with salvation for Israel. This demonstrates once again that the “coming of the Son of Man” in Mathew 16:27-28 is not His “coming” at the end of time, thousands of years removed from end of the Old Covenant age. It is his coming for the salvation of Israel at the end of her Old Covenant age which establishes her New Covenant kingdom (Isaiah 59:21).
The fact that Son of Man was “about to come” (mello), strengthens the validates the fact that his coming would be within the lifetime of his first century generation, and would signify the end of the Old Covenant age.
Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mathew 26:64)
The first thing we should notice in this text (as in all these texts), is audience relevance. Jesus was speaking to his first century persecutors, the body of the Sanhedrin. Second, the word “hereafter” is the Greek words “apo arti” which mean “from now on, from this time after”. Jesus was saying to the Jewish leaders of his day that from that time forward they would begin the “see” (perceive) the Son of Man coming on the clouds. Third, Jesus was quoting two Old Testament scriptures that his Hebrew listeners were very familiar with. “Seated at the right hand of power” is from Psalm 110:1 and “coming on the clouds of heaven”, from Daniel 7:13-14.
Rather than Jesus predicting that Ciaphas and the Sanhedrin would see Jesus descending on a literal cloud 2000 years removed from their lifetime, he was using their Old Testament scriptures to warn them that He was about to be enthroned as Israel’s King, and that judgment would soon be meted out upon His enemies.
As Hank Hanegraaff in his book “The Apocylpse Code” aptly says on pg. 25-26 concerning Mathew 26:64:
“They understood that in saying that he was the “Son of Man” who would “come on the clouds of heaven”, Jesus was making an overt reference to his coronation as the Son of Man in Daniels vision…. like the Old Testament prophets, Jesus employs the symbolism of clouds to warn his hearers that as judgment fell on Egypt (Isaiah 19:1), so too, judgment would soon befall Jerusalem” (end of quote)
Clouds” in the Old Testament were a common metaphor for the judgment of God upon nations. (Isaiah 19:1, Jeremiah 4:13, Joel 2:2, Zephaniah 1:5)
“Then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other… Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place”. (Mathew 24:30-34)
As usual, Jesus’ words in the above text are full of allusions to the Old Testament scriptures, which for the sake of brevity I will only list a few.
“All the tribes of the earth” – Zechariah 12:10-14
“Coming on the clouds” – Daniel 7:13
“Loud trumpet call…gather together his elect” – Isaiah 27:12-13, Isaiah 11:12
“This generation” – Deuteronomy 1:35, Numbers 32:13
The imagery of “clouds” in the Old Testament were not only a common metaphor for the judgment of God upon nations, but, were also a common metaphor for the presence of God and His “shakina glory”. Consider the two-edged metaphor of clouds in the context of Mathew 24.
Jesus was to “come in the clouds” as judgment upon antichrist Israel (Luke 21:20-23). But, the same “coming in the clouds” was for the redemption of the righteous remnant at the establishment of the kingdom of God (Luke 21:28).
Also, it is important to remember that these words are couched in the context of Jesus’ Parousia and the end of the Mosaic age (Mathew 24:2-3). Jesus clearly teaches that his “Parousia” (the Greek word used in both Math.24:3 and 34) would occur within the lifetime of his contemporary listeners, that is, their generation. (Mathew 24 is an expounding of Mathew 16:27-28)
Another powerful point is that the phrase “this generation” is spoken by Jesus 14 times in the gospels (outside of his Olivet discourse – Mathew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21), and always refers to Jesus’ first century contemporary generation.
On the website “Jews for Judiasm” Geral Sigal writes:
“There is no need to interpret the verse “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” otherwise than that Jesus was speaking of his contemporary generation. The expression “this generation appears 14 times in the gospels and always refers to Jesus’ contemporaries”.
I fully concur with this statement and I encourage the reader to study each reference for themselves. As a matter of fact, this exact phrase was spoken by Jesus while pronouncing judgment upon the leaders of Israel just hours before his use of it in Mathew 24:34
“Therefore, I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from town to town that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all this will come upon this generation (Mathew 23:34-36)
The context of Mathew 23-24 (actually chapters 21-25) is Jerusalem and Judah’s judgment at the end of the Old Covenant age for rejecting their Messiah and His Kingdom. For commentators to insist that the phrase “this generation” in Mathew 23:36 refers to the generation who crucified Christ, but then insist that the same phrase spoken to the same generation in the same context in Mathew 24:34 refers to a generation some 2000 years in the future, seems misguided at best.
A WORD FROM THE SCEPTICS
Before we move on, I think it’s important to know that from the above three texts (Mathew 10:23, 16:26-27, 24:30-34 – not to mention their synoptic parallels) sceptics have had ample ammunition to launch an unanswered attack on the authenticity of scripture itself. Sceptics have been quick to point out that since the above texts were not fulfilled within the first century generation, Jesus has disqualified himself as deity and demonstrated himself as a false prophet.
Bertrand Russell in “Why I Am Not A Christian” writes:
“Jesus certainly thought that his second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at that time…. that was the belief of his early followers and it was the basis of a good deal of his moral teaching”
NT scholar Albert Schweitzer has said:
“The bare text (Mathew 24:30) compelled me to assume that Jesus really announced persecutions for the disciples and, as a sequel to them, the immediate appearance of the celestial son of man, and that his announcement was shown by subsequent events to be wrong”
Gerald Sigal (already quoted above) says:
“That generation passed away without Jesus’ returning. Therefore, we are confronted by another unfulfilled promise by Jesus…. No amount of Christian theological acrobatics will ever solve the problems engendered by the historical reality that a promised imminent fulfillment made 2000 years ago did not occur as expected by the New Testament. Simply stated, Jesus is never coming back, not then, not now, not ever”
These are serious accusations indeed and demand an answer from those of us who contend that the scriptures are the infallible, inspired words of God. As we shall see, the entire unified witness of the New Testament continues on in the expectation of Jesus himself, that his Parousia was to occur within the lifetime of his generation. So far, Christianity’s inability (and often unwillingness) to answer this fact has for the sceptic added fuel to the fire, and for the Christian, confusion and contradiction.
THE NEW TESTAMENT EXPECTATION OF THE PAROUSIA
Notice the expectation of an imminent Parousia by the first century disciples:
“So that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:7-8)
“Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand”. (Philippians 4:5)
“For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep… But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. (1 Thessalonians 4:15, 5:4)
“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord” (1 Thessalonians 2:19)
“To the end he may stablish your hearts unblamable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:13)
“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2)
“Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you. And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels…” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7)
“I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession. That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Timothy 6:13-14)
“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13)
“For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.” (Hebrews 10:37)
“Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he recieve the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh”. (James 5:7-9)
“Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13)
“And saying, “Where is the promise of his coming… Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God… Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless” (2 Peter 3:4,12-14)
“And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.” (1 John 2:28)
“Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him.” (Revelation 1:7)
“Only hold fast what you have, until I come.” (Revelation 2:25)
“Remember then what you received and heard; keep that, and repent. If you will not awake, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you…. I am coming soon; hold fast what you have so that no one may seize your crown.” (Revelation 3:3,11)
“And behold, I am coming soon.” Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book… Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay everyone for what he has done… He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:7,12,20)
This is literally a short list of the more obvious texts of this sort. Time would fail us to list the dozens of texts which demonstrate a first century expectation of the Parousia of Christ. As should be obvious to the unbiased and honest reader, the Parousia (second coming) of Christ was taught and expected by Jesus and all his disciples to be a first century event which would occur within the lifetime of their contemporary generation.
Since this is true, there remains only one solution to the “Parousia problem” which had plagued Christianity and has open the door for skeptics to mock the inspiration of scripture.
The solution is, to agree with the Holy Scriptures and the words of our Lord himself. Will you join us to proclaim that the “end” has come, and the presence of the King has returned in glory to establish His Kingdom.