Did Jesus Say the Second Coming Would Happen in the Apostles’ Lifetime?

A reader writes:

What are we to make of Jesus’s apparent claims that the world was going to end within the lifetime of the apostles? It’s something that has always bothered me.

The key to remember is that word “apparent”. Certain passages, such as Luke 9:27 suggest (to modern readers) that Jesus thought his return would be very soon:

But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

There are a couple of things to note about this passage and of the curious notion that Jesus was mistaken about his Second Coming. First, it’s strange to speak of Jesus talking about his “return” if we reject the notion of his resurrection and ascension (which critics of the “Jesus was a mistaken mortal prophet” stripe typically do). Jesus can’t “return” if he’s dead so it’s odd that he would talk this way at all–unless of course all that stuff in the gospels about his predicting his resurrection was not just retrojected into his mouth by the apostles but was, in fact, part of his original preaching.

Second, the notion of the coming of the kingdom is a densely layered idea. In Luke, the striking thing is that the saying of Jesus I just quoted is immediately followed by this story:

28* * Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white. 30* And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32* Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, and when they wakened they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33* And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”–not knowing what he said. 34 As he said this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35* And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; * listen to him!” 36* And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silence and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.

That mention of the “eighth day” is no accident in Luke. The Eighth Day is the day of the Resurrection and the inauguration of the kingdom of God. The Transfiguration is a foreshadow of that. So in a very real sense, the promise given in v. 27 is instantly fulfilled in the next verse.

It is not completely fulfilled of course, but the point is that Jesus coming or parousia is being fulfilled in many ways before the Second Coming. A parousia was the term for when a king entered a city with his royal entourage and the citizens of the city went out to greet him in triumph and accompany him through the gates. Jesus made a literal parousia on Palm Sunday, entering the city exactly as Solomon has done a thousand years before–riding on an ass (a sign of humility) and not a warhorse, just like Solomon. He also comes in a sort of mini-parousia in every Mass (something the author of Revelation is acutely alive to as he structures his Revelation on the divine liturgy. It occurs “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” (in other words, at Mass on Sunday), and progresses from a penitential rite (letters to seven Churchs saying “repent”) to the liturgy of the Word (in which scrolls are read after the Lamb opens them, just as the OT mysteries are opened to the disciples on the Emmaus road, all pointing to Christ) and it finally climaxes in the Marriage Feast of the Lamb (ie., the Eucharist).

Another passage that sounds to moderns like Jesus thought his Second Coming would be within 40 years or so is Matthew 24. After describing troubles that sound a lot like the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, but also like the end of the world, Jesus says:

Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place. 35* Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Seems to clinch it, doesn’t it? Sure Jesus means the Second Coming will be in his generation, right? Not so fast, for the vert next verse says:

36* “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

When’s the end of the world? Jesus doesn’t know. If there was ever a saying the apostles would not possibly invent, it’s that one, because it looks bad having your God not know things. But that’s what Jesus said. So what is Jesus getting at?

He getting at the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, which did indeed occur with a generation (40 years in Jewish reckoning). The reason it is mixed with imagery of the end of the world is because it *is* the end of a world: the world of the Old Covenant. The temple is a microcosm of the cosmos, as well as the image of the Body of Jesus (“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up”). With its destruction, we see an image of both the death of Christ and the end of the world. With the passage of the Church through that death and destruction to begin the world of the New Covenant, we see an image of what will finally be fulfilled on “that day” as Jesus calls it.

So, in fact, Jesus never really says anything about when the Second Coming will be. He simply says to be ready at all times “for you do not know the day or the hour”.

  • http://www.rosariesforlife.com Dave

    Isn’t it also true that the Church itself can be considered a fulfillment of the “inauguration of the Kingdom of God”? The founding of the Church can be considered a “beachhead” of the Kingdom of God on the “shores” of Earth. After that, it spreads throughout the world.

    At least, that’s what I always thought.

  • Elaine T

    Dave, that is the impression I’ve had, too. It is supported by stuff like the psalm 110″sit at my right hand; reign until all enemies are under your feet.” or words to that effect (translations, like mileage, vary). That Christ is a militant King, and his Kingdom is at war with the Adversary. His reign is now. When He comes in glory at the end of time, that’s the beginning of something else again.

  • PJ

    The Lord is talking about the destruction of the Temple, which was for the Jews the center of the cosmos. Its destruction was truly apocalyptic. Jesus’ language is very similar to that of Jeremiah, when the latter railed against Jerusalem:

    23I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light.

    24I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly.

    25I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled.

    26I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the LORD, and by his fierce anger.

    27For thus hath the LORD said, The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end.

    28For this shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black: because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, and will not repent, neither will I turn back from it.

  • george

    Read “Orthomillennialism- Bringing Order to End Time Chaos.”
    http://www.amazon.com/Ortho-Millennialism-Bringing-Order-End-Time-Chaos/dp/1463773412
    This book will clarify what to expect at Jesus return. The fact is Matt 24 deals with the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, and has nothing to do with the end of the world. The book of Revelation deals with other aspects of this post 70 AD event. Very informative book that clarifies these things. Written by a Protestant but very Catholic friendly.

  • nino p

    I have learned that in this scripture passage, that : “this generation” means “this race”; ‘maybe’ meaning the human race. (It is a translation in the “New International Version).

  • http://www.azoic.com/ Irenaeus of New York

    “But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

    I see this as our Blessed Lord speaking of the Church Militant. I liked that you picked up on the eighth day which was immediately following. The eighth day is also the day of circumcision for the uninitiated in the old testament. As St Paul reminds us that baptism is the new circumcision which makes us members of the Kingdom of God, namely His Church.

    • http://www.azoic.com/ Irenaeus of New York

      Just to clarify what I mean… I think He is speaking to the uninitiated, who will be eventually baptized and made members of the Kingdom of God on earth as the Church Militant.

    • James Crowley

      More made up excuses on why the bible wasn’t fulfiiled ,,sheesh

      • chezami

        More biblically illiterate fundamentalist atheism.

  • http://www.dcdentistry.com Dr. Mark

    How about, seeing the Resurrected Jesus is seeing the Kingdom of God arrived.

  • http://www.azoic.com/ Irenaeus of New York

    “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place.”

    The apostles stand in place of the 12 tribes, as the new Israel. In other words, this generation of faithful will not pass away until all is accomplished.

    “This is the generation of them that seek him, of them that seek the face of the God of Jacob.” Ps 23:6 (Douay numbering)

  • Rex

    Is it possible that “this generation” could also mean the generation alive when the signs of the end start appearing? In other words, that the signs leading up to the coming of Christ will happen within one generation, not over hundreds or thousands of years?

    • YCNAN

      TOTALLY AGREE THAT IS WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

    • James Crowley

      You shall not have gone round all the towns of Israel before you see the coming of the son of man in his glory..

      There are those standing here who will not taste death before they see the son of man coming in his glory…
      don’t remember the citations, but they are there…any, Chinese, Hindus, most of Asia, pre columbian south America didn’t get the word from the ragamuffin buddies of the son of God…some deity

  • Ted Seeber

    An even better interpretation I once heard in a sermon- the world ends several thousand times a day. It happens in everybody’s lifetime- sometimes multiple times within a given lifetime. A secular rock band put it best “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and everything’s fine”.

    But I guarantee- your personal world WILL end. Your material body may or may not survive it, your immortal soul will. And none of us know the hour or the day- that’s not just prophecy, but promise.

  • Doug

    Mr Shea writes: “but the point is that Jesus coming or parousia …”

    There is a problem with the very common translating of parousia as “coming”. That can be seen in some letters of Paul.
    “Wherefore, my dearly beloved, (as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only but much more now in my absence) with fear and trembling work out your salvation.” Php 2:12
    Again, “And I rejoice in the presence of Stephanus and Fortunatus and Achaicus: because that which was wanting on your part, they have supplied.” 1 Cor 16:17
    Again, “(for his epistles indeed, say they, are weighty and strong; but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible)” 2 Cor 10:10

    The commonality here is that (a) the underlying Greek word for “presence” is parousia, and (b) it is being used in very ordinary, secular ways. Thus we can learn the commonest meaning of the day, the one which our Lord would have meant in giving life-and-death information to his disciples. (And to us!) Note, please:
    >>Paul is absent from Philippi, but is confident that the Philippian congregation is behaving themselves. Just as they did [of course!] when he was present. Not “coming”, but “here now”.
    >>It is the presence of Stephanus that comforts Paul; he is there with him, not just ‘on his way to him’.
    >>On the other hand, the Corinthians were wont to denigrate his speaking on the platform, which he had to be present to do.
    (There are other examples worth searching out.)

    Therefore, using the Bible to teach the Bible, we have every reason to translate Mt 24 parousia as ‘being here now’, not ‘coming, to be here sooner or later’. So Jesus was teaching that the ‘signs of the times’ would be happening while he was present, in the vicinity of the earth. This is also a safer translation for vigilant Christians (Mt 25:13) as an illustration may show:
    A mother tells her son, “I’m leaving now, but I’ll be back this afternoon. Stay out of the cookie jar.” Her son’s will power holds out until 12:01 PM. He figures that “afternoon” covers several hours, so he’s just putting his hand in the jar, when …
    It is also consistent with, not contrary to, the idea that Jesus’ presence and the existence of much unGodliness on the earth would be contemporaneous: Ps 110:1,2:
    “The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool. The Lord will send forth the sceptre of your power out of Sion: rule in the midst of your enemies.”
    Also, “And I saw: and behold a white horse, and he that sat on him had a bow, and there was a crown given him, and he went forth conquering that he might conquer.” Rev 6:2

    All scriptures are from the Douay at newadvent.org.

  • COMENTARIOS

    Why are you so blind. Jesus said, clearly, no parables there, he says, “but i tell you truly”. he is talking about the real thing that is going to happend. Open your eyes people, you are serving a false god. The church created that religion for you, and you embraced. You are free to leave it, the church is not going to kill you as they used to do. There is in fact a God, the only and true God, the unique God, trust only him your life. Im saying this because there is nothing that cant stand the truth.

    • seeker of truth

      Agreed! From Deuteronomy 18:
      17 And the LORD said to me, What they have said is good.
      18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kindred, and will put my words into the mouth of the prophet; the prophet shall tell them all that I command.
      19 Anyone who will not listen to my words which the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will hold accountable for it.
      20 But if a prophet presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded, or speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.
      21 Should you say to yourselves, “How can we recognize that a word is one the LORD has not spoken?”,
      22 if a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD but the word does not come true, it is a word the LORD did not speak. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; do not fear him.

      Study the life of Jesus and ask yourself if he truly fits the bill as son of God.

    • James Crowley

      I agree, but the Deist God doesn’t exist either

  • James Crowley

    I do trust God,,,Odin sends his messengers the Valkyries in the skies. He is the truth


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