Jesus and the delay of the Second Coming: maybe he doesn’t want to be seen with us

Jesus and the delay of the Second Coming: maybe he doesn’t want to be seen with us April 20, 2015

A few months back I watched Simon Schama’s gripping 5-part video series The Story of the Jews, which takes us from the reign of David to contemporary Judaism. The series is highly acclaimed and I can’t recommend it enough.

Episode 2, “Among Believers,” covers Judaism in the medieval period and its difficulties with Christianity and Islam.

Schama recounts the famous debate, known as the “Barcelona Disputation,” which took place over three days beginning on July 20, 1263. The debate, organized by the the church, pitted the Jewish convert to Roman Catholicism, Pablo Christiani, against one of the towering intellectual figure of medieval Judaism, philosopher Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, better know as Nachmanides.

Christiani set out to show from the Torah and Talmud that Judaism’s own sacred texts predicted Jesus as the messiah who was to come. Nachmanides’s task–surrounded by ecclesiastical and royal power–was to show that this was not the case.

Schama, together with Leon Wieseltier, recount the debate, summarizing some of Nachmanides’s points and (it seems) elaborating a bit on those points themselves.

Christiani’s argument, they say, was unconvincing and has fallen on deaf Jewish ears ever since. They make two main points (you can get a fuller picture of the debate here), one I am very familiar with (having read Paul’s letters, especially Romans) and a second that I have not given nearly as much thought to.

First: If Jesus would have been the messiah, there would have been a mass Jewish following.

Of course, this is the very problem Paul addresses in Romans–I would even say “struggling with” in Roman. His own Jewish brothers and sisters are not following Israel’s messiah but Gentiles are. Paul reasons that the Gentile conversion will make Jews jealous, but that in time (very soon from Paul’s point of view), the time of the Gentiles would come to a close and Jews would stream in.

Instead, what happened is this Jewish movement of Jesus followers becomes a separate religion by the 2nd century and made up increasingly of Gentiles while Jews remained Jewish.

Second: The messiah of the Jews was to fulfill Old Testament/Jewish Bible prophecies of universal peace, but, as Nachmanides argued, the world was still full of war and injustice, most of it perpetuated by Christians.

As Schama and Wieseltier put it, the Jewish messianic problem is that they wait and wait and wait for the messiah but he doesn’t come. The Christian problem is that he came and it made no difference.

Of course, Christians will bristle at the thought that Jesus “made no difference,” and I certainly understand why–Jesus is raised and that conquers death and now all who believe on his name will be saved.

But Schama and Wieseltier’s second point still stands and I don’t think we should let it go too easily.

If Jesus is the messiah, why the 2000+ year delay after the inauguration of the “messianic age” (Christ’s first coming)? Why all this time of no peace, of warfare, suffering, and injustice, much of it by the followers of the Prince of Peace?

I understand that much of that suffering by Christians has been at the hands of various versions of the Christian “state” throughout history (which is one reason why I have no interest in seeing it resurrected by the American political hard Christian right), but that simply delays the question one step: why does God allow the corrupt Christian state to remain in power during after the messianic age has been inaugurated.

Does eschatological inauguration make so little difference–at least little enough that no one other than Christians notice and have to convince others of it?

For me, one of the intellectual challenges to Christianity is this delay of the parousia–the Greek term meaning “presence, arrival, visit,” i.e., Second Coming. I wonder whether Christians may not have something to learn from this Jewish critique.

Similar to how Jews in the 1st century were concerned that failure to remain faithful to the covenant not only caused the exile a half a millennium earlier but perpetuated the half-millennium delay of the messianic age, perhaps the parousia is delayed because Christians haven’t yet figured out how to be the body of Christ.

Just riffing here, but maybe the problem of the delay of the parousia isn’t simply a theological conundrum to be solved through closer exegesis or theological alchemy.

Maybe the “body of Christ” isn’t being the body of Christ. Maybe Jesus is too embarrassed to be seen with us.



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  • Eric Weiss

    I expressed similar thoughts a few years ago:

    “Many may be looking forward to, and even striving to hasten, the day of the Lord. But God may be more interested in seeing His people increase in Christlikeness than in wrapping things up while many of them still have a long way to grow before they can live in the new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells. I.e., He may not be ready until we’re ready. If so, I suspect we probably shouldn’t expect Jesus’ return for a long, long time.”

    • peteenns

      Thank you, Eric. I especially like the long Greek text at the end 🙂

      • Eric Weiss


        You write:

        For me, one of the intellectual challenges to Christianity is this delay of the parousia–the Greek term meaning “presence, arrival, visit,” i.e., Second Coming.

        What has been a faith-challenging issue for me for some time now is the apparent (to me) belief of the NT authors (and seemingly Jesus himself at times) that Jesus’ return with the establishment of his kingdom was going to happen in their own or their immediate readers’ lifetimes. And that context/expectation seems to color things they wrote even when it’s not explicitly stated.

        Yet here we are, nearly 2,000 years later, and….?

        Unless Preterism is correct, I don’t have a good answer for this except to conclude that on this thing the NT authors (and Jesus, too?) were wrong. Which leads to questions about the trustworthiness of other things they wrote or said.

        (And despite the essay on 2 Peter which I wrote and linked to above, 2 Peter has felt to me like a somewhat lame apologetic for a failed Second Coming instead of a legitimate explanation for why Jesus hasn’t returned; writing what I did was probably a precursor to what has become for me a faith-disturbing concern.)

        • Occam Razor

          Eric, I think the you right. Jesus and Paul were wrong about the end times. One can try to paper over that fact or one can accept the facts and come up with theology based on what is and not what we wish things were.

          2 Peter, who said “a day is like a thousand years,” is obviously a different author than 1 Peter, who wrote that “the end is near.” When it wasn’t, someone had to come up with a reason why not.

          Jesus and his disciples had a fairly standard Jewish belief about the kingdom. They thought it would be a theocratic kingdom on earth, headed by a Jewish political figure and a Jewish priest, in which righteousness and justice would reign rather than the standard oppressive model of ancient kingdoms such as Rome, Egypt, etc.

          That didn’t happen, so new ideas were created to determine why not. That’s what Paul was wrestling with in Romans 1.

          • PaulB

            excellent summary of the issues Occam Razor.

        • PaulB

          Eric I am sad to say that 2 Peter is of little help anyway as it is generally seen by NT scholars as a mid 2nd century forgery.

          • Eric Weiss

            I know. But it’s still “canonical” and hence is considered to represent the early Christians’ and the church’s accepted beliefs.

          • bdlaacmm

            You ought to read “Redating the New Testament” by John A.T. Robinson. He doesn’t “prove” that 2 Peter was written by Peter, but makes a convincing case that one can justifiably believe that it was (with a little help from Jude).

            The notes to the Ignatius Study Bible make much the same case, with a lot less verbiage.

        • R Vogel

          Does it make sense to comment on whether or not Jesus was wrong since we only hear him through the voice of the NT authors? If they were wrong, it would be reflected in what they wrote about him, yeah?

        • Travis Matthew Finley

          Both cs lewis and Bertrand Russell taught Jesus was wrong. It was they who were wrong bc they did not know how to read the Bible. Jesus parousia happened just as Jesus said, but not how we might think.

      • Eric Weiss

        What happened to my Reply where I expressed my personal-faith concerns about the delay in Jesus’ return, something the NT authors seemed to imminently expect? I thought I had successfully posted it. 😕

        • peteenns

          I moderate (gently) comments. Sometimes there is a delays of several hours.

          • PaulB

            Peter I notice that several of my comments have been deleted. Why is this?

          • peteenns

            Nope, just in moderation mode. Don’t you get notified about that?

          • PaulB

            yes initially – but it no longer says that (oddly)

          • peteenns

            Odd. I’ll make sure someone gets executed.

          • PaulB


          • Mark K

            You’ll delay the parousia further.

    • Mark K

      In the year,
      If God’s a-comin,
      He oughta make it by then.

      Eric, your statement and Pete’s closing point have seemed to me for a long time to be a large part of the reason for any delay. That is, it’s not a problem of theology or of more exacting exegesis; it’s a question of living the way.

  • Travis Matthew Finley

    There was no delay, save the 40 years. Jesus words in Matt 24 came to pass in AD 70. I am a postmillennial preterist and that hermeneutic has saved me from dispensational theology.

    • peteenns

      I think there is a lot to be said for this, Travis.

    • Eric Weiss


      Preterism may be(come) the anchor I end up tying my faith ship to. It’s been awhile since I’ve studied it, but as I noted in my comment here, if Jesus didn’t return in the NT authors’ or their immediate readers’ lifetimes, then it appears to me that their apparent belief that he would do so was wrong – which raises serious questions for me about the credibility and trustworthiness of other things they said/wrote.

      Of course, even if he did return in 70 A.D., I’m not sure his return can be said to have occurred as they expected or wrote how he would return – e.g., he didn’t return as Acts 1:11 or 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 says he would. Which means my problems with what the New Testament authors wrote probably won’t be fully solvable by Preterism. 🙁

      • PaulB

        indeed Eric. Most NT scholars (including Peter Enns) acknowledge there is a serious error in the NT: the End did not arrive as anticipated. How one squares this with a conservative Christian view of Jesus and the Bible I will leave to others to explain (because I have no idea!).

        • berryfriesen

          The arrival of the Kingdom in power and “the end” of history are not the same event. So yes, the end of history has been delayed far longer than many Second Testament writers expected. But Pentecost marked the return of Christ, his new body on Earth. This is all consistent with Daniel 7.

          Our disappointment with the Pentecost parousia are linked to our refusal to accept that God reigns in the Way of Jesus, not in the way of empires.

      • Travis Matthew Finley

        Whatever minority passages leave difficulty in pretetism, the majority are left that have no issues. This means the minority can be worked out. We just have to shed our erroneous paradigms and keep reading. Check out mike bull @ bullysblog, theology you can eat and drink.

        • Eric Weiss

          Or this means that the minority passages are the weak or missing links which break the Preterism chain.

          • Travis Matthew Finley

            No. I am very persuaded, just as the Jews were won’t about who and what Messiah would be, so too, we. Preterism is the only thing to save the NT from shoddy hermeneutics.

    • PaulB


      according to Matt 24 and Mark 13 everything would happen within the generation then living, including this:

      ‘Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory.27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.’

      But it did not happen..

      • Travis Matthew Finley

        It’s hard to prove a negative, but yes, it did. That it’s what the whole book of revelation is about. Revelation 1 says the same thing and Jesus tells Caiaphus he will see that symbol as wellConsider the calling of the elect you quoted as fulfilled in the 144k.

  • berryfriesen

    Peter, a couple of important typos, one in the 11th paragraph and one in the last.

    You seem to be bringing a rather literal definition of “parousia” to this discussion, one the gospels don’t support, IMO. Jesus said that during their lifetimes, his disciples would see the kingdom coming in power, and they did. Just as Daniel predicted.

    As for our disappointment over the lack of perfection this coming entailed. maybe it’s high time we adjust our expectations. The Way of Jesus reigns as the light of the world, the standard by which the powers are measured. YHWH’s opposition to empire is without doubt. Can’t we find something in that to rejoice in?

    • peteenns

      Fixed (the typos, not my theology).

  • Good point.
    I guess The Lord will have to cancel those upcoming Blood Moons now, just to stop some of those people He’s steering clear of from coming to the apparently irrefutable conclusion that He’s obviously returning in September or October then …
    … not that they’re making predictions, of course, as no-one knows the day/hour etc, but their definitely Not Astrological projections do keep speculating about those specific months.

    But – just to be clear – they’re definitely Not predicting.
    No Sir.

    Anyway, avoid these people, just like He is, as you say.

  • PaulB

    But will Christians be honest enough to admit that, at least according to the gospel accounts, Jesus made a major error in Mark 13 and Matt 24? He predicted the End would come within the generation of people then living.


      But what was the “end” that He was speaking of. I don’t think He was talking about the end of time but the end of an age..the end of Temple, Priest and Sacrafice.
      I also think Matt 24 has to do with Christ being vindicated and coming into His kingdom rather than the Second Advent event. Language is very similar. A coming up rather than down. See Daniel 7:

      13 I continued to observe the vision in the night, and behold, One like the Son of Man was coming with the clouds of heaven, until He came to the Ancient of Days and approached Him.†
      14 Then dominion, honor, and the kingdom were given to Him, and all peoples, tribes, and languages served Him. His authority is an everlasting authority which shall not pass away, and His kingdom shall not be destroyed.

      • Andrew Dowling

        None of that happened either by even a stretching interpretation.

  • Andrew Perriman argues (convincingly, to me) that the Bible is essentially the story of how Israel’s God came to rule over Israel and the nations as defined by the scope of the Bible. His blog post today is on that topic, and the animations are worth the trip:

    As such, the parousia (the coming of the Son of Man) is the fulfillment of the prophecy (I love saying that in a resonant voice) of Daniel 7, where the beast is destroyed and the Son of Man receives the kingdom from the Ancient of Days. Events that were fulfilled politically, Perriman argues, in the destruction of Jerusalem, the dispersion and formation of Christ communities throughout the Roman Empire, and ultimately the overthrow of pagan Rome and the confession of Christ as king by that empire. This brings about an end to persecution of faithful Israel and worship among disparate nations of Israel’s God.

    Well, that stuff happened.

    What hasn’t happened yet is, exactly as you say, the “new heavens and earth,” which is described on the fringe of OT and NT prophecy. That is something still to be hoped for.

    Personally, I find this compelling and it makes sense of a lot of biblical data as well as excluding narratives about the Bible’s story that seem problematic to me. It’s not air tight (what is?), but it helps the pieces fit for me.

    • peteenns

      I am very amenable to Andrew’s approach and others like it–although I still do a double-take at Matt 24:30-31 🙂

    • Phil, your comment is a pretty good modern reflection of the debate in Barcelona. I don’t mean this as a criticism per se. It’s just that no Jew could see the hand of the Messiah in the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of our people. For us, this is as counter-intuitive as pointing to 9/11 and saying, “Jesus is back!”

      I don’t mean to offend. I’m just trying to say that Jews and Christians see this differently. I read Pete to say here that maybe Christians can learn something from the Jewish position taken by Nachmanides in Barcelona. I think one thing to learn is that human history may not be proceeding according to anyone’s animations. It may be that Jews and Christians can find some common ground in mutual disappointment, and a determination to repair a broken world to make it worthy of a (second) coming.

      • Not offended in the slightest. Thank you for your comments.

        I would say, though, not that Jesus as Messiah destroys Jerusalem, but Jesus provides a way through that destruction by faithfulness even unto martyrdom, similar to the theology of the Maccabees during Antiochus Epiphanes’ tyranny.

        It’s pretty clear from the Gospels that Jesus is deeply grieved over the coming wrath against Jerusalem. As an apocalyptic prophet, he sees it coming and wants to save his people.

        Jesus warned the faithful in Israel to flee Jerusalem when they saw the signs of its imminent destruction. It’s hard to know how many Jews that ended up saving.

        But what Jesus does do is rule the Roman Empire. The gathering of God’s elect, the end of their persecution, and the pagan nations confessing him as Lord is very Messiah-ish to me.

        Of course, I’m putting these things in a Christian frame of reference, so we’re bound to see it differently. I definitely understand what you’re saying.

        • Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem and his supposed warning to flee are pretty clear examples, to me, of the post-destruction believers putting into his mouth things THEY had experienced and/or continued to grapple with. History, best we can decipher it mainly from Josephus (not an infallible source, of course), seems to suggest there WAS little opportunity to flee once Titus appeared with a massive army to surround and quite effectively seal off Jerusalem and subsequently starve the inhabitants and Jewish rebels before finally breaching the walls and slaughtering or capturing those still alive.

          It’s also interesting that no Apostle group nor possible surviving set of leaders from pre-war Jerusalem seems to have had any ongoing influence. (One must wonder, did anyone of any significance even survive?) The legend of escape to Pella is weak and with little consequence even if true. If Jesus DID give a warning, it seems it was not believed and heeded… perhaps not ABLE to be heeded… in which case, not of any value, which he also would have known.

          • I see what you’re saying, but I’d say there were indicators of what was coming before Titus showed up and laid siege to the city. There was the revolt and response in 66. The execution of James the Just. The failed Sicarri coup. The military suppressions of Cestius and Vespasian. Any number of these things could have been writing on the wall.

            I might be misunderstanding your comment about the survival of the Apostles. Several New Testament books were written after 70 AD and many of the Apostles were not in Jerusalem.

  • Scott Caulley

    Thanks, Pete. I’m reminded of the argument in 2nd Peter 3, to the effect that God’s delay is not injustice, but is grace. At the same time, Christians should be forewarned by the experiences of the Qumran people and other Jewish groups, who squabbled among themselves over (to me) seemingly petty things such as which calendar to use to determine feast days. The underlying assumption was that “only when we keep the Law perfectly will Messiah come.” Perhaps the Lord tarries now because believers are not being the people of God well or thoroughly enough. But leave it to human practitioners to skew and co-opt that idea, too.

    • PaulB

      unfortunately 2 Peter is a forgery.

      • Scott Caulley

        Pseudepigraphy (“forgery”) does not invalidate the work, but rather shifts it into a post-apostolic setting which makes it much harder to discern the particulars behind the writing. But the defense in chapter 3 against an Epicurean-like argument (“justice delayed is justice denied”) is no less valid if Peter did not write 2nd Peter.

        • Paul D.

          I don’t see how the author’s argument solves anything. We get an unexpected grace period of a several millennia so billions more people can suffer poverty, war, and disease, and finally perish and go to hell? Thanks…I guess.

          • Scott Caulley

            I think the original point was to counter the view that God’s delay (in judgment) actually forms an argument against the existence of God– or at least of a God who cares about our daily lives (so the Epicureans, and– according to some ancient sources– also the Sadducees; see Jerome Neyrey’s dissertation from the early 1980s). The argument did not (was not intended) to address the larger question of theodicy. Rather, it was only to suggest that we should be careful what we wish for: delay of judgment (instead of immediate reward for good deeds/immediate punishment for bad deeds) is not necessarily a bad thing. It puts into a certain perspective the balance between God’s judgment and his mercy. Most of us could use some grace.

          • Andrew Dowling

            To be fair I doubt the author was taking his argument to its logical conclusion.

  • Pete, this is a terrific post.

    As a faithful Jewish reader of your work here, I think you’ve done a good job of summarizing some of the issues discussed at Barcelona. But from a Jewish perspective, this debate was not primarily an intellectual exercise over whether the truth of Christianity could be proven by Talmud and other Jewish texts, any more than the Paris disputation twenty years earlier was about whether Talmud was heretical. The only “proposition” these debates sought to resolve was whether the Jewish community would convert to Christianity en masse, or continue to be persecuted and eventually expelled. History tells us how these debates were resolved. In the immediate aftermath of the Barcelona Disputation, the Dominicans intensified their efforts to compel Jews to convert. The Talmud and other Jewish works were censored and burned. Nachmanides himself was tried by the Inquisition for blasphemy and was banished from Spain.

    In such an atmosphere, it’s amazing that anything said then is worth considering now. It’s remarkable that one of Nachmanides’ main points in the debate still resonates with us: show us a messianic age, and we’ll believe in the Messiah who brought that age about. (Not that there is or was any Jewish unanimity on questions concerning the Messiah, and not to deny that Jews over the ages have embraced this-or-that messianic candidate in the belief that the messianic age would thus follow.)

    But in our present-day golden age of Jewish-Christian relations, it’s possible to discuss questions of mutual interest in a different way. Certainly, the Jewish response to Christian questions and concerns can be more generous now. I, too, bristle at the thought that Jesus “made no difference.”

    • peteenns

      Yes, very helpful!

    • 4 WIW

      As a born-again Christian looking back into history, events such as the Crusades and the Barcelona Disputation (a new bit of history to me) bring me sadness. Sadness that these events occurred under the banner of Christ. In every generation people must learn to pray and ask God: “Is this what You want?” Man-kind can so easily go off on a tangent, forgetting that God ordains and commands. We still are very prone to “doing what is right in our own eyes.”
      God bless.

  • John Shakespeare

    Peter, you write, ‘As Schama and Wieseltier put it, the Jewish messianic problem is that they wait and wait and wait for the messiah but he doesn’t come. The Jewish problem is that he came and it made no difference.’In the second sentence, do you perhaps mean ‘the Christian problem’?

    • peteenns

      Oops. Corrected!!! Thanks.

  • James

    I think the Bible presents a forward look toward the end of human history and also an upward look considering the end of individual life on earth. Maybe Jesus wants us live now with both ends in view. I’m 67, so unless they find a solution to aging…

  • Ross

    Very good and challenging point.

    I suppose, instead of however many thousand denominations there are, there was one where we all loved God and each other and our neighbours (and apologised a lot for two millennia of anti-semitism), then maybe we could start packing the Shekina cream.

  • Andrew Dowling

    I think to tackle this issue successfully one has to be willing to concede much of the Bible’s apocalyptic language is alliteration and metaphor; expressing more desires of those in the present than any sort of prediction of the future.

    The preterist view is not a successful out, for two big reasons: i) The earliest Christians, while believing 70 AD (in retrospect . . Mark 13 is classic post-diction) to be a judgment on the Jews. did NOT equate that event to be the parousia . . that was still eagerly anticipated, hence later texts like II Peter (probably from 130-150 AD) seeking to justify reasons for the delay. ii) If one is to describe 70 AD as Godly judgment, that is essentially making God the driving force of a horrible mass murder which featured widespread rape and the brutal killings of babies and small children. This makes Jesus to be a vindictive monster.

    I don’t think Jesus historically ever claimed he would return amidst the end of the world. Mark 13 sticks out in that Gospel like a sore thumb in terms of both content and grammar/rhetorical style; it’s likely a later apocalyptic text Mark inserted in there (which could have been for a number of reasons). It doesn’t make much sense for Jesus to have preached that God pours down rain on the just and unjust and for his followers to not worry about tomorrow, for God will provide, and then suddenly in Jerusalem pull a 180 and provide extensive details on a future apocalypse 🙂

  • As always, Pete, thanks for making me think carefully about the issues. It does seem that the Apostle Peter agrees with you. I believe your readers, Scott and Eric, also mentioned 2 Peter. Speaking to Christians, Peter writes, “The Lord…is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). It sure sounds like the Body isn’t acting like the Body. Too bad that most professing Christians in church hear this verse being addressed to the non-Christians not in church.

  • Dean

    Well, CS Lewis did say that Matthew 24:34 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” I have often wondered myself why Evangelicals are not more disturbed by the delay in the parousia, particularly dispensationalists. I’ve heard all the different interpretations, but it seems to me that some sort of preterism, either full or partial has to be seriously be considered. The word games that most Evangelicals play to get around this are pretty lame in my opinion, as you can almost say for certain the Paul and the other first century Christians absolutely believe that Jesus was returning in their lifetime. I also heard this second argument made on a Christian radio show, I can’t remember which one now, but it is a very fair point. I think Evangelicals really need to engage the Jewish community more on this, I think it will be to everyone’s benefit. I mean, if you listen to Christian radio and read Evangelical blogs, you will hear the constant refrain that the “Jews” don’t even understand their own Bible because if they did, they would absolutely believe that Jesus was the messiah. It just sound like the same kind of ignorant statements that Evangelicals use against atheists for not believing in the “obvious” evidence that the Bible is scientifically true.

  • Ron McAnally

    Here’s a thought: Maybe Jesus and the NT writers knew what they were talking about and Jesus returned before those of his generation died. If we accepted this it would make things much simpler and we would not be forced to come up with all sorts of convoluted explanations about the delay of the Parousia. If we would take the scriptures at their word and jettison the theological presuppositions we might understand these thing better.

    • Eric Weiss

      Well if he did, then he didn’t return in the manner he and they said he would, and as has here been pointed out, the author of 2nd Peter felt forced to explain why Jesus hadn’t come back as (soon as) expected.

      • Ron McAnally

        Eric, perhaps they were more Hebraic in their thinking than Greek, i.e. they looked at the coming of Jesus as per Is. 19:1 and Ps. 18. You don’t think Yahweh was on a literal cloud when he came to Egypt do you?

  • Eric Weiss

    Jesus’ “take no thought for tomorrow” and Paul’s advice re: marriage (or not marrying), as well as other things like the selling all and having all things in common of Acts 2-5 make sense if one is teaching and expecting the Lord’s imminent return and establishment of his kingdom.

    These days, after 1900+ years of that “promise”/expectation remaining unfulfilled… Perhaps not so much.

    • Andrew Dowling

      I agree re: Paul but disagree about Jesus; I don’t view that saying of Jesus “don’t worry about tomorrow” as meaning ” . . .because tomorrow probably won’t happen!” I think it’s actually more of a positive assertion-look at the lillies and birds, God provides for them, and God will provide for you.

      Those statements and the parables (many which infer the ‘Kingdom’ can be uncovered now and is not some future ‘place’ or ‘event’) suggest to me that while Jesus likely made statements about judgment on the unrighteous/the Temple (he had been a John the Baptist disciple after all), I don’t think any of the sayings attributed to him suggesting an imminent ‘second coming’ go back to the historical Jesus. Paul describes a visionary experience in 1 Thessalonians of Jesus “coming on the clouds” . . I think Mark got that phrase from the Pauline tradition.

      • Eric Weiss

        A problem with “look at the birds” is that untold numbers of birds die daily of starvation, predation (even deer snatch newly-hatched birds out of their nests and eat them), and many other things that suggest their life is anything but carefree and trouble-free, or that they are well-fed and well taken care of. 🙂

        • Andrew Dowling

          Well, yes, I think the point is rhetorical. Jesus was not a wildlife biologist 🙂

  • Food for thought. Thanks Pete.

  • Andrey Bolkonsky

    Maybe Jesus doesn’t want to be with us because of all the crosses around people’s necks.

    “A lot of Christians wear crosses around their neck. You think when Jesus comes back he ever wants to see a f*****g cross? It’s like going up to Jackie Onassis wearing a little sniper rifle pendant.”

    – Bill Hicks

  • David Tiffany

    Is that the best excuse you can come up with to not come to Christ?

    • peteenns

      You’ll have to unpack that a bit.

      • David Tiffany

        It seems like an article elaborating on the excuse, “I’ll never be a Christian because they’re a bunch of hypocrites.”
        But that’s not a good excuse. Hypocrites are everywhere. In churches, bars, anywhere we meet other people. We all put on faces. And none of us live like we want to.
        But do you really think Jesus will accept that as an excuse for not wanting to be reconciled to God?

        • Whoa… I don’t read the article as being about that at all. Besides, isn’t it a giant presumption to imply (if I hear you right) that Pete has not “come to Christ”?

          Having said that, I’ll add that that language is too confusing for me to care about using or even trying to define, though I certainly embraced Christ in an orthodox way and used that language for the first 27 or so of my 47 adult years as a Christian.

        • Paul D.

          Why on earth do you think Pete Enns isn’t a Christian? The people who struggle with these passages do so because of the conflict with their faith commitments, not as an “excuse” for avoiding religion.

    • His best excuse is probably that he’s already a Christian, but I guess there’s a sense in which we’re always converting.

  • Well, not to despair too quickly: According to Bible scholar Michelle Bachman (who presumably has lots more time to study given her retirement from the House), the rapture IS about to happen… at least before Obama leaves office… he is hastening the end! And she probably speaks for quite a few others 🙁 .

    Seriously, it is VERY clear in Paul and we can infer was believed by the Jerusalem leaders and believers, that a key part of “his/the” Gospel was that the prophesied time of peace and the ascendance of Jerusalem as global center of the utopian theocracy was a matter of a few years off, at most. The Gospel of Mark may yet be clinging to the Jewish-Roman war as sign of the end. But by Matthew, Luke, Acts, John the thinking really HAD to be changed, and so it was! Yet another typical Jewish/human adaptation without having to change an entire way of thinking or give up hope. I don’t “have a problem with that”, just with the fact that most Christians won’t admit to it, see what was really going on with “Christian origins”.

    • EqualTime

      Don’t some historians think that the +/- 70 A.D. Jewish insurrection against the Romans was inspired by Christ’s statement that the Second Coming would be in their lifetimes?

      • Andrew Dowling

        No, not in the slightest

        • EqualTime

          Why, because no one in Jerusalem heard him say he’d return in their lifetimes?

          • Andrew Dowling

            There’s no attestation of Jesus ever having prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem outside of Mark 13 (which was copied by Luke and Matthew). And we have other sources which go into detail about the Jewish-Roman war of 70AD, none of which ever mention Jesus as having anything to do with the uprising.
            As I’ve stated, I think the wide majority of Mark 13 is ahistorical.

          • EqualTime

            Thanks for the discussion. I wasn’t referring to Jesus prophesying the destruction, but rather His well documented statements in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John that “this generation will not pass” before he returned. I’m sure I’ve read (perhaps in a book called “James, the brother of Jesus”) that some who participated in the late 60’s A.D. rising did so because they thought it was a harbinger of the Second Coming which they thought would be soon – given the 30 some years that had passed since the Crucifixion and Christ’s statement that the generation would not pass.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Is that James Tabor? Those that posit some sort of military dynastic aspect to Jesus that has been completely covered up by a church conspiracy I find to be without merit and overtly speculative. There’s no evidence any Christians played any meaningful role in the Jewish-Roman War whatsoever. I find it far more plausible that Mark 13 is post-diction by the evangelist written after either during the siege or after the fall of Jerusalem.

      • Andrew is right… not a chance. It IS unclear whether or not Jesus-followers may, at least in some cases, have been involved in the rebellion. But they certainly did not have a philosophy or known policy of armed resistance. And again, did Jesus actually make ANY statements about a “soon return”? If so, what becomes of his supposed statement that “no one knows the day or the hour… except the Father”?

    • Nancy Staab

      Is it really necessary for you to insert politics into a discussion of Christ’s return and why do you find it necessary to mock a Christian woman as part of your reply? There are many of us Christians who are Bible believers that think these are “the last days” of the last days and many of us who do spend hours of our day studying God’s Word with opened eyes and opened hearts. In fact, let me recommend it!

      • Andrew Dowling

        The “Bible” doesn’t include the ridiculous rapture theology of Ms. Bachmann. She’s a heretic on so many levels it’s not even funny.

      • Nancy, politics wasn’t the point… Bachmann remains a “public figure” in her getting quoted in media (and she doesn’t object that I know of). Thus any goofy (or worse) concepts she shares are deserving of a response. And yes, her evaluation of Obama is irresponsible/ridiculous, but the theology was the point. I held the same basic position as a seminary educated minister for a long time also… but finally realized 20 years ago that the entire “end times” scenario of much of traditional Christianity is both wrong and counterproductive (to Christ-like action in the world). Oh… and I do still read the Bible a lot, though only certain parts are suitably “devotional” so I don’t read it much for that. But I sure did so for around 30 years!

  • EqualTime

    This paragraph was in a NYT article also linked on RealClearReligion today, dealing with a study of Faith vs. Fact.

    “Second, these scholars have remarked that when people consider the truth
    of a religious belief, what the belief does for their lives matters
    more than, well, the facts. We evaluate factual beliefs often with
    perceptual evidence. If I believe that the dog is in the study but I
    find her in the kitchen, I change my belief. We evaluate religious
    beliefs more with our sense of destiny, purpose and the way we think the
    world should be. One study found that over 70 percent of people who
    left a religious cult did so because of a conflict of values. They did
    not complain that the leader’s views were mistaken. They believed that
    he was a bad person.”

    In the HBO doc “Going Clear” on Scientology, those who left didn’t leave because they had an epiphany that the Xenu story was bs, they left because the Scientologists had abused them in some fashion.

    So perhaps there’s another reason the Second Coming hasn’t occurred yet…………

  • 4 WIW

    This article could be interpreted as another version of the mocking that is prophesied about Christ’s return. (I say “could be” because I don’t want to be disparaging of the author’s intent.) People need to keep in mind a couple of ideas from Scripture. First, time is irrelevant to God, with one day being as a 1,000 years and vice versa. Second, we are living in a time when God’s grace is at work to complete His plan of gathering a host of Believers (His elect). Thanks be to God that He has been patient and that untold numbers of Believers have been able to know the joy of Christ’s calling. This article is really unsatisfactory as a means of sharing the love of God with those who would believe. Just another “hit job” on God’s plan for the ages. Another thought to add to this.

    The author and some of the commentators imply that the human condition within the church has to arrive at some level of holiness or other condition to trigger the return of Christ. This is sort of a post-millennial view. It would make sense that God’s plan is not dependent on the human condition for Him to execute it. For example, He saves us while are yet His enemies. No effort at self-cleaning is needed.

    • Eric Weiss

      Actually it’s a 2 Peter view. 😉

      • 4 WIW

        I’m interested in your thoughts on 2 Peter 3. I read them as supporting my position that Christ will come at a time of the Father’s choosing. While we are all commanded to be ready, I expect that those alive at the moment of His return will be in the same variance of sanctification (from little to much) as at any other time in the history of the human race.

        • Eric Weiss

          My first post in this comment thread (the first comment posted here) has a link to my short essay on 2 Peter.

        • Travis Matthew Finley

          No, ‘we’ are not called to be ready. That admonition was for 1c believers. The return the NT looks for was in the 1c, hence, “come, Lord Jesus!” You and I look forward to our resurrection and there is no indication when that will happen.

          • 4 WIW

            With all due respect, your response is very troubling. It suggests at a minimum, that Believers today can live any way we want, that the part of being ready in living a holy repentant lifestyle doesn’t matter or apply to Believers today. It suggests that the mainstream Christian view for the past 1970+ years about Christ’s bodily return is in error. It suggests that the description of the rapture (catching up in the air) described in 1 Thessalonians 4 is nonsensical because if I’m walking around today and Christ returns its as if I’m already dead. To me Resurrection implies raising from the dead. Thessalonians 4 indicates that the dead in Christ will rise first then those who are alive will be transformed – not resurrected. Sorry, but I just can’t get my mind around where you are at. But I hope to meet you in Heaven and we can compare notes on how far off the truth we both were at this stage in our lives. God bless.

          • Travis Matthew Finley

            Your first conclusion is nothing of the kind and does not follow in the least. Preterism has been a valid interpretation from the start and has no bearing on whether or not we have a future hope, except to say the fulfillment in AD 70 is a surety of or future hope.
            Whatever the “catching up” meant, it happened already in the 1 c and will not be a part of our experience.

          • 4 WIW

            Dear Travis, I would offer this reply as graciously as I can. Views on eschatology are all incomplete in one fashion or another. What is important is that we live our lives fulfilling the admonitions of Scripture while we await the end of time. For those who have already passed into the next life, their work here on earth is done. We who are alive and remain until He comes or is fully revealed or whatever you believe is to happen next in human history are to live as He has ordained. So live as God would have you to live biding the time until you see Him face to face.

          • Travis Matthew Finley

            Is that a deflection or what?

  • 4 WIW

    Dear Dr. Enns. Perhaps I have misjudged you and if so I’m sorry. I reviewed your CV and noted your time spent at Westminster. Given that, perhaps your essay on the delay of Jesus’ return is more of a tongue-in-cheek prodding for Christians to “straighten up and fly right.” But if so I would counter your argument with the idea that even in their pre-apostolic state Jesus declared his immediate 11 disciples to have brought Him glory (John 17:10.) This is an incredible statement by the King of Kings. It was not long before He uttered this prayer aloud that these men were arguing who would be the greatest in the kingdom to come. Two of them had wanted to call down fire on an unrepentant village and so on. This gets to my previous comment. Christ is not waiting for His visible church to get ready for His return, He is waiting for His Father’s Word. Nothing more, nothing less is causing the passage of time until His return.

    • Eric Weiss

      Well, according to some here, he already returned in 70 AD. How do you counter their assertion?

      • 4 WIW

        I certainly don’t know all the ins and out of Pretorism. I have heard Full Pretorists referred to as heretics. It is my understanding that R. C. Sproul is a Partial Pretorist, someone I hold in high esteem as a Reformed scholar. After an exhaustive review of the 5 major views of eschatology some 10+ years ago, my own view changed from a Dispensational Pre-Trib Rapture view to a historical (classical) Millennial view. The study of eschatology is fun, but can also be very divisive. I choose not to look down upon any Believer for the “end times” view they hold. Some day we will all get to understand the details of God’s plan as we experience them, whether from the grave or being transformed in the twinkling of an eye.

        • Eric Weiss

          The author of this book appeared to be a typical pre-mil pre-trib rapture dispensationalist, from reading the Introduction (he deliberately did not state his views). But writing this book and/or subsequent studies turned him to Preterism (per a conversation I heard with him on Hank Hanegraaff’s show, who is himself a Preterist).

  • Norman

    Contrary to Andrew my esteemed contrarian, the parousia doesn’t depend upon what modern’s and Helenized Christians think Christ meant when he said that He would come in some of their lifetimes. It depends upon how we read and understood Jewish concepts of Christ coming as His Father did in the OT. This is likely the biggest mistake the church has made historically in thinking that Christ didn’t come in Judgement in AD70 on Clouds. Just like his father did in the OT all the time which demonstrated He was enabled as God and in control. Lots to unpack here but the ANE mindset of Judaism attributed events like the 2nd T destruction to the providence of God and in this case to Christ until he put all his enemies under his feet. The mistake we make IMO is to think we are supposed to take a kingdom that Christ clearly stated could not be seen and try to attribute literalness to symbolic and topological langue. We like to point out the failure of others in over literalizing the implications of the scriptures but we do the same thing ourselves on certain subjects and think nothing of it. Frustrating

    • Andrew Dowling

      “This is likely the biggest mistake the church has made historically in
      thinking that Christ didn’t come in Judgement in AD70 on Clouds.”

      So Jesus coming in on the clouds is really a metaphor for Emperor Vespasian and the angels are the Roman legions? That is rather bizarre. This is the brutal regime that killed Jesus!

      • Norman

        Andrew, I’m not making a value judgement on ANE thinking, I’m simply presenting how and what they believed. Look at Rev 17: where the same mindset is in play.
        “for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.”
        It was the same mindset in the OT in which judgement upon Egypt by the Assyrian army is described in similar vein, as under Gods providence. People today still reflect that ancient understanding concerning Gods providential hand of guidance. If we are going to study the ancients we have to come to grips with their worldview.
        I actually follow your thinking to a large extent.i believe we follow Christ and our higher conscience ultimately. But that makes evangelicals nervous, doesn’t it. 🙂

        • newenglandsun

          “I’m not making a value judgement on ANE thinking, I’m simply presenting how and what they believed”
          You know how and what they believed because you went into a time machine and talked with these guys?

          • Norman

            No, I actually quoted a section from Revelation that is straight from an ancient viewpoint that illustrated exactly the point I was making. I could quote many OT illustrations as well that illustrate that the ancient Jews attributed to God what they considered judgement actions no matter who God used to bring about His purpose. There is really nothing deep theologically going on here that would surprise most biblical scholars.

          • newenglandsun

            Other than that we can only do guesswork on what ancient Jews meant by their statements.

      • newenglandsun

        That’s not exactly what Norman said…he said “This is likely the biggest mistake the church has made historically in thinking that Christ didn’t come in Judgement in AD70 on Clouds.” There was no mention of Emperor Vespasian being the “coming on the clouds” or “the Roman legions” being the angels. I have exhausted myself to the point of uselessness with Revelation interpretations. The beast is the Roman Empire according to most preterists. Again, I no longer waste time debating this frivolous material and if people want to, let them be.

        • 4 WIW

          Interestingly enough another city that sits on 7 hills is Istanbul, aka Constantinople. The largest church in the world at the time was located in that city. When Constantinople fell to the Muslims they took over the church and made it a mosque. So if one were to ask themselves today which is more likely to be the Satan-lead entity that attacks true Christians, do you think most people would say it is the Roman Catholic Church or some version of the Holy Roman Empire or would they say Islam? As a conservative Presbyterian I’m frankly tired of the Catholic-bashing that goes on. Our real enemy is Islam – end of story.

          • Here is a list of all the cities that are built on seven hills:


            The question is what city would have been appropriate to John to symbolize in this way? Probably not Tallahassee, Florida, for instance. In John’s vision, the beast with seven head/hills is an entity that demands obedience from the known world, and the woman who rides him is an entity who has martyred the saints. What would that have been to John? I doubt it was Constantinople.

            I also don’t know who told you that Constantinople was the largest Christian presence in the late first century, but that is not the case.

            The idea that our “real enemy” is Islam is ludicrous. Islam didn’t even exist when John wrote Revelation.

          • 4 WIW

            Ouch! Neither did the Roman Catholic Church and this would be true whether you consider the Revelation of John to have been written before or after 70 AD. With regard to Constantinople I wasn’t referring Christian presence, but to a building built by Christians and taken over by Muslims. My only point about the possibility of Islam being the great harlot is that there are numerous possibilities including a resurgent Holy Roman Empire that could be in view in the prophecy. I just think we should keep an open mind.

          • newenglandsun
        • Andrew Dowling

          He’s not talking about Revelation, he’s talking about the Olivet Discourse being fulfilled by the destruction of Jerusalem in the Jewish-Roman war of AD 70, Which was committed by the Roman legions under Vespasian. So if Jesus was speaking all in metaphor about the wrath to come, then under this theory yes, Vespasian and the legions represent the Son of Man and his angles sweeping down and mounting destruction. That is what Norman is saying.

          • Norman

            Some Preterist consider Revelation in essence to be Johns Olivet Discourse. The mistake IMO is that the Gentile church lost continuity with Jewish metaphors and read apocalyptic too literally and came up with ideas like the Rapture and forms of dispensationalism. Andrew and I disagree on when Revelation was written and about whom was under Judgment. I believe that Revelation reflects Ezekiel, Daniel and OT judgment prophetic venues in which the Harlot is most often depicted as corrupt Jerusalem. This matches Rev 17 in which Jerusalem was considered to be prostituted to the nations such as Rome in this instance and was riding the “Beast” represented by Rome. Rome as the Beast turns on her and destroys her and as in the OT Rome is classified as being used as an instrument of Judgment to bring about what the author of Revelation considered a prostituted form of Judaism that under the Herods and the corrupt selling of the Priesthood to the Political order brought judgment upon herself. This doesn’t let Rome off the hook because it will also fall under Judgment itself after having served its purpose of being God’s instrument to fulfil prophecy. This follows the OT and especially Ezekiels pattern of first judgment upon corrupt Israel and then judgment upon the Nations which ushers in the time of messianic consummation. Another indication is that there are two Beast listed. The Beast from the Sea (Rome) and the Beast from the Land (corrupt Jewish rulers). There are two ongoing stories going on in parallel in Revelation.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Norman, this preterist position wasn’t not just supported by the Gentile church, it wasn’t supported by the Jews either (obviously). You are affirming a position that essentially no-one in antiquity had, but then saying-centuries in retrospect; removed from the time and culture-you can discern Jewish prophetic literature better than either the Gentile church or Jewish community did.

            Does that strike you as maybe just a “little” potentially flawed??

          • Norman

            Andrew, I believe your premise is mistaken. Preterism is simply a study of biblical hermeneutics that attempts to understand the earliest theology of the church as it originated. Part of that understanding is recognition of the patterns of change that has consistently and rapidly occurred in Christianity since its inception. I’m not necessarily interested in the later churches accrued beliefs but the original in order to see whether our focus is grounded in what was actually taught and believed. That’s what theologians do; they attempt to reconstruct patterns from the limited writings that we have available from the time of inception. Theologians are essentially anthropologist if you haven’t noticed what those like Enns, Walton, ect are attempting to do. Part of that anthropology is an attempt to determine what motivated and what drove these first Jewish Christians; not what their latter adherents quickly morphed into. That’s a whole different investigation.

            I will say that part of messianic prophecy was about redemption from sins but that wasn’t all that was expected. The OT and 2nd T literature constantly references that with redemption will come judgment accompanying it as a package. Christ inaugurated the redemption but the Apostles and Paul knew that Judgment went hand in hand with what was inaugurated. That is why almost all the NT literature is referencing that Judgment was coming soon because it was part of the expected pattern of a messianic coming and was needed to infer fulfilment to completely validate Christ as Messiah (that would be the Parousia just as similar events were for God’s Parousia in the OT). They knew that Judgment upon their view of apostate and corrupt Judaism which represented Adam in the Flesh required that a New Temple (in the heart of flesh) be established. Now you may think they wrote these projections after AD70 and if that is the case then it still validates their understanding that the Temple and Corrupt Judasim had to go in order for the new world order of Christ Kingdom to be validated. So either dating premise can work for this recognition.

            Hebrews 8:13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

            Hebrews 9:8 the Holy Spirit this signifying, that the way into the holy place hath not yet been made manifest, while the first tabernacle is yet standing;

            Israel after the flesh had to be fully replaced with Israel after the spirit/promise. I would recommend a study of OT patterns of messianic fulfilment explored from the perspective of the Christian view point such as Richard Middleton’s latest book “A New Heaven and a New Earth” Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology to grasp some of these OT to NT fulfilment issues. We won’t agree on everything but Middleton does a very good job of laying out some of these concepts.

            Also keep in mind Andrew that if one ignores the Book of Enoch and Jubilees one is akin to tying ones arm behind your back in biblical exploration. The Jews who rejected Christ are the ones who quit using those two previously well-established Jewish pieces and the early church fought them over this until 300 AD when the corporate church acquiesced and started using the Jewish cannon instead of the first century Christian pieces that had been heavily invested in for their NT template. It’s hard to understand some of this language and templates mean when your tools are taken away from you.

            Andrew contrary to popular belief the template of the NT had already been established at least a century or two before Christ in the ever popular book of Enoch. In the section called the 10 weeks we have a history of the First Heaven and Earth that will be passing away to be replaced with a New one just as Revelation 21 puts forth. Within The section of the Animal Apocalypse (Dream Vision) of Enoch we also have a recapitulation and outline there as well. Now these may have been originally written from the perspective of the Maccabean period but they were carried forth into the period of Christ and were used as the Template of confirming Messianic fulfilment.

            There is a problem with the later church wanting to keep the Judgment out in front (a futurist fulfilment of thousands of years) instead of being fulfilled as Christ and the first followers expected it to be within a generation or lifetime because it discredits Christ and the first Christians establishment as this article by Pete Enns here indicates. So your saying that the church historically has not believed what I’m proposing is simply not recognizing what these first followers believed about Messianic fulfilment. We have been so tainted by the later day church beliefs that it’s nigh to impossible to revisit the original story without bringing untold baggage with us that we first have to unload.

            Take a look at this section of Enoch and notice the patterns and the comparison with Rev 20 and 21.

            Enoch 94:10. And at its close shall be elected The elect righteous of the eternal plant of righteousness, To receive sevenfold instruction concerning all His creation … (arrival of messiah) 14a. And after that, in the ninth week, the righteous judgement shall be revealed to the whole world, And all the works of the godless shall vanish from all the earth, And the world shall be written down for destruction.(covenantal removal not physical) And after this, in the tenth week in the seventh part, There shall be the great eternal judgement, In which He will execute vengeance amongst the angels. And the first heaven shall depart and pass away, And a new heaven shall appear, And all the powers of the heavens shall give sevenfold light. And after that there will be many weeks without number for ever,(for eternity which is similar to Rev saying that there would be no more night) And all shall be in goodness and righteousness, And sin shall no more be mentioned for ever.

            Sin on Earth is eradicated forever/eternally for the faithful is the bottom line.

          • newenglandsun

            Olivet discourse still has complications…I know futurists who would probably use this as further proof of the Assumption–since Jesus hasn’t returned yet, this must mean that Mary is included in “this generation”. I guess it’s not technically impossible that wasn’t meant. I just go with what the Church says–Jesus’s second return bodily is still in the coming…MAYBE he came in judgment in A.D. 70 to fulfill the Olivet discourse completely but we still await his second return.

    • newenglandsun

      That describes the entire church’s experience with the Book of Revelation throughout the years…no wonder it was the most difficult to accept as canonical. Also, no wonder my Vicar General told me when he was trying to give me a Bible-reading plan to skip all the genealogies and the book of Revelation.

      • Norman

        You might be surprised that Revelation doesn’t seem that difficult to understand when you become familiar with the Jewish literary symbols. Some people study this stuff and like any area of examination makes sense when you gain some expertise. It’s hard to explain to those that don’t invest themselves though.

        • newenglandsun

          I invested myself much time in the book of Revelation to a point of uselessness reading commentaries and what-not. I then realized that having an individual interpretation picked out was not Gospel and gave up.

          • Norman

            There is a certain amount of reality that you are reflecting. That is biblical theology as a whole can become a sink hole which swallows you. That can interfere with ones walking in Christ which is the end point of the gospel. I don’t think some forms of theological pursuit are healthy for everyone.

          • newenglandsun

            well said, Norman

      • Eric Weiss

        If you want some fun with Revelation, read Austin Farrer’s books. From Wikipedia:

        1964: The Revelation of St. John the Divine: commentary on the English text. Oxford: Oxford University Press [Farrer’s second commentary on Revelation, a rewriting of his earlier 1949: A Rebirth of Images]

        Apart from his biblical scholarship, which was considered maverick, Farrer’s work was mainly philosophical, though again he was out of the mainstream. He was not influenced by the empiricism of such contemporaries as John Wisdom, Gilbert Ryle and A.J. Ayer. The ‘Metaphysicals’, as his small group of fellow thinkers were called, were of an entirely different temper. His thinking was essentially Thomist. One of his closer friends was the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis who dedicated his book Reflections on the Psalms to him. Farrer took the last sacraments to Lewis before his death. Others included J.R.R. Tolkien and Dorothy Sayers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Farrer has been more studied and more admired since his death in the United States than in his own country.

        • newenglandsun

          No thanks…I’m done trying to make out what the book says.

  • Nancy Staab

    What has to happen before Christ’s return? Absolutely nothing. But in the meantime, should we not be using the time we have to make sure we understand and obey His Word and reach as many lost people as possible (apparently some on this post) instead of trying to give God advice?

    • Eric Weiss

      I would say that some of us are more confused than lost – because our close and careful and long-time reading and study of the Bible has revealed inconsistencies between what the Bible says and what we have been taught or thought we knew about many things, and not simply re: Christ’s return (assuming he is going to have a future return). I don’t see anyone here giving or trying to give God advice, but I do see some here giving advice to others.

  • newenglandsun

    My opinion: We should ignore Revelation–it’s not Gospel and only the author clearly understood what it meant…well, I suppose a more idealist view could fit it in as Gospel.

  • 4 WIW

    One final thought. Folks can present arguments for the timing and circumstances of Christ’s return “till the cows come home,” but one thing is clear God has proclaimed through His Son and through the writing of the apostles how we are to live with one another. He has told us how to be in the world, but not of the world. Regardless whether one believes Christ has returned or is yet to return in the 2nd advent, we have our orders. So let’s get on with it.

  • Daniel Merriman

    Interesting discussion. It seems that some version or other of Preterism seems to be more prevalent than I would have thought. I came of age back in the 1960’s and early 70’s more or less surrounded by Scofield Bible toting premillennial dispensationalists. But the most influential teachers in our Church were strong amillenialists, and that has stayed with me over the years. I suppose Preterism, which I didn’t encounter until about a decade ago, might solve some of the issues Pete alludes to, but I think amillenialism does a better job since it doesn’t rely on a historically contested version of what happened in AD 70, but rather a scriptural interpretation of what happened at Pentecost. (Saying the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple with the accompanying massacre of innocents and enslavement of the survivors by the pagan Roman Empire was part of Jesus’ plan for the world would seem to me to be at least as problematic as the Canaanite massacres.) That Jesus’ Kingdom didn’t meet Jewish expectations is more or less obvious from the New Testament, isn’t it, and the fact that the later Constantinian Church tied itself in knots in these debates trying to make itself fit the worldly expectations of its Jewish contemporaries –and justify its own worldly power claims–shouldn’t be all that surprising.

  • 4 WIW

    I have re-read the article and would like to respond once more. This time to the question that is raised: “Why does God allow the corrupt Christian state to remain in power during after the messianic age has been inaugurated?” Again, I’m not a trained theologian so my responses may appear simplistic. This whole creation is about context. How does God demonstrate His holiness, justice mercy, love and so on to the heavenly beings unless He creates (I hate the term in this context) a “playing field.” Human beings are capable of sin and worthy of damnation, they are also capable of redemption through the blood of Christ. God describes a circumstance where there will eventually be untold numbers of “guests” at the wedding feast of the Lamb. God allows time (irrelevant to Him) but important to the human race to propagate the requisite number of “guests.” (I said this would be simplistic.) His ways are not our ways. In one respect to ask the question presented above, is like asking why didn’t God use marshmallows to demonstrate His glory, mercy, justice and love? Why did God say that the sin of the Amorites was not yet complete (Gen. 15:16)? Certainly the amount of sin they had already accumulated (just because of Adam’s sin alone) would have been sufficient to condemn them to eternal hell. God is patient and He has a plan. Seems unhelpful to question it.

    • peteenns

      DEP, You’re missing the point of the Jewish objection to Jesus being the Messiah (which is one of the two points I made in the post). The messianic age is supposed to bring judgment, restoration and peace.

      • 4 WIW

        OK, help me understand. There is a lot of Scripture to cite which I don’t want to attempt. But here is the picture I see from Scripture. Christ prophesied the destruction of the temple and the dispersion of the Jews (Matt 24 etc.) – call that judgement. It may be that this period of judgement is on-going to this day and includes historical pograms, the Holocaust and the current rise of antisemitism again. I see restoration as beautifully described in the OT and at Romans 11:25-36. The reemergence of a geopolitical Israel may signify the beginnings of this restoration. Peace for the Jews (spiritual and physical) is not achieved until Christ returns to establish His Millennial Kingdom. Other aspects of this time of peace may be described in Zechariah 12:10 and 14:1-11. Now I realize that for those of the Amil or Preterist view the Millennium may not play into this. At that point I would say that we would need to amiably part ways because belief in the Millennium is crucial to the view I’m describing. Suffice it to say I don’t disagree that the Messianic age will bring judgement, restoration and peace to the Jews – we just haven’t gotten to the end of that age yet. One could look to Romans 11:25 and say that the “fullness of the Gentiles has not yet come in.” NKJV

        May I say to any one of Jewish ethnicity who may read my views above, they are not intended to be hurtful in any way. Jews and gentiles together have been trying to understand the mind of God for millennia. My views may seem harsh to the Jewish mind but please believe me when I say that I have great affection for the people of Israel, regardless of where they live.

        • Hi DEP,

          If your view is correct, then on what basis would you expect Jewish people to recognize Jesus as the Messiah -before- the distant future Millennial kingdom when he finally brings peace restoration?

          Aren’t you basically in the position of agreeing with the Jewish objections to Jesus as the Messiah, but your answer is basically, “Just wait, though, he will eventually do all those things you’re expecting at some point in the future?”

          • 4 WIW

            Interesting question. As a Christian it goes without saying that I do not agree with the Jewish scholarly position that Jesus isn’t the Messiah. My views on eschatology include the idea that the event described by Zechariah 12:10 “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.” have not occurred yet. The context of this verse in Zechariah’s prophecy does not fit what occurred on Pentecost and immediately thereafter. I suppose there are those who might believe that Zech. 12:10 has been fulfilled. Sadly most Jewish people would not evidence that it has.

            I cannot say when this will happen but I believe that it fits in with the rest of Zechariah’s prophecy to the end of his writings. I have mentioned elsewhere in my comments that I hold a classical (historical) millennial view. That means that I realize that a lot of prophecy is figurative and a lot is not but should be taken literally. I’m immersed in a denomination that is pastored mostly by amillennialist so I’m used to the conflict of ideas and I’m quite comfortable with where I’m at on this subject.
            Thanks for the question – iron sharpens iron.

          • DEP,

            I understand your position. My question is, if Jesus’ fulfillment of Messianic prophecies hasn’t happened, why would you expect the Jewish people to recognize that he was their Messiah? Or would you expect that? If a Jewish person looks at the OT prophecies and says Jesus did not fulfill them, aren’t you basically saying that’s correct?

            I’m not trying to debate you. I’m just trying to understand how you’re putting this together. If you were speaking to a Jewish person and explaining why you believe Jesus is the Messiah, what would you say?

          • 4 WIW

            Your question deserves a thoughtful answer. I am not a trained pastor so I feel somewhat inadequate to answer such a weighty question. Here is what I would consider. I believe that one comes to God by the power of His call upon their life. Ephesians 1 describes the process by which one comes to be an adopted child of God. If you want to put a label on it, I hold a Calvinistic view of salvation. One comes to God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, I would want to understand whether or not the person of Jewish descent is open to a discussion about Jesus as Messiah. I view the role of the Christian witness as the “rocks that would cry out” as depicted in Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the eve of His crucifixion. By that I mean it is the Holy Spirit that quickens the spirit of the one to be saved, human witnesses can only inform and affirm what it is that the Spirit is doing in the life of the one being called by God. So if I sensed that the Jewish person was truly seeking to know if Jesus was the Messiah, I would begin in the OT with passages such as Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. I would then proceed to the NT and use select portions of the Gospels of Matthew and John to demonstrate that what Jesus experienced during His life fulfilled the OT prophecies. I would try to use the model of the conversation that Jesus Himself used when He spoke to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:27.) However, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit there is no way that anyone can be so convincing as to open the mind and heart of the unsaved person. That is totally the gracious province of God Himself. I have the joy of having a close friend who is a Jewish Christian and during my college days I attended a non-denominational church that was lead by a Jewish Christian. He was a tremendous evangelist. My belief and hope is that there will come a day when Jesus will be revealed as Messiah to all those of Jewish descent in a powerful unveiling as described in Zechariah’s prophecy.

      • 4 WIW

        Dear Dr. Enns, I posted an explanation of my thoughts in response to your comment above. It does not now appear. Did I say something offensive or just hit the wrong button?

        • peteenns

          No, I just moderate and it can take me hours to get to them.

  • First: If Jesus would have been the messiah, there would have been a mass Jewish following.

    Why was this believed? The OT records a number of instances where a true prophet of God was ostracized and largely ignored, where virtually nobody really wanted God. Why would it necessarily be different with the messiah? Are the prophecies of the messiah of sufficient accord that the messiah will be well-followed?

    Second: The messiah of the Jews was to fulfill Old Testament/Jewish Bible prophecies of universal peace, but, as Nachmanides argued, the world was still full of war and injustice, most of it perpetuated by Christians.

    I wonder if Steven Pinker’s observations, both in his TED talk The surprising decline in violence or his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, are relevant. He notes that violence has decreased from millennium to millennium, century to century, and decade to decade. Now I have a severe criticism of this: if you raise each new generation with weaker dreams and aspirations from the last, you can get less violence but only through a kind of cruelty. Nevertheless, that we have less violence seems important to note and account for.

    There is also the switch in kind of ‘charity’, almost certainly caused by Jesus: from the liberalitas model, whereby charity is infrequently given and given to those who are ‘deserving’, to the caritas model, whereby charity is frequently given and not predicated upon how ‘worthy’ the recipient is. This was a radical break with the status quo. How much may have this profoundly impacted history? More scarily, are we drifting from caritas back to liberalitas?

    • 4 WIW

      Good comments. The more I think about this article by Dr. Peter Enns the more that comes to mind from Scripture. Could it not be said that Nachmanides had totally ignored Isaiah chapter 53 as we refer to it? God spoke through Isaiah that the Messiah would be despised by those around Him – now welcomed with open arms. When Peter answered Jesus question: “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter said the Christ, Jesus immediately made it clear that that was because the Heavenly Father so informed Peter. Even though there were other Jewish disciples standing there at the moment – only Peter got it right and then only by Divine inspiration.

    • Andrew Dowling

      The biblical text says universal and comprehensive peace. not “well relative, to thousands of years before, the time of the Messiah will be fairly tranquil”

      As for charity, Jesus’s notions of charity weren’t any different than what was espoused in several OT texts (hence the constant citation of the OT) There is zero evidence that charity in ancient Judaism was predicated by only giving to those that are “worthy.”

      • I wonder, though, how comprehensive the peace is supposed to be. The times other figures in the OT brought peace, it was reasonably relative. I just wonder if the original audience would have understood “universal and comprehensive peace” as meaning a total absence of conflict or if it means a secure victory over the forces that threaten God’s people. As if the expectation were for a second Joshua or second David, but more comprehensive.

        • Andrew Dowling

          It’s as comprehensive as the dreams of the prophets can envision. Since these proclamations are expressing hopes, not seances into the future IMO.

    • berryfriesen

      Repeatedly in the Bible we see “the day of the LORD,” “that day” conceptualized as the triumph/perfection of top-down, Davidic rule. One would think that after Jesus, his followers would abandon that sort of thinking, but it persists, almost as strong as ever.

      So I think you are on to something here, Luke.

      I don’t like your examples, though; a better one would be President Obama’s expressing regret for the deaths of the innocent Americans caused by the attacks he ordered. So many innocent lives are taken by drones; nearly all count for nothing to the empire, yet here the empire’s spokesperson implicitly acknowledges there is a standard by which the empire is measured and found wanting. That standard is Messiah Jesus.

  • There are 138 comments, so I don’t know if this has been mentioned but….preterism doesn’t see a two thousand year delay of anything….at least not some genres of preterism. Preterism says that any literal earthly stuff happened in the immediate first century context, and anything else that looks like it still needs to be fulfilled is just apocalyptic language for another reality off-world.

    • Andrew Dowling

      Look below . . .a healthy debate on preterism has occurred.

  • Eric Weiss

    I think one of Preterism’s biggest problems is I don’t think you find too much support for its claims that a/the second coming happened in 70 A.D. in the writings of the Apostolic and Early Church Fathers, unless I have a missed some things.

    • Norman

      Eric, most of the Apostles were martyred by AD70, the big debate is whether their alleged writings were written after AD70 or before. Part of the post AD70 support says that the Gospels have their AD 70 prophetic account ( olivet discourse) embedded in them to bolster their claim that Christ did predict an OT type of coming in judgment. There is no way to know for certain as there are pros and cons for both arguments. However Church history has not been kind to reading first century 2nd Temple Jewish literature very well. The faction of Judaism that produced Christianity appears to read Jewish literature very much differently than some of the other Jewish groups. Its easy to lose the expertise to read and understand these pieces almost overnight as their hermnutic appears to be allegorical and symbolic and if you don’t master that style you will read scripture like the Sadducee and Pharisees did/do.

    • It depends on how early you’re looking. Preterism starts showing up in the Early Church Fathers around 150 AD in Melito, Justin Martyr, and a document with the witty name of Pseudo-Clement.

      Obviously Eusebius is the most blatantly preteristic, but you’ll find various items of preterism in Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, and Athanasius.

      Perhaps one of the more interesting pieces is Chrysostom’s homily on Matthew 24: “”Was their house left desolate? Did all the vengeance come upon that generation? It is quite plain that it was so, and no man gainsays it.” That seems to imply that, by the fourth century, the idea that the Olivet Discourse was completed in that generation was the dominant view.

      This is also present in his liturgy:

      “Having in remembrance, therefore, this saving commandment and all those things which have come to pass for us: the Cross, the Grave, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the Sitting at the right hand, and the second and glorious Coming…”

      • Andrew Dowling

        Saying the Fall of Jerusalem was divine judgment upon the Jews comes early (heck, it’s in Mark)

        Equating that judgment to the parousia and Christ’s return, however, is absent from any of the Patristics (Chrysostom may be an exception, I’d have to read more, although I’m fairly certain he was not a full preterist). That is preterism in its modern-day form.

        • Well, there are some preterists who see the “Son of Man coming on the clouds” bit fulfilled in the fall of pagan Rome. It’s also difficult to find a unified early church view of the parousia. Origen taught that the parousia happened every day in the minds of believers as they heard the Scriptures.

          However, we do have evidence that some patristics believed the destruction of Jerusalem was Christ’s return.


          CHAP. VIII.– OF JERUSALEM’S DESTRUCTION: “Accordingly the times must be inquired into of the predicted and future nativity of the Christ, and of His passion, and of the extermination of the city of Jerusalem, that is, its devastation. For Daniel says, that “both the Holy City and the Holy Place are exterminated together with the coming Leader, and that the pinnacle is destroyed unto ruin” And so the times of the coming Christ, the Leader, must be inquired into, which we shall trace in Daniel; and, after computing them, shall prove him to have come, even on the ground of the times prescribed, and of competent signs and operations of His. Which matters we prove, again, on the ground of the consequences which were ever announced as to follow his advent; in order that we may believe all to have been as well fulfilled as foreseen.”


          “It is, in fact, a sign and notable proof of the coming of the Word that Jerusalem no longer stands.”


          “When we see what was of old foretold for the nations fulfilled in our own day, and when the lamentation and wailing that was predicted for the Jews, and the burning of the Temple and its utter desolation, can also be seen even now to have occurred according to prediction, surely we must also agree that the King who was prophesied, the Christ of God, has come, since the signs of His coming have been shown in each instance I have treated to have been clearly fulfilled.” Demonstratio Evangelica (Proof of the Gospel); BOOK VIII

          Hegesippus (this is his account of the trial of James the Just right before Vespasian attacked Jerusalem):

          The aforesaid scribes and Pharisees accordingly set James on the summit of the temple, and cried aloud to him, and said: “O just one, whom we are all bound to obey, forasmuch as the people is in error, and follows Jesus the crucified, do thou tell us what is the door of Jesus, the crucified.” And he answered with a loud voice: “Why ask ye me concerning Jesus the Son of man? He Himself sitteth in heaven, at the right hand of the Great Power, and is about to come on the clouds of heaven.”

          • Andrew Dowling

            Again, they viewed the Fall of Jerusalem as divine judgement and Jesus’s “returning” so that the “this generation” passages could be resolved, but it was not equated to THE parousia that Paul preached. The Nicene and Apostle’s creeds look forward to Christ’s return and the resurrection of the dead; that always was a central tenet of the orthodox Christian faith.

          • Yes, as a final judgement event, but I’d guess most preterists except the most rabid would see it that way. The irony, however, is there is even MORE early church evidence for Jesus already fulfilling the general resurrection of the dead than there is for equating the fall of Jerusalem with his return.

            I personally don’t see it that way, but these things are not completely absent from the patristics. My basic take on the early church fathers is, if you can find -no- support for your view from any of them, you are just too weird for orthodoxy. I’m looking at you, Mr. Irenaeus We-Have-Four-Gospels-Because-Our-Faces-Have-Four-Planes.

  • Without Malice

    A thousand years from now the few remaining Jews will still be waiting for their messiah and the few remaining Christians will still be waiting for theirs to come again. Biblically speaking the coming of the messiah was supposed to be a one time event, not a two part play with a multi-thousand year intermission in which his followers would shed the blood of millions of fellow Christians over arcane and idiot theological disputes as well as set forth an agenda of rabid anti-Semitism that would result in the most awful crime in the history of the world: the Holocaust.


    A: Have you heard the latest?

    B: No, what’s happened?

    A: The world has been redeemed!

    B: You don’t say!

    A: Yes, the Dear Lord took on human form and had himself executed in Jerusalem; and with that the world has been redeemed and the devil hoodwinked.

    B: Gosh, that’s simply lovely.


  • Christianity did not turn the world’s values completely upside down. There have been people who cared for their sick in other lands and cultures, just as there have been dictators in Christian lands. In reality the idea of “God on the cross” changed the world little because basic human needs, insecurities, ignorance and cruelty remained (we are after all, primates who follow alpha male leaders), including the egos of “Christians” which were now super-sized by being joined to the alpha male of alpha males (God).

    The Christian lambs who worshiped the Lamb of God on the cross soon became lions, killing more fellow lovers of Jesus and persecuting more different people for different reasons than the Romans ever did to the Christians. Christianity also helped fill the western world with the notions of demonic causation/demonization of enemies and thought control, i.e., Christianized Roman emperors decreed in their law books that anyone who doubted the truth of the Trinity was “insane, demented,” and were subject to the Emperor’s wrath, including Imperial decrees that the books of skeptics like Porphyry and heretics like Arius be burnt. Henceforth anyone daring to question the new Christian status quo was persecuted.


    Augustine of Hippo set forth the principle of Cognite Intrare (“Compel them to enter,” based on Luke 14:23). Cognite Intrare would be used throughout the Middle Ages to justify the Church’s suppression of dissent and oppression of difference.

    Christian persecution of pagans–exceeded the pagan persecution of early Christians

    Christian persecution of fellow Christians–exceeded the pagan persecution of early Christians

    Reformation Christian persecution of fellow Christians–exceeded the pagan persecution of early Christians

    Christian persecution of American Indians–exceeded the pagan persecution of early Christians

    Decrees of Christian Emperors against non-Trinitarians [at bottom of this piece]

    Protestant and Catholic defenses of the necessity of persecuting heretics, blasphemers, infidels, etc.

    The Uniqueness of the Christian Experience [a response to that claim]

    Things Christians have been against


    Peter Brown in his new book, The Ransom of the Soul: Afterlife and Wealth in Early Western Christianity, shows how and why Christian churches grew fat with wealth starting in the third century and for several centuries afterwards. Christian Emperors took from the pagans to give to the Christians, even paying for people to convert and be baptized. Not only Emperors, but wealthy Christians (in an effort to protect their own souls and the souls of their loved ones in the afterlife) secured privileged burial sites and made lavish donations to churches. By the seventh century, Europe was dotted with richly endowed monasteries and funerary chapels displaying in marble splendor the Christian devotion of the wealthy dead. In response to the growing influence of money, Church doctrine concerning the afterlife evolved from speculation to firm reality, and personal wealth was lavished upon the church in the pursuit of redemption.

    Constantine set up great basilica churches (true “royal halls,” as the name basilica, from basileus, “king,” implies) in Rome–Saint Peter’s and San Giovanni in Laterano. At Antioch he built a large, golden-domed octagon opposite the newly-built imperial palace. Above all, he built the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem. These churches were sermons in stone. They spoke far more loudly and more continuously of the providential alliance of Church and empire than did any imperial edict or the theorizing of any bishop. They left visitors amazed:

    “The decorations really are too marvelous for words [wrote Egeria, a Spanish pilgrim, on Constantine’s church of the Holy Sepulcher.] All you can see is gold and jewels and silk. …You simply cannot imagine the number and the sheer weight of the candles, tapers, lamps and everything else they use for the services. …They are beyond description, and so is the magnificent building itself. It was built by Constantine and… was decorated with gold, mosaic and precious marble, as much as his empire could provide.”

    Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom, 2nd Ed., (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), p.77

    Constantine’s allegiance to his God was backed by massive patronage. Emperors had always honored their favored gods with benefactions and buildings. Constantine’s patronage was so lavish that he had to strip resources from pagan temples to fund it. One of his early foundations in Rome was the church of St. John Lateran, whose apse was to be coated in gold. Around 500 pounds of it was needed. …Another 3,700 lbs was required for light fittings and another 400 pounds of gold for fifty gold vessels.

    Charles Freeman, “The Emperor’s State of Grace,” History Today, January 2001

    Constantine… banned the construction of new pagan temples, the consulting of oracles, and animal sacrifices. That these decrees were enforced sporadically did not detract from their symbolic value…

    [During the reign of Christian Emperor Theodosius] bands of wandering monks attacked synagogues, pagan temples, heretics’ meeting places, and the homes of wealthy non-believers in Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, and North Africa. The bishop of Alexandria incited local vigilantes to destroy the Temple of Serapis [also known as the Serapeum], one of the largest and most beautiful buildings in the ancient world that also housed a library donated by Cleopatra. Alexandrian Christians whipped up by Bishop Cyril rioted against the Jews in 415, and then murdered Hypatia, a wise and beloved Platonic philosopher.

    Richard E. Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christ’s Divinity in the Last Days of Rome, p.226-227

  • Ron Wright

    Lame Eschatology makes for a lame article such as this. If the Parousia / Second coming did not occur within the generation Jesus said it would then toss out anything He and any Apostle of His ever said. The Jewish Heaven and Earth (worship under Moses) was done away with the Temple practices in AD70, period. The New and everlasting worship (Heaven and Earth of the Spirit and Truth) has been here since AD70. Stop looking for a something you see with your eyes Peter.