“Jesus Is Coming Soon” – Only After 2,000 Years?

Karl-Heinz Vanheiden

“But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”

Do Matthew 10:23, 24:34, Mark 9:1, 1 Thessalonians 4:17, 1 Corinthians 15:51, 1 John 2:18 and Hebrews 10:37 show that our Lord Jesus and the apostles prophesied the second coming for their time, and were therefore mistaken?

Matthew 10:23 says, “But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.”

This verse is very controversial among interpreters. Liberal theologians here and elsewhere like to claim that Jesus was wrong whenever He spoke about His imminent return. But Jesus is not speaking here of His imminent coming, but of the completion of the mission everywhere, because His return brings the mission to Israel to an end.

The context of our text points to the missionary assignment of the disciples and the resulting difficulties they will have; namely persecution, as verses 14-22 state. But they should not be intimidated by that. Initially, the mandate of the Twelve was limited to Israel (verses 5-6). But verse 18 makes it clear that their mission went far beyond the borders of Israel. Because of the persecution that had already erupted in the thirties (Acts 8:1), and the second wave of persecution (Acts 12:1), which resulted in the death of James, son of Zebedee, and forced Peter to leave the city, the apostles did not come to an end with the cities of Israel. And we still haven’t. The later chapters of Acts describe how Paul exactly applied the principles described and fled from one city to another, spreading the gospel more and more.

When we refer to Matthew 23:38-39, we realize that the Lord’s thoughts went far beyond the destruction of Jerusalem. He says that a time will come when the Jews of Jerusalem will gladly receive Him. Apparently, this is the time of which Paul speaks in Romans 11:25-26.

“So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matt 24:33-34).

The word “generation” means either people who were born in the same time (contemporaries), or who are linked by common ancestry (clan, tribe, people). Here, evidently the latter is meant, for “all these things” (v. 34) refers back to the contents of the chapter, from verses 4 to 29. Also, verses 48 to 51 refer to a longer time span until the coming of the Lord, as do Matthew 25:5, 14, and 19. So, the generation then living cannot be what was meant, but rather the Jewish people, which will exist until the coming of the Lord.

“And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power” (Mark 9:1).

Five different interpretations have been suggested for what Jesus meant by this statement: a) the Transfiguration that is subsequently reported; b) the resurrection and ascension of the Lord; c) the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the subsequent spread of Christianity; d) the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70; and finally, e) the second coming of the Lord.

The most probable is the first interpretation, for some of those present (namely, three disciples, v. 2) would experience this mighty event even before their deaths. Also, the precise day given in verse 2 speaks for this interpretation. Peter later describes that all three had seen the power and glorious greatness of the Lord (2 Peter 1:16-18), and were therefore sure that Jesus would return in glory. The three disciples thus truly perceived the future existence of their Lord as glorious judge and eternal king, albeit temporarily (Mark 9:2-9).

“Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:17).

Paul thought it possible that he might still be alive at the Lord’s return. But, if one compares the statements in 1 Corinthians 6:14, 2 Corinthians 4:14, 5:1, Philippians 1:20, and 2 Timothy 4:6-8, with the phrase, “we which are alive” in 1 Thessalonians 4:15, it quickly becomes clear that Paul expected both the coming of the Lord during his lifetime, and his death before this event.

“Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed” (1 Cor 15:51).

Again, some theologians claim, with reference to this passage, that Paul calculated that among his contemporaries, there were people who would not die. This means he had the certainty that the end of the world would come in the next 20 or 30 years. But, when Paul writes the reverse in the same letter: “And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power” (1 Cor 6:14), then it is hard to conclude that he thought all the Corinthian Christians would already be gone with the return of the Lord.

In 1 Corinthians 15:51, therefore, Paul only points out that God will bring human history to an end sooner or later. In any case, some who confess Jesus will still be alive.

“Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time” (1 John 2:18).

John wrote this letter in his old age, about 20 years after the destruction of Jerusalem. So, it was around the year 90 AD. The churches, however, were by no means characterized by a failure of immediate expectation, but waited eagerly and joyfully for the coming of the Lord. The appearance of antichristian figures shows that the last hour of the end times has already begun. Nevertheless, they are only forerunners of the actual Antichrist (see also 2 Thess 2:3-4). The history of the church has featured many such predecessors: Nero, popes, Napoleon, Stalin, Hitler, and others.

“For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:37-38).

Hebrew Christians were obviously worried about the delay of the Second Coming of the Lord. But, they could comfort themselves with the assurance that it would not take much longer. Hebrews uses words of God from the Greek translation of the Old Testament here, namely from Isaiah 62:12 and Habakkuk 2:3-4. Christians should wait patiently, because the coming of the Lord is imminent. James 5:8 and 2 Peter 3:9 also testify to this.

Not one of the given verses clearly testifies that the listeners or addressees of the time would still be alive when Jesus Christ returns. On the contrary, there are some statements from Jesus and the apostles that make it clear that the return of the Lord will be delayed.

Jesus Himself has indicated in some of the parables in His end-times discourse, that His coming would be delayed, but that those who believe in Him should always be prepared for it.

Matthew 24:48, “But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming…”

Matthew 25:5, “While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.”

Matthew 25:19, “After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.”

In addition, there are all the events that precede the return of our Lord in power and glory and in 70 AD were far from fulfilled:

– The proclamation of the gospel to all nations (Mark 13:10).

– The Great Tribulation, which will be dreadful, surpassing everything that has ever happened since God created the world. Even afterward, there will never again be such distress (Mark 13:19-20).

– The forces of the sky becoming unbalanced (Luke 21:25ff.).

–The coming of the so-called Antichrist, the man of lawlessness (1 John 2:18; 2 Thess 2:1-10).

– The salvation of Israel as a whole and in full (Rom 11:12, 25-26).

Also, the Great Commission at the end of the Gospel of Matthew doesn’t at all give the impression that it could have been fulfilled by 70 AD:

“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt 28:18-20).

The statements in these passages are so clear, that is difficult to understand the “soon” in the statements of our Lord.

The Lord is coming soon (Phil 4:5; 1 Pet 4:7; Rev 1:3; 3:11; 22:7, 20).

Peter gives a clear answer in his second letter. In his day there were scoffers who said, “Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation” (3:3-4). Peter says this is a tremendous deception, because God’s times are completely different from ours:

“But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:8-9).

Because God is gracious, He enables countless people to turn back to Him. He does not delay His commitment in any way. And, He has precisely determined the time. We can by no means know this (Matt 24:44, 25:13; Mark 13:32-33), and certainly cannot say that He has already come (Heb 4:1, 2 Thess 2:2). In any case, it will be as Peter says: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night” (2 Pet 3:10).

Similar things are told to us very frequently, for example in Matthew 24:42-44, 50, 25:13, Mark 13:33-37, Luke 12:40, 1 Thessalonians 5:2, et al.

Yes, Jesus can come anytime, and He will come suddenly and unexpectedly. The signs that occur before His return are not given to us so that we can calculate the time of His coming. They are also not there for us to read that He is far from coming, because some signs have always existed. No, the signs are given to us to intensify our expectation, because Jesus, our Lord, said:

“And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:28).

(First appeared in Bibel und Gemeinde 3/2016; bibelbund.de; reprinted with kind permission.)

Midnight Call - 11/2018

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