by Edward T. Babinski
Many evangelical Christians tremble with excitement at the thought that they are the “last generation” and “Jesus is due to return soon.” Others are less excitable and propose that Jesusʼ “return” might still be far off. Neither view appears to be correct judging by the plain words of the New Testament - words that armies of theologians have spent centuries trying to divide up and “conquer,” or in this case, “explain away.” Letʼs examine some of those words to discover exactly what it is about them that requires mountains of ingenious explanations from Dispensationalists, Preterists, and other varieties of evangelical Christian apologists. Naturally, each has its “explanations,” mountains of them, so unfortunately this paper can only provide a peek at the critical verses themselves, the verses that need “explaining” in order to fit them into this or that apologetic scheme and make the Bible “true” in all things. We shall begin with a peek at verses in the final book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, and then proceed backward in time to letters from the Apostles, and save for last the words allegedly spoken by Jesus.
The book of Revelation , the final book in the New Testament, begins:
The revelation…which God gave to show…the things which must [dei]  shortly take place. [1:1]
The author addressed his letter to several churches in Asia Minor, circa 65-95 A.D., and continued:
He [Jesus] is coming with the clouds, and every eye shall see him, even those who pierced him…Repent therefore; or else I am coming to you [the church at Pergamum] quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of my mouth…[To the church at Thyatira] hold fast until I [Jesus] come…Because you [the church at Philadelphia] have kept the word of my perseverance, I will keep you from the hour of testing which is about to come [mello]  upon the whole world…I am coming quickly…hold fast what you [Philadelphia] have. [1:7; 2:16; 2:25; 3:10-11]
And in the last chapter of Revelation the author repeated:
…God…sent His angel to show…the things which must shortly take place…I am coming quickly…do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near…I am coming quickly, and my reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done…Yes, I am coming quickly…Come Lord Jesus. [22:6,7,10,12,20]
Compare the Old Testament book of Daniel, whose author was commanded to “seal up the book until the end of time”:
…Conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time……These words are concealed and sealed up until the end of time. [12:4,9]
Daniel was composed from the alleged point of view of a Jew living in ancient Persia who had visions of “the end of time,” or, “the end of the age,” when all men would “rise again” and be judged [12:2,13]. “Seal up the book,” he was commanded, until the day of final judgment. But the author of Revelation was told, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book,” adding that what is revealed therein “must shortly take place.” The intent of the author of Revelation in alluding to the “non-sealing” of his book is obvious. The author of Revelation believed that he was living at the “end of time” which Daniel predicted, and that Jesus “must shortly” “come” and judge the world “quickly.” (The fact that the book of Daniel first came to light - or shall we say was “unsealed” - relatively soon before Jesusʼ own day, is further evidence that people expected the world to be judged then.) Let us move on to the New Testament letters of the Apostles, beginning with a particularly obvious failed prediction in the letter of James:
Come now, you rich [those living at the time this letter was written], weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you…It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure…Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand……Behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. [5:1,3,7-9]
The author of James sought to address the impatience of some at the delay of Jesusʼ return. He reassured them that the “the coming of the Lord is at hand,” “the Judge is standing right at the door.” And consider these passages from the letter to the Hebrews:
…In these last days……He [Jesus] would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. …As you [the first century Christians being addressed] see the day drawing near……For yet a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. [1:2; 9:26; 10:25,37]
Notice the statement, above, that “…He [Jesus] would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” “At the consummation” can also be translated, “at the end of the age.” And Jesus, according to the gospel of Matthew, informed his listeners exactly what “the end of the age” referred to:
…The harvest is the end of the age…at the end of the age…the Son of Man will send forth his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. [Matthew 13:40-41 - based on the description of “the end of the age” found in Daniel 12]
Did the apostle Paul make equally blatant predictions of Jesusʼ imminent return? Let us look at what he wrote to the believers at Corinth:
…The rulers of this age…are passing away [“will not last much longer” - Todayʼs English Version]…Do not go on passing judgment before the time [i.e., “before the time” of final judgment which he predicted was near at hand], but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of menʼs hearts…"…The time has been shortened so that from now on both those who have wives should be as though they had none [i.e., Paul preached that the time was so “short” that married Christian couples “from now on” ought to abstain from having sex!  ]; and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it [i.e., there was no time for marriage or buying or selling - only in a state of holy celibacy could the Elect remain pure while awaiting the soon return of Christ]; for the form of this world is passing away [“This world, as it is now, will not last much longer” - Todayʼs English Version]……These things were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come…Proclaim the Lordʼs death until he comes [i.e., Paul did not say, “Proclaim the Lordʼs death until the day you die,” but rather, “until he comes,” which means that he considered Christʼs coming to be nearer than the time when the believers he was writing to would all be dead]. We [Paul and the first century believers being addressed] shall not all sleep……At the last trumpet…the dead will be raised…and we shall be changed. Maranatha [=“Come Lord”] [1 Cor 2:6; 4:5; 7:29-31; 10:11; 11:26; 15:51-52; 16:22]
Or consider what Paul wrote to the believers at Thessalonica:
…How you turned to God from idols…to wait for His Son from heaven [Compare 1 Cor 1:7, “…awaiting eagerly the revelation (revealing) of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and, Heb 9:28, “Christ…shall appear a second time…to those who eagerly await Him.” These instructions to “eagerly wait” for Christʼs return reveal how imminent the second coming of Jesus was believed to be.]…For who is our…crown…Is it not even you [the first century Christians being addressed], in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming?…May establish your hearts…before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we [Paul and the first century Christians being addressed] who are alive and remain [notice how Paul included himself as one who will still be alive] until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep…the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air……May your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. [1 Thes 1:9,10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:15-17; 5:23]
Keep in mind to whom Paul wrote the above letters, and also that Paul claimed that he was repeating a “word” that he had received directly from “the Lord.” What marvelous truth was revealed to Paul in this astonishing revelation? Namely, that “we” [the first century Christians who “remained alive” at the time this letter was written, including Paul, its author] “shall be caught up…in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air!” For Paul there was no doubt that Jesus would arrive before he and the believers he addressed would all be dead. “We,” including himself, “shall not all sleep” [1 Cor 15:51]. Yet all of those to whom Paul once wrote, including Paul, now “sleep” - the “word of the Lord” notwithstanding. In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul remained just as certain that Jesus would return shortly:
…It is just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution…these will pay the penalty…when He comes…[2 Thes 1:6-10]
That is to say, Jesus would be revealed from heaven “with his mighty angles in flaming fire” soon enough to “relieve” the afflictions of the Thessalonians, and Paul, and other first century Christians! Compare Paulʼs expectation of supernatural judgment and “relief” with this prediction found in the letter of Jude:
…Certain persons have crept in unnoticed [i.e., in Judeʼs day], those who were long beforehand marked out for condemnation…about these [i.e., ungodly persons living in Judeʼs day]…Enoch…prophesied saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of his holy ones to execute judgment…” [4,14-15]
Judeʼs message, like Paulʼs, and like the author of Revelationʼs was that Jesus would soon arrive, punish those who were afflicting the churches throughout the “world,” and provide “relief” for steadfast believers. Or take these passages from Paulʼs letter to the believers at Philippi:
…He who began a good work in you [the first century Christians being addressed] will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus [i.e., rather than saying, “until the day you die,” which he assumed was not going to happen to all of them, since, as Paul pointed out in 1 Cor, “we shall not all sleep!”]……In order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ [Compare 1 Tim 6:14, “Keep the commandment…until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”]……We eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ……Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. [Philip 1:6,10; 3:20; 4:5]
What about Paulʼs famous letter to the Christians at Rome?
…The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is soon [mello] to be revealed to us……The whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now……We…groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.…Knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed! The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand……The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. [Rom 8:18,22-23; 13:11-12; 16:20]
The above verses demonstrate that no one has ever preached more explicitly that Jesus would return (even “must” return - Rev 1:1) in their lifetimes, than those “inspired” New Testament letter writers who addressed the churches throughout the Roman Empire in the first century A.D. Oddly enough, the fundamental meaning of the verses, pointed out above, is denied by “fundamentalist” Christians. They say that the authors of the letters to those first century churches could not have preached the erroneous message that Jesusʼ return was truly imminent. That would make the New Testament chock-full of “false prophets!” One attempt to divert attention from the false predictions we have examined is to say that despite the plain language they used, the apostles could not have predicted Jesusʼ return was so near, because even the apostles knew that certain things had to happen before before Jesus returned, and surely the New Testament authors recognized that those things had not yet occurred in their lifetimes, or in the first century. Therefore, they could not have truly believed nor predicted that Jesusʼ return was imminent.” To which I would respond, “Au contraire! Those things, according to the New Testament authors, had already occurred in their lifetimes. The Bible tells us so.” What “things” had to occur before Christ could return?
1) The Gospel had to be preached to the “whole world.” But Paul, and the author of Revelation, agreed that the gospel had already been preached to “the whole world,” i.e., the Roman Empire, from Spain to Jerusalem.  Therefore nothing prevented Jesus from returning “shortly”:
Their voice [of first century Christian preachers] has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world……The revelation of the mystery…now is manifested and…According to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations. [Rom 10:18; 16:25-26]
…The gospel, which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing……The gospel…which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. [Col 1:5-6,23]
2) The Anti-Christ must first be revealed. But Paul and the author of the Johannine letters taught:
The mystery of lawlessness is already at work…Pray…that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly…[2 Thes 2:7; 3:1]
The darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining…The world is passing away [“This world, as it is now, will not last much longer” - Todayʼs English Version], and also its lusts…It is the last hour [circa 100 A.D.]; and just as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know that it is the last hour. [1 John 2:17,18] 
How contemporary Christian evangelists and evangelical scholars can interpret the “last hour” as “2000 years hence” is beyond me. Maybe we should all chip in and mail such evangelists new watches. Speaking of feeble attempts to explain Jesusʼ delay, one often cited is found in 2nd Peter. That such an attempt was made at all in a late-dated letter that someone chose to compose in the name of an apostle, demonstrates to what lengths the church felt it had to resort in order to save face. But before examining the excuse for Jesusʼ delay in 2nd Peter it is important to point out the unequivocal words predicting the nearness of the end found in the previous letter, 1st Peter:
…The glory that is soon [mello] to be revealed…[5:1]
He [Jesus] was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times [or last days, or end of times]…[1:20]
The end of all things is at hand. [4:7]
Then in 2nd Peter 3:8 a feeble attempt is made to explain Jesusʼ delay by stating:
With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
Such a late attempt to make excuses for Jesusʼ delay is an obvious failure. It makes a mockery of all the clear predictions made by earlier authors in the New Testament. Indeed, it is like saying that when God “inspired” the biblical authors to say they were living in the “last hour,” or in the “last days,” or when He inspired the author of Hebrews to write that it was only a “very little while” before the “Son of Man” would “come,” God really meant “hours” and “days” and “very little whiles” that were “thousands” of years long. In other words, it implies that God was unable to put words into the minds of his earlier prophets that meant what He fundamentally intended them to mean, and had to cover His tracks at a later date (i.e., in a late-dated letter) by redefining a host of words. The excuse offered by the author of 2nd Peter even contradicted the predictions in 1st Peter that “the glory is soon to be revealed,” and the “end of all things is at hand.” Moreover, even the author of 2nd Peter did not suspect that the end was very far off, certainly he did not imagine it to be as far as 2000 years in the future, for he also wrote:
God is not slack concerning his promise, the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night: what manner of persons ought you [the second century Christians he was addressing] to be…looking for, and hastening the coming of God…we are looking for new heavens, and a new earth. [2 Pet 3:9-13]
And he added:
…In the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” [2 Pet 3:3-4]
Note that this applied to “mockers” who were disturbing the faithful at the time 2nd Peter was written, circa 130 A.D.! “For when they [note the use of the present tense] maintain this, it escapes their notice…” [2 Pet 3:5]. Obviously these “mockers” were asking, “Where is the promise of his coming,” because the earliest Christians like Paul and James and the authors of the Johannine letters, and the author of Hebrews, and the author of Revelation all predicted the very soon return of Jesus in final judgment of the whole world. By the time 2nd Peter was written, these “fathers” had all “fallen asleep,” including, one might add, Peter himself, the alleged author of this very late letter. So somebody in the church took it upon themselves to write (or should I say, felt inspired by God to make up excuses) a pseudonymous letter attributed to Peter and supposedly written before his death, as a last ditch effort to counter such “mockery.” But it is this letter and the false predictions found in the New Testament which mock themselves. The author of the letter of Jude (a letter composed even later than the pseudonymous 2nd Peter) reproduced the above passage from 2 Peter to illustrate that the end could not be far off, since “mockers” were plaguing the church in his day with this very same question!
Certain persons have [present tense, i.e., in Judeʼs day] crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for condemnation…these men revile the things they do not understand…about these Enoch prophesied saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of his holy ones to execute judgment.”
…But you, beloved, remember the words spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last times there shall be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” [Jude 4, 10, 14-15, 17-18]
Thus, the authors of both Jude and 2nd Peter agreed that they were addressing mockers then plaguing the church. The “last times” for the authors of 2 Peter and Jude were their own - in the second century A.D.
Now letʼs skip back in time to hear what John the Baptist had to say about how near the end was. Before Jesus began a ministry of his own, John the Baptist expected the end to arrive very soon.  He preached:
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. [Matt 3:2]
Now the ax is laid to the root of the trees: Therefore every tree that does not bring forth fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. [Matt 3:10]
Who warned you [Pharisees] to flee from the wrath which is about to come [mello]? [Matt 3:7]
Jesus picked up where John the Baptist left off. Jesusʼ disciples were instructed by their master to make a lightning-fast preaching tour, taking no money, extra tunics, nor staff, and to preach, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” [Matt 10:7]. Echoing the Baptistʼs fiery illustrations, Jesus added:
I have come to cast fire on the earth and how I wish it were already kindled! [Lk 12:49]
Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two, and two against three. They will be divided, father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against mother; mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. [Lk 12:51-53; see Matt 10:34-36 for parallel verses]
Notice that Jesus, according to the above verses, is speaking of inaugurating the same “tribulation” that he predicted would immediately precede judgment day! Jesus is of course, the “missing link” connecting the Baptistʼs “last generation” predictions with Paulʼs. In fact, in the same section of Matthew that speaks of Jesus instructing “the twelve” on their lightning-fast mission to preach “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” there also appears a verse predicting the “Son of Man” was going to “come” soon:
When they persecute you [the first century disciples whom Jesus was sending out] in one town, flee to the next, for truly I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of Man comes. [Mat 10:23] 
Other verses in Matthew are equally explicit as to the nearness of the “coming” of the “Son of Man”:
For the Son of Man is about to come [mello] in the glory of his Father with His angels; and will recompense every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. [Mat 16:27-28]
The Markan version of this saying reads:
For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. And he was saying to them, Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power. [Mk 8:38-9:1] 
The noted translator and editor of apocalyptic literature, professor James H. Charlesworth, elucidated:
To “come in power” is an expression that has special importance for the apocalyptists, like the authors of Daniel, the Apocalypse of John, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch. It denotes a total alteration of time and the earth, and an end to normal history. 
Not only did Jesus, according to the gospel accounts, predict that the Son of Man would “come in power” before “some standing” there had “tasted death;” but he also predicted that the “Son of Man would come” to “gather his elect from the four winds” before “this generation,” meaning Jesusʼ own, had “passed away,” which coincides perfectly with his former statement. What were the circumstances of this prediction? According to Matthew, chapter 24 [see also Mark 13 and Luke 21] Jesus predicted that the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed. Whereupon his disciples asked him:
…When will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age? [Mat 24:3] 
Jesus then laid out a number of events and signs, like false Christs arising, wars, earthquakes, famines [Luke added “pestilences” and “terrors and great signs from heaven”]; his followers would be persecuted and brought before kings and governors; the gospel would be preached to the whole world; a “desolating sacrilege” would be set up “in the holy place” [Instead of mentioning that “sacrilege,” Luke substituted: “you will see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is at hand”]; followed by a time of great tribulation when people in Judea should flee to the mountains; a time of tribulation so great that if it were not ended “no human being would be saved” [Luke alone adds, “great distress shall be upon the earth and wrath upon this people (the Jews),” they will fall by the sword, and be lead away as captives to “all the nations,” and “Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.”] ; then Jesus warned of “false Christs and false prophets” [plural, as opposed to a singular “anti-Christ”]; and pointed out how unmistakable the coming of the Son of Man would be [“as the lightning shines from the east to the west, lighting up the sky from one side to the other” Mat & Lk].  Jesus added that “immediately” [Mat 24:29] after this time of tribulation the sun and moon would darken; stars would fall from heaven; “they will see the Son of Man coming;” and his angels would “gather the elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” [Luke adds, “when these things begin to take place (including Jerusalemʼs fall in 70 A.D.), look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near”]. Jesus then spoke of the fig tree (the budding of its leaves tells you summer is near), “when you see these things happening [Matthew says, ‘all these things…’], recognize that He is near” [Luke substitutes, “recognize that the kingdom of God is near”]; Matthew & Mark add, “…at the door.” Followed by the prediction:
Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. [Mat 24:34 = Mk 13:30]
Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place. [Lk 21:32]
Iʼll let David F. Strauss (1808-1874), the German philosopher and historian of religion, sum up the case thus far:
Thus in these discourses Jesus announces that shortly after that calamity, which (especially according to the representation in Lukeʼs gospel) we must identify with the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, and within the term of his own generation, he would visibly make his second advent in the clouds, and terminate the existing dispensation. Now as it will soon be eighteen centuries since the destruction of Jerusalem, and an equally long period since the generation contemporary with Jesus disappeared from the earth, while his visible return and the end of the world which he associated with it, have not taken place: the announcement of Jesus appears so far to have been erroneous…Such inferences from the discourse before us would inflict a fatal wound on Christianity; hence it is natural that exegetists should endeavor by all means to obviate them. 
Christian apologists have tried to sub-divide the context of this prediction, making, “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” refer only to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and not also to “the coming of the Son of Man.” They ignore the fact that Jesusʼ “this generation” prediction is preceded in all three gospels by Jesusʼ discussion of the “coming of the Son of Man” and intimately linked with it, contextually. Such apologists also ignore that Jesus said, “all these things,” and divert attention to Jesusʼ other saying (which appears a few verses after Jesusʼ long disproved prediction), that “no man knows the day or the hour.” However, they forget that “days and hours” imply nearness in time. “Days and hours” lie within a “generation.” As Strauss pointed out over a century ago:
[Naturally there is a distinction] between an inexact indication of the space of time, beyond which the event will not be deferred (a “generation”), and the determination of the precise date and time (the “day and the hour”) at which it will occur; the former Jesus gives, the latter he declares himself unable to give. 
Furthermore, having admitted that he did not know the precise “day or the hour,” Jesus continued to address his listeners as though that “day or hour” could not be further than a mere “generation” away:
Therefore be on the alert, for you [his listeners, circa 30 A.D.] do not know which day your Lord is coming…at an hour when you do not think he will [Mat 24:36,42,44]
Definitely not a “day” or “hour” that was “two millenniums” from then! Compare Luke 21:36:
But keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you [his first century listeners] may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.
Obviously, Jesus included the “coming of the Son of Man” among “all these things that are about to take place.”
As professor James D. Tabor explains:
In the [end-times chapters of the gospels], Mk 13, Mat 24, and Lk 21, Jesus connects the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple to the more general “signs of the end of the age”: false prophets, war and disruptions, earthquakes, famines, pestilence, persecution, and a world-wide proclamation of his message…The scheme is very tightly connected, and Jesus declares at the end that “this generation shall not pass away until all these thing are fulfilled” [Mk 13:30]. 
A.J. Mattill Jr. adds, concerning an important verse in Matthewʼs end-time chapter:
The eutheos of Matthew 24:29 should be translated “immediately” as elsewhere [in the New Testament] and means that at once after the tribulation connected with the destruction of Jerusalem there were to occur cosmic disasters and the coming of the Son of Man to write the finis to the world drama. 
To Dr. Mattillʼs argument may be added these observations of Dr. Strauss:
Not only does Mark in 13:24 [a parallel to Matthew 24:29], by the words, “in those days, after that tribulation,” place the [“coming of the Son of Man”] in uninterrupted chronological succession with [the tribulation connected with the destruction of Jerusalem]; but also, shortly after the [coming of the Son of Man] is discussed in each of the narratives, we find the assurance that all this will be witnessed by the existing generation. 
Another attempt to save face by Christian apologists is to reinterpret “this generation” as “that generation,” i.e., to say that Jesus was addressing a much later generation, not his own. But, this explanation is also unacceptable. Jesus used the phrase “this generation” many times, unmistakably in reference to his contemporaries. It does not refer to people born two thousand years hence:
It shall be required of this generation…[Lk 11:51]
The men of Nineveh shall rise up in the judgment with this generation…[Mat 12:41 = Lk 11:32]
This is an evil generation…[Lk 11:29]
This adulterous and sinful generation…[Mk 8:38]
That upon you [the Pharisees] may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth. Truly, I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation. [Mat 23:35-36]
The final verse listed above is nearly identical to “Truly, I say to you, this generation shall not pass away until all these things take place,” so there is no doubt which “generation” Jesus was addressing. As Christian theologian, Dewey M. Beegle, has reminded Hal Lindsey fans:
If Jesus was referring to a distant future, the least he could have done was to say “that generation” and thus give his hearers a clue that the events he was discussing would occur in some future generation, not theirs. But “this” is close to “that,” and so [Hal Lindsey fans] just add a little filler. Cover things from this end and do not worry too much about how the disciples and early Christians understood things. 
Even the evangelical Christian scholar, F. F. Bruce, admitted:
The phrase “this generation” is found too often on Jesusʼ lips in this literal sense for us to suppose that it suddenly takes on a different meaning in the saying we are now examining. Moreover, if the generation of the end-time had been intended, ‘that generation’ would have been a more natural way of referring to it than ‘this generation.’ 
So, if words have any fundamental meaning at all, then the authors of the Gospels told their readers that Jesus predicted the world to end within a “generation” of his preaching. Besides which, people predicting “the end of the world” always complain loudly about the evils of their own generation, exactly as Jesus did in the many instances cited above!
Paul Johnson is a well known defender of orthodox Christianity whose works include A History of the Jews, A History of Christianity, The Intellectuals (which focused on a small number of “left wing intellectuals” well known for their sexual escapades - leaving out any with boring sex lives, and of course leaving out any discussion of the sex lives of prominent “right wing intellectuals” like himself, a self-admitted adulterer  ). Mr. Johnson is also the author of a little booklet in which he touted his faith in the historicity of the Gospels (a booklet popular with evangelical Christians). Yet even Johnson admitted:
The whole of Jesusʼ work implied that the apocalypse was imminent; some of his sayings were quite explicit on the point…The prima facie view of the Jesus mission was that it was an immediate prelude to a Last Judgment. Hence the urgency of the pentecostal task, an urgency which Paul shared throughout his life [“…brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly…” 2 Thes 3:1], so that his final hope was to carry the good news, while there was still time, to Spain - for him, “the ends of the earth.” 
C. S. Lewis, the evangelical Christian apologist, agreed that Jesus made a mistake in predicting that his generation would live to see the coming of the Son of Man in final judgment:
The answer of the theologians is that the God-Man was omniscient as God, and ignorant as Man. This, no doubt, is true, though it cannot be imagined. Nor indeed can the unconsciousness of Christ in sleep be imagined, not the twilight of reason in his infancy; still less his merely organic life in his motherʼs womb. 
Christian theologian, Dewey M. Beegle, reached the same conclusion as Johnson and Lewis:
Most conservatives reject the plain meaning of the passage, “This generation shall not pass away until all these things take place,” because it means admitting that Jesus was mistaken about the time. The issue is intensified because Jesus added, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” [Mat 24:35; Mk 13:31; Lk 21:33]. All attempts to reinterpret “generation” are armchair approaches to solve our difficulty in understanding the passage. As [previously] noted, the clear-cut testimony of the rest of the New Testament is that the disciples, Paul, and the early church understood Jesus literally. If Jesus really referred to events more than 2000 years in the future, then he was playing word games with his disciples. When we look at the problem honestly there are two basic options: either Jesus was leading his disciples to think something different from what he had in mind, or he was mistaken. The latter is far more preferable because it was done in innocence and shows his true humanity. 
Of course if we admit Jesus to have been in error on a very important factual and doctrinal claim like the near end of the world, then we must at least potentially think twice about his other teachings. Matthew Tindal (1657?-1733) was a famous deist who published at the age of seventy-three the first volume of a critique of Christianity that took note of many of the same passages we have examined above. We may estimate the impact of Volume One from the 150 replies that sought to counter it, including those from Bishops Butler and Berkeley. Tindalʼs conclusion concerning this particular matter merits repeating:
If Jesus and his apostles, for whatever motives, were mistaken in a matter of this consequence, how could I be certain that any one of them may not be mistaken in any other matter? If they were not inspired in what they said in their writings concerning the then coming of Christ; how could they be inspired in those arguments they built on a foundation far from being so? 
How indeed? Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899), a preacherʼs son who grew to become Americaʼs greatest freethinker, focused on a few of “those arguments they built on a foundation far from being so” when he wrote:
That generation [of Jesusʼ day] was not to pass away until the heavens should be rolled up as a scroll, and until the earth should melt with fervent heat…Filled with the thought of coming change, he [Jesus] insisted that there was but one important thing, and that was for each man to save his soul. He should care nothing for wife or child or property, in the shadow of the coming disaster…He endeavored, as it is said, to induce men to desert all they had, to let the dead bury the dead, and follow him. We know now - if we know anything that Jesus was mistaken about the coming of the end, and we know now that he was greatly controlled in his ideas of life, by that mistake. Believing that the end was near, he said, “Take no thought for the morrow, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink or wherewithal ye shall be clothed.” It was in view of the destruction of the world that he called the attention of his disciples to the lily that toiled not and yet excelled Solomon in the glory of his rainment. [The parable even has an appropriately apocalyptic ending: “The grass of the field that is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace!” Mat 6:30] Having made this mistake, having acted upon it, certainly we cannot now say that he was perfect in knowledge. 
New Testament theologian, Robert M. Price, agrees with Ingersoll that Jesusʼ plea for “moral perfectionism” directly resulted from his mistaken belief that Godʼs judgment day was imminent:
Jesusʼ eschatology accounts for the radical perfectionism of the application of his values, e.g., “Love your enemies…bless those who curse you…if struck on one cheek, turn the other…lay not up for yourself treasure on earth [do not save money!]…Whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either [leaving you naked, since those two items summed up the clothing worn by ancient Near Easterners]…give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back [!], etc.” I canʼt buy Lutherʼs way out, i.e., that Jesus was showing us how we canʼt obey these values, in order to prepare us for the gospel of justification by faith! Sorry, Luther! The text repeatedly says, “Do this to reach the kingdom, do this or be punished.” I am thinking foremost of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus is depicted as saying:
In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets…Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheepʼs clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits…Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire [apocalyptic speech]. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.” Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house [apocalyptic speech]; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell and great was its fall. [Matt. 7: 12-27]
Most perfectionists are neurotics: was Jesus? Not if he predicated perfectionism as the only way to live due to the nearness of Godʼs judgment day! Then it would seem feasible! 
So, exactly what is the lowdown on Godʼs showdown? Is it that Jesus, the “false prophet,” may not have been “neurotic” after all? No. The lowdown on Godʼs showdown is that it never took place as predicted. And how likely is it to occur in our era, when the most “inspired” believers, living and writing in Jesusʼ era, including Jesus himself, were certain that it was going to occur in theirs? Believers in an inerrant Bible should wonder why the Bibleʼs errorʼs concerning this matter are so plainly visible. But then, as Arthur Koestler once pointed out, “Faith is a wondrous thing; it is not only capable of moving mountains, but also of making you believe that a herring is a race horse.” Indeed, how can Christianity compete for world-wide approval against the host of faiths and non-faiths that now litter the earth, when its own holy book informs whomever reads it that the race to demonstrate the superior truth of Christianity ended 2000 years ago by Jesusʼ own admission?
This ridiculous idea survived century after century. If the world did not end under the first Christian Emperor, Constantine, it had to end under Theodosius; if the end had not come under Theodosius, it had to occur under Attila the Hun. And up to the twelfth century this idea enriched the monasteries. A great many of the charters and donations to the monasteries began thus: “Christ reigning, the end of the world approaching, I, for the remedy of my soul, etc.” —Voltaire, “An Important Study by Lord Bolingbroke, or, the Fall of Fanaticism”
The New American Standard Bible will be the translation used throughout this article with the addition of A.J. Mattill Jr.ʼs translation of the Greek verb, mello [see note #3].
Dei means “must,” not “may.” Dr. A.J. Mattill Jr., retired professor of New Testament at Winebrenner Theological Seminary, pointed out in his book, Luke and the Last Things (Dillsboro, NC: Western Carolina Press, 1979), pp. 152f, that dei was favored by apocalyptic writers. It stressed Godʼs commitment to the plans He had revealed to them. Alas, such plans did not materialize “shortly” thereafter, as the author of Revelation predicted they “must.”
A.J. Mattill Jr. in The Art of Reading the Bible (Gordo, AL: The Flatwoods Free Press, 1988), p. 12, stated:
I made an exhaustive study of the Greek verb mello and found what is seldom recognized, and even seldomer proclaimed by preachers and professors, namely, that mello in the New Testament is used again and again to indicate the speedy coming of the end of the world: “Before long” God “will judge the world” (Acts 17:31); “before long there will be a resurrection” (Acts 24:15); “the age which is about to come” (Mat 12:32; Eph 1:21; Heb 6:5) to give a few examples. Needless to say, this imminent expectation failed to materialize.
The “exhaustive study” made by Dr. Mattil can be found in his book (mentioned in note #2), chapter 4, “‘Before long’ (Acts 17:31): The Imminent Expectation in Acts,” pp. 41-54; and in his article, “Naherwartung, Fernerwartung, and the Purpose of Luke-Acts: Weymouth Reconsidered,” published in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, vol. 34, no. 3, July 1972, pp. 276-293. In personal correspondence, Dr. Mattill has also pointed out, “Itʼs interesting to note that in the Jehovahʼs Witness interlinear Greek NT they translate mello in the interlinear as ‘about to,’ but then in the English text to the right ignore their own translation…that would appear to be their way of escaping the imminent hope as expressed by mello.” No doubt other Bible translators employ the same mental gymnastics as the Jehovahʼs Witnesses.”
Notice the logic behind the author of Hebrews argument. Since continuous sinning, year after year [“since the foundation of the world”], required blood sacrifices “often,” then God must have foreseen to it that Jesusʼ perfect sacrifice occurred at a time when Jesus would not need to suffer again, i.e., at a time when sinners would soon be judged, and thus sinning had ended, and no more sacrifices would be required. That time could only be at the “consummation [of the world]” or “end of the age.” Thus he hoped to persuade his readers of Godʼs wonderful plan in having Jesus sacrifice himself “in these last days,” and that it was only a “very little while” before “he who is coming will come.”
Saint Augustine recognized and emphasized Paulʼs point. It was unmistakable. As Augustine put it:
In the first times, it was the duty to use marriage…chiefly for the propagation of the human race. But now, in order to enter upon holy and pure fellowship…they who wish to contract marriage for the sake of children, are to be admonished, that they use rather the larger good of continence. But I am aware of some that murmur, “What if all men should abstain from all sexual intercourse, whence will the human race exist?” Would that all would… Much more speedily would the City of God be filled, and the end of the world hastened.
For what else does the Apostle Paul exhort to, when he says, “I would that all were as myself [celibate];” or in that passage, “But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remains that both they who have wives, be as though not having [celibate]: and they who weep, as though not weeping: and they who rejoice, as though not rejoicing: and they who buy, as though not buying: and they who use this world as though they use it not. For the form of this world is passing away.” (1 Cor. 7:7-8, 29-31) - Saint Augustine (c. 354-430), On the Good of Marriage, Sections 9-10
Back then the Roman Empire was recognized as the “whole world,” i.e., Lk 2:1, “Caeser took a census of the whole world,” and Acts 11:28, “…a great famine all over the world…took place in the reign of Claudius.” Naturally, this conception influenced the belief in how “soon” the Son of Man would return, since Jesus predicted: “…this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come.” [Mat 24:14]. If the “whole world” according to the New Testament itself, referred to the Roman Empire, the “end” must have been expected very soon indeed! I wonder why God inspired the authors of the New Testament with such an archaic notion of the “whole world?” Even second century Christian fathers made the same identification of the Roman Empire with the “whole world.” Irenaeus (125-202 A.D.), one of the earliest Fathers of the Church, wrote in his book, Revolution and Overthrow of False Knowledge (or Against Heresies), circa 180 A.D.:
Now the Church, spread throughout all the world even to the ends of the earth, received from the apostles and their disciples her belief…[1.10.1]
…the Church has carefully preserved it [its kerygma and faith], as though dwelling in a single house, even though she has been spread over the entire world. [1.10.2]
Anyone who wishes to see the truth can observe the apostleʼs traditions made manifest in every church throughout the whole world. [3.3.1-2]
Augustine was another Church Father who was aware of Paulʼs belief that the Gospel “had” already been preached to the “whole world.” Paul wrote in Romans, “Their line has gone out through all the world, and their words to the ends of the earth.” Augustine dwelt with great force on the fact that St. Paul based one of his most powerful arguments upon this declaration regarding the earliest preachers of the gospel (Rom. 10:18), and that, as those preachers did not go to the opposite side of the earth to preach the gospel, no people must exist there; hence those who believe such things, “give the lie direct to King David and to St. Paul, and therefore to the Holy Ghost.” Thus the great bishop of Hippo taught the whole world for over a thousand years that, as there was no preaching of the gospel on the opposite side of the earth, there could be no human beings there. [A. D. White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, Vol. 1] If I may be forgiven for injecting levity thereʼs a quotation by Mark Twain that also strikes me as relevant: “The Biblical prophets wrote book after book and epistle after epistle, yet never once hinted at the existence of a great continent on our side of the water; yet they must have known it was there, I should think.” As for the argument that the apostles must have known that people existed beyond the boundaries of the “world” of the Roman Empire, yes, certainly, as “heathens” living outside of civilization (and for whom provision was made in Paulʼs letter to the Romans, chapters 1-2), so Rome remained the “whole world” to Paul who prayed that “the word” might spread “rapidly,” from Jerusalem to Spain, before the day of final judgment.
Notice how Johnʼs certainty that “it is the last hour” was strengthened by his awareness that not just one, by “many” antichrists “have arisen!” Thatʼs exactly what Jesus predicted [see Mat 24:4,23-25; Mk 13:5-6,21-23 & Lk 21:8], i.e., “many false Christs shall arise” right before the Son of Man comes!
John the Baptist may of course, have picked up his message - that the end of the world was imminent - from the sect at Qumran, the book of Enoch, or even the book of Daniel, which had been “unsealed” prior to his day, and whose “unsealing,” according to that bookʼs author, presaged the worldʼs final judgment.
The belief in the nearness of Christʼs coming is not in itself a reason to rush about the world preaching. That is only the result of the further belief that before the end, the world must first hear the Gospel. There is evidence that this second belief may have been a point of contention amongst Jesusʼ earliest followers. For instance, in the Gospels there are four discourses on the end-times preaching question: the three “little apocalypses” in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 24, Mark 13 & Luke 21), and the added “teeny-apocalypse” in Matthew 10, viz., the “sending of the 12.” Matthew 10:17-23 depicts the same things happening as in Matt. 24:9-14, with one clear exception. In the first discourse, it is reported that Jesus told his disciples to avoid the Gentile and Samaritan cities, adding, “You shall not finish going through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man comes.” While in the second discourse, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world…and then the end shall come…So shall the coming of the Son of Man be.” This may reflect two views of the early church, some supporting the view only to go to the cities of Israel, others, to preach to the whole world. As we know, the “whole world” view prevailed. But the question remains whether it was Jesusʼ original view. Itʼs also noteworthy that regardless of the resurrected Jesusʼ command (in Matt. & Mark) to “Go make disciples of all nations, or all creation,” the apostles, according to Luke, did not rush off, but stayed in Jerusalem for years (Acts), which raises doubts as to them receiving such a command from Jesus. For example, when Jesus “sent the 12” on their preaching mission (the “teeny-apocalypse”) they immediately went, no delay. How much more obligingly would they have followed the word of a resurrected Jesus if he had actually spoken them? Another clue in the Gospels regarding a possible controversy about whether or not to evangelize the “world” can be found in the “circumcision debates” between the earliest disciples. The first arise in Acts 11, which is presented as the first time the apostles and brethren became convinced “that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.” Afterwards, “Peter came up to Jerusalem, [and] those who were circumcised took issue with him.” After Peter related his experiences and visions, they agreed: “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” Why neither Peter nor the others thought to simply quote the words of the resurrected Jesus (in the Gospel of Matthew) on this matter, and why Peter needed a special vision to confirm it, adds credence to the argument that the earliest Christians had not recorded Jesus as saying that the gospel “will, or must, be preached to all nations,” and that they must “go make disciples of all the nations and all creation.”
The verses in Mark [8:39-9:1] are continuous. Chapter and verse divisions were late additions to the Bible. This prophecy was not fulfilled by the “transfiguration,” which does follow it in both Matthew and Markʼs gospels. Were the apostles so much nearer to “tasting death” when six days later, “some standing there” viewed the transfiguration? Such a “fulfillment” makes the prophecy appear puerile, trivial. Most likely, the prediction and the transfiguration appear in close order because the former informs gospel readers when the Son of Man will come to judge the earth (i.e., while some of the apostles were still alive), and the latter depicts who that soon-coming Son of Man will or should be (i.e., Jesus). Neither was the prophecy fulfilled by Pentecost, or the fall of Jerusalem (in 70 A.D.). At Pentecost, a mere year or two away, more than “some” of Jesusʼ hearers would still be alive, and Pentecost involved the coming of the Holy Spirit rather than the Son of Man with angels to judge mankind. Neither did the Son of Man “come” invisibly at the fall of Jerusalem to judge that city. Instead, Jesus described the “coming of the Son of Man” in a highly visible fashion: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels…He will separate the sheep from the goats…one person will be taken, one left…as the lightning comes from the east, and flashes even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be.” [Mat 24:27,37-41; 25:31] Likewise, the Gospel of Luke also described the coming of the Son of Man in a fashion visible to the whole earth:
And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled [not a long time, see other footnote in this paper on “the times of the Gentiles”]. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Menʼs hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draws near. And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now near at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is near at hand. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled. [Luke 21:24-32]
Thus there is no “fulfillment” of the prophesied “coming of the Son of Man” to be found in the transfiguration, Pentecost, or the fall of Jerusalem. Jesus predicted the Son of Man would come in a visible, earth shaking manner to judge mankind before “some” of his own apostles had “tasted death.” Jesus, of course, never abandoned the idea that the Son of Man was coming soon. As late as his trial, he is portrayed declaring boldly to his accusers, “You shall see the Son of Man, coming on the right hand of power!”
James H. Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism, Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York: Doubleday, 1988), p. 19.
Mark 13:4 and Luke 21:7 simply have the disciples asking Jesus about “the sign” when “all these things will be,” or, “when they are about to take place.” There is no “and” in their questions, connecting what some Christian apologists say may be two separate questions. This is important to remember, since many Christian apologists attempt to split the discipleʼs question [in Mat 24:3] in half, thereby dividing Jesusʼ predictions in these end-times chapters into: 1) predictions related to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 A.D., and 2) signs that can be used to predict when the Son of Man will come in power to judge the earth two thousand years later. Needless to say, such a dissection of Jesusʼ apocalyptic discourses (based only on Matthewʼs version of the disciplesʼ question) does not take into consideration the beliefs and understanding of the audience to whom the discourse was originally addressed. As David F. Strauss pointed out in The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, chapter 115, “The Discourses of Jesus on His Second Advent. Criticism of the Different Interpretations”:
The…attempt to discover in the discourse before us the immense interval which, looking from our position in the present day, is fixed between the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of all things, having failed; we are taught in a practical fashion that that interval lies only in our own conception, which we are not justified in introducing into the text. And when we consider that we owe our idea of that interval only to the experience of many centuries, which have elapsed since the destruction of Jerusalem: it cannot be difficult for us to imagine how the author of this discourse, who had not had this experience, might entertain the belief that shortly after the fall of the Jewish sanctuary, the world itself, of which, in the Jewish idea, that sanctuary was the center, would also come to an end, and the [Son of Man] appear in judgment.
Luke 21:24. Does “the times of the Gentiles” refer to a lengthy period of time, perhaps thousands of years in the future? Dr. Mattill thinks not:
Luke was evidently mindful of the Gentile king of Dan 7:25 who would “wear out the saints of the Most High;…and they shall be given into his hand until the time and times and half a time” [see also Dan 8:13 & 12:7]…Nor would Luke have overlooked Ezek 30:3, “The day of Yahweh is near; it shall be…a time of the nations.”…Luke may well have known something like the widely circulated prophecy that is now preserved in Rev 11:2, where John is commanded to measure the temple but not the temple court, “for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months.” [None of these examples presumes a lengthy period lasting thousands of years, but rather, a few years, less than ten at most.]
The word “times” (kairoi) also has richer overtones than mere chronological time (chronos). It can also mean “opportunity,” “eschatological opportunity,” “the time of crisis,” the “last times.” Hence the phrase, “the times of the Gentiles” would seem to refer to more than their allotted time to occupy Jerusalem. It would include the “eschatological opportunities” that the Gentiles have to accept the Gospel…Paul wrote: “Now is the acceptable time (kairos); behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2)…Kairos denotes the “season when God visits people with the offer of salvation.”…Luke uses kairos in just such a way in his gospel, which stated that Israel did not know the “time” (kairos) of its visitation (Lk 19:44), that is, “the time when God came to save you” (Todayʼs English Version) [So, Luke depicted both the “time (kairos) of Israel” and “times (kairoi) of the Gentiles!”]
[Also note that Luke displays in Acts his knowledge of Paulʼs mission to the Gentiles, and must have been familiar with Paulʼs idea that the stubbornness of the people of Israel is not permanent but will last only until the complete number of Gentiles come to God]:
“…their voice [of Christian evangelists] has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the [predominantly Gentile] world.” But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? At the first Moses says, “I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation, by a [Gentile] nation without understanding will I anger you.” [Rom 10:18-19]
…by their [the Jewsʼ] transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. Now if their transgression be riches for the world and their failure be riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their [the Jewsʼ] fulfillment be? [Rom 11:11-12]
…a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. [Rom 11:25]
Now look at the verse in Luke again, keeping Paulʼs verses (above) in mind:
Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. [Lk 21:24]
[“The times of the Gentiles” refers to the Gentilesʼ opportunity to hear the gospel, and it would be “fulfilled” once a certain number of Gentiles, known only to God, had been saved. Neither did Paul or Luke seem to assume that this “time” would exceed a “generation.”] The Gentile mission was well on the way toward completion with Paulʼs arrival in Rome: “…the Good News…has been proclaimed in the whole creation under Heaven…” [Col 1:23 (Weymouth)]. Were Paul to preach longer in Rome, where “all meet from every quarter [of the earth]” (Irenaeus), or in Spain [Rom 15:24; 1 Clem 5:7], or elsewhere [Pastoral Epistles], and were others to continue their labors [Acts 11:20; 1 Clem 42:3-4], they would need all the encouragement and support possible from the churches to give all men everywhere opportunity to repent [Acts 17:30]. As his part in this evangelistic effort Luke wrote to insure that the world mission would be completed during the “times of the Gentiles” [Lk 21:24] to prepare the way for the “consolation of Israel” [Lk 2:25] and the “restoration of all things” [Acts 3:21]. [Keep in mind that for Luke and Paul, the Roman Empire constituted “the whole world”]…we conclude with an impressive group of critics that “Luke does not give a date, but his gospel agrees with Matthew and Mark that Jesus said, ‘the present generation will live to see it all!’ [Lk 21:32]” - A.J. Mattill, Jr., Luke and the Last Things, pp. 134-135,233.
Evangelical apologists sometimes try to divert attention away from the verses that plainly predict the soon “coming of the Son of Man” by emphasizing the following section in Luke that states, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed”:
The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed: nor will they say “Look here it is!” or “There it is!” For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst [or, sometimes translated, “the kingdom of God is within you”]. And he said to the disciples, The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it…[Lk 17:20-22]
Does this divert sufficient attention away from what Jesus said about the “Son of Man coming” before “some standing there” had “tasted death,” or within a “generation?” No. That “the kingdom of God is in your midst” does not refute that soon “the Son of Man will be revealed” [Lk 17:30], you just have to read a little further in the same chapter to see that. Neither does the above passage indicate that the disciples would not live to see the Son of Man return. Nothing about their “death” is mentioned or even hinted at. It just says they will “long to see one of the days of the Son of Man,” and, “not seeing it,” or, not being able to see it, as they had yearned to, others will say to them, “Look here, Look there,” trying to entice Christians to run after false prophets. Therefore it is a warning to “keep the faith” and wait for the unmistakable revealing of the true Son of Man. The section in Luke continues:
…And they will say to you “Look here! Look there!” Do not run after them. [Many false prophets will arise and mislead many. Mat 24:11 And if anyone says, “Behold, here is the Christ, or there,” do not believe him, for false Christs will arise. Mark 13:21] For just as the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day…as it happened in the days of Noah…the flood came and destroyed them all…as happened in the days of Lot…it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed…one will be taken, and the other will be left. [Lk 17:23-35]
So, the passage in Luke is not a prediction that Jesus made to his disciples, telling them that they will not live to see the coming of the Son of Man, but rather, it is a warning to those who doubt they will, and go running off after “false Christʼs!” “For just as the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day…” etc. And yes, the “kingdom of God” can refer to either an immediate reality or a future promise. It depends on whether or not the words “come,” “near” or “at hand” are contextually related to the words, “kingdom of God.” For instance, speaking of the future promise, there is the Lordʼs prayer, “Thy kingdom come…” Or, “I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes” [Lk 22:18]. Or, “When you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place” [Lk 21:31-32]. Or, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” Naturally, the same goes for the “Son of Man,” which is simply a name or title for Jesus. But combine that name with the word, “coming,” and the only thing it can refer to is a future promise - a failed promise, since the Son of Man did not “come” within the time he and his inspired disciples predicted he would.
David F. Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, chapter 115, “The Discourses of Jesus on His Second Advent. Criticism of the Different Interpretations.”
James D. Tabor, “The Future,” What the Bible Really Says, eds. Morton Smith and R. Joseph Hoffman (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1989), p. 48. And notice how Jesusʼ end-times discourses described events that could easily apply to his own era:
False prophets and false Christs?
What about Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8, and Bar Kochba, leader of a messianic revolt (132-135 A.D.)? See Richard Horsley and John Hansonʼs Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements in the Time of Jesus (New York: Harpur & Row, Pub., Inc., 1985), and, Jacob Neusner, William Scott Green and Ernest S. Frerich, eds., Judaisms and their Messiahs at the Turn of the Christian Era (Cambridge: 1988). And of course, the New Testamentʼs own obvious statements such as Paulʼs that “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work,” and 1 Johnʼs, that “many antichrists have arisen,” i.e., in their generation.
Rumors of War and Wars?
“War,” along with some of the other “signs” described, was a standard apocalyptic stage prop. And, there was a first revolt of Palestinian Jews against their Roman occupiers in A.D. 66-70 that preceded Romeʼs war against Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
They occur continually all over the world. But most occur, as expected, along the coasts of continents that border the Pacific Ocean - the “ring of fire” - and are due to huge tectonic plates underlying each continent, pressing and buckling against each other. This no doubt has little to do with prophecy. According to geological studies conducted since the first highly sensitive seismographic instruments were installed on the earthʼs surface around the beginning of this century, the sizes and intervals of quakes world-wide do not display any discernable pattern of increase or decrease. Even the folks at the Institute for Creation Research have agreed with that fact, as evidenced in their Impact pamphlet #198, “Earthquakes in These Last Days.”
According to Luke, “…a great famine all over the world…took place in the reign of Claudius” [Acts 11:28], i.e., in Lukeʼs own generation.
Persecution of Christians?
This occurred in Paulʼs generation too. He persecuted Christians. Stephen was stoned to death. Paul was also brought before magistrates and kings to give an account of his faith.
The World Wide Proclamation of Jesusʼ Message?
According to Paul and Luke the Roman Empire was the “whole world.” Paul also wrote several times that the gospel “had” been preached to the “whole world,” i.e., in his day.
So the “birth pangs” that Jesus (or the Gospel authors) claimed must occur first, before the end arrived, were already occurring, or had already occurred, in the days of the first Christians! Neither did any of the New Testament authors have any difficulty envisioning their own generation as the last, or predicting that the Son of Man would (or must) come soon.
A.J. Mattill Jr., “A Zoo-Full of Monsters,” The Journal of Faith and Thought (Montclair, N.J.: First Baptist Church of Montclair), Vol. 4, no. 1 (Spring 1986), p. 16.
David F. Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, chapter 115, “The Discourses of Jesus on His Second Advent. Criticism of the Different Interpretations.”
Dewey M. Beegle, Prophecy and Prediction (Ann Arbor, MI: Pryor Pettengill, 1978), pp. 212-213.
F.F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), p. 227. Some Christian apologists point out that the word translated “generation” is derived from a Greek word whose root means “race.” So, Jesus may have been saying that “this race” shall not pass away until all these things take place. But there is no point in Jesus addressing either the human race or the Jewish race since in neither case is there any hint in the Bible that either “race” may cease to exist before the end of the world. What point would there be in such a vague prediction? It would be like saying, “At some time in the indefinite future all these things will take place.” It should also be noted that when the full word, not merely its root, is focused upon, Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrichʼs Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament cites not a single instance where the word means, “race.” And in the language that Jesus and his apostles were raised upon, Hebrew and Aramaic, there is not the least possibility of confusion between “generation” and “race.” Lastly, as A.J. Mattill Jr. has ascertained:
Of the 38 appearances of the word in the New Testament all have the temporal meaning, primarily that of “contemporaries.” Our check of every instance in the New Testament verifies Olshausenʼs contention that the word is not used once in the New Testament in the sense of “race.” [A.J. Mattill Jr., Luke and the Last Things (Dillsboro, NC: Western Carolina Press, 1979), p. 100]
British historian and conservative moralist Paul Johnson, whose recent essay on marriage to honor his 40th wedding anniversary so annoyed his mistress of 11 years that she ratted him out to British newspapers, admitted in a subsequent interview in Londonʼs Observer in May, “Iʼve been having an affair, but I still believe in family values.” — News of the Weird
Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity (New York: Atheneum, 1979), p. 38.
C.S. Lewis, “The Worldʼs Last Night” in The Worldʼs Last Night and Other Essays (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1960).
Beegle, pp. 131-132.
Matthew Tindall, Christianity as Old as Creation, A Republication of the Religion of Nature, 1730. (Called “the deistʼs Bible”) Reprinted by Garland Pub., Inc., N.Y.
Robert Ingersoll, quoted in Ingersoll Attacks the Bible, ed., A.J. Mattill, Jr. (Gordo, AL: The Flatwoods Free Press, 1987), pp. 34-35.
Robert M. Price, personal correspondence. Dr. Price has a Ph.D. in New Testament theology and another in New Testament history, and is the editor of The Journal of Higher Criticism, and the author of Beyond Born Again and Deconstructing Jesus.
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