Good Question: "was Jesus a failed apocalyptic prophet that the embarrassed church had to re-work into something different"


[revised: May 5/2013]


(This is a different question than 'Was Jesus a Failed Messiah?')

 

Hi Glen (sic) Miller,

I recently discovered your excellent site when I was looking up arguments to go against an atheist with, and I was and am impressed with the high level of research and time that you put into each of the hard questions you tackle. So when I came across a blog post on a forum that really bothered me, I felt that you may do the best job of refuting it.

My apologetics question is basically, "Was Jesus a Failed Eschatological Prophet?" This is not just asking about a few verses, but about the purpose of Jesus' ministry and its "apparent" unfulfillment. Numerous references by Jesus (and other New Testament writers) to a nearing of the end times have always bothered me in the back of my mind, but this blog post (which I will copy in its entirety here) really shakes my faith. It basically tries to show that the thrust of Jesus' message was that His end-times kingdom was coming very soon, and all his followers like Paul and John believed this. Then when this didn't come true, the church distanced itself from the end times, such as in the last Gospel, John, where its message focuses more on eternal life than the apocalypse. I had originally came across this post in a forum because I was bothered with Jesus' statement in Matthew 26:64 that the high priest would see Jesus coming in the clouds of heaven. Yet this post I found was much broader in its attacks on Jesus and the New Testament message.

By the way, I did search your topics list to see if you addressed this issue, and your article to a Finland reader (
http://christianthinktank.com/qaim.html) was very helpful. I do not ask that you repeat your responses from that article, but only I wish that you would answer some of the other arguments mentioned in the blog post that has been bothering me, which is below (I apologize for the length of this post -- but I'm truly troubled by it):

 

Ok--the material you cite is too long/detailed for me to include here, so I will have to pick out and summarize the points which look like they were not addressed in my earlier article. I think that I will put them into a FAQ-type format.

 

I will divide the response into multiple parts (due to size and time requirements). I have organized the responses as a FAQ, corresponding to the order of the points in the original blog entry. These parts will be edited 'piecemeal' and the revision dates will indicate when new material is added.

 

Part one (this part) contains the following entries:

·         Introduction

·         Argument form "Inference to the Best Explanation"

·         Did John the Baptist teach an imminent judgment?

·         So the only 'imminent' aspect his teaching (as in 'within the first century') was the 'at hand' word (as used in Matthew)?

·         And how was the phrase 'kingdom of heaven' (or 'kingdom of God') likely understood at the time?

·         But didn't apocalyptic thought include an 'interim kingdom' (e.g. of the Messiah) prior to the great-and-ultimate Kingdom?

·         Would John the Baptist's teaching be considered 'apocalyptic' by today's standards?

·         Would John the Baptist's understanding of himself as the role of the forerunner to the Messiah imply a belief that all end-time events would happen within his generation?

·         Did John the Baptist teach that this judgment would happen within his lifetime (or within the first-century generation)?

·         Was Jesus a baptized disciple of John?

·         Did Jesus teach the same thing as John the Baptist concerning the eschaton?

·         Did Jesus consider the Son of Man terminology to be a reference to the Danielic eschatological figure? Did Jesus identify himself with this figure?

·         Did Jesus teach that this Son of Man figure was 'on the way'?

·         Does the Matthew 26:64 passage show that Jesus believed that this Son of Man figure (being Jesus via self-identification) was 'on the way'?

·         One last question about this passage: is there any way to use this passage as evidence of some 'watering down' of the apocalyptic message of Jesus by the church?

·         Did Paul teach an imminent eschaton in I Thess?

·         Does this teaching mirror the wording of end-time passages in the Synoptics?

·         Are there many passages in which Jesus is predicting the end (of the world?) within his generation?

·         What actually did Jesus MEAN by 'generation' in such apocalyptic passages?

·         Which are the main passages which some understand to be Jesus' failed prophecy of his return? (Mark 1.15? Mark 13.30? Matt 10.23? Matt 26.64)?

 

Part 2 contains these entries:

·         Do the passages in the Gospels which portray 'urgency' teach that the end of the world was going to happen within that generation?

·         What does the term 'interim ethic' mean and do the gospels give evidence that Jesus taught such?

 

Part 3 contains these entries:

·         What passages in the Synoptics might offer data relative to these concepts of 'apocalyptic urgency' and/or 'interim ethic'?


Part 4 contains these entries:

·         Do the passages in the rest of the NT evidence some 'apocalyptic urgency' and/or 'interim ethic', and if so, does it only make sense (or make 'more sense')  if the NT authors believed in a first-century eschaton, than if they did not have a concrete time expectation in mind??

·         Would a putative 'interim ethic' only make sense (or make 'more sense')  if the NT authors believed in a first-century eschaton, than if they did not have a concrete time expectation in mind?

·         Does  Jesus telling his disciples to leave everything and follow him around only make sense if Jesus believed that he and they were to be God’s final messengers before the eschaton.


Part 5 contains this entry:

Part 6 contains these entries::

Brief Intermission Reality Check: Did ancient apocalyptic figures even SET precise time points, and was ‘concern over delay’ really about ‘failed prophecies’ or about something else?



Part 7 contains this entry:

·         Do the NT Apocrypha and the early church fathers seem to continue this 'backpedaling' on a failed prediction of Jesus? [Early Church Fathers]


Excursus on Pushback
:
Does a belief in a ‘world-week’ of 6,000 years imply a denial of apocalyptic imminence?



Part 8 contains this entry:

·         Do the NT Apocrypha and the early church fathers seem to continue this 'backpedaling' on a failed prediction of Jesus? [Other post-NT Patristic literature]



Part 9 contains/will contain these entries:

·         Do the NT Apocrypha  seem to continue this 'backpedaling' on a failed prediction of Jesus? [post-NT apocalyptic genre/lit]

      ·         Do the NT Apocrypha  seem to continue this 'backpedaling' on a failed prediction of Jesus? [post-NT literature, non-Gnostic, non-apocalypses]

·         Do the NT Apocrypha  seem to continue this 'backpedaling' on a failed prediction of Jesus? [post-NT literature, Gnostic]

 

Part (next) will contain these entries (tentative):

·         Does the data of these post-NT writings make more sense (or only make sense) if the church needed to reinterpret Jesus message in light of its supposed failure?

·         Is it a fact that all the other NT authors believed that the end would occur in their generation?

·         If so, would this belief only make sense (or make more sense) if Jesus had made such claims?

·         Is it a fact that the early church believed that the end would occur in their generation?

·         If so, would this belief only make sense (or make more sense) if Jesus had made such claims?

·         Does the standardly-accepted 'criteria of authenticity' of the sayings of Jesus support the belief that Jesus actually said the things recorded of Him in the gospels? (and what bearing would this have on the question?)

 

Part (next) would contain these entries (tentative):

·         Do virtually all of Jesus parable's explicitly or implicitly teach a message about an imminent eschaton? And if so, do they explicitly indicate a first-century eschaton?

·         What bearing would Jesus’ “inversion” teachings have on the expectation of the early church on the timing of His return? Are there precedents for this in the literature?

·         If the gospels were not actually written down until the generation-after, would this suggest that Jesus' coming was expected to be so quick that there would be NO NEED for a written gospel? Does this phenomena (if true at all) only make sense (or make more sense) under this assumption?

·         Even if Jesus didn't mean 'generation' in the sense it was meant in genealogies, wouldn't the fact that Jesus still taught that the end was nigh, and that apostles said it was the last days imply an expectation of a first-century end of the world? What would these kinds of teachings imply about the prophetic accuracy of Jesus?

·         Did the author of the book of Revelation teach that Jesus would return in his day?

·         Does his reference to Nero/etc using ciphers/codes indicate his belief that the end had started in his day (with the obvious issue of the long delay)?

·         Under what understanding of 'the end' and of Jesus predictions would Jesus be judged as a false prophet (apocalyptic or otherwise)? How close is this understanding to the data of the NT and the early church (and other relevant literature)?

·         Do mainstream middle-of-the-road NT critics (moderates and conservatives) give unnatural, ad hoc explanations to get around the data which suggests to your blogger that Jesus was just wrong?

·         What are the implications of Paul's 'apocalyptic' teachings (if there are any) to non-Jewish Christians for your blogger's position?

·         Is 'trusting your gut' a reliable indicator of exegetical accuracy--in the face of rampant ambiguities in the words of Jesus in the Gospels?

·         Was Jesus only an eschatological prophet, clearly teaching a central message that His return (as part of the arrival of the kingdom of heaven) was unavoidably a first-century event?

 

Part (next) might be a review of this data from the 'inference' hypothesis.


Part (next) might be some interaction with the recent/excellent work of Dale Allison.

......................................................................................................................

 

Ok, PART ONE....

 

 

Introduction

 

But first I want to point out that mainstream scholarship is divided in its understanding of Jesus. "Failed apocalyptic prophet" is only one of the contenders for a 'label' for Jesus. Witherington, for example, discusses the major rivals under this catalog [TJQ]:

 

·         Jesus the itinerant cynic philosopher (Crossan, Mack, Downing)

·         Jesus, Man of the Spirit (Borg, Vermes, Twelftree)

·         Jesus the Eschatological prophet (Sanders, Casey)

·         Jesus the Prophet of social change (Theissen, Horsley, Kaylor)

·         Jesus the Sage: the Wisdom of God (Fiorenza, Witherington)

·         Jesus: Marginal Jew or Jewish Messiah (Meier, Stuhlmacher, Dunn, de Jonge, Bockmuehl, Wright)

 

 

And we should note that the terms apocalyptic and eschatological are not identical but have a great deal of overlap:

 

"Two accounts of apocalyptic origins perceive it as primarily a belief system that developed within Judaism. The first account of this internal development suggests that apocalyptic is the successor to the prophetic movement, and particularly to the future of hope of the prophets. The concern with human history and the vindication of Israel’s hopes is said to represent the formulation of the prophetic hope in the changed circumstances of another age. Those who take this line stress the close links with prophecy but also point out the subtle change that took place in the form of that hope in apocalyptic literature. In prophetic eschatology the future arises out of the present, whereas in the apocalyptic literature the future is said to break into the present. There is evidence of a subtle change that has taken place in the form of hope in the apocalyptic literature as compared with most of the prophetic texts in the Bible. It is often suggested that the future hope was placed on another plane, the supernatural and other-worldly (e.g., Isa 65-66 ; compare Rev 21 and 4 Ezra 7:50), near the beginning of the Christian era. Its stress from first to last is on the supernatural and otherworldly, just as in Rev 21 the seer looks forward to a new heaven and new earth with the old creation passing away. Some doubt whether the apocalypses do offer evidence of the “otherworldly” eschatology. Nevertheless, it is widely held that there existed in Judaism two types of future hope: a national eschatology found principally in the rabbinic texts, and otherworldly eschatology found principally in the apocalypses. The evidence from the apocalypses themselves, however, indicates that such a dichotomy cannot be easily substantiated. Apart from a handful of passages that are always cited as examples of otherworldly eschatology, the doctrine of the future hope as it is found in the apocalypses seems to be remarkably consistent with the expectation found in other Jewish sources. More evident is the subtle change of prophetic genre in the later chapters of Ezekiel, with its visions of a New Jerusalem, the highly symbolic visions of early chapters of Zechariah, the cataclysmic upheavals of the last chapters of the same book, and the probably late eschatological chapters of Isa 24-27 and Isa 55-66 . Also important is the emergence of the apocalyptic heavenly ascent evident in passages such as 1 En. 14. The journey into heaven has its antecedents in the call visions of Ezekiel (Ezek 1 and 10) and Isaiah (Isa 6 ), as well as the parallel glimpses of the heavenly court in 1 Kgs 22 and Job 1-2 ." [NIDB, s.v. "Apocalypticism", Christopher Rowland]

 

Pre-NT Jewish eschatology contained a number of elements--some shared by apocalyptic:

 

"During the Hellenistic and Roman periods, many inhabitants of Judea and Galilee experienced feelings of anxiety and frustration under the rulers whom they judged to be illegitimate, imperialist, and oppressive. One of the aspects of Jewish resistance to these rulers was the burgeoning of eschatological and apocalyptic hope. From the images inherited from prophets, wisdom, and other traditional lore, the Jewish theologians of the Second Temple period derived a wide spectrum of symbols and ideas that would subsequently become shared by both Judaism and Christianity. Among them are: 1) the subdivision of history into a sequence of different periods; 2) the turmoil of the “end of days”; 3) the coming of an eschatological prophet; 4) the advent of the Messiah, a charismatic leader sent by God to usher in the end times; 5) the return of the lost tribes to the land of Israel; 6) the waging of a HOLY WAR against the hostile nations; 7) the descent on earth of the heavenly Jerusalem and its holy Temple; 8) the final triumph of the God of Israel, who will reign over the pacified and renewed “world-to-come”; 9) the resurrection of the righteous; and 10) the judgment of sinners. [NIDB, s.v. "Eschatology in Early Judaism", Pierluigi Piovanelli]

 

And, even though I will be using the term in this piece myself, we should note that its imprecision can lead to confusion:

 

"The use of the term apocalyptic is so widespread within scholarly studies of both the OT and the NT that its meaning is often taken for granted. Yet there is a great deal of imprecision in the use of the word as well as generalized confusion about the meaning of the related terms apocalypticism and apocalypse. Terminological definition has been a long time in the making, although something of a working consensus has now been arrived at within the scholarly community. However, the question of how much eschatology and apocalyptic overlap as conceptual categories of biblical theology is not quite so clear-cut, and debate on this question is still ongoing with phrases like “apocalyptic eschatology” appearing frequently. Apocalypse is now generally taken to refer to a particular style or genre of writing or to a work which exhibits the distinctive characteristics of that genre; apocalyptic is generally taken to be an adjective used with reference to either the literary genre or the religious perspective underlying it; apocalypticism refers to either the social movement or religious idealogy which produced such apocalyptic writings; and apocalyptic eschatology is understood to refer to a particular type of eschatology, a perspective about how God’s future purposes are worked out, which is mainly expressed in, though not restricted to, apocalypses" [Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000). Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]

 

 

 

But I would tend to side with your blogger's view that Jesus could be described as an eschatological prophet (although that would not exhaust the content of His message or even lifestyle, so I would not say that He was 'only' or even 'mainly' one--e.g., I think of the Landowner's Son in the parable of the Wicket Tenants, which was more of an accountability role than a prophetic one). I do not think I could agree with the adjective 'failed' however, since His impact on His followers (a 'remnant' in OT terminology) was what an eschatological prophet 'would have wanted' (i.e. renewal of character and covenant, as a response to God's message that life now should be lived in view of the imminent arrival of judgment and redemption) and since none of His prophecies can be shown conclusively to have been clearly false.


[Note: Much of the below discussion will apply mostly/only to 'traditional' versions of 'Apocalyptic-only Jesus', and cannot be applied without nuance/adjustment to the recently published views of Dale Allison, in Constructing Jesus... I will have to interact with his humbling and informative work at the end of the series. For example, his methodological approach (e.g. gist-not-details) needs to be thought through carefully, especially in trying to discern between earlier and later 'traditions' in the text (i.e., they might be the sole criteria for noticing 'delay' in a version of a theme) , and his views on Christology and Paul's knowledge of the passion narratives needs to be examined to see if these actually can ground a hybrid 'inaugurated eschatology' that seems just out of his historiographical reach. His very first work on the textual connection between the passion narrative and the eschatological discourses should probably be re-examined in light of the high-Christology that Jesus held, in his opinion. So, the conclusions reached below, in the different sections, will apply only to PARTS of Allison's version of Schweitzer's 'failed apocalyptic prophet' thesis.] 


But I should also point out at the outset that the 'problem of the delay of the parousia' described by your blogger-friend is basically an 'old position on a new problem', and will end up only 'explaining' a very small portion of the overall evidence.

 

Historically, it was/is known by the term 'consistent eschatology' and was originated by Albert Schweitzer.

 

Here's a quick summary--at a high level--of the current state of affairs (from NT:DictLNT, pardon the long quote):

 

"We now discuss briefly the so-called “delay of the Parousia” (a translation of the German word Parusieverzögerung first launched onto the agenda of NT studies by A. Schweitzer in The Quest for the Historical Jesus [1906]). The “delay of the Parousia” has been a subject of considerable debate since it inevitably invites discussion on a number of fronts, not least the development of Christian understandings about the purposes of God in history, the connection with Jewish eschatological hopes and the nature of the church. A wide variety of approaches to the subject are in evidence, as NT scholars attempt to unravel this veritable “Gordian knot” of NT theology.

 

"Some have attempted to solve the problem of the “delay of the Parousia” by seeing it against the backdrop of the gradual diminishment of eschatology in apocalyptic belief which occured as the church moved from an essentially Jewish provenance into the wider Hellenistic world. Thus Schweitzer saw the Parousia as an element of Jewish apocalyptic thought which is eventually jettisoned by the church in light of its non-fulfillment. Others, such as C.H. Dodd (1936) and J. A. T. Robinson (1957), have attempted to explain it in terms of the church’s inability to reckon with Jesus’ proclamation of the completely realized nature of the kingdom of God. In this instance the church is viewed as responsible for the refocusing on or indeed the creation of the idea of the Parousia by failing to grasp with the import of Jesus’ life and teaching. [tanknote: this is the opposite direction of the blogger's thesis, btw]  Others, notably Rudolf Bultmann (1953) and his followers, have attempted to demythologize the meaning of the Parousia in favor of an existentialist encounter with the risen Lord, thereby loosing the bonds that the Parousia has with future history. This has led others, such as O. Cullmann (1951), to reassert the future Parousia as the culminating event in salvation-history. Each of these solutions has its own strengths and weaknesses, although each represents, in some way or another, a response or a reaction to the program of consistent eschatology proposed by Weiss and Schweitzer (their suggestion was that Jesus’ message was consistently, or thoroughly, eschatological in nature and that everything taught and believed was conditioned by this perspective). Each is, in the evocative phrase of R. H. Hiers (1966, 171), who is echoing A. Schweitzer, part of “the struggle against eschatology.”

 

"More recently there has been a considerable move to re-assess the idea of the “delay of the Parousia” altogether. It is by no means clear that the delay of the Parousia ever evoked quite the crisis of faith among the early Christians that it is sometimes assumed to have done. Even the proof text often appealed to by those who want to argue for the position, namely 2 Peter 3:1–13, is taken by many NT scholars (such as E. Käsemann) to be rather the exception than the rule when it comes to establishing what was normative Christian eschatological belief. In fact, explicit formulation of the delay of the Parousia as a theological question is found only in 2 Peter 3:4 within the whole of the NT; elsewhere it is an inference at best.

 

"Indeed, many NT interpreters would dispute that the delay of the Parousia necessitated the kind of theological accommodation it is often assumed to have required, effectively rendering the extremes of interpretation outlined above somewhat irrelevant. It may well be that early Christians were able to believe in the imminent arrival of the Lord Jesus at the Parousia while recognizing fully the difficulties posed by the lapse of time between the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and his future coming at the end of time in order to fulfill God’s redemptive purposes. As D. Aune puts it: “The very paucity of references to a supposed delay of the eschaton is indicative of the fact that the delay of the Parousia was largely a nonproblem within early Christianity” (Aune, 103).

 

"In this regard, the theological problems raised by the delay of the Parousia, which the Christians were wrestling with, are precisely the same sorts of problems that other Jewish authors were wrestling with in their works (notably the authors of 2 Apoc. Bar. and 4 Ezra). In short, many of the theological problems associated with eschatological delay are endemic to the literature of apocalypticism as a whole (as Bauckham 1980 argues). Indeed, the idea of a delay of God’s eschatological judgment surfaces in some of the OT prophetic literature, as Ezekiel 12:21–25 and Habakkuk 2:2–5 serve to indicate. In other words, there are good grounds for suggesting that imminence and delay are held in creative tension by many Jewish and Christian writers of the NT period, and any credible interpretation of the idea of the Parousia of Jesus Christ can only be offered when this crucial fact is kept in mind. Passages in the NT which stress the imminence of the Parousia of Jesus Christ may be much more concerned with theological relationship between the present reality and future hope than they are with the chronological relationship between them (contra Cullmann).

 

"Once this crucial point is recognized, the “problem of the delay of the parousia” diminishes greatly in importance (see Smalley; Travis). As C. C. Rowland states in his summary of the issue: “Within the apocalyptic framework adopted by the early Christians there lies the resource to cope with the delay in the fulfillment of the promise” (Rowland 1985, 293). That resource, which is absolutely central to the early Christians as they sought to hold together the reality of what has already happened in Christ and their faith in what is yet to be accomplished, is the confident assurance that they share in the heavenly life of the risen Lord (see Col 3:1–4 for the classic Pauline expression of this)." [Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000). Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]

 

 

And, an even more recent assessment of the situation (from the European perspective somewhat) basically says the same thing--that the 'problem of the delay' is essentially a modern creation and a non-problem for the early church. And further, that the 'consistent' eschatology and the 'realized' eschatology are both present side-by-side in the NT documents and in the wider literature of the milieu. From Eschatology of the New Testament and Some Related Documents (Jan G. Van Der Watt, ed; Mohr Siebeck:2011) comes this (long) quote from Jorg Frey's introductory article:

 

"Bultmann's influential 'counterpart', Charles Harold Dodd (1884-1973) had expressed very different views on eschatology. In his work on 'The Parables of the Kingdom' (1935), Dodd had expressed his concept of 'realized eschatology', i.e. the view that already Jesus' own references to the kingdom of God referred to a present reality rather than to an apocalyptic expectation of future events. Thus, the ideas of early Christian apocalypticism could be viewed to be a backslide from Jesus' own preaching, whereas John's 'thoroughgoing reinterpretation of eschatological ideas' (Dodd 1963, 416; cf. Dodd 1953) in a deeply Hellenistic and, as Dodd phrased, 'non-eschatological' context could be viewed as a continuation of the authentic view 'that "the age to come" has come' (Dodd 1954, 163). [HI:ENTSRD, 16]

 

"Since Weiss and Schweitzer, New Testament scholarship has been strongly occupied with the question whether an eschatological view is future-oriented or present-oriented, or whether within or behind the expression of an expectation for the future there is actually a hint that it can be interpreted as an expression of a present-related religious viewpoint or self-awareness. Scholars have often considered that these two modes of eschatological expression, e.g. in Jesus' preaching or in the Gospel of John, were mutually exclusive, although many ancient texts and authors use them side by side, and a purely 'presentized' view without any kind of future-orientation can hardly be found anywhere in antiquity, not even in Gnosticism. But due to the philosophical and theological criticism of the traditional eschatological expectation and the apologetic interests in 'rescuing' Christianity by stressing its orientation toward the present, the debate about the temporal orientation of New Testament eschatology was prominent in academic exegesis for a long time. .. [HI;ENTSRD,19]

 

"The Delay of the Parousia and the Development of Early Christianity. This is also true for the phenomenon of the 'delay of the parousia' which was often considered 'the most important factor for the transformation of early Christian eschatology from an emphasis on the imminent expectation of the end to a vague expectation sit in the more distant future' (Aune 1992, 606). Based on the views of Schweitzer, Martin Werner (1941) explained the formation of the Christian dogma from the diminishing of the original imminent expectation of Jesus' return as 'Son of Man' and from the influence of Hellenistic ideas. There is no need to discuss here the issue whether already Jesus did not expect an immediate beginning of the kingdom but that he reckoned with a certain passage of time between his death and the inauguration of the kingdom (thus Kummel 1945). As a matter of fact, at least some early Christians (such as Paul, cf. also Mk 9:1) did expect the return of Christ during their own lifetime or generation, and the fact that all the disciples of the first generation died before the coming of Christ must have caused some disappointment (cf. Joh 21:22-23). But it is also probable that early Christian communities were able to cope with such a development, especially if their identity was not only built on the expectation of an imminent change or end of the world but rather on a strong experience of the Spirit, a conviction of the fulfilment of Biblical promises and on the belief in Jesus as the exalted Lord. And, as parallels, not only from 'apocalyptic' movements in modernity but also from the Qumran community (cf. lQpHab VII 3-14), demonstrate, there were numerous strategies to explain and utilize the alleged 'delay' of appointed times: religious groups could postpone the calculated dates or explain the delay as the work of evil or 'retaining' powers (cf. 2 Thess 2:7); they could admit that the previous calculations may be wrong or inadequate in view of God's superiority over time (cf. 2 Pet 3:8); or they could celebrate the delay as a new chance for repentance or mission (2 Pet 3:9; also Mk 13:10; Acts 1:8). In all these cases, the delay as such did not lead to a dissolution of the group or to a crisis of its main convictions. This means, however, that the problem of the delay of the parousia has largely been overestimated.... A more detailed analysis of the problem (cf. Erlemann 1995) demonstrates the variety of the expectations of an imminent end or a near 'revolutionary' change in the Early Christianity. Short-term-expectation and the experience of delay are both results of an emotional way of experiencing time (Erlemann 1995, 385). External pressure or persecutions, political changes or internal struggles (e.g. with false teachers) could stimulate the eschatological expectation even in later periods. Thus, we find a fervent short-term-expectation even in the second century and later, and such an expectation is often confined to particular groups or the result of a particular situation or experience. Short-term-expectations and the experience of the delay coexisted for a longer time, and the early Christian expectation only disappeared in a longer process that came to a closure not before the time of Constantine (Erlemann 1995, 407-408). Of course, there were some readjustments of earlier expectations, e.g. in Luke-Acts, but we must admit that the 'delay of the parousia' cannot be considered a continuous or linear development, nor can it be used as a scale for historically locating or dating early Christian writings. The opposition or alternative between the expectation of the imminent end and the experience of the delay is, therefore, mistaken. The early Christian texts call for a more detailed and precise analysis of their respective concept of time which is not narrowed by such a simple and schematic pattern inspired from a particular period of modern research." [HI;ENTSRD,25f]

 

 

In other words, these two summaries point out that the 'failed apocalyptic prophet needed a new marketing spin' model is essentially out-of-touch with the data in the NT, the wider Jewish context, and early church literature as we have it.

 

We will see the data up close as we get into the details of the text and context, but I did want to point out that this 'problem' (especially about the church 'back pedaling') is not as severe as might first appear.

 


Argument form "Inference to the Best Explanation".

 

The 'inference to the Best Explanation' type of argument essentially boils down to a couple of steps:


  1. Statements X, Y, and Z are known facts.
  2. There are competing hypotheses (H1, H2, etc) which attempt to 'predict', 'retro-dict', or otherwise explain why X, Y, and Z happened or are true.
  3. One hypothesis H1 does a 'better job' than the other competitors (H2, H3, etc) in explaining why/how the facts (X, Y, Z, etc) came to be.


The classic description of this type of argument is that of Harman's, based upon Peirce (from http://www.informationphilosopher.com/knowledge/best_explanation.html ):

"In making this inference one infers, from the fact that a certain hypothesis would explain the evidence, to the truth of that hypothesis. In general, there will be several hypotheses which might explain the evidence, so one must be able to reject all such alternative hypotheses before one is warranted in making the inference. Thus one infers, from the premise that a given hypothesis would provide a "better" explanation for the evidence than would any other hypothesis, to the conclusion that the given hypothesis is true."

This would mean that we would have to consider alternative explanations (H2, H3, etc) in the process of looking at the alleged facts X, Y, and Z.


And, there is another requirement--very important in this case--that must be met. If/when the H1 is shown to be a 'better' predictor of X, Y, and Z, it must also be tested against facts OTHER THAN X, Y, and Z to verify its predictive capability:

"One of the classic examples is how to explain wet grass. If the grass is wet, it probably rained. Rain is the best explanation for wet grass, especially in Peirce's New England. But it need not be the best explanation in Arizona at the height of the dry season, where automatic sprinkler systems might be the best explanation for wet grass - especially if the grass is wet but the street is dry. ... Peircean abduction is the free creation of hypotheses that generate predictions which can be tested by further observations. For example, the sprinkler hypothesis suggests looking at the street. Observing the street to be dry provides experimental confirmation of the sprinkler hypothesis relative to the rain hypothesis. "

In our case, the 'further observations' (i.e., beyond X, Y, and Z) would be other passages in the NT that 'need predicting' by the competing hypotheses. Specifically in this topic would be the passages with seem very non-apocalyptic, non-futurist, and/or lower-eschatological than X, Y, and Z. If H1 cannot account for them 'well enough', then it loses much of its force.


For a silly example, take the statement that Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus in the Gospel of John as a 'fact X'.


SO, all of the data has to be considered in an 'inference' type of hypothesis. To simply pick the numbers 2, 4, 18, 22, 124, and 2034 as data points and conclude that 'all numbers derive from even integers and their additive combinations' might be formally plausible, but factually incorrect. As soon as you get other data points such as 17, pi, or -11.003, the hypothesis has to be reworked.

The main problem with (various versions of) 'consistent eschatology' is that it is only able to predict SOME of the data. We will see that the data which suggests a 'realized eschatology' (the kingdom had already come in the ministry of Jesus) is fairly 'stubborn' and will not fit into a 'consistent eschatology' (the kingdom is future). Some hybrid will be required to accommodate the multiple strands of teaching.

 


So it will be with our study here. We have several steps.

  1. We will have to look at the passages your blogger-friend advances as evidence that X, Y, and Z are 'facts';
  2. If they are facts, we then have to assess to what extent they actually CAN be predicted/explained by his/her thesis;
  3. We THEN (if we get this far) we have to consider whether those facts can be 'better explained' (in themselves) by some rival hypothesis;
  4. And then we have to examine facts other than X, Y, and Z to see if they can be predicted by the blogger's thesis;
  5. And finally we have to assess whether the blogger's thesis explains those additional facts 'better'  than the rival hypotheses.

 

The rival hypotheses are:


Of course, there are some philosophy-of-science subtleties around the phrase 'better explanation' but we will deal with these as-and-when they come up.


So, let's dive into a FAQ-like review of the major issues/questions/points:

 

 

Did John the Baptist teach an imminent judgment?

 

Let's look at what the sources say about what J-B said/taught (in 'presumed' chronological order, according to the major 2-sources theory):

 

From the Gospel of Mark:

 

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mk 1:4–8).

 

For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” (Mk 6:18).

 

 

 

From the Gospel of Matthew:

 

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  (Mt 3:1-2).

 

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  (Mt 3:7–12).

 

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Mt 3:13–14).

 

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? (Mt 11:2–3).

 

 

 

From the Gospel of Luke:

 

And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  (Lk 3:3).

 

He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. (Lk 3:7–18).

 

The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, 19 calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 20 And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ ”  (Lk 7:18–20).

 

 

From the Gospel of John:

 

(John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ ”(Jn 1:15).

 

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”  (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” 35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (Jn 1:19–36).

 

Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.” He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. 33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (Jn 3:25–36).

 

 

From Josephus:

 

"Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist; (117) for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. (118) Now, when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it should be too late.  [Ant. 18.116-118, Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1996). The works of Josephus : Complete and unabridged. Peabody: Hendrickson.]

 

 

Let me make a couple of observations about these texts right quick:

 

One. Note that Mark (supposedly the earliest) does NOT have the 'imminent' wording (the kingdom of heaven has come near) on John's lips, but Matthew does. This would definitely be contrary to the blogger's theory that the later writings 'de-apocalypticized' the earlier writings.

 

Two. All of the gospels portray John as announcing the coming of the Messiah, but only in the later Gospel of John is there a hint that the Messiah would appear in his lifetime (i.e. 'on Whom you see the Spirit descend'). Since the coming of the Messiah was considered to be part of the 'end time' in much of 2nd temple Judaism eschatological thought, this announcement by J-B of His coming would have been an 'apocalyptic statement', but the fact that it is not cast in an 'imminent' context except in John is slightly contrary to the blogger's position. On the blogger's position, we might would have expected J-B to say that the Messiah was 'at hand' (for apocalyptic judgment) in the early gospels too. The saying that 'his winnowing fork is in his hand' is not close enough to the expected 'he is NEAR with his winnowing fork ready' position to make the data congruent to the blogger's position. [But this is only a slight incongruence, since the Messiah DID come and the Church would not have had any need to 'de-word' anything about that.]

Three.  But this imminent aspect in GoJ (even if a slight one) is also offset by the 'already present' aspect in the phrase "but the wrath of God (already) remains on him" (3.36).

 

Four. Mark also doesn't have the other apocalyptic images that occur in both Matthew and Luke ('flee from wrath to come', 'even now axe is laid to the root'). This is clearly contrary to the blogger's position.

Five. In fact--unless one somehow makes 'forgiveness of sins' into an apocalyptic image like 'escaping wrath' (difficult to make) or makes the Messianic baptism in the Spirit into an apocalyptic event (which occurred in historical time within Jesus' chronological generation, beginning in Acts 1)--then there is NOTHING in Mark that would lead us to believe that J-B was an eschatological prophet, much less an apocalyptic one, and even 'much more' less (smile) an 'imminent apocalyptic' one. Mark focuses on J-B preaching of righteousness and baptism (as does Josephus) and on his witness to the coming Messiah.

 

Six. Luke and Matthew share all the judgment images (axe, winnowing fork, wrath to come), but only Matthew has the 'kingdom of heaven has come near' phrase (on the lips of John).

 

Seven. All four of the gospels connect J-B to the Isaiah and Malachi passages about the messianic forerunner. Unless these texts are considered apocalyptic (and they generally are NOT), then John's own self-understanding is pre-Messiah (eschatological), and not pre-EndTimes (apocalyptic).

 

 

So, there is not really much in the gospel portrayal to suggest that John the Baptist was thoroughly 'apocalyptic' (any more so than the OT prophets--see below), and we only have one phrase in one gospel to suggest that his message had any more immanent-tone to it than the messages of the prophets before him.

 

When we turn to scholarly assessments, we see that they are not very confident that John was as 'apocalyptic' as might be inferred from the discussion of his teachings. Some have even suggested that later Christians have made him into an apocalyptic/messianic prophet (contrary to the blogger's assertion of the reverse process):

 

"The exact contents and scope of John’s message are difficult to determine. Josephus presents John as someone who exhorts to virtue, righteousness among fellow Jews, and reverence toward God. Given the general political and religious climate, there are likely to have been political overtones pertaining to the future of the Jewish people. Whether John used apocalyptic imagery (cf. Q) is uncertain. In any event, Christian tradition has moved John into a much more definite role as precursor of the Messiah and as Elijah." [Jones, F. S. (2000). John the Baptist. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible (D. N. Freedman, Ed.) (728). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.]

 

"Considering the OT prophetic tradition, John’s message must have been that the wrath of God was coming on them as faithless Israelites (Matt 3:7). Only if they repented of their apostasy, gave up their presumption (Matt 3:9), and instead did works fit for repentance (Matt 3:8), both works of ritual purification (John 3:25; Dodd 1963: 281; Kysar 1975: 63) and works of social justice (Luke 3:10–14), would they escape God’s wrath. Apocalyptic emphasis on God’s imminent intervention against them must also have been strong (Matt 3:10)." [Hollenbach, P. W. (1996). John the Baptist. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), . Vol. 3: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (D. N. Freedman, Ed.) (893). New York: Doubleday, TankNote: the word 'must' implies that we are guessing...smile]

 

"This means that we have no evidence that John initially proclaimed the coming of a messianic figure, let alone the kingdom of God. It is doubtful that John preached about the one to come except to the repentant individuals who came for baptism. He seems not to have mentioned the coming one even to the unrepentant ones who desired baptism (Matt 3:7–10). Moreover, it is also likely that John’s ethical preaching (Luke 3:10–14) was addressed only to persons who actually came to him for baptism. In other words, John’s opening salvo was a stark message of doom familiar from portions of the OT prophets, except that he added the possibility of escape through the baptism of repentance. [Hollenbach, P. W. (1996). John the Baptist. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), . Vol. 3: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (D. N. Freedman, Ed.) (893). New York: Doubleday.]

 

 

But John the Baptist's message was no different than the OT prophets he was connected with (in his own words, and in the words of Jesus). Consider the OT references mentioned in this extended quote:

 

1. John and Elijah

Although his activities at the Jordan River may have been modeled after Joshua’s crossing, other biblical imagery played a role. John’s dress is modeled after that of Elijah the prophet (2 Kgs 1:8 ). Another feature of John’s ministry influenced by the ministry of Elijah is the association with the Jordan River (Mark 1:5 ). Elijah is to hide himself “by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan” (1 Kgs 17:3, 5 ; 2 Kgs 2:6 ). Elijah even divides the Jordan River, in an action meant to recall Israel’s crossing to enter the promised land (2 Kgs 2:6-8 ). The Jordan River is parted again by Elijah’s disciple and successor Elisha (2 Kgs 2:13-14 ). Not only did John locate himself at the Jordan River, he chose the very location from which Elijah was taken up to heaven (2 Kgs 2:8 ). But the general Jordan River parallel between John and Elijah/Elisha takes on added significance when we remember that Elisha commanded Naaman the Syrian to dip himself in the river, in order to be restored and clean (2 Kgs 5:10, 14 ).

The parallels between John and Elijah/Elisha are significant, since there is little evidence that these parallels are products of later Christian identification of the Baptist with Elijah. It was no accident that John identified himself this way, or that his followers regarded him as Elijah, since traditions spoke of Elijah’s return, to avert the wrath of God and to lead Israel to repentance (Mal 4:5-6 [Heb. 3:23-24 ; LXX 3:22-23; Sir 48:9-10 ):

Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse. (Mal 4:5-6 )

 

You were taken up by a whirlwind of fire, in a chariot with horses of fire. At the appointed time, it is written, you are destined to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and to restore the tribes of Jacob. (Sir 48:9-10 )

 

Evidently John understood his role in terms of expectations that had grown up around the mysterious wilderness prophet Elijah. The parallels with Malachi and Isaiah that are taken into account increase the probability that John saw his function as both eschatological and restorative.

 

2. John and Malachi

There are several points of thematic coherence between the preaching of the Baptist and the oracles of Malachi. The first theme concerns divorce. According to Malachi: “I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel…I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers” (Mal 2:16; 3:5 ).

John’s condemnation of Herod Antipas for marrying his sister-in-law Herodias resulted in John’s eventual execution (Mark 6:16-29 ). According to Mark, John had proclaimed: “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18 ), a declaration that coheres with Malachi’s oracle against divorce and with Mosaic teaching (compare Lev 20:21 ). Malachi’s “I hate divorce” is the only condemnation of divorce in the OT. Mosaic legislation permitted divorce (in Deut 24 ). John’s condemnation of Herod’s divorce and remarriage may have been inspired in part by Malachi. Other parallels make this suggestion almost certain.

 

Malachi speaks of the coming messenger who will prepare the way of the Lord:

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. (Mal 3:1 )

 

The first part of this passage is linked with Isa 40:3 in Mark 1:2-3 , and connected with John’s ministry. Jesus applied this verse to John (compare Matt 11:10 // Luke 7:27 ). Although the surviving form of the tradition is conditioned by the LXX and perhaps Christian interests, it provides a modicum of evidence that John’s earliest disciples, including Jesus, viewed him as the fulfillment of Mal 3:1 .

 

Several images of fiery judgment from Malachi cohere with the message that the NT attributes to John (Mal 3:2-3; 4:1-2 a [Heb. 3:19-20 a]). One thinks of John’s warning about the coming wrath (Matt 3:7 //Luke 3:7 ), which is so close, one might say, “even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt 3:10 // Luke 3:9 ). The reference to “root” and “fire” echoes the oracle in Malachi. Moreover, John also says that the “chaff” will be burned up in an unquenchable fire (Matt 3:12 //Luke 3:17 ), again echoing Malachi’s graphic description of evildoers as “stubble” who shall be burned up in the oven in the coming day of judgment (Mal 4:1 ).

Finally, Malachi also promises the coming of Elijah (Mal 4:5-6 [Heb. 3:23-24 ; LXX 3:22-23]). Indeed, Mal 3:23-24 , which scholars suspect as a late gloss, probably guaranteed the emergence of the eschatological role of Elijah.

 

3. John and Isaiah

The most obvious link between John and Isaiah is the quotation of Isa 40:3 : “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” In Mark (1:2-4a) the verse appears combined with Mal 3:1 , with a touch of Exod 23:20 . The linkage of Mal 3:1 and Isa 40:3 is due to the similarities of imagery, theme, and vocabulary. Jewish hermeneutical principles associate two or more passages containing common vocabulary, with each text clarifying the meaning of the other. The introductory formula, “as it is written in Isaiah the prophet,” is hardly an error; it is an interpretive gloss that explains who will facilitate the preparation of the way of the Lord by appeal to Malachi’s prophecy of the coming messenger. Mark, or his tradition, links the conflated quotation to the appearance of John the baptizer in the wilderness.

 

Verbal and thematic parallels between the words of John and Isaianic oracles are evident. The parallels with Isa 30:27-28 are especially noteworthy:

See, the name of the Lord comes from far away, burning with his anger, and in thick rising smoke;

his lips are full of indignation, and his tongue is like a devouring fire;

his breath is like an overflowing stream  that reaches up to the neck—

to sift the nations with the sieve of destruction, and to place on the jaws of the peoples a bridle that leads them astray.

In this oracle alone we find the combination of “coming,” “burning,” “anger,” “fire,” “spirit,” and “water,” elements that also appear in John’s preaching: “The one who is more powerful than I is coming (erchetai) after me…I have baptized you with water (hydor); but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit (pneuma)” (Mark 1:7-8 ; Luke 3:16 adds “and with fire [pyr]”); “Who warned you to flee from the wrath [orge4] to come?…The chaff he will burn (katakausei katakau/sei) with unquenchable fire (pyr)” (Matt 3:7, 12 // Luke 3:7, 17 ). " [NIDB, s.v "John the Baptizer", Craig Evans]

 

His call to repent was OT-based, not in itself eschatological, apocalyptic, or even 'odd':

 

"His call for repentance, as well as his dress, argues that John saw himself as a prophet (compare Zech 13:4 , “put on a hairy mantle”; 2 Kgs 1:8 , “a hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist”). Israel’s classic prophets called on the people to repent (Isa 1:27 ; Jer 5:3 ; Ezek 14:6 ; compare Ezek 18:30 ; Joel 2:14 ; Jonah 3:9 ) [NIDB, s.v. "John the Baptiser", Craig Evans]

 

So, given that

·         the first message attributed to him in the literature (Mark) has him focused on repentance and forgiveness, and;

·         that his self-image was about being the forerunner of the Messiah/Lord, and;

·         that his message was essentially the same as all the other OT prophets,

 

then I cannot see any reason to classify him as 'apocalyptic', and only 'eschatological' as pertains to his forerunner role...

 

And of course his message of judgment/wrath sounded imminent -- all the OT prophets sounded that way too. There is a footnote in Allison's [NT:CJ.45] that reads thus:

 

"Jon Douglas Levenson remarks that in the Hebrew Bible at least, the last things 'are always held to be imminent. Israel recognized no distant end to history' (Theology of the Program of Restoration of Ezekiel 40-48 [HSM 10: Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1976], 53 n. 33)"

 

He clearly taught an 'impending' judgment, but there is nothing about a timeframe for this judgment (and it seems to be a conditional judgment anyway--one that could have been avoided by Israel's response).

 

 

So the only 'imminent' aspect his teaching (as in 'within the first century') was the 'at hand' word (as used in Matthew)?

 

Apparently so.

 

The 'at hand' word will also show up in the words of Jesus (e.g., in Mark) so we need to get clear on what this term means.

 

Let's look at a couple of discussions of this first:

 

"The confident and repeated declaration by the psalmists that “Yahweh reigns” embodies the universal Hebrew conviction, expressed in a rich variety of ways from Genesis to Malachi, that God, as creator of this world, is in control of it and of all who are in it. But alongside this unquestioned datum of the eternal sovereignty of God there developed a sense that all was not as God would have it in his world, and with this the hope of a time to come when God’s rule would be more fully and openly implemented and acknowledged among the people of earth: “The Lord will become king over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be one and his name one.” (Zech 14:9) This expectation of the ultimate triumph of God appears in many different ways in the OT prophets, but reaches its most definitive expression in the book of Daniel, which explores the conflict between the kingdoms of this world and the ultimate sovereignty of the Most High God to whom they must all in the end submit. Subsequent Jewish writings, especially those of the apocalyptists, frequently returned to this theme, and in popular Jewish hope by the first century A.D. Jesus’ choice of the phrase “the kingship of God” to sum up his message would have evoked a deep-rooted longing for this ultimate assertion of God’s sovereignty over all who opposed his will. The regular synagogue liturgy at the time of Jesus concluded with the words of the Kaddish prayer: “May God let his kingship rule in your lifetime and in your days and in the whole lifetime of the house of Israel, speedily and soon.” Mark’s description of Joseph of Arimathea as one who was “waiting expectantly for the kingship of God” (Mark 15:43) is probably typical of mainstream Jewish piety at the time. ...But John (and Jesus) do not simply echo this hope of God’s rule coming soon. It has already arrived; literally it “has come near.” There has been extensive debate over the significance of the choice of the verb engizō, and especially of its perfect tense. The present tense, engizei, would have conveyed the standard eschatological hope, it “is coming near,” but the perfect ēngiken suggests something more actual. That which has completed the process of “coming near” is already present, not simply still on the way. There is a suggestive parallel use of the perfect tense of the same verb in 26:45–46, where Jesus’ declaration that “the time has come near” is paralleled with the statement that the Son of Man is being betrayed (present tense), while the following declaration that the betrayer “has come near” leads into the statement that “while he was still speaking” Judas arrived. This is not the language of an event still in the future but of one now in the process of happening. In Mark 1:15 the same phrase summarizing Jesus’ proclamation is balanced by the declaration (also in the perfect tense) that “the time has been fulfilled,” which surely makes the sense of present reality unmistakable. But even without that supplement Matthew’s phrase is clear enough, and is further supported by the language of v. 10: the ax is already placed at the root of the trees. The time of God’s effective sovereignty has arrived, and now is the time for decisive action in response." [France, R. T. (2007). The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (102–104). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co.]

 

The phrase itself is thus more about the present than about the future. The kingdom of heaven 'was near' for J-B, but was already there for Jesus:

 

But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. [Mt 12:28, ESV]

 

"In spite of the unusual word φθάνω (“has already come”) [footnote: Classically, φθάνω means “to precede,” “to be ahead of.” In Koine Greek and the LXX it also means “to arrive,” “to reach,” “to arrive at,” “to extend to.” Cf. Moulton-Milligan, s.v., 2; BAGD, s.v., 2. The word is synonymous with the classical ἀφικνεῖσθαι, not with ἐγγίζειν. Its basic meaning is that the goal has been reached and not merely almost reached.]  that was transmitted to the evangelist, we may not interpret our passage in the macrotext of the gospel as basically different from “the kingdom of God has come near” (4:17; 10:7); there was talk there also of exorcisms (4:24; 10:8). In Matthew the kingdom of God reaches the people without being exhausted in what occurs in the miracles and exorcisms, in the proclamation of the gospel, and especially in the new practice of righteousness (6:33). It is present, but it retains its transcendence or its future. Thus there is no contradiction with 4:17 and 10:7, even if those texts emphasize above all the temporal aspect, the near future, while our text emphasizes the beginning that is already present and perhaps also the spatial aspect of the kingdom of God. In contrast to the accusation of the Pharisees and to what the Jewish exorcists also do, Matthew thus emphasizes that Jesus’ exorcisms are a realm of experience where something completely new and qualitatively different appears." [Luz, U., & Koester, H. (2001). Matthew : A commentary (204). Minneapolis: Augsburg.]

 

"The verb ἔφθασεν means “to come upon” and necessitates the conclusion that the kingdom of God has in some sense actually become present (so rightly Davies-Allison)—a clearer statement than that made by ἐγγίζειν, “is near,” of 4:17; 10:7. Admittedly this has happened without the fullest effects that one must associate with the kingdom; we thus have fulfillment but fulfillment short of consummation. This problem will again surface in chap. 13, where the presence of the kingdom together with the delay of apocalyptic judgment is addressed (cf. Luke 17:21). [Hagner, D. A. (2002). Vol. 33A: Word Biblical Commentary : Matthew 1-13. Word Biblical Commentary (343). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]

 

Of course, Jesus--in continuity J-B--used the 'is at hand' terminology sometimes in His message--including in Matthew and Luke (no de-apocalypticising there, we should note).

 

So, this term when used by J-B meant more than just 'is coming' (an apocalyptic nuance) but 'is here' or 'in present now' (in some sense). As such, it obviously means 'within his generation'--smile--but this means something quite different from a 'prediction of some future event'. It was an announcement, often understood to be a reference to the kingdom 'realm' in the person of the Messiah (i.e., the Spirit in Jesus which showed a new 'realm of experience' in the exorcisms, healings, and teachings), or as the kingdom 'rule' in the ethical demands of the presence of the Messiah as delegate of God.

 

"The perfect-tense verb ἤγγικεν expresses the urgency of the demand for repentance. This verb is used elsewhere in Matt. 4:17; 10:7; 21:1, 34; 26:45–46. God’s reign has drawn near in redemptive history—it is imminent. But as a reason for repentance, one could say that God’s rule is now morally present. Since this same message is preached by John, Jesus, and the disciples (3:2; 4:17; 10:7), static geographical conceptions of the kingdom should be resisted. John is not speaking primarily of a concrete realm but of a dynamic, life-changing reign. Although there is historical progression in the manifestation of this reign, as a moral motivation it has already arrived. In this sense ἤγγικεν does not differ a great deal from ἔφθασεν (ephthasen, has come) in 12:28. The stress here on the presence of the kingdom as God’s eschatological dynamic for moral change does not in any way contradict its use elsewhere as the future earthly realm or domain of Jesus (e.g., 7:21–23; 25:31, 34; 26:29). Jesus’s kingdom is both present and future, now and not yet." ...

The presence and/or future of the kingdom. The question of the presence and future of the kingdom is closely tied to the question of its nature. It seems that a kingdom requires a ruler, those who are ruled, the exercise of that rule, and a realm in which the rule occurs. Those who prefer to think of the kingdom as present focus on the dynamic “rule” aspect of a kingdom whereas those who prefer to think of it as future focus on the concrete “realm” aspect. The modern debate in its larger context has been between advocates of “consistent eschatology” (konsequente Eschatologie) and “realized eschatology.” As advocated by J. Weiss, A. Schweitzer, and current exponents, consistent eschatology holds that Jesus was a prophet who predicted imminent apocalyptic catastrophe that would usher in the reign of God. In this view, then, the kingdom of God is future. On the other hand, realized eschatology (Dodd 1961) tends to view Jesus as a teacher of ethics whose ministry inaugurated the kingdom on earth, where it will always be. In American evangelical circles a similar debate occurs between dispensationalists, who tend to think of the kingdom as the future millennium on earth, and amillennialists, who tend to think of the kingdom as the present rule of Christ within believers through the Spirit. But these are not mutually exclusive categories.

Ladd (1974) puts to rest any notion that the kingdom is only present or only future. He demonstrates that a comprehensive treatment of the kingdom can only conclude that it is both present and future, and nearly all contemporary NT scholars agree. Although some would still argue that the kingdom of God is exclusively present (e.g., Crossan 1973) or future (e.g., Toussaint in Toussaint and Dyer 1986), their positions are exegetically dubious. The use of βασιλεία (basileia) in the NT as well as the use of מַלְ כוּת (malkût, rule, dominion) in the Hebrew Bible connotes dynamic rule more than concrete realm, although the two concepts should not be separated. Insistence that the kingdom is essentially a concrete realm leads inevitably to viewing it as strictly future as well, and this will not do in Matthew. John, Jesus, and the disciples announce the dawning of the kingdom (3:2; 4:17; 10:7). Those who repent at this message of God’s rule already possess the kingdom (5:3, 10). The royal power of God is dynamically present in Jesus’s words and works (esp. Matt. 12:28). The church is endowed with this dynamic power for ministry through its confession of Jesus as the Son of God (16:18–19; 28:18–20).

But this stress on the kingdom as the present dynamic rule of God exists alongside eschatological hope for a full manifestation of God’s rule on earth (6:10). Those who have already experienced the kingdom’s power (5:3, 10) will someday receive it in full measure (5:3–9). In the meantime their quest is for a greater approximation of kingdom righteousness on earth (6:33). At the return of Jesus the Son of Man, the entire world will come under God’s rule (7:21–23; 25:31, 34). So it is not that the kingdom does not involve a concrete realm. It is, rather, that the kingdom exists as a microcosm today and as a macrocosm when Jesus returns. Today the rule of God is shown in the lives of believers individually and corporately and as they relate to the world. In that day God’s rule will be extended to all mankind in judgment or redemption.

Generally, the kingdom of heaven refers to the nearness or even presence of the rule of God in the person, works, and teaching of Jesus (3:2; 4:17; 10:7; 11:12; cf. 12:28), but there are times when it implies (5:19; 7:21; 13:24, 47; 25:1) or clearly describes (8:11; cf. 6:10; 13:38–43; 25:34; 26:29) the future reign of Jesus upon the earth. Perhaps the best way to describe the dynamic nature of God’s reign is to say that it has been inaugurated at Jesus’s first coming and will be consummated when he returns. Matthew characterizes the preaching of Jesus, John, and the apostles as being centered on the kingdom (3:2; 4:17; 10:7). References to the present experience of the kingdom (Matt. 5:3, 10) frame the Beatitudes, which otherwise speak of future kingdom blessings. Jesus’s kingdom includes a radical righteousness greater than that of the legal experts (5:19–20); it requires disciples to seek it first, before their daily needs (6:33). Even John’s greatness as a prophet of the kingdom is eclipsed by the least one who experiences eschatological kingdom realities (11:11–12). The parables of the kingdom in Matt. 13 present figuratively the preaching of the kingdom and responses to it, and the keys of Matt. 16:19 further symbolize its authority. Entrance into this kingdom requires childlike humility (18:3–4; 19:14), and the unknown time of its future arrival mandates constant alertness (25:1–13). [Turner, D. L. (2008). Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew (42–44). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]

 

We should also note that he did not advance any short-term 'interim period' ethic. When his listeners asked him what to do, he did not say anything like "sell all your possessions, give all the money to the poor, leave your families, and move in with me and my group here at the Jordan". He did not tell the soldiers or tax collectors to quit their jobs. He told the Pharisees (and their messengers) to bring forth 'fruits of righteousness'  instead of sell/give all away, etc. We might have expected something 'stronger' from him, under the blogger's hypothesis--but it is not there.


 

And how was the phrase 'kingdom of heaven' (or 'kingdom of God') likely understood at the time?

 

The Hebrew bible and post-biblical Jewish writings are replete with references to God's reign as being both present and future. These were not held to be contradictory by ANY of the writers of the period, although many modern biblical scholars have tried to reduce the concept to one or the other.

 

"The presence and/or future of the kingdom. The question of the presence and future of the kingdom is closely tied to the question of its nature. It seems that a kingdom requires a ruler, those who are ruled, the exercise of that rule, and a realm in which the rule occurs. Those who prefer to think of the kingdom as present focus on the dynamic “rule” aspect of a kingdom whereas those who prefer to think of it as future focus on the concrete “realm” aspect. The modern debate in its larger context has been between advocates of “consistent eschatology” (konsequente Eschatologie) and “realized eschatology.” As advocated by J. Weiss, A. Schweitzer, and current exponents, consistent eschatology holds that Jesus was a prophet who predicted imminent apocalyptic catastrophe that would usher in the reign of God. In this view, then, the kingdom of God is future. On the other hand, realized eschatology (Dodd 1961) tends to view Jesus as a teacher of ethics whose ministry inaugurated the kingdom on earth, where it will always be. In American evangelical circles a similar debate occurs between dispensationalists, who tend to think of the kingdom as the future millennium on earth, and amillennialists, who tend to think of the kingdom as the present rule of Christ within believers through the Spirit. But these are not mutually exclusive categories. ... Ladd (1974) puts to rest any notion that the kingdom is only present or only future. He demonstrates that a comprehensive treatment of the kingdom can only conclude that it is both present and future, and nearly all contemporary NT scholars agree. Although some would still argue that the kingdom of God is exclusively present (e.g., Crossan 1973) or future (e.g., Toussaint in Toussaint and Dyer 1986), their positions are exegetically dubious. The use of βασιλεία (basileia) in the NT as well as the use of מַלְ כוּת (malkût, rule, dominion) in the Hebrew Bible connotes dynamic rule more than concrete realm, although the two concepts should not be separated. Insistence that the kingdom is essentially a concrete realm leads inevitably to viewing it as strictly future as well, and this will not do in Matthew. John, Jesus, and the disciples announce the dawning of the kingdom (3:2; 4:17; 10:7). Those who repent at this message of God’s rule already possess the kingdom (5:3, 10). The royal power of God is dynamically present in Jesus’s words and works (esp. Matt. 12:28). The church is endowed with this dynamic power for ministry through its confession of Jesus as the Son of God (16:18–19; 28:18–20).

But this stress on the kingdom as the present dynamic rule of God exists alongside eschatological hope for a full manifestation of God’s rule on earth (6:10). Those who have already experienced the kingdom’s power (5:3, 10) will someday receive it in full measure (5:3–9). In the meantime their quest is for a greater approximation of kingdom righteousness on earth (6:33). At the return of Jesus the Son of Man, the entire world will come under God’s rule (7:21–23; 25:31, 34). So it is not that the kingdom does not involve a concrete realm. It is, rather, that the kingdom exists as a microcosm today and as a macrocosm when Jesus returns. Today the rule of God is shown in the lives of believers individually and corporately and as they relate to the world. In that day God’s rule will be extended to all mankind in judgment or redemption.

Generally, the kingdom of heaven refers to the nearness or even presence of the rule of God in the person, works, and teaching of Jesus (3:2; 4:17; 10:7; 11:12; cf. 12:28), but there are times when it implies (5:19; 7:21; 13:24, 47; 25:1) or clearly describes (8:11; cf. 6:10; 13:38–43; 25:34; 26:29) the future reign of Jesus upon the earth. Perhaps the best way to describe the dynamic nature of God’s reign is to say that it has been inaugurated at Jesus’s first coming and will be consummated when he returns. Matthew characterizes the preaching of Jesus, John, and the apostles as being centered on the kingdom (3:2; 4:17; 10:7). References to the present experience of the kingdom (Matt. 5:3, 10) frame the Beatitudes, which otherwise speak of future kingdom blessings. Jesus’s kingdom includes a radical righteousness greater than that of the legal experts (5:19–20); it requires disciples to seek it first, before their daily needs (6:33). Even John’s greatness as a prophet of the kingdom is eclipsed by the least one who experiences eschatological kingdom realities (11:11–12). The parables of the kingdom in Matt. 13 present figuratively the preaching of the kingdom and responses to it, and the keys of Matt. 16:19 further symbolize its authority. Entrance into this kingdom requires childlike humility (18:3–4; 19:14), and the unknown time of its future arrival mandates constant alertness (25:1–13). [Turner, D. L. (2008). Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew (42–44). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]

 

Under modern understanding, your blogger would be representative of the positions of J. Weiss and A. Schweitzer. He--like many before him--would try to explain away (or 'reinterpret') any biblical references to 'present kingdom', and would fail--like many before him--in doing so.

 

"A large consensus and a vast array of scriptural data support a two-pronged focus in which the kingdom is both present and future (both in Jesus’ day and our own)—contrast, e.g., Matt 12:28; Luke 7:22–23; 17:20–21 with Matt 6:10; Luke 13:28–29; Mark 9:47. The kingdom is not currently a geographical entity, but it manifests itself in space and time in the community of those who accept the message John and Jesus proclaimed and who begin to work out God’s purposes on earth—personally, socially, and institutionally. Thus to declare that the kingdom is at hand “means that the decisive establishment or manifestation of the divine sovereignty has drawn so near to men that they are now confronted with the possibility and the ineluctable necessity of repentance and conversion.” (D. Hill, The Gospel of Matthew, NCB (London: Oliphants, 1972), 90." [Blomberg, C. (2001). Vol. 22: Matthew (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (74). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.]

 

 

The only real 'method' for dealing with the reality of this kingdom that is both 'already' and 'not yet'--from that perspective--is to accuse the gospel authors of twisting whatever tradition they received into something that it was not originally. This is presumed to be wholesale re-interpretation or even fabrication/insertion of gospel passages--because of their own 'conflicts of belief'... The authors, in other words, would think it more legitimate to falsify the words of their Teacher (in the record)  to fit their 'failed and now corrected beliefs' than to admit their misunderstandings of their Teacher, recant their (alleged) 'entire End-Time sequence will be completed in the first century' beliefs, and re-study the traditional/received words of their Lord... hmmm---not sure I want to stand before the Lord in MY eschatological Bema-judgment future and accuse the first 3 generations of Jesus-touched people of such turpitude, twistedness, and failure to even carry out the 'de-apocalypticising' consistently (e.g. If Matthew and Luke 'pulled stuff out', why did they 'leave some in'--and even ADD some?)...

 

 

But didn't apocalyptic thought include an 'interim kingdom' (e.g. of the Messiah) prior to the great-and-ultimate Kingdom?

 

Some did and some didn't. J-B could easily have been one of those who 'did', since his self-understanding seems to be connected with it.

 

"The Temporary Messianic Kingdom. There is little consistency in Jewish apocalyptic regarding the arrival of the kingdom of God. It was conceptualized by some as the arrival of an eternal kingdom, but by others as a temporary messianic kingdom which would be succeeded by an eternal kingdom (see 1 Cor 15:24). The conception of a temporary messianic kingdom which would function as a transition between the present evil age and the age to come, between monarchy and theocracy, solved the problem of how the transition from the Messiah to the eternal reign of God (where such a conception is present) might be conceived. In Jewish apocalyptic thought generally, the kingdom of God is more centrally important than the figure of a Messiah. A messianic interregnum, therefore, functions as an anticipation of the perfect and eternal theocratic state which will exist when primordial conditions are reinstated forever. This interim kingdom was expected to be transitional since it is depicted as combining some of the characteristics of this age with those of the age to come. In Christian apocalypticism this anticipation of a temporary messianic kingdom is clearly reflected in Revelation 20:4–6, and according to some scholars is also reflected in 1 Corinthians 15:20–28 (see below). The expectation of a future temporary messianic kingdom is found in only three early Jewish apocalypses, the Apocalypse of Weeks, or 1 Enoch 91:1–10; 93:12–17 (written between 175 and 167 B.C.), 4 Ezra 7:26–44; 12:31–34 (written c. A.D. 90), and 2 Baruch 29:3–30:1; 40:1–4; 72:2–74:3 (written c. A.D. 110). Though some have claimed that the conception of a temporary messianic kingdom is found in 2 Enoch 32:2–33:1 and Jubilees 1:27–29; 23:26–31, the evidence is not compelling. ... There are a number of reasons for thinking that it is more probable that 1 Corinthians 15:20–28 indicates that the Parousia will shortly be followed by the resurrection and judgment, which together will usher in the final consummation of history (Davies 1970, 295–97): (1) For Paul the kingdom of God is an unending kingdom (1 Thess 2:12; Gal 5:21; 1 Cor 6:9–10; 15:50; see 2 Thess 1:4–5; Col 4:11). (2) The only text which mentions the “kingdom of Christ” (Col 1:12–13) understands it as a present fact. (3) Paul connects the Parousia with the judgment of the world (1 Cor 1:7–8; 2 Cor 1:14; Phil 1:6, 10; 2:16). It is probable that Paul has essentially historicized the apocalyptic conception of a temporary messianic kingdom in terms of a temporary period between the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and his Parousia" [NT:DictPL, s.v. "Paul and Jewish Apocalyptic", D.E. Aune]

 

But the imminent appearance of an 'interim kingdom' still would not get us all the way to being warranted to believe that J-B taught that the End-of-the-End of the world (as opposed to the 'Beginning-of-the-End' of the world) would occur within his lifetime/generation.

 

In fact, an 'interim kingdom--messianic' would also fit with one of the general themes of J-B's and Jesus' ministry: the call to 'get ready'--the call to 'begin cleaning up' BEFORE the Great Day. A 'cleaning up' period would imply a DELAY in the actual in-breaking of God's eschatological judgment. J-B (as the second Elijah) was supposed to turn the hearts of families around--but he didn't accomplish this at any major level (statistically). Jesus was almost shocked at the unbelief of Israel during His ministry--as was Paul at the constant rejection of his messianic message in the book of Acts.

 

I pointed out in the earlier piece that the time of the final judgment was a surprisingly 'flexible' point in time (e.g. pray that it not happen on a Sabbath or in winter, as Jesus said).

 

Both J-B and Jesus were attempting to change the outcomes of judgment. They were trying to call Israel to a changed perspective and to renewed covenant loyalty--so that judgment would be favorable (e.g. 'times of refreshing'--Acts 3.20 ) rather than desolation (e.g. 'your house is left to you desolate', Matt 23.38).

 

So, since an interim kingdom was supposed to incite righteousness (at a wholesale level), the arrival of the Judgment/Restoration part of the Eschaton would have been 'variable' (and therefore 'unknowable' to anyone but God the Father--who still could have decided the 'day and hour' based upon 'foreknowledge' or some such, I guess).

 

 

Would John the Baptist's teaching be considered 'apocalyptic' by today's standards?

 

Depends on your definition of Jewish apocalyptic...

 

Here are the main defining characteristics of apocalyptic thought of the day, according to a couple of writers--and how J-B's teachings would compare:

 

"Major Aspects of Apocalypticism. There are a number of features of apocalyptic eschatology upon which there is some scholarly agreement:

(1) The temporal dualism of the two ages

(2) The radical discontinuity between this age and the next coupled with pessimism regarding the existing order and otherworldly hope directed toward the future order

(3) The division of history into segments (four, seven, twelve) reflecting a predetermined plan of history

(4) The expectation of the imminent arrival of the reign of God as an act of God spelling the doom of existing earthly conditions

(5) A cosmic perspective in which the primary location of an individual is no longer within a collective entity such as Israel or the people of God, and the impending crisis is not local but cosmic in scope

(6) The cataclysmic intervention of God will result in salvation for the righteous, conceived as the regaining of Edenic conditions

(7) The introduction of angels and demons to explain historical and eschatological events

(8) The introduction of a new mediator with royal functions

[Hawthorne, G. F., Martin, R. P., & Reid, D. G. (1993). Dictionary of Paul and his letters (27). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]

 

Comparing J-B's statements:

·         There is nothing that leads us to believe that he held to temporal dualism.

·         Nothing along the lines of 'radical discontinuity' (e.g. his instructions to the soldiers and commonfolk).

·         No evidence for segmentation of history.

·         Did expect imminent arrival of God's reign, but no evidence of it spelling the doom of existing earthly conditions.

·         Evidence supports that he was only talking about membership in Israel--and not a cosmic situation.

·         No evidence that he thought in terms of Eden.

·         No mention at all of angels and demons as explanatory devices.

·         He did introduce a new mediator with royal functions (i.e. the Messiah as Judge)

 

Not very apocalyptic, according to those criteria--nothing more than 'standard' OT prophecy of judgment/wrath coupled with Messianic figure who will administer this judgment/wrath. (But in Gospel of John, it is that same Judge who is the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world...).

 

OK. Let's try another description of apocalyptic thought:

 

"Dualism. Antagonism between God and Satan was sharply emphasized. All men, nations, and supernatural beings (angels, demons) were seen as allies of God or of Satan. Although Satan had always been thought of as the adversary of God and man (Gn 3:1–19; Jb 1:6–12; 2:1–8), his power was restrained as long as Israel remained faithful to the covenant law of God. When Israel began to experience the long national nightmare of subjugation by foreign enemies, the reality of Satan’s temporary domination of the world was brought home with great force. Though apocalyptic writers dealt with particular nations dominating Israel during one or another epoch in its history, those nations were seen as servants of Satan whose opposition to God (and God’s people) would inevitably spell their downfall.

Determinism. Apocalyptic thought was dominated by the conviction that, no matter how bad circumstances might be at any given moment, God and his people would ultimately triumph over their enemies. Apocalyptic determinism was not a fatalistic conviction that everything happened by a kind of mindless necessity; rather, it clung to hope in a sovereign God who would cause his people to experience ultimate victory over all temporal and spiritual enemies. Many apocalypses contained predictions of the future historical experience of Israel (or of the Christian church), culminating in a final and decisive victory of God and his people. In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream interpreted by Daniel, for example, a series of foreign empires was referred to under the symbolism of various parts of a gigantic image constructed of various materials; the image was destroyed by the kingdom of God, symbolized by a stone cut without hands from a mountain (Dn 2:31–45).

Pessimism. A major difference between apocalyptic eschatology and prophetic eschatology was that apocalypticism nearly always envisaged a cosmic catastrophe prior to the final, decisive victory of God. In some apocalypses, such as the Book of Daniel, God was expected to intervene decisively in the course of history, subdue evil, and introduce the kingdom of God. In others, such as the Revelation of John, God would first destroy the old world before creating a wholly new one (Rv 21:1; cf. 2 Pt 3:10). The general view was that things would get much worse before they got better. During the golden age of Israelite independence (10th through 7th centuries B.C.), the notion of future catastrophe was understandably not given much emphasis. However, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., apocalyptists thought the Jews’ problems could be reversed only by decisive and climactic intervention of God into the affairs of men and of nations.

A common apocalyptic notion based on both dualism and pessimism was the concept of two “ages.” “This age,” which is present and evil, was dominated by Satan and his minions, but “the age to come” would bring the blessings of the kingdom of God. A constellation of eschatological events would serve to bring the old age to a close and inaugurate the new age. When Paul spoke of the “god of this evil world” (2 Cor 4:4) he was actually referring to Satan’s domination of “this age.”

Imminent Expectation of the End. Another characteristic of apocalypticism was its frequent expression of intense longing for God to shorten the present evil days and quickly usher in the kingdom of God. Just as Daniel could ask, “How long shall it be till the end of these wonders?” (Dn 12:6), so John could exclaim, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rv 22:20). The desire for God’s speedy intervention and victory made it possible to maintain hope in thoroughly adverse circumstances and encouraged God’s people to conduct their lives in a manner worthy of the coming kingdom (2 Pt 3:11–13; Rv 21:5–8)."

 

Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (122–123). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House.

 

Comparing J-B:

·         Dualism--no mention of Satan in the words of J-B.

·         Determinism--no mention of this (or sovereignty).

·         Pessimism--no indication of this.

·         Two Ages--no mention by J-B.

·         Imminent Expectation of the End -- in this context ("longing to shorten the evil days"), no. J-B's message of impending judgment was not about the triumph of good over evil, for Israel's sake. Any imminence in J-B deal with judgment upon evil IN Israel.

 

So, John the Baptism looks a bit 'eschatological' but not really that 'apocalyptic' by these standards.

 

 

 

 

 

Would John the Baptist's understanding of himself as the role of the forerunner to the Messiah imply a belief that all end-time events would happen within his generation?

 

No.

 

Messianic expectation was not even part of all apocalyptic or all Second Temple Jewish eschatological hope.

 

"Messianic Expectation. Messianism was not an invariable feature of all the various eschatological schemes which made up Jewish apocalypticism. During the Second Temple period there were at least two main types of Jewish messianism, restorative and utopian. Restorative messianism anticipated the restoration of the Davidic monarchy and centered on an expectation of the improvement and perfection of the present world through natural development (Pss. Sol. 17), and modeled on an idealized historical period; the memory of the past is projected into the future. Utopian messianism anticipated a future era which would surpass everything previously known. Jewish messianism tended to focus, not on the restoration of a dynasty, but on a single messianic king sent by God to restore the fortunes of Israel. However, as a theocratic symbol, the Messiah is dispensable, since a Messiah is not invariably part of all Jewish eschatological expectation. No such figure, for example, plays a role in the eschatological scenarios of Joel, Isaiah 24–27, Daniel, Sirach, Jubilees, the Assumption of Moses, Tobit, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, 1 Enoch 1–36 [the Book of Watchers], 90–104 [the Epistle of Enoch], 2 Enoch." [Hawthorne, G. F., Martin, R. P., & Reid, D. G. (1993). Dictionary of Paul and his letters (28). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]

 

And the sequence of events in the end-time (e.g. arrival of Messiah, Day of the Lord, the great distress of Daniel) were not understood uniformly in Jewish thought of the day, so a belief in one aspect (e.g. Messiah is here among us) did not necessarily entail a belief in another (e.g., God would resurrect the righteous when Messiah came).

 

In fact, the passages in Isaiah and Malachi do not explicitly say that those events are the 'last ones within time'. The events described are not 'world-ending' but 'righteousness beginning'. In Isaiah 40, God comes to His people and they see His glory (like at Sinai, at the Temple, in the visions of the prophetcs). In Malachi, God comes to His temple and purifies His people.

 

And even the judgment associated with the second Elijah is conditional--it can be averted:

 

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”  (Mal 4:5–6).

 

So, J-B's messianic announcement role was not necessarily connected with his prophetic role (e.g. call to repentance, warnings of judgment)--because the two were not connected uniformly in the OT. The closest to that would be that he was a forerunner of the 'Lord'--and coupled with his being the one who was to recognize/reveal the Messiah to Israel, this would hint at a semi-incarnation (a la God in the Solomonic temple), but any connotation of judgment therefrom would be no different than the holiness judgments in Deuteronomy (e.g. ritual impurity was not allowed around the Tabernacle).

 

 

 

 

Did John the Baptist teach that this judgment would happen within his lifetime (or within the first-century generation)?

 

I cannot find any indication that John the Baptist believed that the entire Day of Lord would arrive within his own generation.

 

All his words indicate is that judgment upon Israel (chaff burning, trees being cut down) was already happening then. As we saw in the discussion on the term "has drawn near", the kingdom was already there, and judgment was already in motion ('axe is (already) laid to the root'). It was not something completely future, but something present-but-ongoing. The axe had been laid (perfect tense) but wrath was 'about to come'--at the hands of the Coming One/Messiah.

 

"John’s proclamation involved three elements: a warning of imminent judgment at the hands of the Coming One, a call for repentance in light of the coming kingdom of heaven, and a demand to express this repentance in concrete ethical terms. Many Jews looked forward confidently to the messianic judgment as a time of blessing for themselves and destruction for the gentile oppressors. John, however, warned that Jewish ancestry was only false security in the coming judgment (Lk 3:8); true repentance was the only means of escaping destruction (Mt 3:2). John anticipated this judgment at the hands of the Coming One, who would baptize the nation with “the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Lk 3:16). Fire represented the OT means of destruction in the end time (Mal 4:1) as well as purification (Mal 3:1–4), while the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the end time connoted blessing (Is 32:15; Ez 39:29; Jl 2:28) and purification (Is 4:2–4). The judgment anticipated by John was therefore twofold: destruction for the unrepentant and blessing for the penitent and righteous (Mt 3:12). ... In light of this imminent event John called for repentance on the part of his listeners (Mt 3:2), a true “turning back” or turning “toward” God in obedience that would bring forgiveness of sin. Such a turnabout in an individual’s relation with God should be lived out in one’s everyday dealings: fairness on the part of the tax collector (Lk 3:12,113) and soldiers (3:14), and the general requirement of compassion for the poor (3:10, 11)." [Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (1201). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House.]

 

"John the Baptist called his audience to repentance. One major theme of John’s preaching was that Yahweh’s eschatological wrath would soon fall on Israel. ... According to Mark, Q and John, John the Baptist expected a successor—the Coming One. It has been suggested that John expected Yahweh to come and bring in the Day of the Lord, which is understandable in light of the prophecy in Malachi. ... Did John see Jesus as this Coming One? John 1:29–34 seems to make this identification clear, but a likely authentic Q tradition (Mt 11:2–3 par. Lk 7:19) shows that John had doubts about such an identification even as late as the time of his imprisonment. Possibly these doubts were created by the fact that Jesus did not immediately bring down fiery judgment on Israel. Other authentic elements in John’s preaching probably include: (1) an appeal to charitable and honest conduct (Lk 3:11–14), some of which Jesus also picks up in his proclamation (cf. Mt. 5:40 and par.); (2) a belief that being a descendant of Abraham was no guarantee of avoiding the wrath to come, if it was not also accompanied by repentance and its fruit; (3) preaching against immorality, such as that exhibited by Herod Antipas and Herodias in their incestuous union (Lk 3:19) and (4) the idea that the Coming One would gather in the wheat as well as burn up the chaff (Lk 3:17). This means that John conceived of a righteous remnant being created by the Coming One—a community of the faithful who would survive the coming wrath. [Green, J. B., McKnight, S., & Marshall, I. H. (1992). Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (387). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.]

 

It is unclear how the 'kingdom of heaven/God' and 'wrath to come' are related, in J-B's teaching, but if we focus only on the judgment aspect, then a major aspect of that WAS fulfilled in the first century--with the destruction of Jerusalem.

 

Even Josephus can call that a deserved judgment on that generation:

 

[6.8.5 § 408]. And truly so it happened, that though the slayers left off at the evening, yet did the fire greatly prevail in the night; and as all was burning, came that eighth day of the month Gorpieus [Elul] upon Jerusalem; (408) a city that had been liable to so many miseries during the siege, that, had it always enjoyed as much happiness from its first foundation, it would certainly have been the envy of the world. Nor did it on any other account so much deserve these sore misfortunes, as by producing such a generation of men as were the occasions of this its overthrow.

 

However, the biblical witness does not actually ascribe the destruction of Jerusalem to the Messiah Jesus (as might be inferred from J-B's words), and there is nothing in the OT text that identifies Deuteronomic 'judgment' with the destruction of the city/temple. Accordingly, we cannot make a sure connection between J-B's words and the judgment that DID fall within his generation.

 

But he certainly did not make it clear that his expectation was 'within his generation'--even if it had already started with the arrival of the Coming One Messiah.

 

 

 

 

Was Jesus a baptized disciple of John?

 

Baptised-yes, disciple-probably not.

 

"It has also been suggested that, prior to the beginning of his own ministry, Jesus may have been among the followers of John. All such conclusions remain speculative, however." [Achtemeier, P. J., Harper & Row, P., & Society of Biblical Literature. (1985). Harper's Bible dictionary (1st ed.) (502). San Francisco: Harper & Row.]

 

In fact, all the data we have (across the entire time frame of the NT) suggests that Jesus was NOT a disciple of J-B.

 

·         J-B refers to himself as 'unworthy to untie the sandal' of the Messiah. In the ancient world of very hierarchical teacher-student status, this would be unthinkable for a teacher to say of his disciple.

·         Jesus refers to John in glowing terms, but explains that the 'least in the kingdom' is greater than John. As the King, Jesus is clearly superior.

·         J-B says that he needs to be baptized by Jesus, instead of the other way around--not a normal statement for a teacher to make.

·         Jesus is never portrayed as staying around J-B (as a disciple would), but as coming and going independently (cf. John 1.29, 36).

·         J-B's disciples change allegiance from J-B to Jesus, using the term 'Rabbi'. This would not fit well with peer-status for Jesus--had he 'merely' been a peer disciple of them.

·         Jesus even had an independent baptismal ministry.

·         John served as witness to Christ as the Coming one--not as His teacher--and this is remembered in the apostolic mentions of J-B in Acts (13.24=25; 19.3)

 

Apart from the baptism scene (which itself argues against discipleship status for Jesus), the only data which might suggest (to some) such a relationship is the points of continuity in their teaching. But since J-B's teachings were basically a repetition of the OT prophets, they would of course be similar to Jesus', since He carried forth the OT message as well (just a wider swath of it).

 

 

Did Jesus teach the same thing as John the Baptist concerning the eschaton?

 

It is clear that they shared the basics:

 

"The two men say similar things (cf. 3:2 with 4:17, 3:7 with 12:34 and 23:33, and 3:10 with 7:19). Both are introduced in a similar fashion (cf. 3:1 with 3:13). Both are opposed by the Pharisees and Sadducees (cf. 3:7–10 with 12:34 and 23:33). Both appeal to the same generation to repent (11:16–19). Both act by the same authority, the authority of heaven (21:23–32). Both are taken by the people to be prophets (11:9; 14:5; 21:11, 26, 46). Both are rejected and executed as criminals (14:1–12; 26–27). And both are buried by their own disciples (14:12; 27:57–61)." [Davies and Allison, Matthew, 1:289; cited in Nolland, J. (2005). The Gospel of Matthew : A commentary on the Greek text (137). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.]

 

but they were not identical by any means:

 

"These themes do not suggest that John preached the coming dominion of God (Heb. maleḵûṯ Yahweh) in the same fashion as Jesus. Apparently he did not stress the aspect of good news entailed in the coming events. The summary in Mark 1:14 does suggest that Jesus was influenced, at least in his early Galilean preaching, by John (Witherington). This continuity in preaching between John and Jesus can also be found when one compares the likely authentic parable of the tares (cf. Mt 13:24–30 and par.) to the Johannine preaching found in Matthew 3:7–10 and parallels (Catchpole). Serious attention should also be given to the hints in John 3:22–36 that historically Jesus assisted John or had a parallel ministry involving baptizing in the Judean wilderness prior to John’s imprisonment and Jesus’ Galilean ministry (Linnemann). ... The way in which this Q tradition is framed suggests that Jesus saw John as the great eschatological prophet, hence the description “more than just another prophet.” This comports with traditions which intimate that Jesus thought of John as an Elijah redivivus figure. The quotation of Malachi 3:1 in Matthew 11:10 also confirms Jesus’ viewpoint. John is one who prepares the way for God’s eschatological activity. ... Although both John and Jesus each had a ministry from God, there were points of discontinuity as well as continuity between the two men in their words, deeds and self-understanding. From a saying such as Matthew 11:19b it also appears that Jesus may have regarded himself as divine Wisdom personified, something we have no hint of in John’s case (Witherington). In any event, the measure of the continuity between the two men is perhaps shown by the fact that Mark 6:14, 16 records a likely authentic tradition suggesting that some, including Herod, thought Jesus was John raised from the dead, which they believed explained Jesus’ miraculous powers." [Green, J. B., McKnight, S., & Marshall, I. H. (1992). Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (387). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.]

 

But I think it is safe to say that Jesus did not contradict J-B, but that Jesus gives much more detail and information about the unfolding of salvation history than did John. And the perspective was quite different (e.g. 'not worthy to untie His sandal' versus 'one greater than the Temple is here'), friend of groom versus groom, forerunner of the Lord versus the Lord, witness versus Son of God, warning voice about sin versus sin-bearing Lamb of God.

 

 

 

 

Did Jesus consider the Son of Man terminology to be a reference to the Danielic echatological figure? Did Jesus identify himself with this figure?

 

I can agree that the Son of Man references are (mostly) allusions to the Danielic figure--although I see more influence of Ezekiel's language in some of the passages (i.e. some of Jesus' references to Himself as "Son of Man" might emphasize His prophetic calling as servant of God, than to His future role as exalted Danielic figure).

 

But the term is mainly used as a self-designation of Jesus--with a range of different meanings and/or nuances:

 

"The phrase “the Son of man” (ho huios tou anthropou) is such a form of words. It is the phrase used more frequently than any other (except “Jesus” itself) to refer to Jesus in the Gospels. It occurs in all four Gospels and only once outside them (Acts 7:56; Heb 2:6 [quoting Ps 8:5] and Rev 1:13; 14:14 [alluding to Dan 7:13] have “a son of man”). Within the Gospels it is found only in sayings ascribed to Jesus; the only clear exception is John 12:34a,b where the people quote Jesus’ phrase back at him and ask to whom he is referring. ... This evidence shows that “the Son of man” functions as a self-designation of some kind; it never became a way for other people to refer to Jesus, and it thus played no part in the confessional and doctrinal statements of the early church, unlike “Christ,” “Lord” and “Son of God.”" [Green, J. B., McKnight, S., & Marshall, I. H. (1992). Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (775–776). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.]

 

"Messianic title used by Jesus to express his heavenly origin, earthly mission, and glorious future coming. It does not refer merely to his human nature or humanity, as some church fathers or contemporary scholars believe. Rather, it reflects on the heavenly origin and divine dignity of Jesus, on the mystery of his manifestation in human form, and on his earthly mission which involved suffering and death but which issued in heavenly glory to be followed by eschatological vindication.

The background of the term “Son of man” is to be found in the OT. The Book of Ezekiel is the general source, since this prophet used “Son of man” 90 times as a cryptic, indirect reference to himself. For example, God addresses him, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” (2:1). Jesus’ use of the term “Son of Man” and numerous themes from Ezekiel suggest his desire to identify himself as the eschatological prophet who, like Ezekiel (ch 4, 7, 10, 22, 40–48), had the last word about the destruction of Jerusalem and the restoration of the kingdom of God to Israel (Mt 23, 24; Acts 1:6–8). ... The specific source of the term is Daniel 7:13, 14, with its vision of one “like a son of man” who “comes with the clouds” into the presence of “the Ancient of Days” who gives him the universal and eternal kingdom of God. Jesus repeatedly quoted parts of this text in teaching about his second coming (Mt 16:27; 19:28; 24:30; 25:31; 26:64). Clearly, Jesus understood this passage as a prophetic portrayal of his own person: his incarnation, ascension, and inheritance of the kingdom of God. ... In the Gospels, the term “Son of man” is used by Jesus some 80 times as a mysterious, indirect way of speaking about himself (Mt, 32 times; Mk, 14; Lk, 26; Jn, 10). In all these texts, Jesus is always the speaker, and no one ever addresses him as “Son of Man.” In some texts the reference is cryptic enough for some interpreters to insist that Jesus is speaking about another person. Such uncertainty is recorded in only one text in John, where the crowd asks Jesus, “Who is this ‘Son of Man’?” (12:34). In most texts, the identification is clear; in some it is explicit: “Who do men say that the Son of Man is?” … “Who do you say that I am?” (Mt 16:13, 15). The conclusion generally drawn is that Jesus used the term as a messianic title for himself, so that he could speak modestly about his person and mission, yet convey the exalted content he wished to reveal about himself. He could do this with considerable originality because the term was not fraught with popular misconceptions concerning messiahship. [Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (1983). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House.

 

 

But Jesus broadened the term beyond even the Daniel/Ezekiel allusions, pairing it with both Messiah and Suffering Servant streams of prophetic tradition:

 

"The Gospel of Mark, the earliest extant Christian text with references to the son of man, plays on the ambiguities in the paradoxical use of the term mentioned above. Son of man denotes Jesus in his humanity and stands in contrast to ‘son of God’, the gospel’s highest designation for him. At times, however, the expression is ambiguous and can also indicate the notion of a transcendent son of man. In 2:1–12, Jesus the man claims to have ‘on earth’ the ‘sovereignty’ (exousia) that Dan 7:14 (LXX) attributes to the eschatological cloud-borne ‘one like a son of man’, although forgiveness of sins suggests the judicial function not present in Daniel. Mark 14:61–62 exploits the ambiguity to the full. Asked if he is the Messiah, the son of God, Jesus responds that Caiaphas, who is about to condemn him, will see to his detriment the man who stands before him, coming on the clouds of heaven as the eschatological son of man, seated at God’s right hand as messiah and judge (Ps 110:1; but also 1 Enoch 62:1). This juxtaposition of messiah and ‘son of man’ appears also in 8:29–31 and in 13:21–27, where he is the champion of the chosen as in the Parables of Enoch. Moreover, 8:29–31; 9:9; 9:31, and 10:33–34, 45 refer to the suffering, death, and resurrection of the ‘son of man’, employing a pattern of persecution and vindication drawn from the interpretation of the servant poems attested also in Wis 5, where, different from 1 Enoch 62–63, the central figure is the vindicated one rather than the vindicator. Thus, for Mark ‘son of man’ is a complex and ambiguous code word that denotes Jesus’ humanity (the ordinary meaning of the expression), Jesus’ identity as the eschatological son of man and messiah, and his fate in the role that Wisdom explicates for the servant and the central figure in Ps 2: the suffering and vindicated righteous one. ... John 13:31–32 is remarkable because its language recalls Isa 53:12 and 49:3, thus reflecting the servant tradition that is paired with ‘son of man’ tradition in Jewish and synoptic texts. [Nickelsburg, G. W. E. (1999). Son of Man. In K. van der Toorn, B. Becking & P. W. van der Horst (Eds.), Dictionary of deities and demons in the Bible (K. van der Toorn, B. Becking & P. W. van der Horst, Ed.) (2nd extensively rev. ed.) (803). Leiden; Boston; Köln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans.]

 

The inclusion of the Suffering Servant motifs in the content of the title 'Son of Man' indicates that eschatology (e.g. the restoring of the kingdom to Israel of Acts 1) is not necessarily the main (and certainly not the only) focus of the term: the sacrificial substitute of the Servant Songs in Isaiah, the rejected Messiah in Zech (e.g. Mark 14.21), the Lamb of God references in GoJ, and the Saving Shepherd in Luke 19.10.

 

Given the multiple roles involved in this 'son of man' title, we cannot make the assumption that all of those roles were 'simultaneous'. For example, redemption (from individual sin before God) occurred before the Final judgment of the resurrected dead (Mt 25) would occur. So, we cannot read any real 'timing' into this term/title. We have to look at more explicit wording to evaluate claims of 'imminence' or 'in this generation' timing.

 

 


Did Jesus teach that this Son of Man figure was 'on the way'?

 

Well, since He identified Himself as being the 'Son of Man' and since scholars have noted that the events of His life were described as being those of the 'Son of Man' we would have to say 'no' to this question. He actually taught that the Son of Man (Himself) had already come, but also that He would return at some future date.

 

So, He never said that "The Son of Man is on the way" in the same sense He/J-B might have said "judgment is on the way" or "redemption draweth nigh".

 

There are connections between current and eschatological events and the Son of Man title, of course: the Son of Man has come eating and drinking (Lk 7.34), the Son of Man is betrayed (Mr 14.21), and the disciples will long to see one of the 'days of the Son of Man' (Lk 17.22).

 

He did, of course, constantly affirm that the post-rejection coming of the Son of Man--in glory, power, and judgment--could not be predicted at all. Not even the incarnate Son knew the date--and the Lord only taught that it was unpredictable, that it would be sudden, and that it would 'contain' many of the eschatological events foretold by the OT prophets and Himself.

 

But one of the MAIN points of His appearing in history--according to every strata of writing we have--was NOT 'eschatological' in 'tone'. Rather, it was about His sacrificial, substitutionary, and servant-not-ruler death:

 

Mark 10.45: "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

 

Matthew 20.28: "even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

 

Luke 19.10: "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost"

 

Gal 1.3f: "the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father"

 

John 1.29: "The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"

John 6.27-29: Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.

 

 

Notice that there is no 'de-eschatologicalizing' going on here: the mission of the Son of Man is stated clearly and consistently through the literature. The NT authors did not start 'inserting salvation history' texts to replace 'failed apocalyptic' texts at all.

 

So, the Son of Man passages are not going to be--as we already noted--of much use in deciding whether Jesus taught that his subsequent (second?) return as 'revealed' Son of Man would certainly occur before every person (living in Israel at the time) had died.

 

 

Does the Matthew 26:64 passage show that Jesus believed that this Son of Man figure (being Jesus via self-identification) was 'on the way'?

 

The texts of Jesus's response to His questioners, as recorded in the different gospels, illustrate some of the ambiguity within the title. Let's look at them:

 

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mk 14:61–62).

 

And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.(Mt 26:63–64).

 

And they led him away to their council, and they said, 67 “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, 68 and if I ask you, you will not answer. 69 But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” 70 So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” (Lk 22:66–70).

 

At the surface of the text--before we get into the discussion on the 'from now on' phrase--we can make a couple of observations:

 

One. The only change from Mark to Matthew is the addition of the 'from now on' terminology. Could this mean that Matthew is turning a future eschatological saying ("you will see at some point in the future--before every member of the current court dies--the Danielic vision with Jesus in the place of the Son of Man figure") into a 'realized eschatological' saying ('you have just now--at this present moment as I speak these words-- starting seeing the Son of Man as depicted in in the Danielic vision, and you will continue to see Him in this Danielic manifestation without interruption until you die'). Or does it simply make more sense that the 'from now on' term was implicit in Mark ALREADY, and that Matthew only makes the detail explicit (like he often does-- http://christianthinktank.com/diplopia.html ). Unless one radically re-images the Danielic scene, you really cannot make Matthew (and Luke) into believing this, or in believing that Jesus meant such an interpretation of the Daniel text.

 

Two. And we can see additional evidence for this 'we did not change Jesus' meaning' position from the fact that Luke --although he drops the 'coming on clouds' phrase--does not drop that phrase from other utterances of Jesus. So, for example, in Luke 21.27, he reports Jesus as quoting the Cloud passage in a similar discourse: "Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory". So, even though the Lukan trial-text does not have the 'eschatological image' does NOT mean that Luke de-apocalypticizes Jesus' positions. The explicit data is otherwise.

 

Three. But Luke goes even further in illuminating the meaning of Jesus' words here. Instead of 'from now on you will see the Son of Man seated...', he gives us Jesus' meaning as 'from now on the Son of Man will be seated...'. Even though Luke gives us the 'full' apocalyptic images in Jesus' speech elsewhere (Luke 21.5-36), he emphasizes here the transition of authority from the corrupt Jewish authorities to the new appointed-by-God judge Jesus.

 

It is something akin to the Victory over the Powers theme (Christus Victor, see http://christianthinktank.com/thecross.html , the Work of Christ on the Cross), in which the evil judges--in the act of condemning the Innocent Son of Man--invalidate their authority, and God overthrows their judgment (by raising the victim from the dead) and removes them from their authority (by installing His messiah as Davidic ruler and as Danielic judge).

 

This is the way I understand the verse--that Jesus is announcing to them that this consummate act of covenant disloyalty (the condemnation of the promised messiah and messenger) marks the end of their positions of leadership, and the inauguration of a new reign under the new ruler Messiah, the Son of Man and Son of God.

 

Now, let's look at how the scholars interact with the text, especially the "from now on" marker.

 

 

 

The reference to "From now on, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven" (Matt 26.64) is linguistically difficult, but cannot be taken literally to refer to 'from the second of His speaking onward'. It is generally understood as a prophetic reference to the history-splitting events in which Jesus and the Sanhedrin were the current 'actors on stage', almost a present reference to a future reality:

 

"For Jesus to say, “from now on [ap’ arti], you will see …” does not refer to one continuous vision from the time of his interrogation forward, but rather means simply “in the future” (Davies and Allison 1988–1997: 3:530–31). At the same time, the trial initiates decisive events of eschatological significance, and Jesus’ exaltation will continue throughout the church age (Sabourin 1978: 359)."" [Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. (2007). Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (94–95). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos.]

 

"On this understanding of the imagery the “coming on the clouds of heaven” cannot be read as a reference to the parousia, as has been the traditional exegesis until relatively recently. See on 24:30 for a parallel issue, where exactly the same words are used (without the intervening reference to Ps 110:1) with reference, as I argued there, to the enthronement of the Son of Man in contrast to the destruction of the temple. There the event predicted was to take place within “this generation,” and here too Matthew’s wording demands a fulfillment which is imminent rather than set in the indefinite future: it is something which “you” (the current Sanhedrin members) “will see,” and it will come true “from now on.” It is fully consonant with this prediction that in 28:18, only a few days later, the risen and vindicated Jesus will declare the fulfillment of Dan 7:14 in his assertion that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (28:18). In the vindication of the repudiated Messiah and in the powerful growth of the movement which they have attempted to suppress, they “will see” that it is he who is now seated on the heavenly throne. There may also be an echo here of the mourning of the tribes of the land when they “see” the triumph of the one they have pierced (24:30). [France, R. T. (2007). The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (1027–1028). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co.]

 

"from now on … The Greek is quite emphatic. Those listening to Jesus are asked to see in the person surrounded by enemies The-Man-in-glory, the cloud rider of Dan 7:13 ff. (cf. also Ps 110:1). In a very real sense this is the climax of all that Matthew’s tradition has so carefully preserved for us in the sayings about The Man. Though Jesus does not say “You will see me,” the identification is plain enough to his hearers." [Albright, W. F., & Mann, C. S. (2008). Matthew: Introduction, translation, and notes (333). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.]

 

"ap' arti (‘from now [on]’) is used here for the third time. In the earlier cases (23:39; 26:29) it is the Passion which, as imminent, is anticipated as though already a reality. This is not so obviously the case here, but the pattern is likely sustained and the same watershed is probably in view.... Since ‘coming on the clouds of heaven’ belongs further in the future, ‘sitting at the right hand of “the Power” ’ must be joined in the first instance to ‘from now [on]’. So what are the Sanhedrin members to see? We can think of the events of 27:51–53; certainly these events are enough to force the guards at the cross to affirm Jesus’ identity as the ‘Son of God’. We may also recall the report from the guards at the tomb in 28:11–15. Finally, we may think of the contrast between the disciples who all left Jesus and fled in 26:56 and their coming actions as implied by 28:16–20. The Sanhedrin will see these as indications of power, but this will not guarantee that they will realise what they are seeing. There will, however, be no ambiguity about the ‘coming with the clouds of heaven’." [Nolland, J. (2005). The Gospel of Matthew : A commentary on the Greek text (1131–1132). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.]

 

"The Greek phrase ap’ arti (lit., “from now”; NIV, “in the future”; see on v. 29) is difficult. Some have found it so difficult that they say v. 64 must refer, not to the Parousia, but to the Resurrection (e.g., L. Hartman, “Scriptural Exegesis,” in Didier, p. 145). But if “from now” or “from now on” ill suits the delay till the Parousia, it is equally unsuited to the delay till the Resurrection and the Ascension. Moreover the records show that the high priest and other august leaders were not witnesses of the Resurrection; for according to the NT, no human being saw the actual event happen.

The best explanation of v. 64 is that Jesus is telling the members of the Sanhedrin (“you” is pl.) that from then on they would not see him as he now stands before them but only in his capacity as undisputed King Messiah and sovereign Judge. “From now on” (i.e., “in the future,” NIV) that is the way they will see him. Matthew does not include the word “only” or the like (e.g., “From now on you will only see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand.… “) because it would imply a possibility they might not see him at all, which is not true. The phrase “from now on” makes this a forceful warning that at least some Sanhedrin members doubtless remembered after the Resurrection." [Carson, D. A. (1984). Matthew. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (555). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.]

 

"To begin with, we are probably meant to take the expression in a general sense, meaning in the near future rather than from that actual moment (cf. the use of the phrase in 23:39 where they did continue to see Jesus for a while). It can hardly be stretched, however, to mean the distant future (as the NIV seems to take it). It is thus very possible to take it as referring to the events attending the crucifixion and the resurrection and its aftermath, that is, in and through the amazing events that will soon follow in their experience (R. E. Brown: “in the storyline the Sanhedrists could have seen dramatic signs of Jesus’ vindication by God” [Death of the Messiah, 504]; a kind of “mental seeing of the Son of Man sitting on God’s right hand” [Gundry, 545]). The Jews will see, presumably at the parousia and/or the final judgment (cf. Rev 1:7), the Son of Man sitting at God’s right hand; this, however, is something that will begin with the imminent resurrection of Jesus (cf. 28:18). A further possibility, however, is that the phrase is to be taken as referring not to the imminent seeing but to the imminent sitting of the Son of Man at God’s right hand, which will take place in the immediate future in the resurrection of Jesus (thus Zahn, who criticizes an inept translation). This is the sense of Luke’s parallel “from the present,” in the easier statement of Luke 22:69: “From the present the Son of Man will be sitting at the right hand of the power of God”)." [Hagner, D. A. (2002). Vol. 33B: Word Biblical Commentary : Matthew 14-28. Word Biblical Commentary (800). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]

 

In no way can the 'from now on you will see' terminology be taken woodenly--there is simply no way to believe (or even a precedent for believing) that Jesus was saying that the Sanhedrin was entering an altered state of consciousness at that very moment, in which they experienced the vision of Daniel 'overlaid' on top of the physical Jesus of Nazareth before them.

 


So, if I had to summarize the distinctive emphases of the three evangelists, in their reporting of the response by Jesus, I would probably say this:

 

·         Mark emphasizes that the Judges will physically see the full revelation of the Son in the Return. Whether physically dead or physically alive, they will experience the literal fulfillment of the Danielic vision.

·         Matthew emphasizes that the Judges will learn (from the extraordinary chain of events which began that night--e.g. Christ's power to end his life by his will alone, the events following the death, the darkness, the confession of the Centurion, the resurrection, the outpouring of the Spirit, the miracles done by the apostles yet ascribed to Jesus) that the reign of Christ (and their demotion) was beginning during those moments. They would also see this chain of events of Jesus' rulership continue until the Danielic/Davidic identity of Jesus was unmistakable.

·         Luke emphasizes here the transition of authority from the corrupt Jewish authorities to the new appointed-by-God judge Jesus. His focus is on the abject reality of this shift of power and authority.

 

 

One last question about this passage: is there any way to use this passage as evidence of some 'watering down' of the apocalyptic message of Jesus by the church?

 

No. If we argued that Matthew turned Mark's prophecy into something 'present-but-spiritualized' (in order to remove the prophetic element), we would be contradicted by the Matthean passages which did NOT 'spiritualize' Jesus' word about His return. [e.g. Matt 24.1-31]

 

And, similarly, if we argued that Luke turned both Matthew and Mark's eschatological tone (i.e. the reference to the Danielic 'clouds') into something spiritual-and-invisible, we would be contradicted by the Lukan passages which did NOT 'spiritualize' the eschatological events [e.g. Luke 21.5-28].

 

In other words, the elements that were allegedly 'removed because of embarrassment' are still present in all the Synoptics (in different passages), so some other explanation for their omission fits the data better.

 

 

 

Did Paul teach an imminent eschaton in I Thess?

 

We really have to get a bit more nuanced with our word choices with this question.

 

When we talk about 'imminent eschaton', are we using some different understanding of 'imminent' than normal?

 

For example, here are a couple of definitions from the Web:

 

"ready to take place; especially : hanging threateningly over one's head" , with synonyms of "impending, looming, pending, threatening, around the corner" (Merriam-Webster)

 

"Threatening to occur immediately; near at hand; impending" (Webster)

 

"About to occur; impending" (American Heritage 4)

 

All of these imply 'could occur at any moment', but do any of them carry any more predictive precision than that (e.g., within 40-70 years)?

 

Not at all. So many of Jesus' parables about 'be alert--you do not know when the Return is' clearly teach 'ready to take place' but highlight the fact that the timing is unknown and unpredictable. So, an imminence-word by itself cannot carry a timeframe message (other than that such a timeframe is unknowable, perhaps).

 

Consequently, even if Paul believed and taught an 'imminent eschaton' that would not in itself be teaching a prediction, but it would be an echo of the Lord's teachings about the matter.

 

So, that leads us to a couple of central questions:

 

·         When Paul wrote 1 Thess, did he believe that he would still be alive when the Lord returned?

·         Did Paul explicitly teach that he would still be alive when the Lord returned?

·         Did the Thessalonians believe that they would still be alive when the Lord returned?

 

 

Paul does not explicitly teach an imminent eschaton, as much as evidence a belief in it and set this as a model for the Thessalonians.

 

Paul and his co-authors clearly believed that they COULD STILL be alive at Christ's return, but they did not explicitly say that they would be, nor did they reference anything about 'this generation shall not pass'. Indeed, they echo Jesus' own teachings that the time of His return is unknown:

 

"The Parousia. As was explained in the note on 4:15, the word “parousia” had two usages in Hellenistic times: (1) as a term to describe the coming of a hidden divinity who made his presence felt by a revelation of his power; (2) as an official or technical term denoting the visit of a person of high rank. “These two technical expressions can approach each other closely in meaning, can shade off into one another, or even coincide”. When the New Testament writers used the word “parousia,” they must have known these two definitions, as did their readers. Thus, the notion of Jesus Christ’s parousia speaks of his coming out of hiding to reveal his presence, and it speaks of his royal visitation. We must keep both of these ideas in mind when we study the parousia of Jesus Christ. ... It is very likely that Jesus himself was responsible for inaugurating the term parousia to describe his second coming. In Matthew 24, a chapter that focuses entirely on Jesus’ presentation of eschatology, the term is found four times. Though Matthew was written later than 1 and 2 Thessalonians, it may very well recapture terminology used by Jesus and the apostles (see Matt 24:3, where the disciples ask Jesus a question about his parousia, and see Matt 24:27, 37, 39 where Jesus three times speaks about “the parousia of the Son of Man”). ... Speaking of himself as the Son of Man, Jesus said he would come in clouds with great power and glory (Matt 24:30). This language is derived from the Old Testament, especially from Daniel’s vision in which “someone like a son of man” comes with the clouds of heaven to receive everlasting dominion from the Ancient of Days (Dan 7:13–14). Jesus’ last reference to his second coming was made at his trial before the Jewish authorities. When asked by the high priest to say whether or not he was the Christ, the Son of the Blessed, he replied, “I AM. And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). ... Among all the New Testament writings, 1 and 2 Thessalonians have the most to say about the Parousia. In these two letters, Silvanus (especially) and Paul followed Jesus’ teachings quite closely in speaking of Christ descending from heaven, accompanied by angels, a commanding shout, and a trumpet call, and resurrecting believers who are gathered to Christ in the clouds to be with him forever. They also concur with Jesus’ teachings that the time of the Parousia is unknown, for it will come like a thief, catching unbelievers unaware, as when labor pains come to a woman. Therefore, believers should be watchful, not living in drunkenness but in the light; for the believers are chosen for salvation, not for wrath. ... The Parousia, in this light, is presented as the glorious coming of the Lord Jesus (2:19; 3:13; 4:15–17). This mainly accords with the second definition of parousia—namely, it is the visitation of royalty. But we need to add to this the first definition of parousia—namely, that it is the manifestation of a hidden deity. The terminology of 2 Thessalonians 2:8 underscores this aspect of parousia, wherein Paul and Silvanus speak of “the splendor of [Christ’s parousia]” (see note on 2 Thess 2:8 and commentary on 2 Thess 2:1–12)." [Hoehner, H. W., Comfort, P. W., & Davids, P. H. (2008). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol. 16: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1&2 Thessalonians, Philemon. (367). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]

 

"Schweitzer and Werner claim that Paul understood Jesus’ death and resurrection as the initiation of the end of the world, and even that he saw Jesus’ resurrection as the literal beginning of the general resurrection. Moore counters this by suggesting that, while Paul regarded the speedy return of Christ a real possibility, he nowhere maintained it as certain or necessary either in his early or later epistles (op. cit., 46; cf. 108 ff. where he discusses 1 Thess. 4:13–18; 2 Thess. 1:5–12; 2:1–15; 1 Cor. 7; and 15; 2 Cor. 5:1–10; Rom. 13; and 15:19, 23; Phil. 3:20; 4:5). Consistent eschatology posits that Christianity is founded upon a mistaken idea which was not about some minor detail but about the central issue of the primitive church’s witness. But the mistaken expectation of apocalyptic as Schweitzer understood it “cannot do justice to the soteriological understanding of Jesus’ life and death which we find throughout the New Testament” (Moore, op. cit., 48)." [Brown, C. (1986). The Parousia and Eschatology in the NT. In L. Coenen, E. Beyreuther & H. Bietenhard (Eds.), . Vol. 2: New international dictionary of New Testament theology (L. Coenen, E. Beyreuther & H. Bietenhard, Ed.) (903). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.]

 

 

Paul's use of the pronoun 'we' in this passage cannot carry the position that he expected the Return of Christ before His death. It fits better with a view of 'categories' or 'setting an example':

 

"Two further matters need discussion, since a good deal of misunderstanding has had its day here. First, Paul is not stating that he expects to be alive at the Parousia. Rather, he was simply currently among “the living” who are set out in contrast to “the sleeping.” His concern in fact has nothing to do with who will be living, but with the simple fact that they have no advantage over the dead regarding the Parousia. Or to put that another way: to be alive or dead is of no consequence at all regarding the coming of Christ. In other places, including later in this letter (5:10), Paul reckons with either possibility. Similarly, a few years later he can reflect on “whether we are ‘at home’ [in the body] or ‘away from home’ ” (2 Cor 5:6–9) with regard to being alive or dead at the coming of Christ. In any case, Paul’s (and “their” or “our”) being among the living or the dead at the Coming of Christ is ultimately an irrelevancy; that, after all, is quite the point made in the passage as a whole. ... Second, nothing in the text implies that the Thessalonians have some kind of “feverish expectation” regarding the Parousia. They are simply concerned about those who have died beforehand; and when Paul himself goes on to speak about the “when” in 5:1–11, he makes it plain that they have no need of instruction, since the coming is totally “unexpected” in terms of precise timing. Thus his concern throughout this present passage is singular: to reassure the living that those who have died will in fact be present at the Coming." [Fee, G. D. (2009). The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (175–176). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.]

 

"Others have suggested that Paul simply establishes two categories—those alive and those asleep. Since he did not fit into the latter, he took his place with the former. His presence in one or the other is inconsequential, however (Ellicott, pp. 62, 63; Hogg and Vine, pp. 138–140; Hiebert, p. 196). By entertaining the possibility of his own death before the parousia, as he did elsewhere (2 Cor 5:9; Philippians 1:21ff.; 2:17; 2 Tim 4:6), Paul could not have meant more than to establish two categories here (Auberlen and Riggenbach, p. 76). While somewhat plausible, this view fails to explain the emphatic hemeis (“we,” v. 15) or tell us why Paul used the first person instead of the third (Best, p. 195). ...More feasible is the solution that sees Paul setting an example of expectancy for the church of all ages (Lightfoot, p. 67). Proper Christian anticipation includes the imminent return of Christ. His coming will be sudden and unexpected, an any-moment possibility. This means that no divinely revealed prophesies remain to be fulfilled before that event. Without setting a deadline, Paul hoped that it would transpire in his own lifetime. Entertaining the possibility of his own death (2 Tim 4:6–8) and not desiring to contravene Christ’s teaching about delay (Matt 24:48; 25:5; Luke 19:11–27), Paul, along with all primitive Christianity, reckoned on the prospect of remaining alive till Christ returned (Rom 13:11; 1 Cor 7:26, 29; 10:11; 15:51, 52; 16:22; Philippians 4:5). A personal hope of this type characterized him throughout his days (2 Cor 5:1–4; Philippians 3:20, 21; 1 Tim 6:14; 2 Tim 4:8, Titus 2:11–13). Had this not been the Thessalonians’ outlook, their question regarding the dead in Christ and exclusion from the parousia would have been meaningless. They were thinking in terms of an imminent parousia, expecting to see it before death (Best, p. 183). An intervening period of messianic woes or birthpangs was not their anticipation (Best, p. 184), for such intense persecution would have meant probable martyrdom, and in that case they would have had doubts about their own participation in the parousia. Hence, Paul believed and had taught his converts that the next event on the prophetic calendar for them was their being gathered to Christ. ... This teaching about a future parousia that will be a cosmic and dateable event in world history is as valid for the twentieth century as it was for the first. It is not to be explained away as an event outside history because of the alleged limited cosmological framework of early Christian minds (cf. Best, pp. 360–370). Just as God intervened in history through his Son’s first coming, so he will do at his return." [Thomas, R. L. (1981). 1 Thessalonians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 11: Ephesians through Philemon (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (278). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.]

 

So, he does teach an imminent eschaton--but not that it would occur within the lifetimes of himself or the Thessalonians. He followed the teaching of Jesus --as we have it in the Synoptics--that the event was imminent but the timing inscrutable.


And there
is considerable doubt about whether the Thessalonians expected an imminent end:
"Furthermore, there is no evidence in 1 Thessalonians that the Thessalonians expected an imminent end. Had they done so, Paul would have exacerbated the problem in 5:1–10. There, precisely because they had deferred the Parousia, under the influence of the false prophets’ teaching (5:3), he intones the unexpectedness and certainty of the Day of the Lord so strongly that its imminence came to be misunderstood by his readers (see 2 Thess 2:1–2). ... Furthermore, the Epicurean overtones in his language in 4:11 and in 5:3, 6 would be strange in the extreme if his readers had fervent eschatological views. This language was used by and of philosophers whose behavior was not determined by any eschatology at all. Paul uses the language by design and gives their behavior an unfavorable, Epicurean coloring (Malherbe 1999)." [Malherbe, A. J. (2008). Vol. 32B: The letters to the Thessalonians: A new translation with introduction and commentary. Anchor Yale Bible (253). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.]

 

 

Does this teaching mirror the wording of end-time passages in the Synoptics?


The connections with the gospels (not just the Synoptics, btw--even the allegedly later ones) are manifold:

 

 

Christ returns

1 Thess 4:16

Matt 24:30; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27

descends from heaven

1 Thess 4:16

Matt 24:30; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27

a commanding shout

1 Thess 4:16

John 5:28–29

accompanied by angels

1 Thess 4:16

(an archangel)

Matt 24:31; Mark 13:27

with a trumpet call

1 Thess 4:16

Matt 24:31

the Christians who have died will rise

1 Thess 4:16

John 11:25–26

believers gathered to Christ

1 Thess 4:17

Matt 24:31; Mark 13:27

caught up in the clouds

1 Thess 4:17

Mark 13:26 (= Matt 24:40–41; Luke 21:34–35—one taken, another left)

to meet the Lord

1 Thess 4:17

Matt 25:6

be with the Lord forever

1 Thess 4:17; 5:10

John 17:24 (cf. Phil 1:23)

time unknown

1 Thess 5:1–2

Matt 24:36; Mark 13:32

coming like a thief

1 Thess 5:1–2

Matt 24:43

the Parousia will be sudden

1 Thess 5:3

Matt 24:37–39; Luke 21:34

judgment comes as labor pains

1 Thess 5:3

Matt 24:8; Mark 13:8

believers should be watchful and on guard

1 Thess 5:4–6

Matt 24:42–44; Mark 13:35–37; Luke 21:34–36

warning against drunkenness

1 Thess 5:7

Matt 24:48–50; Luke 21:34

live in the light

1 Thess 5:8

John 8:12; 12:35–36

chosen for salvation, not for God’s wrath

1 Thess 5:9

Matt 24:13; Mark 13:13

 

[from Hoehner, H. W., Comfort, P. W., & Davids, P. H. (2008). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol. 16: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1&2 Thessalonians, Philemon. (366). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]

 

The 1 Thess passage reflects the composite teaching of the four gospels on this--without any evidence of preference for one gospel over another (e.g. Mark over Luke). Since the letter was likely written before Matthew and Luke were even written down, the presence of traditions semi-unique to Matthew and/or Luke supports the position that the traditions of these reputedly-later gospels were NOT created later (to water down Jesus' teaching on the end times), but were fair, accurate, and accepted re-statements or paraphrases of Jesus' teachings in Mark and early Matthew. There are just no grounds for separating the three Synoptics into 'layers of eschatological back-pedaling' in this passage.

 

Notice, however, that there is no reference to 'this generation' or 'before the Son of Man comes' or anything with a possible time marker in it. This is exactly what we would expect if the traditional view of imminent-but-unpredictable was taught by Jesus, but NOT what we would expect if Jesus had explicitly taught an imminent-and-within40years position (a la your blogger).

 

 

 

 

 

 

......................................

 

Are there many passages in which Jesus predicting the end (of the world?) within his generation?

 

Since I am not convinced that He EVER predicted the final Eschaton/Judgment within His generation [compare Collins/Attridge remark on the Markan "no one knows the hour", in Hermeneia: "The saying may be an attempt to explain why Jesus did not make a specific prediction about the exact time at which the Son of Man would return"], let's broaden this to "are there many passages in which Jesus predicted ANYTHING about the end-times?" and, of these, how many specified a timeframe, relative to the time of His speaking the prediction?

 

How could we 'size' this?

 

We could start with a simple listing of Gospel Parallels (within the Synoptics) and work within its classification. Since such a work 'normalizes' for parallels (as best it can), this should give us a list to work with. (There is clearly overlap between some of the passages, but this will give us a close-enough sense of the proportions. Some passages show up in multiple categories, of course.)

 

Using Throckmorton's work, we start with a count of 253 topics/themes/divisions (with 5 extra for appearances of the Risen Lord; and 12 pre-Ministry passages). I put all of these into a spreadsheet (NB: which is still undergoing modifications!) and tried to consolidate the duplicates, arriving at 229 pericopes/pericopae.

 

Of the 229, there are approximately 201 passages in which Jesus is said to speak.

 

·         In less than a third of these (63, at 31%), Jesus speaks about the future. Many (if not most) of these passages are very 'vague' (relative to predictions), focusing on rewards (e.g., "Your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly"; "the meek will inherit the earth") or punishments (e.g., "fear Him who can throw body and soul into hell").

·         Passages in which an endtime-related prediction is given with some (possible) time indicator (e.g., "this generation", "you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes") or a suggestion of 'delay/long-time-off' number approximately 40 (20%) . Several of these are also vague or very 'far-off' (e.g. 'gospel will be preached to all nations and then the end will come'), and most of them concern only general 'watchfulness' or 'uncertainty' about the end-time.

·         Of the 220, 50 of them (25%) make references--most of them 'general references'--to the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven.

·         24 of them (12% of the 201) refer to the Kingdom as seemingly already present (e.g., "If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the KoH has already come"; "the KoH suffers violence up to the present moment", "you are not far from the kingdom").

·         Passages in which Jesus predicts His rejection, death, and victory number approximately 20 (10%).

 

Obviously there is a great deal of overlap between what I called the "Eschat/Apok", "Timing?", and "KoH, KoG" columns, but these numbers are 'close enough' to give us some feel for 'density'. But at first blush, this doesn't look like Jesus was a 'mostly-apocalyptic' figure...

 

If we drill down just a bit--on the Eschat/Apok/Timing passages--we can get a bit more precise.

 

In Mark, of the 15 passages which I categorized as (possibly) "Timing or Delay?", there are 10 passages which I consider 'clearly' related to timing issues (I excluded the "not taste death" passage because I treated it elsewhere, as a reference to the Transfiguration). Here are the words from the passages, and what they might indicate by way of timing:

 

 

Wording in Passage

Timing Implication

time is fulfilled

But Return/End is still future?--gap?

stand before governors and kings; gospel to all nations

Long-time

wherever gospel preached in the whole world

Long-time

you don’t know when the master will come; evening/midnight/cockcrow or dawn

No signs before Return

great signs

Signs before Return

when you see these things, know he is near

Signs before Return

end is not yet, but the beginning of birth pangs

Signs do not mean immediately--only a start of a final process

after that suffering, astral dims, then see SoM coming in clouds

Signs/suffering before Return

this generation not pass till all takes place; no one knows the hour!

UNK/ThisGen

when, then flee; variable (pray); sake of elect days will be cut short

UNK/Variable

 

 

In these 10 passages, two clearly indicate a long period of time before the end, some passages disagree on whether signs will precede the Return (btw, this is the general thrust of all the 'watchfulness' passages--they depend upon the fact that no signs/indications of the approaching master are present for the parables to work), two passages indicate that the timing is unknown/uncertain and perhaps variable (i.e. can be influenced by prayer), and only one passage can be construed to mean that everything has to happen within the chrono-generation of Jesus! And, as we shall see, even this one mention is ambiguous--the referent of 'all these things' is hotly contested, and it is not at all clear that it is referring to His Final Return at the End-of-the-Ages.

 

This pattern does not bode well for any thesis that Jesus repeatedly predicted His Return/End-of-the-World within His Chrono-Gen... especially if Mark is supposed to be the 'least watered-down' of the Synoptics.

 

But let's compare this with Matthew, the (supposedly) next closest in time to Mark, to see if this mix of long/short/UNK/sequence passages are similar.

 

Of the 28 passages I identified as including something (possibly) about "Timing or Delay?", there are 21 that have a clear time-sequence marker, although 2 of these are ambiguous as to when the end of the sequence is supposed to occur. [Blue text marks passages in common with Mark; Burgundy color marks passages shared only with Luke.]

 

Wording in Passage

Timing/Delay Implication

nothing pass from Law until all is accomplished

(reference to Crucifixion,
as 'all is accomplished'?)

all blood of prophets upon that generation

ambiguous

not break bruised reed until He brings justice to victory (Isaiah)

ambiguous

not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes

Earlier than 'end of generation'?!

after a long time the master returned

Long-time

I will build my church

Long-time

make disciples of all nations; I am with you to end of the age

Long-time

many did works of power in My name

Long-time

hated by ALL nations;
no end until gospel preached everywhere

Long-time

gospel to the gentiles (wedding banquet)

Long-time

wherever gospel preached in the whole world

Long-time

you will not see me again, until you say Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord

Long-time

My master is delayed and bad conduct; unexpected hour

Long-time / Delay

keep awake--you don’t know the day the Lord is coming

No signs before Return

great signs

Signs before Return

when you see these things, know HE is near

Signs before Return

end is not yet, but the beginning of birth pangs

Signs do not mean immediately--only a start

immediately after the suffering; astral dims, then SoM appears

Signs/suffering before Return

know neither day nor hour

UNK

this generation not pass till all takes place; no one knows the hour!

UNK/ThisGen

when, then flee; variable (pray); sake of elect days will be cut short

UNK/Variable

 

We can note that:

1.      Matthew includes all nine of the Marcan passages (omitting the general 'time is fulfilled'--which is otherwise in the GoMT elsewhere), without changing the wording.

2.      This includes the three 'long-time' passages of a universal gospel, which is also reflected in three additional passages (build church, make disciples, gospel to gentiles /wedding banquet).

3.      There are also passages which mention or imply a long passage of time ('after a long time the master returned', 'many did works of power in MY name', 'not see me again'--until Israel accepts her Messiah).

4.      All of the Signs/no-Signs passages from Mark are repeated by Matthew (not 'watering down' anything), as are the UNK (unknown / uncertainty) passages.

5.      Matthew, though, has one passage which looks to be 'faster than' Mark: the 'have not gone through the towns of Israel' could be understood to be EARLIER than the death of the last member of that Chrono-generation. [But the meaning of the verse is obscure, and most commentators relate it to some future mission of the Church to Israel (via Jewish missionaries?) immediately before the Return of Christ in glory.]

 

Matthew, however, introduces the 'delay' word (in the Master-is-delayed, and bridegroom-is-delayed passages--only one of which is repeated by Luke, btw), but this DELAY element is put into the mouth of a disloyal and malicious servant. This can easily be seen as an allusion to the 'delay' passages in the OT prophets, where ancient Israel used the same 'excuse' to abandon the Lord's covenant obligations:

 

"And the word of the LORD came to me: 22 “Son of man, what is this proverb that you have about the land of Israel, saying, ‘The days grow long, and every vision comes to nothing’? 23 Tell them therefore, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: I will put an end to this proverb, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel.’ But say to them, The days are near, and the fulfillment of every vision. 24 For there shall be no more any false vision or flattering divination within the house of Israel. 25 For I am the LORD; I will speak the word that I will speak, and it will be performed. It will no longer be delayed, but in your days, O rebellious house, I will speak the word and perform it, declares the Lord GOD.”  26 And the word of the LORD came to me: 27 “Son of man, behold, they of the house of Israel say, ‘The vision that he sees is for many days from now, and he prophesies of times far off.’ 28 Therefore say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: None of my words will be delayed any longer, but the word that I speak will be performed, declares the Lord GOD.  (Eze 12:21–28).

 

"And the LORD answered me:  “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets,  so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it;  it will surely come; it will not delay." (Hab 2:2–3)

 

 

The Dead Sea scrolls community understood the Hab passage to foretell of a 'prolonged' age, requiring persistence and diligence on the part of God's servants:

 

"and God told Habakkuk to write down that which would happen to the final generation, but He did not make known to him when time would come to an end. And as for that which He said, That he who reads may read it speedily: interpreted this concerns the Teacher of Righteousness, to whom God made known all the mysteries of the words of His servants the Prophets.

 

For there shall be yet another vision concerning the appointed time. It shall tell of the end and shall not lie (2:3a).

Interpreted, this means that the final age shall be prolonged, and shall exceed all that the Prophets have said; for the mysteries of God are astounding.

 

If it tarries, wait for it, for it shall surely come and shall not be late (2:3b).

Interpreted, this concerns the men of truth who keep the Law, whose hands shall not slacken in the service of truth when the final age is prolonged. For all the ages of God reach their appointed end as he determines for them in the mysteries of His wisdom.

 

[1QpHab 7.1ff;  Vermes, G. (1995). The Dead Sea scrolls in English (Revised and extended 4th ed.) (343–344). Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.]

 

Matthew, then, could simply be using an OT motif--in the wake-up call to Israel by Jesus--instead of 'inventing' some delay-verbiage to compensate for alleged ecclesiastical embarrassment. Jesus, of course, used OT images consistently to call His covenant people back to YHWH.

 

But we can note again that Matthew did NOT omit any of the 'eschat/apok' passage of Mark, but the increased coverage of the (eventual) mission to the Gentiles (present in Mark of course)--due to the failure of the religious leadership of Jesus' day to embrace God's redemptive Agent Messiah--resulted in additional 'long-time' passages. These are not new elements, because the teachings are already present in Jesus' (briefer) teachings on the subject in Mark.

 

 

Now, for Luke.

 

I identified 22 passages as being relevant to 'Timing or delay?', with 16 of these being 'close enough' to a timing/sequence topic to include here. [Blue text marks passages in common with Mark; Burgundy color marks passages shared only with Matthew.]

 

 

Wording in Passage

Timing/Delay Implication

this generation be charged with the blood of all

ambiguous

before kings/govnrs, before all this occurs

ambiguous

you will long to see one of the days of the SoM but will not

ambiguous

asked for timing, got none

ambiguous

today you will be in paradise; remember me when you come into your kingdom

ambiguous

if you had recognized the time of your visitation from God

Delay/variable

when/then flee; trampled by Gentiles until the time of the Gentiles are fulfilled

Long-time

we ate and drank with you (Gentiles before Jews)

Long-time

how often I would--but you would not; not see me until the time comes when you say Blessed is the one

Long-time

repentance /FOS proclaimed to all nations

Long-time

unexpected; if says "master is delayed"

Long-time / Delay

when you see these things, know the KOG is near

Signs before Return

end is not yet, many will (falsely) say End Is Near,
but end not immediately

Signs do not mean immediately--only a start

after distress/fainting, then they will see SoM coming in a cloud; when they begin to take place, then your redemption is drawing near

Signs/suffering before Return

because they thought the KoG was to appear immediately

UNK

this generation not pass till all takes place
(no mention of UNK)

ThisGen

 

We can note a few things:

 

1.      Luke contains a STRONGER version of "this generation shall not pass away..." than either Mark or Matthew, because he omits the 'even the Son does not know the day or hour' passage!

2.      He also includes the core passages about the Return, shared with Matthew and Mark.

3.      He has fewer 'long-time' passages than Matthew or Mark.

4.      One theological reason given by Jesus for SOME amount of delay in Matthew is given by Luke (lament over Jerusalem passage with 'not see me again UNTIL').

5.      Additional theological reasons/factors given by Jesus for SOME amount of delay is uniquely given by Luke (non-recognition of visitation, time of the Gentiles), although these motifs are present in pre-Lukan traditions in Paul (esp Romans).

 

Luke does have a distinctive element, though, in the 'false belief in immediate return' texts. He has the 'many will wrongly say END-is-NEAR' and the "they thought the KoG was to appear immediately' passages.

 

But just as the Matthean 'delay' passages make more sense as OT covenant language (than as 'apologetic' for a failed apocalyptic prophet--smile), the Lukan passages make more sense against the messianic pretenders/claimants movements than against an embarrassed-but-stubborn church.

 

If Luke is writing before the destruction of the temple in 70AD (my view) and for a Greco-Roman audience, then there would already have been up to 10 Messianic claimants by this time, many of whom had to be disposed of by the Romans through force. Two of these (or similar individuals) are mentioned in Acts, so Luke is familiar with them. [If Luke is written even later--after the destruction of the temple and/or Jerusalem, then the case is even stronger!]

 

 

Here's the list of these figures and their approximate dates:

 

Name

Dates

Character

Judas of Galilee (Sepphoris)

4BC

brigand

Simon of Petea

4 BC+

brigand

Anthroses

4-2 BC

secessionist

Judas the Galilean (Gamala)

6 AD?

secessionist

The Anonymous Samaritan

36 AD

prophet

Theudas

45 AD

prophet Moses

The Anonymous Egyptian (Jew)

56 AD

prophet Joshua

Anonymous 'impostor'

61 AD

prophet Moses

Menahem son of Judas

66 AD

brigand

John of Gischala, son of Levi

66 AD

brigand

 

 

 

It would be important for Luke to mention anything Jesus said about the subject to avoid giving his readership the impression that Jesus was a political subversive or revolutionary. Hence, Luke makes the politically-charged word 'kingdom' explicit in one of the passages, just as John makes Jesus' words to Pilate ("my kingdom is not of this world") explicit in his gospel text.

 

This explanation makes sense of more data than the embarrassed-church hypothesis, because Luke STILL CONTAINS the high-apok-ish phrases of Mark also (e.g., 'this generation shall not pass away', 'clouds', etc.). An embarrassed-church hypothesis could only predict a minority of the total verses, and could not explain why the core eschat/apok images were still retained by Luke (and Matthew).

 

In fact--as we shall see in a later part of this series--there is no way to come up with a 'linear development' from apocalyptic to non-apocalyptic in the literature:

 

"A closer look at the developments and concepts in early Jewish eschatology field can prevent from following some of the inadequate and simplifying categories developed in the history of New Testament research. From the perspective of Jewish texts, not only the divide between future-orientation and present-orientation or between eschatology and apocalyptic appear rather inappropriate but also the argument that apparently conflicting eschatologies point to different groups or authors is considerably weakened in view of the fact that early Jewish compositions (such as the Enochic texts) or even more larger corpora (such as the 'sectarian' writings from Qumran or the Qumran library as a whole) can combine quite different eschatological views without any hint that they might be incompatible. ... Any concept of linear development in early Christian thought, e.g. from Jewish towards Gentile or Hellenistic concepts, from a short-term future-orientation to present-oriented or timeless concepts or from apocalyptic to non-apocalyptic viewpoints appears too uniform and simplistic and cannot be maintained in view of the variety of the material. Such concepts were too often conjectured from modern ideas of history or from dogmatic viewpoints and particular hermeneutical interests, and are better avoided in historical research." [HI:ENTSRD, 28]

 

 

Ok, where does this brief survey leave us?

 

So, although there is some imprecision in such counts, it would be very safe to say that the number of predictions Jesus made about the eschaton--with some kind of time expectation marker--is very, very small. Even the general topic of the future was not the 'majority' of His words (at least as recorded in the Synoptics). It would be difficult, therefore, to make the case that Jesus' words show Him to be ONLY or even MAINLY an eschatological prophet.

 

 

As a reality check, let's compare Meier's assessment in the Marginal Jew series.

 

In a section called "DID JESUS GIVE A DEADLINE FOR THE KINGDOM?", he argues that Jesus taught an imminent-but-unpredictable Eschaton, but never set a time limit Himself:

 

"So far we have examined four key sayings or blocks of sayings uttered by Jesus: the petition “your kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer; Jesus’ prophecy at the Last Supper that, his approaching death notwithstanding, he would share in the eschatological banquet; Jesus’ prophecy that Gentiles would come from the ends of the earth to share the heavenly banquet with the great patriarchs of Israel; and the beatitudes that promise to the poor, the mourners, and the hungry the reversal of their present suffering when the kingdom comes. ... Each of these pivotal sayings has been tested by various criteria and judged authentic. Furthermore, taken together they clearly indicate (1) that Jesus expected a future, definitive coming of God to rule as king; (2) that this hope was so central to his message that he bade his disciples make it a central petition of their own prayer; (3) that the coming kingdom would bring about the reversal of present unjust conditions of poverty, sorrow, and hunger; (4) that this final kingdom would bring about an even more astounding reversal: it would include at least some Gentiles, not as conquered slaves but as honored guests who would share the eschatological banquet with the Israelite patriarchs (risen from the dead?); and (5) that, despite the possibility of his impending death, Jesus himself would experience a saving reversal: he would share in the final banquet, symbolized by the prophetic event of the Last Supper. The last two points make it clear that the final kingdom is in some sense transcendent or discontinuous with this present world. Quite apart, therefore, from the tangled and hotly debated problem of the Son of Man sayings, future eschatology, tied to the symbol of a transcendent kingdom of God, is a central part of Jesus’ message. ... But how close or distant is this future kingdom that is coming? Exegetes commonly and almost blithely use phrases like “imminent, “very soon,” or “just around the corner” to describe the kingdom’s coming. Yet in the sayings we have examined, as well as in certain other future sayings with a good claim to authenticity, there is a notable absence of phrases that state explicitly that the coming of the kingdom is very imminent. Among the authentic sayings of the historical Jesus, it is difficult to find the equivalent of the express promise of the risen Jesus in the Revelation of John: “Yes, I am coming soon” (Rev 22:20)... Yet how imminent is imminent? Looking at the authentic sayings of Jesus, it is difficult to say. Along with the sense of urgency in view of the proximity of the kingdom, there is a strange vagueness about exactly when the kingdom is coming. In this Jesus again resembles John the Baptist. There is a good deal of the eschatology of the OT prophets in both, along with some motifs from Jewish apocalyptic. But unlike a number of apocalyptic works, neither John nor Jesus engages in timetables or speculation about successive periods or ages. Part of the tension involved in Jesus’ warnings to be ever watching and waiting arises from the fact that the kingdom could come at any time soon, but no particular time is designated." [Meier, J. P. (1994). A marginal Jew, rethinking the historical Jesus: Volume two, Mentor, Message, and Miracles (337–339). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.

 

But then he admits that there are THREE passages which seem to contradict his position (which believes the Church later created and put on the lips of Jesus):

 

"Some scholars might object at this point that there are a few sayings of Jesus, sayings with a good claim to authenticity, that do set at least a general time limit to the kingdom’s coming. Matt 10:23, Mark 13:30, and Mark 9:1 are the texts most often brought forward to support this view. While at first glance the evidence looks strong, I think that further investigation makes it likely that all three sayings derive not from Jesus but from the early church and reflect the latter’s preoccupations. ... In sum, the three sayings that are the most promising candidates for logia in which Jesus sets a time limit for the kingdom’s arrival (Matt 10:23; Mark 9:1 parr.; Mark 13:30 parr.) all appear, on closer examination, to be creations of the early church. I realize that the skeptical reader might be tempted to remark: “How convenient! This way Jesus was not mistaken about the time of the kingdom’s arrival, and one avoids all sorts of uncomfortable theological questions.” In reply I would offer the following four points for consideration. First, it is hardly just the hidebound orthodox who paradoxically champion a judgment of inauthenticity in these three cases. As Martin Künzi has shown in his two monographs on the subject, the decision for or against the authenticity of these three sayings cuts across confessional lines as well as the more war-torn boundary between liberals and conservatives. For example, Rudolf Bultmann, who is not usually accused of bending historical criticism to satisfy Christian piety, judges that all three of our texts come from the early church, not from Jesus. Second, the truth of the matter is that I approached the examination of these three sayings with a presumption in favor of the authenticity of Mark 9:1 and/or 13:30. It was only after weighing all the arguments pro and con that I changed my mind. Third, and most importantly, what count in any decision are not the parties and ideologies involved but simply the data and the arguments. These latter have been examined here at length, indeed at much greater length than is often found in books on the historical Jesus that nevertheless serenely pass judgment on the authenticity of the three logia. Finally, if I had decided that the evidence favored a judgment of authenticity, I would have adopted that position. Such a conclusion would not, in my view, create insuperable theological difficulties." [Meier, J. P. (1994). A marginal Jew, rethinking the historical Jesus: Volume two, Mentor, Message, and Miracles (338–339). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.

 

 

I have already discussed these three, but the fact that there are only three, suggests that the phrase 'many passages' would be a gross overstatement...

 

 

What actually did Jesus MEAN by 'generation' in such apocalyptic passages?

 

This is a fascinating question for me, because I have historically understood it as a chrono-term in these passages, like it is in the majority of OT/Tanach texts.

 

But although it predominantly refers to a fuzzy-edged period of 40 years, its usage in texts like the Gospels reveal a different range of meaning and/or intent.

 

The most detailed study of this phrase (this generation, he genea aute) that I have found is [NT:JATG] Jesus and This Generation-A New Testament Study. Evald Lovestam. Almqvist&Wiksell:1995. Some of the below quotes are from this work.

 

Without rehearsing all of Lovestam's arguments, we can note a few of his observations or conclusions:

 

The biblical and post-biblical background of the phrase is mostly genealogical, but not exclusively so (p.8-9)

 

"As to its meaning in New Testament contexts, it can, to start with, be established that Greek he genea aute renders Hebr hazeh hador. That would imply that the concept has its roots in the Old Testament/early Jewish world of ideas... The word dor shows considerable variation in its purport. It can have varied references. In the Old Testament it is mostly used of 'generation' in the true sense. But it is also used of the dor of the righteous (in contrast to the evildoers, Ps 14:5), of his fathers' dor (i.e. the dead, Ps 49:20), of the dor of God's children (Ps 73:15), of the dor of the upright (Ps 112:2), of the former dor (generally seen, Job 8:8), etc." (page 8)

 

"In post-biblical Jewish scriptures the valuation in the meaning of the term is just as substantial. Even here dor usually means 'generation' in the true sense, but, just as in the Old Testament, the word can frequently have other meanings. It is not unusual that the criteria for the definition of the term are particular qualifications and characteristics in the one case or the other. These qualifications and characteristics can e.g. be connected to a single prominent individual, a number of prominent individuals, a significant event, a particular historical situation." (p9)

 

NT usage of the phrase is generally negative, and is closely connected to 'evil generations' of the past. The generations (dorot) in Jewish writings include those of the Flood, Enoch, and especially, the Wilderness.

 

"To be able to trace this background it is important to bear in mind the fact that the phrase in its New Testament contexts has generally definite negative connotations. Further, that the adjectives used clearly point to the Old Testament and there mainly relate to expressions about the rebellious and faithless dor of the 'first exodus'. It is then an essential task to study more closely the thoughts (p10) and ideas which were associated with   'the dor of the Wilderness' in old Jewish times and other concepts of that kind that can have relevance in this context. There 'dor of the Wilderness' was a dor which was often mentioned together with other dorot and collectives in the history of the world and Israel: 'Enoch's dor which was associated with idol worship (Gen 4:26 according to Tg. Neof., e.g.) and for whose sake a third of the world is said to have been struck by floods, 'the dor of the Flood', 'the dor of the Dispersion' (at the Tower of Babel), 'the men of Sodom', etc.

As will be seen in the following, there is reason to pay special attention to  'the dor of the Flood' as well as   'the dor of the Wilderness', regarding background material for the terminology of 'this genea' in the New Testament.

References to the collective that was struck by the punishment of the Flood are frequent in early Jewish scriptures. The theme was a highly relevant one. The fate of those who had lived in disbelief and sin before the Flood served as a warning for people of later times. " (p11)

 

But the 'generation of the Flood' -- in Jewish literature of the time -- is not strictly a single chronological collective, but rather is open-ended (at least backwards):

 

"Dor of the Flood is described as deeply wicked, and its wickedness is sometimes traced all the way back to Cain's murder of his brother; for Cain's sake the earth was drowning in a flood [Wis 10:3f; cf. Tg. Neof. Gen 4:24]. It is more common, however, that it is traced back to the 'sons of God' and their relationship with the daughters of men in Gen 6:2f. This is the view in CD 2:18-21. In 1 Enoch it is described how 'the sons of God' were responsible for the spread of disobedience, lawlessness and injustice throughout the world (chapter 7-9). Therefore judgment was passed: The whole earth would be destroyed, and a deluge was about to come upon the whole earth, and would destroy all that was on it (10:2,9,15; cf. Jub. 5:1-5). The same view is taken in e.g. T. Napth. 3:5. Regardless of whether evil before the Flood is traced to Cain and his descendants or is blamed on 'the sons of God' and their influence, or possibly traced to yet another source, there is agreement that it was overwhelming. It is described as selfishness and disobedience to God (CD 2:17-21), as fornication, uncleanness and iniquity (Jub. 7:20, 21), as licentiousness and whoredom, injustice, hardness of heart, robbery etc. Corruption reigned, and, according to some rabbis, it extended to both the animals and the earth. When the Dor of the Flood is spoken about, it is then the spiritual corruption and the accompanying punishment that are primary and decisive. That is the focus of interest. Dor of the Flood does thus not simply refer just to all those who lived at the time of the Flood. The term applies to those who were participants in the pervading corruption and therefore were struck by God's punishment. The dor and the punishment belong together. In Tg. Neof. the judgment is formulated thus: "In truth, the judgment of the dara' of the Flood is sealed (decided) before (me), to have it destroyed and blotted out from the midst of the world" [Tg Neof Gen 6:3] . The dor of the Flood was wiped out in its entirety. This is specific for them according to the ancient Jewish view. "Not a remnant of them was left".  (page 11- 12)

 

 

And this time-imprecision is reflected in other Jewish sources:

 

"The spiritual decay extended back in time from the Flood. Even if, as noted above, it can be traced back to Cain and his murder of Abel in early Jewish literature, it is usually traced back to the 'sons of God' and their actions according to Gen 6:2 f. These are said to have come to the earth in the days of Jared (Jub 4:15; 1 Enoch 106:13 f.), i.e. in the fourth generation before Noah (Gen 5:18-29; Jub. 4:16-28). This, however, does not create a problem in the use of the term Dor of the Flood in that context. The decision of God in Gen 6:3, based on the actions of the 'sons of God' with the daughters of men, can be interpreted by the rabbis as giving the dor of the Flood an extension of time of 120 years to repent [Tg. Onq. Gen 6:3; 'This evil dara shall not endure before me forever...An extension of time will I give them, 120 years, if they may repent']. It can be said that Enoch has been taken away 'from the sons of the dor of the Flood, etc. In the expression Dor of the Flood itself there is no limitation of its extension backwards in time. It is inner characteristics, spiritual character and its accompanying punishment that are in focus." (p14)

 

Thus 'this generation'  on the lips of Jesus is primarily a reference to the spiritual character of those around Him, and only secondarily (or 'optionally') a reference to a chronological cohort.

 

"In light of these facts, there can be no doubt that he genea aute, in the New Testament has as its background the above stated conceptions in ancient Judaism and should be seen from this point of view. It is true that the genea in question is not identified there by formulations such as 'the dor of the Flood' and 'the dor of the Wilderness' but by pointing it out as he genea aute. This, however, does not imply any real difference. When the dorot of the Flood and the Wilderness are assumed to be contemporary with the speaker or reader - as in the case with 'this genea' on the lips of Jesus - they are also mentioned in the same way, e.g. Gen 7:1  (LXX: en e genea taute), i.e. the dor of the Flood, Deut 1:35  (the dor of the Wilderness), Tg. Onq. Gen 6:3 (the dor of the Flood), Tanch. chqth 32 (61a; ed. Buber):  (the dor of the Wilderness), Tanch. shlch9 (33a; ed. Buber):  (the dor of the Wilderness), etc. [cf. 'this (evil) generation' in Jub 23.15,16] ." (page 19)

 

 

 

Lovestam seems to see this clearly, and this hybrid usage by Jesus has precedent in the non-chrono usages of generation in the Hebrew bible. Consider:

 

 

Therefore, LORD, we know you will protect the oppressed, preserving them forever from this lying generation, (Ps 12:7).

 

There they are in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous.  (Ps 14:5).

 

He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation. 6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah (Ps 24:5–6).

 

If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children.  (Ps 73:15).

 

 

Others have noticed that this is not primarily (or even 'essentially'?) a chrono-reference:

"Verses 32–33 contain assertions that may only after close examination seem to fit well within this co-text. In the Third Gospel, “this generation” (and related phrases) has regularly signified a category of people who are resistant to the purpose of God. Verse 32, then, long a centerpiece in eschatological debate, actually has less to say about the eschatological timetable and more to say about the motif of conflict related to the presence and expected culmination of the kingdom of God. “This generation” refers in Luke’s narrative not to a set number of decades or to people living at such-and-such a time, but to people who stubbornly turn their backs on the divine purpose. Jesus’ followers can expect hostility and calamity until the very End, Jesus teaches, for the old world, “this generation,” does not easily give way to the new. Again, then, Jesus underscores how humiliation and suffering need not be taken as incongruous with his teaching regarding the inbreaking reign of God, but may be taken as signs of the realization of God’s kingdom (see Acts 14:22). Nor should the tribulations Jesus has enumerated detract from confidence in his word; in language that recalls OT assurances of the certainty and permanence of Yahweh’s word, Jesus affirms the certainty and permanence of his own prophetic instruction. ... Because his followers are able to read the signs (vv 29–31), because they have been made aware of the inexorable presence of resistance to the way of God prior to the End (v 32), because they may hold with conviction to the immutability of Jesus’ word (v 33), they are to respond with faithful vigilance. As in previous uses of the admonition “be on guard,” so in this one we must assume that Jesus summons his followers to watchfulness in the very areas where their inclinations place them most at risk. Implicated in practices reminiscent of those of the Pharisees and scribes, they had to be warned repeatedly about avoiding such influence and behavior. Now, Jesus perceives that the delay in the advent of the End may bring its own temptations to faithlessness and a business-as-usual orientation to life (cf., e.g., 8:13–14; 12:45–46; 17:24). In order to counter this, Jesus alerts his audience to the reality that the End will be sudden, unexpected (v 35: “like a trap”), and ubiquitous (“upon all”). Eschatological testing is to be met, then, with constant alertness and prayer (cf. 22:40, 46); such a response will allow people to stand (see v 28) as those found faithful (see 18:8) before the Son of Man who comes in power to bring judgment and redemption (see vv 27–28)." [Green, J. B. (1997). The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (742–743). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.]


But even with this additional and/or primary nuance, the reference in Mark 13:30 is still possibly a mostly-chronological reference. I have discussed this passage elsewhere (as noted in the opening question), but let me add some additional resources (about the passage and its parallels) that make it clear that Jesus is not including His own return in the 'all these things' reference:

 

The “immediately” in [Matthew] 24:29 thus suggests that the “great tribulation” of which Jesus speaks begins with the events of AD 70 and continues until Christ’s public return at the end of the age. It forms, in other words, the entire interadvent period. After all, if the “great tribulation” were only a few-year period of intense suffering just before the parousia, it would be so trite as to be pointless to say that such distress would never again be equaled (24:21); of course it would never again be equaled, because Christ’s return will put an end to such a possibility! But if the tribulation refers to events that began in AD 70, then the comment carries great significance and poignancy. Neither before nor after the destruction of Jerusalem has “so high a percentage of a great city’s population [been] so thoroughly and painfully exterminated and enslaved” (Carson 1984: 501). This is not to say that all portions of the church age have been equally full of suffering for Christians, nor to rule out a particularly intense period of suffering at the end of this longer period of tribulation (on which Revelation will focus and also call “great tribulation”); rather, it is to concur with 2 Tim. 3:12 that “all who want to live godly lives in Christ will be persecuted.” ... The somewhat cryptic 24:32–36 reinforce these conclusions. Signs can suggest the end is near (24:32–33), but they will never enable us to calculate the time of its arrival (24:36). The generation that Jesus addressed will not pass away before all the preliminary events that must precede the parousia have occurred (24:34). That “all these things” in 24:34 do not include Christ’s return itself is made plain by 24:33, which likewise refers to “all these things.” But those things are that which enables one to recognize that the end is near, that “it [or, ‘he’] is at the doors.” It would make no sense to say, “When you see that Christ has returned, know that he is near.” So the “these things” must refer to the preliminary events of 24:4–28 preceding the cosmic upheavals that usher in his return in 24:29–31. In short, once the temple was destroyed, everything was in place for Christ to come back (see Ridderbos 1987: 449; Cranfield 1977: 408–9; Gundry 1993: 746). However, he has not done so yet, so we cannot predict when it will happen except to say that it will catch many by surprise (24:37–42), and the rest of Jesus’ sermon stresses faithful living so that Christians are ready whenever it takes place (24:43–25:46)." [Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. (2007). Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (88). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos.]

 

"13:30–31 The first saying associated with the parable is a saying of Jesus emphasized by “Truly” (ἀμήν, amēn). “All these things” will take place before the generation of Jesus would pass away. If 13:28–31 is interpreted as dealing with the parousia rather than the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, this creates an evident problem. Jesus’s parousia has not yet taken place, and Jesus’s generation has for the most part died. This has resulted in numerous attempts to explain “this generation” as referring not to Jesus’s generation but to the continued existence of the Jewish people, to “that” (last) generation of the end time, to the continued existence of the human race, to the continued existence of Jesus’s followers (i.e., Christians), and so on. The expression “this generation” elsewhere in Mark (8:12 [2×], 38; cf. 9:19), however, refers to the contemporaries of Jesus and should be interpreted similarly here (W. Lane 1974: 480; France 2002: 539; cf. Geddert 1989: 239–45). There is no need to seek some esoteric interpretation of this expression, once we realize that the event being referred to by “these things” and “all these things” in 13:29–30 is the same as “these things” and “all these things” in 13:4—Jesus’s prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem in 13:2 (Telford 1980: 217; Beasley-Murray 1993; 444–49; contra Bayer 1986: 244–49). Like the “some” of 9:1 who would not taste death before they saw the kingdom of God come with power, “this generation” would also not taste death before they saw “all these things” take place. For the former this was fulfilled in the experience of Jesus’s transfiguration; for the latter it was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem." [Stein, R. H. (2008). Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Mark (619). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]

"If it were not for the embarrassment which it causes to those who think Jesus is here talking about the parousia (and so got it wrong), this verse would have posed no great problems. Its language is clear and definite, not now in symbols but in a straightforward statement of a time limit. It is, moreover, emphatic and authoritative (see on 3:28 for ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, used here for the only time in this discourse; the οὐ μή construction adds to its decisiveness); it is not to be sidelined... The time limit is the passing away of this generation (cf. 9:1, οὐ μὴ γεύσωνται θανάτου ἕως …) While Mark’s other uses of γενεά are not temporally marked, simply referring to Jesus’ contemporaries as a γενεὰ ἄπιστος etc. (8:12, 38; 9:19), here the whole construction of the sentence, as well as the disciples’ question ‘When?’ in v. 4, demands the regular temporal sense: people alive as Jesus is speaking will still be there to see the fulfilment of his words. ... Attempts to evade this obvious sense (on the part of those who care about Jesus’ reliability—not all commentators do) have followed one (or both) of two lines, the reinterpretation of ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη to mean something other than people then living, or the identification of ταῦτα πάντα as something other than the events Jesus has just been describing. While this commentary is in the happy position of having no embarrassment to avoid because it takes Jesus’ words at their face value as a prediction of the destruction of the temple within that generation, a few comments on each of these tactics may be appropriate." [France, R. T. (2002). The Gospel of Mark : A commentary on the Greek text (538–539). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.]

"As for the identification of ταῦτα πάντα as something other than the events described in the preceding verses up to v. 27, this depends also on a whole interpretative approach to the discourse which we have seen reason to reject. It betrays its weakness at this point in that insofar as there is in the text any clear antecedent by which ταῦτα πάντα may be identified it is the use of those same words in the disciples’ question in v. 4. There is a clear continuity between the question when μέλλῃ ταῦτα συντελεῖσθαι πάντα and the answer that this generation will not pass away until ταῦτα πάντα γένηται. If the former phrase referred to the destruction of the temple (and, as we have seen, nothing in its context suggests any other reference), then so must the latter. ταῦτα πάντα in this context must therefore refer to the whole complex of events Jesus has just been predicting in vv. 14–27. The answer to the disciples’ question is thus comprehensively rounded off by as plain and definite a time scale as they could have wished for." [France, R. T. (2002). The Gospel of Mark : A commentary on the Greek text (540). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.]



Which are the main passages which some understand to be Jesus' failed prophecy of his return? (Mark 1.15? Mark 13.30? Matt 10.23? Matt 26.64)?

 

Sometimes, these passages are pointed to as failed prophecies of Jesus:

 

Mark 1.15 (Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel")

 

But we have already noted that the 'at hand' terminology in no way indicates a 'within this generation' reference.

 

 

Mark 13.30 (Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place)

 

I have discussed this elsewhere--with additional data above. This is a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and not to the Final coming of the Lord Jesus at the End of the Age.

 

 

 

Matt 26.64 (Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.)

 

I have discussed this verse above, and shown that it cannot be understood as a literal statement (much less a failed prediction).

 

 

Matt 10.23 (When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.)

 

This is a very enigmatic passage and appears to be related to similar passages in Matthew (24.9-14), Mark (13.9-13), and Luke (21.12-19).

 

It is important to note, though, that this particular 'time indicator' is contrary to your blog-friend's thesis. Since this time indicator is not present in Mark, but appears in (later) Matthew, it looks like a heightening of 'timing expectation' rather than reduction of it. In other words, the fossils are in the wrong sequence here (as we have noted above, in other passages).

 

So, whatever this verse/phrase means (relative to predictions of Jesus' coming) it is evidence against one of the arguments of the blogger.

 

We should also note that it might 'prove too much'. In the context of the passage, this saying is attached to the initial sending of the Twelve into the cities of Galilee--long before much persecution has arisen, and long before we get the heavy 'evil generation judgment' passages. This--if interpreted as many (including your blogger friend) do--would mean that Jesus would 'return' before He even left... This sending of the Twelve is a short-term mission trip, and so a reference to a parousia-class event prior to Jesus' rejection, death, resurrection, and ascension-enthronement makes no sense whatsoever.

 

(Cf. Nolland's comment: ‘Son of Man’ has been established as a mode of self-reference for Jesus at 8:20; 9:6. The link of the present statement to Dn. 7:13 is evident. What is odd, however, about the present statement is its talk about a coming of the Son of Man, set on the lips of Jesus at a point where there is nothing to signal that he contemplates a departure that would make such a coming necessary." [Nolland, J. (2005). The Gospel of Matthew: A commentary on the Greek text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (427). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.])

 

So, again, whatever it means it cannot be taken as evidence for some kind of self-prediction by Jesus of His 'return' before His 'departure'.

 

But we can take a brief look at it anyway--to see how this might fit in with early understandings of Jesus return, and to assess if it has any relevance to the question of 'failed predictions'.

 

First, we should note that it is probably a reference to an on-going mission to the Jewish people, and not just the Galilean cities of the specific context--the Sending of the Twelve:

 

"Verse 23b, a uniquely Matthean text, is often misinterpreted as if it appeared in the more limited context of the immediate mission of vv. 5–16. Then it is taken as a mistaken prediction of Jesus’ second coming during the lifetime of the Twelve. In this context of postresurrection ministry, however, it is better viewed as a reference to the perpetually incomplete Jewish mission, in keeping with Matthew’s emphasis on Israel’s obduracy. Christ will return before his followers have fully evangelized the Jews. But they must keep at it throughout the entire church age." [Blomberg, C. (1992). Vol. 22: Matthew. The New American Commentary (176). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers].

 

"Given that Galilean setting it is natural to understand “go through all the towns of Israel” as the completion of the mission of the Twelve; it is hard to see what else the phrase “complete the towns of Israel” could mean in this context, where the visiting of “towns” by the Twelve has been specifically mentioned in vv. 11, 14–15 and where their geographical limits have been set in terms of “towns” to be visited, vv. 5–6. Two aspects of the wording seem to conflict with this view, however. First, “Israel” may seem to suggest a wider area than simply Galilee, and there is no indication that Jesus intended his disciples at this stage to go down to Judea. Note, however, that the term used in Jesus’ instructions in v. 6 is “the house of Israel;” the narrative setting shows that “Israel” here means in effect Galilee. Secondly, to speak of “the Son of Man coming” leads most Christian readers to assume an eschatological “parousia” setting which is far removed from a mission of the Twelve in the early thirties AD." [France, R. T. (2007). The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (396). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co.]

 

"It seems to be impossible to interpret this verse of a coming of Christ to His missionaries during His lifetime. In this Gospel the coming of the Son of Man is always a final coming after His death to inaugurate the kingdom." [Allen, W. C. (1907). A critical and exegetical commentary on the gospel according to S. Matthew. International Critical Commentary (107). New York: C. Scribner's Sons.]

 

The language of the passage is much wider than the mission of the Twelve in the early church, and the language of Jesus does not match the experience of the Twelve on that first mission:

 

"Above all there is no evidence in any Gospel that the Twelve were actively persecuted during their first mission but only on occasion rebuffed (as in Mt 10:11–15)." [Carson, D. A. (1984). Matthew. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (251). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.]

 

"Governors, kings and Gentiles point to the wider dimensions of the later Christian mission, not just that of the Twelve in Galilee." [New Bible commentary: 21st century edition. 1994 (D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer & G. J. Wenham, Ed.) (4th ed.) (Mt 10:17–39). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.]

 

 

And not everybody is convinced that the reference to the 'Son of Man coming' is a reference to the Parousia (the visible bodily return of Christ to the earth, at the end of the age):

 

"Perhaps this is to press the evocative imagery of this verse too far, to seek for too specific a point of reference. But some such scenario makes better sense of the Danielic imagery in the context of its wider use in this gospel than to assume as popular (and often scholarly) interpretation has too easily done that this is parousia language, and therefore either that Jesus mistakenly expected an immediate parousia or that his words here had no bearing on the situation of the Twelve sent out on a mission among the towns of Galilee around AD 30 and no meaning for the first-time reader of Matthew who at this stage in the gospel story has heard nothing about a parousia of Jesus." [France, R. T. (2007). The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (398). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co.]

 

 

"Choosing between the various views is not easy. One’s decision must be made with three matters in mind. First, one’s view of other Matthean “coming” texts (16:28; 24:30, 44; 25:31; 26:64) must be considered. Presumably, a consistent picture should emerge when these texts are interpreted. Second, at least some of these “coming” texts depend on Daniel 7:13, and one must look carefully at it also. Third, one must decide whether Jesus’ mission discourse in Matthew 10 describes solely the original mission of the Twelve, or in some places anticipates the later mission of the post-resurrection church. It seems best when all these things are considered to opt for view 5, but certainty is not possible. ... Jesus’ mission discourse does anticipate the mission of the church throughout the period between his first and second comings (Davies and Allison 1991:179–180), and that mission includes ongoing mission to Israel during the outreach to all the nations." [Turner, D., & Bock, D. L. (2005). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 11: Matthew and Mark (152–153). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]

 

"Verse 23 is difficult. A straightforward reading of the text indicates that before the Twelve finish their mission to the towns of Israel the Son of Man will come. Albert Schweitzer based his entire scheme of thoroughgoing eschatology on this verse. He held that Jesus thought that the mission of the Twelve would bring in the kingdom. He was disappointed when it did not turn out that way. Later Jesus attempted to bring in the kingdom by his own vicarious suffering. That was his final disappointment (Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, pp. 358–63). Others have suggested that verse 23b originated at a later period and is an argument against the church’s mission to non-Jews, on the grounds of an imminent Parousia. Barclay explains it by suggesting that Matthew, who writes at a time later than Mark, reads into a promise of the coming of the kingdom (cf. Mark 9:1) a promise of the second coming of Christ (vol. 1, p. 382). Others hold that the “coming” is a coming of judgment on Israel. ... One thing we do know is that by the time Matthew wrote, the mission of the Twelve was history and the Parousia had not taken place. This points to a different understanding of what it means for the Son of Man to come. Gundry holds that in writing verse 23 Matthew “implies a continuing mission to Israel alongside the mission to Gentiles” (p. 194). This explanation involves considerable subtlety. Tasker is of the opinion that the verse is best understood “with reference to the coming of the Son of Man in triumph after His resurrection” (p. 108)." [Mounce, R. H. (1991). New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew (95–96). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.]

 

"Language about the ‘coming’ of the Son of Man derives from Dn. 7:13–14, where he ‘comes’ to God to receive sovereign power; it does not there refer to a coming to earth, still less to the specific ‘second coming’ of Jesus. Here, then, such language looks forward to the enthronement of the Son of Man in power (which we find already fulfilled through the resurrection in 28:18); the disciples’ mission to Israel would not be completed before that." [New Bible commentary: 21st century edition. 1994 (D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer & G. J. Wenham, Ed.) (4th ed.) (Mt 10:17–39). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.]

 

"The classical meaning of the coming of the Son of Man, as, for example, found in 16:27–28 and 24:30, relies on Dan 7:13–14 and refers to the end of the present age and the parousia or second coming of Jesus. But we can hardly accept that meaning here since Matthew tells us in several places of a mission to the Gentiles that must take place before the end of the age (cf. 21:43; 24:14). That is, the mission to Israel cannot be interrupted before its conclusion by the parousia without the necessary negation of an important strand of unambiguous material in the Gospel (see too esp. 28:19). Thus the coming of the Son of Man here must refer to something else. ... According to this interpretation, the meaning of v 23b becomes the following: this exclusive mission of the twelve to Israel, which reflects their salvation-historical priority over the Gentiles, will not reach its completion before it is interrupted by the coming of the Son of Man in judgment upon Jerusalem, thereby symbolizing the time frame shift wherein the Gentiles, rather than the Jews, assume priority in the purpose of God. This mission to the Jews, reflecting their place in salvation-history, thus has a time limitation, the end of which (but not the end of Jewish evangelism) will be marked by the coming of the Son of Man in judgment upon Israel." [Hagner, D. A. (1998). Vol. 33A: Matthew 1–13. Word Biblical Commentary (280). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]

 

I cannot pretend to sort through these here and try to adjudicate between them, but suffice it to say that this verse is definitely not clear enough to constitute a clear prediction of the end of the age/return of the triumphant Christ within 40years of its occurrence...

 

So, these 4 passages -- which are commonly assumed to be failed predictions of Jesus' return--either support a contrary interpretation, or do not actually bear on the question, concretely enough.

 

Therefore, these passages would not be able to sustain the theory that Jesus predicted His return within 40years of His ministry, and would not therefore be able to sustain the theory that the early church BELIEVED that He had done so.

 

 

============ End of Part One======================================

 

On to Part Two...

 


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