Was Yeshua Mistaken About His 2nd Coming?
Glenn Miller

I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God." (Lk)

And he said to them, "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power." (Mark)

28 I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." (Matthew)

    Now, some have seen these to be a mistake by Jesus--that He honestly believed that He would return before the death of all His disciples, but the data is decidedly against this understanding of His words.

    These verses are generally understood to refer to the Transfiguration event which IMMEDIATELY follows them in EACH gospel narrative. (Remember, the chapter and verse divisions are NOT in the original text--they were added for referencing centuries and centuries later.) In this event, Jesus takes three of his disciples ("some standing here") up a mountainside, where he is transfigured before them into His exalted form (similar in appearance to that of Rev 1), talks with Moses and Elijah about the coming Crucifixion(!), and is spoken about to the three by God the Father in the Shekinah Glory (i.e. the cloud that accompanied the Israelites in the post-exodus journey).

It may be important to note :

  1. the Kingdom of God is EQUATED with the kingdom of the "Son of Man";
  2. Moses (the original covenant administrator) and Elijah (the forerunner of the Messiah) are definitely figures associated closely with the Messianic kingdom;
  3. Jesus is called 'the Chosen' in the Lucan account (a definite messianic title);
  4. in Peter's remembrance/retelling of this in 2 Peter 2.16ff,:
  5. So, William Lane (NICNT: in.loc.):
  6. "The transfiguration was a momentary, but real (and witnessed) manifestation of Jesus' sovereign power which pointed beyond itself to the parousia, when he will come 'with power and glory' (Ch 13.26)."
So, the evidence seems to support the notion that Jesus was referring to the Transfiguration event, which was a fore-shadowing of His return in glory and power later.
Second, verses Mark 13.30 and Mt 24.34 seem to relate to the destruction of Jerusalem.
30 I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. 32 "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. (Mark)

34 I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. 36 "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. 42 "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Matthew)

(Although the e-writer does not mention it, Luke also has the passage in 21.32ff)
32 "I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. 34 "Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man."
    These passages form the various endings to a teaching session by Jesus known as the Olivet Discourse or Judgment Discourse. As Jesus is leaving the Temple, his disciples draw his attention to the grandeur of the building complex. Jesus prophesies of the coming destruction of the Temple (and the city) and then, later, this teaching session begins with questions (in various forms) from the disciples (three in Matthew, two in Mark and Luke.):
  1. "when will these things be?" (Mt)
  2. "what will be the sign of your coming?" (Mt)
  3. "what will be the sign of the closing/end of the age?" (Mt)
  4. "when will these things be?" (Mr)
  5. "what will be the sign when these things are all about to be completed?" (Mr)
  6. "when will these things be?" (Lk)
  7. "what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?" (Lk)

  8.     It should be noticed almost immediately that this is more than three questions! What we have here is a summary of probably many questions, and the ones we do have recorded are multifaceted. Notice, for example, that in Mark the 2nd question is when 'all these things are to be COMPLETED" whereas in Luke it is when do "these things ALMOST START". The questions are interwoven about the destruction of the Temple, the return of Christ, and the end of the Age. In the disciples' minds (as in the wide spectrum of Jewish eschatology of the day-see Messianic Expectation in the Times of Jesus), there were probably no clear distinctions between these events (they were having trouble understanding the messianic prophecies of death/resurrection, remember?).

        What we seem to have in the response of Jesus are answers to all of the above (for example, the 'when to start' question seems to find its point in Mt vs 8--"the beginning of birth pangs" while the 'when to end' question can be seen in Mt vs. 14--"and then shall the end come"), "mixed together" as in the OT prophets. It was common in the OT prophets to (1) group things thematically--not chronologically [e.g. prophecies of nations were often arranged together] ; and (2) to collapse multiple events into one [For example, Isaiah typically collapses the 1st and 2nd Comings into single passages, whereas when Jesus uses these passages for 'identification purposes' to John the Baptist's disciples in Luke 7.22, He only cites the 'healing' verses and NOT the 'vengeance/judgment' verses--those are later, at the 2nd coming]

        Even though the initial verses seem to focus on the destruction of the Temple, there are indications in the passage that the two items of questioning--destruction of the Temple and the Return of the King--are kept distinct from one another, addressed individually, and NOT assumed to be identical (albeit closely related theologically).

        What this means for our study is simply that we need to find out WHICH "question" is MOST LIKELY to be under discussion in Jesus' words in his closing statement about "this generation." If it is the destruction of the Temple, which DID occur in that generation, then the 'problem' disappears. If it is the 2nd Advent, then the 'problem' will require further work (yet, in all honestly, even this 'problem' can be satisfactorily addressed without resorting to exegetical or theological subterfuge.)

    So, let's make some observations from the text.

        Finally, when we notice the structure of the ending in Matthew and Mark, we see how some of the items lay out.

    The ending has four points:

    1. The lesson of the fig tree (Mt 24.32-33; Mk 13.28-29; Lk 21.29-31) [e.g. "Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door."]
    2. The "this generation" saying (Mt 24.34; Mk 13.30; Lk 21.32)
    3. The "heaven and earth will pass away" saying (Mt 24.35; Mk 13.31; Lk 21.33)
    4. The "no one knows the hour" saying (Mt 24.36; Mk 13.31; not in Luke)

        Now, the Lesson of the fig tree (Point 1) can only be a reference to the destruction of the Temple/City. It draws a distinction between "all these things" and "it is near"--all these things cannot logically then contain the 2nd Advent [which is the "it" in "it is near"-cf. D.A.Carson, EBC, in. loc.; and William Lane in NICNT (Mark):478: "They (all these things) cannot refer to the celestial upheavals described in verses 24-25 which are inseparable from the parousia (verse 26) and the gathering of the elect (verse 27). These events represent the end and cannot constitute a preliminary sign of something else."]

        With this "end" of the end-time continuum being identified in Point 1 (as the "these things" question of the disciples), Jesus then solemnly announces WHEN this 'beginning of the end-times' will occur--within that generation (Point 2). With this, He has answered the initial question of the 'these things'--the immediate historical context of the question of the destruction of the temple.

        He then turns (in point 3 above) to describe the "other end" of the end-times continuum--the destruction of the universe (cf. 2 Peter 2.10: But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.). Here Jesus is pointing back to those descriptions of the very end, as in Mt 24.29: "Immediately after the distress of those days "`the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.' and Lk 21.25f: On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. He points out that the Great End will be certain, as the continuance of His word is certain (yes!).

        And then we have Point 4--the comment that no one but the Father knows the time of the Very-End. [The subsequent parables by Matt in 24.42ff and Luke in 12.39ff, which use the 'thief' image, connect this piece--via the 2 Peter quote above--with the Great-End, and NOT with the destruction of the Temple.]

        So we have a reasonable structure for the ending sequence-(Point 1) pay attention to the beginning of signs; (Point 2) some of you will definitely see these beginnings; (Point 3) the Big-End pointed to by these signs will surely come; and (Point 4) but none of you can know when (with the implications that are immediately drawn in several of the texts to watchfulness, faithfulness, and industry.)

    Thus, Bruce summarizes the same conclusion reached here, in HSOJ:229-230:

    Jesus, as in Mark, foretells how not one stone of the temple will be left standing on another, and the disciples say, 'Tell us, (a) when will these things be, and (b) what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?' (Matt. 24:3). Then, at the end of the following discourse, Jesus answers their twofold question by saying that (a) 'this generation will not pass away till all these things take place (Mtt 24.34) while, (b) with regard to his coming and 'the close of the age', he tells them that 'of that day and hour no one knows...'
    This would yield a very nice Hebraic parallelism:
     (A) Pay attention to my words--they come before (pre-announce) these things--the beginning of the end-times (destruction of Temple)
    (B) When will it occur?--You know when, within your generation
    (A') Pay attention to my words--they outlast that day--the ending of the end-times
    (B') When will it occur?--No one knows when (except the Father)...........................................................................................
    The passages above are often used by skeptics to argue that Jesus made mistakes (and therefore could NOT have been God--so Betrand Russel in Why I am not a Christian), but a close examination of the passages shows that this view is simply shallow exegesis, and without substance. Jesus admitted to not knowing something (in only one case that we know of), but He never claimed to know something in which we found Him to be wrong! (And for those of us who have been 'testing' His words for decades--a la Luke 6.48-49--most of us have to be honest and say He seems to know what He's talking about--whatEVER He says!)...fortunately for us...


glenn miller, 10/22/96 

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