NOTE: This is imported from my previous discontinued blog.
What is the teaching in the Bible on the Second Coming of our Lord? Was it ever envisaged whether by the Apostles, the early Christians or even by our Lord himself that the Second Coming would not take place for at least 2000 years? I'll be examining these three verses:
Mt 16:28 "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."
Mark 9:1 '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."
Luke 9:27 'I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God."
One way out for some Bible commentators is to say that "seeing the kingdom of God come with power" is not seeing the Second coming of Jesus. Apologists have tried to explain away these verses and one usual argument is that Jesus is talking about his Transfiguration and not his Second Coming.
Although that may be highly attractive in order that the words of the Bible may be justified, I am of the view that it's not an honest explanation. The words do not refer to the Transfiguration but to the Second Coming.
My reasons are as follows:
1. THE TIME TAKEN BETWEEN THE WORDS JESUS SPOKE AND THE TRANSFIGURATION.
Remember that this is what Jesus tells the people:
"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." Mt 16:28
Presumably, this event of "the Son of Man coming in his kingdom" must occur at least some length of time from the time it was spoken. Otherwise, why mention "will not taste death"?
But we know that the Transfiguration took place 6 days after Jesus spoke these words. Matthew 17:1 tells us that the Transfiguration took place only 6 days after Jesus spoke the words reported in Matthew 16:28.
Matthew 17:1-3 read: "After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus."
To say that some of them would not taste death before they see the Transfiguration when it was going to happen in 6 days' time would imply that Jesus was either ignorant of when the Transfiguration would take place or worse, that he was being deceptive. His language just does not permit an interpretation that he was talking about his Transfiguration.
2. THE CONTEXT OF WHAT JESUS SAID SHOWS THAT HE WAS NOT TALKING ABOUT THE TRANSFIGURATION.
One of the cardinal principles of Bible reading (or any reading for that matter) is that we are to read a passage in context. We must look at a passage in the immediate background in which something is said. We should never look at a verse in isolation and which is completely divorced from the context in which it was said. Let's do just that. Let's read from verse 24 to the end of that same chapter in Matthew:
"24. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. 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."
Read particularly the preceding verse, ie verse 27 again together with Mt 16:28: "For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. 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. "
Jesus is talking about the end. What good is it if in the end, you lose your soul? That's what he's saying. He is talking about his coming into his father's glory and then he will reward each person according to his deeds. Look at the context. It's all about the end of the age, not the Transfiguration at all.
The context clearly shows that Jesus is not referring to his Transfiguration.
3. JESUS TALKS ABOUT HIS IMMINENT SECOND COMING IN OTHER PLACES TOO THAT SHOWS PRECISELY HIS MEANING.
In Matthew 10, Jesus was telling his disciples about the persecution they would face. He tells them to flee from town to town as they are persecuted. But let's look at this in context. Jesus was telling his disciples that they were to preach to the lost sheep of Israel. He then tells them that they would be persecuted. The context is clear. It applies to his immediate disciples. Read from verse 5:
5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.
It's to the 12 Apostles that Jesus is talking. He tells them next that they will be persecuted. But they are permitted to flee if they are persecuted as they will be. He says in verse 23, "When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes."
This clearly is not a reference to the Transfiguration. Jesus is telling them that he will come again before they can even exhaust the cities of Israel in which they are to preach (at all times avoiding Samaria). Jesus is not talking about 2000 years later. He is talking to the Apostles in their own time.
4. JESUS SAYS THE SAME THING AGAIN LONG AFTER THE TRANSFIGURATION AND JUST BEFORE HE WAS CRUCIFIED.
In Mark 14:62, Jesus says to the high priest just before his crucifixion this: "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."
Scribes in the second century AD modified the verse by eliminating the words that show Jesus's Second Coming and they merely left the words that speak of Jesus sitting on the right hand of God on a cloud of heaven. They removed any mention of the imminent coming of Jesus. I have to repeat the words of Ehrman here because he puts it so brilliantly: "There was no mention by them [the Second Century scribes] of an imminent appearance of One who, in fact, never came."
5. THE EARLY CHRISTIANS UNDERSTOOD JESUS' SECOND COMING TO BE IMMINENT AND MANY THOUGHT THEY SHOULDN'T DIE BEFORE HE CAME AGAIN
The early Christians in the first century thought they would not die before Jesus came again. In fact, some of them were so troubled when good Christians began to die and Jesus had not returned and this anxiety led to questions and trouble in the church and St Paul was compelled to explain to them that it was all right to die before Jesus' Second Coming. But what is significant is this: did Paul expect his coming to be after the death of Jesus' first hearers and disciples?
To find out what St Paul believed, we have to read St Paul's epistles. The Christians in Thessalonica were getting troubled when Christians began to die and the Lord had not yet returned. They began to wonder what was going to become of those that had died. Paul had to address their concerns. Did Paul disabuse them of the silly notion that Jesus would be coming in that century? Bear in mind that Paul claims to have gone to the Seventh heaven (whatever that means) and he claims to have received direct revelation - what he refers to as unspeakable truths - from God so surely he couldn't have been mistaken himself.
But this is what Paul said to them in 1 Thess 4:13 onwards:
13Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
More significantly, he continues to say:
15According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage each other with these words.
Notice the words that I have emphasized. Most Christians don't see the significance of these words. They make the mistake of reading the Epistles as if they were meant for them in the 21st century. No, Paul wrote to comfort the Christians in Thessalonica who were worried that some of them had died and Christ had not yet come. They needed some encouragement, which is why he ended in verse 18 asking them to encourage one another with these words. Paul is saying that it's all right for some of you to die before his Coming. But when he comes, those of us who are still alive (Paul included) will be caught up with those who have died in the Lord.
PAUL WHO HAD DIRECT REVELATION FROM GOD BELIEVED IN THE IMMINENCE OF JESUS' SECOND COMING.
It's now Lent and as we reflect on the Life and Passion of our Lord, it's good to think of the significance of Jesus' Second Coming as we say in the Liturgy "Christ will come again!"