Have you ever wondered about the imminent time statements regarding eschatological events in the New Testament? These events include Jesus’ coming or Parousia, the Resurrection and Judgment. There are over one hundred imminent statements regarding these events. One hundred percent of these time statements are both imminent and directed towards their first century audience. Which is funny, because we don’t usually treat them that way. But maybe we should!
I’d like to suggest that time statements are the key to understanding the nature of these events, and even the story of the Gospel. If you let the time statements act as a framework through which we interpret the events that were prophesied in Scripture, what kind of story emerges? A dynamic story whose narrative includes great changes on the horizon of the first century recipients of these messages, the implications of which, were as far-reaching as each of our lives today. But perhaps what we’ve been taught to expect has caused us to miss the picture of what was going on in the first century Hebrew world, and why.
In addition to the time statements, let’s consider the relevance of these statements to their first century Hebrew audience. Do you ever wonder if the people who first received the New Testament letters really believed that these promises addressed to them, were for them? Wouldn’t that be pretty normal?
I read mail that is addressed to me as if it’s really …addressed to me. Why don’t we treat the letters addressed the Thessalonians the same way? In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he promised them relief (anesis) from their persecution (thlipsis) at Jesus’ coming. He also taught that some of them would be alive to experience it. This was the point of him promising them relief soon, and to expect it while they were still living.
Paul authoritatively taught his first century friends that they would experience Jesus’ soon-coming Parousia in each of his letters. Paul did this because Jesus taught this. And Paul was carrying on Jesus’ teaching.
The timing of the ”we who are alive and remain” and “this generation” teachings of Paul and Jesus were addressed to their original 1st c audience. They were the “we” and the “you” to whom the mail and original message was addressed. When we read their letters, we are reading their mail!
What if the events that were promised to them, actually happened to them? Then what? And why are people so afraid to consider this? If it is true, then what a foundation for faith we have! What a story of fulfilled hope that we share!
A few language hints before we move on:
* The greek verb mello is the verb of extreme imminence in the NT that should be translated “about to be”. However, English Bible translations gloss over this imminence in conjunction with eschatological events. The below examples highlight some of the real uses of the term “mello” in context of the events surrounding the Parousia.
*The greek word aion, or age, is often given the confusing mistranslation, ‘world’ in the Bible. Scripture doesn’t deal with the end of the physical world. The ‘end’ that the New Testament is moving towards is the Old Covenant AGE. The ‘time of the end’ of the Old Covenant Age was 70AD. It was the imminent end of the ‘world’ as many knew it, politically, socially and religiously, before the great renewal took place.
*The Greek word Parousia means personal presence, arrival or visitation. It is the word used to describe the coming of Jesus. As in, “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming [parousia] of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:27 NKJV). Jesus is telling his disciples that his coming to them would be sudden and local, just like lightening.
Get comfy. Let’s look at some Scriptures chronologically in the New Testament, beginning with the teachings of Jesus in about 30AD, and extending to just before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. See if you can sense the increasingly imminent use of language used throughout the New Testament.
There’s a whole lot more to this story than this list of imminent Scriptures, but this is a good place to start. Seeing the pattern of imminence, as presented here, and coming to see how these thing did actually happen, to them, and for all of us, changed my life and faith forever. I hope they do the same for you.
1. “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:2)
2. “Who warned you to flee from the wrath about to come?” (Matt. 3:7)
3. “The axe is already laid at the root of the trees.” (Matt. 3:10)
4. “His winnowing fork is in His hand.” (Matt. 3:12)
5. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17)
6. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 10:7)
7. “You shall not finish going through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man comes.” (Matt. 10:23)
8. “…the age about to come.” (Matt. 12:32)
9. “The Son of Man is about to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds.” (Matt. 16:27)
10. “There are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” (Matt. 16:28; cf. Mk. 9:1; Lk. 9:27)
11. “‘When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?’ ‘…He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers, who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.’ ‘…Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it.’ …When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them.” (Matt. 21:40-41,43,45)
12. “This generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (Matt. 24:34) (In regards to the Parousia of Jesus, the destruction of the Temple and the end of the age)
13. “From now on, you [Caiaphas, the chief priests, the scribes, the elders, the whole Sanhedrin] shall be seeing the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matt. 26:64; Mk. 14:62; Lk. 22:69)
14. “The kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mk. 1:15)
15. “What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vine-growers, and will give the vineyard to others. …They [the chief priests, scribes and elders] understood that He spoke the parable against them.” (Mk. 12:9,12)
16. “This generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (Mk. 13:30) (In regards to the Parousia of Jesus, the destruction of the Temple and the end of the age)
17. “Who warned you to flee from the wrath about to come?” (Lk. 3:7)
18. “The axe is already laid at the root of the trees.” (Lk. 3:9)
19. “His winnowing fork is in His hand…” (Lk. 3:17)
20. “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” (Lk. 10:9)
21. “The kingdom of God has come near.” (Lk. 10:11)
22. “What, therefore, will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others.” …The scribes and the chief priests…understood that He spoke this parable against them.” (Lk. 20:15-16,19)
23. “These are days of vengeance, in order that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” (Lk. 21:22)
24. “This generation will not pass away until all things take place.” (Lk. 21:32) (In regards to the Parousia of Jesus, the destruction of the Temple and the end of the age)
25. “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.'” (Lk. 23:28-30; Compare Rev. 6:14-17)
26. “We were hoping that He was the One who is about to redeem Israel.” (Lk. 24:21)
27. “I will come to you. …In that Day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.’ …’Lord, what then has happened that You are about to disclose Yourself to us, and not to the world?'” (Jn. 14:18,20,22)
28. “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?” (Jn. 21:22) (regarding John)
29. “This is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall be in the last days…'” (Acts 2:16-17)
30. “He has fixed a day in which He is about to judge the world in righteousness…” (Acts 17:31)
31. “There is about to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.” (Acts 24:15)
32. “As he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment about to come…” (Acts 24:25)
33. “Not for [Abraham’s] sake only was it written, that [faith] was reckoned to him [as righteousness], but for our sake also, to whom it is about to be reckoned.” (Rom. 4:23-24)
34. “If you are living according to the flesh, you are about to die.” (Rom. 8:13)
35. “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is about to be revealed to us.” (Rom. 8:18)
36. “It is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day IS at hand.” (Rom. 13:11-12)
37. “The God of peace will SOON crush Satan under your feet.” (Rom. 16:20)
38. “The time has been shortened.” (I Cor. 7:29)
39. “The form of this world IS passing away.” (I Cor. 7:31)
40. “Now these things …were written for OUR instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (I Cor. 10:11)
41. “WE shall not all fall sleep, but WE shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and WE shall be changed.” (I Cor. 15:51-52) (he said they would experience the change before they died)
42. “Maranatha!” [The Lord comes!] (I Cor. 16:22)
43. “…not only in this age, but also in the one about to come.” (Eph. 1:21)
44. “The Lord is near.” (Phil. 4:5)
45. “The gospel …WAS proclaimed in all creation under heaven.” (Col. 1:23; Compare Matt. 24:14; Rom. 10:18; 16:26; Col. 1:5-6; II Tim. 4:17; Rev. 14:6-7; cf. I Clement 5,7) (thus fulfilling what Jesus said must happen before his Parousia)
46. “…things which are a shadow of what is about to come.” (Col. 2:16-17)
47. “…WE who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord… WE who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds… …You, brethren, are not in darkness, that the Day should overtake you like a thief.” (I Thess. 4:15,17; 5:4) (he said they would be alive to experience the Parousia and Resurrection)
48. “May your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Thess. 5:23) (their bodies would be preserved, as in, not die, before the Parousia)
49. “It is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to US as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire.” (II Thess. 1:6-7)
50. “Godliness …holds promise for the present life and that which is about to come.” (I Tim. 4:8)
51. “I charge you …that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Tim. 6:14)
52. “…storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for that which is about to come, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.” (I Tim. 6:19)
53. “In the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self… …[you] Avoid these men. For of these are those who enter into households and captivate weak women… …These also oppose the truth… …But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to [us] all…” (II Tim. 3:1-2,5-6,8-9)
54. “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is about to judge the living and the dead…” (II Tim. 4:1)
55. “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in THESE LAST DAYS has spoken to us in His Son.” (Heb. 1:1-2)
56. “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who are about to inherit salvation?” (Heb. 1:14) (salvation would be complete after the temple)
57. “He did not subject to angels the world about to come.” (Heb. 2:5)
58. “…and have tasted …the powers of the age about to come.” (Heb. 6:5)
59. “For ground that drinks the rain which often falls upon it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near a curse, and it’s end is for burning.” (Heb. 6:7-8)
60. “When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever IS becoming obsolete and growing old IS ready to disappear.” (Heb. 8:13) (Old Cov was still there, but waning!)
61. “The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way of the [heavenly] Holy Places has not yet been revealed, while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation.” (Heb. 9:8-10; Compare Gal. 4:19; Eph. 2:21-22; 3:17; 4:13)
62. “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things about to come…” (Heb. 9:11)
63. “NOW once AT the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin.” (Heb. 9:26)
64. “For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things about to come…” (Heb. 10:1)
65. “…as you see the Day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:25)
66. “…the fury of a fire which is about to consume the adversaries.” (Heb. 10:27)
67. “For yet in a VERY little while, He who is coming will come, and WILL NOT DELAY.” (Heb. 10:37)
68. “For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the one that is about to come.” (Heb. 13:14)
69. “Speak and so act, as those who are about to be judged by the law of liberty.” (Jms. 2:12)
70. “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. …It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!” (Jms. 5:1,3)
71. “[YOU] Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord.” (Jms. 5:7) (to THEM!)
72. “YOU too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (Jms. 5:8)
73. “…salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (I Peter 1:6)
74. “He …has appeared in these last times for the sake of YOU.” (I Peter 1:20)
75. “They shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” (I Peter 4:5)
76. “The end of all things is at hand; therefore, [you] be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.” (I Peter 4:7)
77. “For it IS time for judgment to begin with the household of God.” (I Peter 4:17)
78. “…as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is about to be revealed.” (I Peter 5:1)
79. “We have the prophetic word …which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the Day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.” (II Peter 1:19)
80. “Their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” (II Peter 2:3)
81. “In the last days mockers will come. …For this they willingly are ignorant of…” (I Peter 3:3,5)
82. “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are being destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought YOU to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God.” (II Peter 3:10-12)
83. “The darkness IS passing away, and the true light IS already shining.” (I Jn. 2:8)
84. “The world IS passing away, and its desires.” (I Jn. 2:17)
85. “It IS the last hour.” (I Jn. 2:18)
86. “Even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know that it is the last hour.” (I Jn. 2:18; Compare Matt. 24:23-34)
87. “THIS IS that of the antichrist, of which YOU have heard that it is coming, and NOW it is already in the world.” (I Jn. 4:3; Compare II Thess. 2:7)
88. “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation. …About these also Enoch…prophesied, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly…'” (Jude 1:4,14-15)
89. “But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, ‘In the last time there shall be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.’ These are the ones who cause divisions…” (Jude 1:17-19)
90. “…to show to His bond-servants, the things which must shortly take place.” (Rev. 1:1)
91. “The time is near.” (Rev. 1:3)
92. “Nevertheless what YOU have, hold fast until I come.” (Rev. 2:25)
93. “I also will keep YOU from the hour of testing which is about to come upon the whole world.” (Rev. 3:10)
94. “I am coming quickly.” (Rev. 3:11)
95. “And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is about to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.” (Rev. 12:5)
96. “And in her [the Great City Babylon] was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.” (Rev. 18:24; Compare Matt. 23:35-36; Lk. 11:50-51)
97. “…to show to His bond-servants the things which must shortly take place.” (Rev. 22:6)
98. “Behold, I am coming quickly.” (Rev. 22:7)
99. “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is NEAR.” (Rev. 22:10; Compare Dan. 8:26 for a parallel verse. In Dn he is told TO seal up the scroll for the time is NOT near…)
100. “Behold, I am coming quickly.” (Rev. 22:12)
101. “Yes, I am coming quickly.” (Rev. 22:20)
If we let the timing statements become a framework through which to interpret events in the New Testament, what must we conclude? By the 60’s AD, the end of something, the coming of something, the resurrection and judgment of something were in the believers immediate grasp.
I was shocked when I first realized the strength of the case for imminent fulfillment. I had to know the rest of the story that this imminent language told when examined together. It begged many questions for me. These questions inaugurated a great journey. And my faith began to move in ways that I couldn’t have imagined before considering these questions.
Today, I can’t deny that Jesus, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James, Peter and the Hebrew writer all believed – and boldly taught – that the Parousia, Resurrection and Judgment were about to come to THEM. Were they right? What kind of proof do we have? Did these things happen in a way that was unexpected? Has much of Christianity missed the realized hope that we’ve been given already? If these teachings are right, then what are the implications of this for me, for us, for our world?
Have we been so focused on making these Scriptures fit the results that we want to see in the material world, demanding visible proof, and an earthly utopia, that we missed their covenantal and spiritual fulfillment? Remember the words of Jesus to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have NOT SEEN and yet have BELIEVED.” John 20:29.
Would we have believed in the resurrection of Jesus even if no one saw his body before he ascended, but purely based upon his predictions to rise in three days? Tough question! I suspect most people are like Thomas. Yet his example challenges us to have better faith than that.
The central question for me was, do I believe Jesus’ teaching? Or do I demand modern apocalyptic visible-physical fulfillment of the above Scriptures? What other legitimate ways can Jesus’ teaching be understood? In coming to terms with this question, I had to wrestle with my understanding of first century Hebrew language and these age-changing events.
This process sent me back to school. To the school of learning and unlearning. To getting into a first century Hebrew mindset. To considering the original message as it would have been understood by the original Jewish audience. And to seeing Scripture anew.
One thing that stood out to me was how much Scripture records the original students of Jesus and Paul already misunderstanding the message. Even Peter, who was personally tutored by Jesus, calls eschatological teachings “difficult” to understand. Peter wasn’t alone.
There was never a golden age when everyone who heard the mysteries of the Gospel “got” it all right. The earliest churches fell into numerous errors in the face of teaching from the Apostles themselves. Paul taught the Corinthian believers face-to-face for over a year-and-a-half (Acts 18:11), and they still failed to understand the resurrection (1 Cor 15). So it’s not unlikely for disenfranchised early believers who didn’t have the New Testament, or even literacy for most, to misunderstand the more ‘difficult’ teachings of Jesus.
Take, for example, the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy about the coming of Elijah (Mt 11). Jesus gives an explanation of spiritual fulfillment for those who “have ears to hear” and are willing to open their minds to his new kind of teaching. Some of Jesus’ listeners didn’t even have categories in which to classify these new ideas.
They anticipated the physical-literal coming of Elijah. Then Jesus says, the coming of Elihas was already spiritually fulfilled in John the Baptist, “IF you are WILLING to accept it”. Some were, and this confirmed their faith. But many weren’t, and they wait for this fulfillment today. Are we willing to forge new categories in our minds and accept Jesus’ teachings, which might be as strange to us today as they were to people then?
There’s no shame in coming to a new understanding. The essence of our growth in God is transformation. I’m still learning about the spiritual, covenantal and symbolic ways the concepts Jesus taught continue to manifest themselves in our lives and world.
I challenge you to consider Scripture’s consistent timing statements. I encourage you to have faith that if this is what Scripture really taught, then believing this will lead you to a good place. It doesn’t seem like much to ask someone to consider that Jesus made a promise and kept it. But it does seem like a lot to ask someone to consider traditional Christian teaching on this topic is flawed.
I don’t know why many first century Christians didn’t see that Jesus’ promised Parousia happened in their lifetime. Just like I don’t know why many first century Jews didn’t see Jesus as Messiah. But history shows that it’s not unusual for groups of people to miss something as plain as the nose on their face. Or as plain as the 101 timing statements above. What’s everyone looking for? Maybe the answer has been right here all along.
Inspired by the article Preterism: 101, by David Green