Who is willing to admit error? In recent years we have heard that the world was about to come to an end—at least as we know it. Well May 21st (2011) has come and gone, but no one was willing to admit error. It seems the prognosticator was only a few months off, it was really supposed to be October 21st! So, did he really make an error? Well, yes he did–twice, and the Bible tells us about folks who do this kind of thing, but that’s another subject perhaps for another blog-post.
What about the Apostles including Paul, did they commit error in believing and preaching that Jesus would come in their expected lifetimes? Well, if they did commit an error, we don’t read about it in the New Testament. We read about all their other errors and sins, from Peter’s denying Christ to Paul’s persecuting believers to the death. We read about Thomas doubting the other Apostles’ story about seeing the resurrected Jesus, and Peter trying to tell Jesus that all that food on the cloth in his vision wasn’t fit to eat. Who was right when Paul confronted Peter in Antioch? We hear Paul’s side of the story, but not Peter’s. Peter had to have had his reasons for doing what he did, for even Barnabas agreed that Peter had a point.
Late in Acts we read about James playing the PR man when Paul visited Jerusalem. James’ advice resulted in Paul’s imprisonment and near death, but where were James and company when the lynch mob gathered together? Everyone wanted to tell Paul what he should do, but when he got into trouble following their advice, we don’t hear a word from any of the leaders of the Jerusalem church. Everyone but Paul and his enemies were silent. Was it a mistake for James to put his nose in where it didn’t belong? Perhaps, but I don’t think we have the whole story.
Whatever the case may be concerning these things, the errors and sins of the Apostles and leaders of the 1st century church are submitted for all to read, just as it was done in the Old Testament, concerning God’s servants. So, what about the Apostles’ claim that Jesus’ coming would occur in their expected lifetimes—before that evil generation passed away (Matthew 24:34)? Oh, but some may claim that the writers of the New Testament really didn’t say Jesus would come in their lifetime. Well, for those who wish to go on believing that, I can only say believe as you wish, but even a cursory read of the New Testament shows the Apostles believed Jesus would return in their expected lifetimes, and, if they believed it, they preached it. Who can read Romans 13:11 and say Paul did not teach Jesus was about to come? What about the 2nd chapter of his second letter to the Thessalonians? He seemed to write that Jesus would come about the time of the rebellion and destroy the man of sin! What about Paul’s letter to Timothy where he charged him to keep his commandment until the coming of Jesus (1Timothy 6:14)?
Some believers (actually there is a good argument that these scoffers weren’t believers) actually grew despondent when Jesus didn’t return by the early 60s AD, and they began to reject the Gospel (2Peter 3:4), and Peter had to defend what he had told them in his first epistle. If he wasn’t teaching that Jesus would return soon, why were so many mocking Jesus’ apparent tardiness? How did the scoffers have an argument at all, if Peter didn’t preach the soon return of Jesus? John spoke of his day being the last time (2John 2:18), and Jude told his readers that all the Apostles taught about what would occur in the last times, and then he went on to describe what was going on—just as the Apostles said would occur (Jude 1:14-21).
What am I saying—that the Apostles are no better than our most resent prognosticator who foretold the world’s doom on May 21, 2011? Not at all—I wouldn’t dream of placing the Apostles in our modern false prophets’ category. The Apostles were the Lord’s witnesses, and who better than they should know what the Lord taught? My point is this—do we have it correct? We believe the Lord may come in our generation. What if the scriptures we are using to determine our times, were really meant for the days of the Apostles? What if we are making a big mistake in thinking the Apostles were wrong about the generation in which they lived? What if the Lord did return spiritually to judge Jerusalem by means of Rome and destroy her temple, cir. 70 AD?
What was the sign of Christ’s coming that the Apostles looked for? They asked Jesus just before his death to tell them the sign of his coming (Matthew 24:3). Remember, at this point in time, the Apostles had no idea that Jesus was about to leave them, so they weren’t asking Jesus to tell them when he would return. They asked about the time of Jesus coming to power—i.e. his taking possession of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:30). Jesus spoke of a time of judgment, of the time that the Temple would be destroyed (remember Jesus pointed out all those big stones in the Temple would be rubble), of persecution and excommunication from the synagogues. The language is apocalyptic, and it seems clear that he was speaking of his Second Coming, although the Apostles still had no idea that Jesus was leaving. It was only after his death and resurrection and especially after the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost that they put these things together.
Coming to the conclusion that the Apostles were not wrong—BUT we are, is a great eye-opening experience. Many of the Scriptures to which we point in order to make our own prognostications, which fail every time, are really meant for the days of the Apostles. They lived in the final days of the age, when God reached out to the world through the Jewish nation. That is, they lived in the final days of the Old Covenant, which came to a formal close cir. 70 AD. A new age (New Covenant) was firmly established, as the old faded away, and the New Covenant is the age that will never end (Daniel 2:44). Jesus returned to the heavens and judged Jerusalem (Revelation 11:15; cf. Matthew 24:30-44). It was the time of the passing away of the old heavens and earth (Matthew 24:35; 2Peter 3:7, 10-12; Revelation 20:11), and the coming of the new heavens and earth (Revelation 21:1). It was the time of the resurrection of the dead (Matthew 24:31; cf. 13:41-43) and the judgment (Revelation 20:12-13) and of God coming to dwell with man (Revelation 21:1-3).
I really think we ought to take another look at what scriptures say about the coming of Jesus and allow our reading to be led by the Spirit rather than what men have told us about those times.