It seems like every new generation thinks that the second coming of Jesus will happen in their lifetime. Everything in the news media is a “sign of the end times.” The Rapture has been predicted so many times in the past 50 years that many view Christianity as a joke. What shouldn’t be a surprise though is that most who predict the end of the world also ask for a monthly financial contribution to their ministry. The Bible has been used as a crystal ball for too long. Scripture tells us pretty much exactly when Jesus would return. Scripture also tells us that he already has. Be ready to be surprised by what is actually in the Bible. There is a lot of Scripture to go over, so buckle up.
Out of the Saviors Mouth
Jesus himself tells his disciples when he would return. As he is instructing his disciples what to expect while preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom he says:
When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
This isn’t the only time Jesus tells his disciples they will see his second coming.
Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.
So the disciples would already have the idea in mind that Jesus would return at some point while they were still alive, but they didn’t know exactly when. Near the end of Christ’s ministry, the disciples would finally ask for more specific signs. As Jesus was walking away from the Temple with his disciples he turned to them, called their attention to the buildings, and said, “Do you see all these things? Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:1-2). The disciples, understandably worried, asked Jesus, “Tell us, when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3). Notice the topic and notice the question. The topic is that every Temple building will be destroyed. The question is, when will this happen? But also notice that the disciples link two events to the destruction of the Temple: the coming of Jesus and the end of the age. As we will see, Jesus links these three events together as well.
Jesus goes on to answer their question by giving many signs they should expect to see before the Temple is destroyed, Jesus returns, and thus bringing the end of the age. Jesus said, “Watch out that no one deceives you… you will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed… then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me… then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains… so you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:4, 6, 9, 16, 44). Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “People living thousands of years from now will see the Son of Man coming.” Jesus was talking to those standing right around him—his disciples. Jesus closes his answer with a promise:
Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
Jesus seems to make things pretty clear that he would return within his disciple’s lifetime. Jesus made the same claim when he was led before the Jewish High Council when he was arrested: “I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:64). Did any of this happen? We know through the historical record that two of the three claims Jesus made did indeed come to pass: the destruction of the Temple and the end of the Jewish age. Those two ended in AD 70 when the Romans completely destroyed the city of Jerusalem. But what about the return of Jesus?
Disciples and Apostles
Since Jesus told his disciples that they would be alive to witness his second coming we should expect that they believed him, and it certainly seems that they did. “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay” (Hebrews 10:37). “…the time is short” (1 Corinthians 7:29). “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here” (Romans 13:12). “The end of all things is near” (1 Peter 4:7). “Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. The Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:8, 9). “This is the last hour” (1 John 2:18).
Paul encouraged the church in Corinth, saying that Jesus was going to come soon.
…you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:7-8
Corinth wasn’t the only city to get such encouragement, Paul also made an encouraging promise to the first Christians who lived in Thessaloniki.
God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.
2 Thessalonians 1:6-7
Paul promised these suffering Christ-followers that they would find relief at the coming of Jesus. That means that the relief would come while they were still alive. Once again, notice that it isn’t said, “Jesus might come in thousands of years, we have no idea.” Paul and all the apostles were convinced that Jesus was not lying when he promised that he would return within their lifetime.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ
The last book of the Bible describes Christ’s judgment on the Roman empire specifically, but also all empires throughout history. The metaphorical events in Revelation are said by its author to happen very soon. “…what must soon take place” (Revelation 1:1). “…the time is near” (Revelation 1:3). “…things that must soon take place” (Revelation 22:6). “…because the time is near” (Revelation 22:10). Clearly the book of Revelation was describing events that were near and which would soon take place.
…he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, “There will be no more delay!”
In Revelation, Jesus says, “I am coming soon” (Revelation 3:11). “Look, I am coming soon!” (Revelation 22:7). “I am coming soon!” (Revelation 22:12). “Yes, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20). What does soon mean to you? Was Jesus a liar? Or does “soon” mean what we would expect it to mean—within the lifetime of Christ’s disciples—during the first century.
Have Church Teachings Failed?
Why do most Christians deny the words of Jesus and his apostles that are recorded in the Bible? How could Christians be deceived for so much of Church history? Is that even possible? It wouldn’t be the first time that Christians were deceived for hundreds of years. Take for instance the Roman Catholic church which taught that you are saved by your good works instead of by grace. Or the teaching that the Gifts of the Spirit had ceased which ushered in the dark ages of Christianity. Or consider the Protestant Reformation which taught an Atonement Theory that, even though it has almost no basis in Scripture, has been mainstream for hundreds of years. Or even more recently the “end times” craze that brought about a half-dozen newly invented doctrines, which are easily dispelled. Christians can clearly be deceived and so it should be becoming clearer that they can be deceived about the second coming of Jesus.
Think about what is needed to ignore all the Scripture that says when Jesus will return. Christians have to simply deny everything Jesus Christ and His apostles said. They disregard literally every single time indication given in Scripture, basically saying, “The Bible can say “soon,” “at hand,” and “quickly” and actually mean it will take forever and ever.”
The Gospel accounts and the letters to the first-century churches were meant to encourage the suffering followers of Jesus. There was a promise that Christ would come soon and give them relief, and so they were encouraged to stay strong. If these promises were strange metaphors for “thousands of years from now” then they were meaningless and all those first-century Christ-followers died without being relieved, and that makes God a liar. When Jesus said John would be alive at his coming (John 21:22), that some in his audience would not die before he came on the clouds, the High Council would witness it, the disciples would not have time to travel throughout Israel before the Son of Man came, and that their generation would truly see it all come to pass, then he was not speaking nonsense. Jesus Christ was telling the truth; we just need to believe him.
Jesus Has Already Come?
Most Christians would argue that Jesus hasn’t returned yet. Maybe Jesus was wrong. C.S. Lewis certainly thought so:
The apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have been proved to be false. It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. And worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find very embarrassing. Their Master had told them so. He shared, and indeed created, their delusion. He said in so many words, ‘this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.’ And he was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else. It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.
— C.S. Lewis1
Lewis’s words are blunt but honest. He said what most Christians say without saying when they choose to ignore what Jesus and the writers of the New Testament claimed. But Jesus was correct about the fall of Jerusalem and thus the end of the Jewish age, so what if he was also correct about his return? Historians have some interesting things to say about it. Several Jewish, Greek, and Roman historians describe how during the siege of Jerusalem (the event that coincides when Jesus said he would return), a tremendous figure was seen in the clouds, along with the armies of angels.
A certain figure appeared of tremendous size, which many saw, just as the books of the Jews have disclosed, and before the setting of the sun there were suddenly seen in the clouds chariots and armed battle arrays, by which the cities of all Iudaea and its territories were invaded.
A phantom appeared of incredible size, and what will be related would have seemed a fairy-tale had it not been told by those who saw it, and been attended by suffering worthy of the portent. For before sunset there appeared in the air over the whole country chariots and armed troops coursing through the clouds and surrounding the cities.
— Eusebius of Caesarea3
…chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities.
— Flavius Josephus4
There had been seen hosts joining battle in the skies, fiery gleams of arms… the temple illuminated by a sudden radiance from the clouds.
— Gaius Tacitus5
Now it happened after this that there was seen over the Holy of Holies from above for the entire night the outline of a man’s face, the like of whose beauty had never been seen in all the land, and his appearance was very awesome. Moreover, in those days were seen chariots of fire and horsemen, a great force flying across the sky near to the ground coming against Jerusalem and all the land of Judah, all of them horses of fire and riders of fire.
— Sepher Josippon6
Jesus said that his first-century contemporaries “will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). Paul said Jesus would be “revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels” (2 Thessalonians 1:7). These historians, most which were not Christian, seem to corroborate what Jesus and the apostles claimed. There is much more historical evidence that shows how everything Jesus predicted came to pass, which is covered in another article.
What Are We Waiting For?
If Jesus, the apostles, and historians were correct, we don’t need to wait for Jesus. So then what are we waiting for? The apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans what we are all waiting for.
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
According to Paul, all of creation is waiting on God’s people. It is Jesus, through his body—his followers—participating in God’s Kingdom, that will liberate creation and bring it into freedom and glory. This is has been God’s plan all along, to transform us into the image of Christ so we can transform the pagan nations of the world into the Kingdom of God (Revelation 11:15). How do we do this? Paul tells us that it is through our faithful suffering that God’s glory is revealed in us, which in turn will liberate creation (Romans 8:17). Jesus said that the world would never be as bad as it was right before his second coming, and this indeed has been the case (Matthew 24:21). AD 70 saw the worst that humankind had to offer, but the world has been slowly getting better ever since as God’s Kingdom expands.
We are not waiting for Jesus to return, he already has—he lives inside his followers (John 17:23; Romans 8:10; 2 Corinthians 4:6-7; Galatians 1:15-16, 2:20; Colossians 1:27; 1 John 3:24; Revelation 3:20).
Jesus tells us that he left with the goal of returning to dwell inside of his followers. “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:2-6). Jesus clearly says that he would leave but then return to take his people to his Father’s house. Jesus only used the term “my Father’s house” in reference to the Temple (John 2:16, Luke 2:49). Jesus says that anyone who obeys his teachings will receive the love of the Father and they will come and make their home with them (John 14:23). If you obey Christ’s teachings, he and the Father will make their home with you. Their home is inside of you. That is why all over the New Testament followers of Jesus are called the Temple of God and his household (1 Peter 2:4-5, 1 Timothy 3:15, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:18-20, Revelation 21:22).
To recap so far: Jesus said he would return within the lifetime of his disciples. The apostles were expecting Christ to return very soon. Historians have claimed that all Jesus predicted came true—including his appearance in the clouds. Jesus said that when he returns he would make his home within his followers. Revelation reveals the spiritual reality of Jesus dwelling with us. This is why the New Testament constantly reminds us that we are the body of Christ (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 3:6, 5:23; Colossians 1:18, 24).
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. And he is the head of the body, the church… For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things…
Colossians 1:15, 18-20
The fullness of God dwells in Christ and Jesus dwells in us, so that means the fullness of God dwells within us. Paul verifies this when he says, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.” (Colossians 2:9-10). The fullness of God is in Christ, the Church is Christ’s body, so the fullness of God is in the Church, God’s new Temple—you (Ephesians 1:22-23).
Yes, we still await the bodily resurrection, but the second coming of Jesus has already happened. Not just a part of Jesus. The fullness of Jesus is inside his followers. God dwells with humanity, here on earth. This means we don’t have to wait for Jesus to rescue us; he already has. This means we don’t have to wait for Jesus to return to us; he already has. This means we shouldn’t be waiting for Jesus to snap his fingers and make the world better; Christ is here working through his followers to expand his Kingdom. Jesus said, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” (John 15:4 NLT).
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”
- C.S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night: And Other Essays, 1960.
- Quote from chapter 44 from the Latin version of the Pseudo-Hegesippus
- Ecclesiastical History, Book 3, Chapter 8, Sections 1-6
- Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 5, Sections 2-3
- Gaius Tacitus, The Histories, Book 5.13
- Sepher Jossipon, Burning of the temple, Chapter 87