Home > Bible Study, eschatology, Luke, Matthew, preterism, S. Lewis Johnson > Was Jesus Mistaken? Did He Really Say That He Would Return In the First Century?

Was Jesus Mistaken? Did He Really Say That He Would Return In the First Century?


Amongst Christian circles, liberals like to point to Bible texts that talk of Jesus returning soon (for instance, in Revelation 1 and 22, and Matthew 24 (“this generation”), and say that Jesus must have been mistaken, since 2000+ years have now elapsed.  “Where is the sign of His coming?” they challenge, just as surely as the apostle Peter prophesied they would.

Then Preterists, including partial preterists, came along with the desire to “rescue” Jesus from liberal criticism, by coming up with a scheme to support the idea that Jesus was not mistaken and that He really did return (in secret, or in judgment) in 70 A.D.  R.C. Sproul, influenced by the theological liberalism of his education, is one such proponent, and has admitted that he had this starting point.

But in my study through the gospel accounts, and especially the parables, comes another teaching.  As S. Lewis Johnson points out in his Matthew series  — and is also evident in many other parables, such as in Luke’s gospel — Jesus repeatedly emphasized the fact that a long time period would elapse between Christ’s First and Second Coming.

In Matthew’s “Parables of Rejection,” Jesus first hints at this long period of time.  The master of the house (Matthew 21:33-41) set up a vineyard, leased it to tenants, and then went away into another country.  The parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-10) sets forth a future time when the actual wedding feast will take place — and in Jewish custom several years elapsed between the initial engagement (by the parents) and the actual time of the wedding — again to indicate an unknown time gap; the invited guests meanwhile had gone off to do other “more important” things.  By themselves these parables are certainly not conclusive, but neither do they contradict a long period of time.

The Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24) tells much more information, including the fact that enough time will elapse for nations and kingdoms to rise up against each other, and for wars and rumors of war to continue.  Later in Matthew 24, Jesus indicates the importance of being prepared, again hinting that such a long time will elapse (Matthew 24:48-50) that the servants will not be expecting Him, and that wicked servants will notice that “my master is delayed.” The two parables that follow, of the ten virgins and the talents (Matthew 25:1-30), also show a lengthy delay: all of the virgins fall asleep; the master giving the talents goes away on a long journey, and in verse 19 returns “after a long time.”

Luke’s gospel has similar parables and words from Jesus, indicating a lengthy time before His return.  Consider Luke 12:35-40 and the admonition to keep your lamps burning, to be ready whether He comes in the second, third or even the fourth watch of the night.  Then, the parable of the persistent widow (which in context has eschatological reference), which concludes with Jesus’ words: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8) Just as all the virgins fell asleep, here the question arises again:  after such a long time (the continued persistent prayers of the faithful), will believers still be found, ready and anticipating His return.  In Luke 19, He tells the parable of the Ten Minas because the people believed that the Kingdom of God was to appear immediately (v. 11). The following parable is similar to the talents one in Matthew 25, again with the point that the nobleman went into a far country before returning.

Luke 21, another account of the Olivet Discourse, includes additional information regarding the time gap:  verses 20-24 speak of the destruction of Jerusalem, the people being led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem being trampled underfoot by the Gentiles “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”  (See my previous blog concerning this text:  Luke’s Gospel and Eschatology.) Then verse 25 resumes the narrative related to future events as paralleled by Matthew and Mark.

The gospels contain so many of Jesus’ teaching, and make the point clear.  Jesus clearly set forth the idea of a long wait, that He did not think He was going to return soon in terms of elapsed time.  Rather, He continually pointed out the ideas of perseverance, waiting and preparedness, along with parables regarding his absence for a long period of time.  Certainly no one could have realized that this delay is now 2000+ years, but the biblical record is clear enough that liberals deserve a better response than that of Preterists, those who too readily agree with the liberals’ premise and then try to force other scripture into a mold it was never intended to fit into.

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