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Did Jesus and his earliest followers believe that he would return during their lifetime? Part 1/2

A study of Mark 9:1, Mark 13:30, and Matthew 10:23

Certain people, usually sceptics, claim that Jesus appeared to have stated in three different bible verses that his second coming would take place before all his first followers had died.

The main passages they cite are Mark 9:1, 13:30, and Matthew 10:23.

If the sceptics claim is true, then it has big implications for the internal consistency of the bible. If Jesus predicted such a thing and it did not happen, then Jesus’ words could be considered unreliable and therefore a significant part of the New Testament canon could be proven to be untrustworthy.

Much has been written about this apparent dilemma however the best studies[1] are able to offer reasonable alternative explanations for all three of these verses after close study.


Mark 9:1: KJV [2] In anticipation of the Transfiguration

 And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.

This verse is leading up to the transfiguration, which Jesus’s disciples, Peter, James, and John are about to witness, so Mark is thinking along those lines. The fact that the transfiguration occurs six days later suggests this promise seems to confirm this interpretation, as does Peter’s description of the transfiguration[3].


Mark 13:30: Predicting Jerusalem’s Destruction

 Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.

 “These things” refers to what he has just been describing, and in verses 24–27 where Jesus has described his own return to earth. Again, Jesus speaks of “these things happening” in verse 29 as a hint to recognizing that his return is near. This would have Jesus saying something like this, “Once you see I have returned, know that I am near.” This does not make sense.

“These things” in verses 29–30 must surely refer to the events described in verses 5–23, all of which can be understood to have been at least provisionally fulfilled in the years between Jesus’s death (AD 30) and the destruction of the temple in AD 70— or you could say a 40-year period, or a biblical generation.


Matthew 10:23: Interrupting the disciples’ short-term mission to Israel?

But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.

This is the most difficult of the three verses to interpret. In verses 5–42, Jesus is teaching the disciples about what to expect as they travel around Israel trying to replicate Jesus’ ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing.


Does Jesus think his second coming will happen within a matter of weeks or months?

Sceptical people assert that Jesus appears to think that his second advent will happen within a matter of weeks or months. Could it be possible that Jesus could be killed and resurrected, go away into heaven, and then return, all during the comparatively brief period that the apostles are on the road proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom within Israel? This seems highly unlikely. If it were not for the other two passages we discussed, this idea might never have even occurred to anyone. But what then does Jesus mean?

Jesus meant he would meet up with his disciples again somewhere before they had completed their mission. By applying Occam’s razor, this would be the simplest answer. Jesus often styled himself as the “Son of Man,” instead of saying ‘I’ as is also the case in Matthew 8:20. Every other time Jesus speaks of the ‘Son of Man’ coming, he refers to his return in glory (in Matthew’s Gospel alone, see 16:27, 28; 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 44; 25:31; 26:64).

However the ‘Son of Man’ will return in glory makes the “meeting up with the apostles before their mission trip was over” interpretation unlikely, together with various other interpretations. For example, some have suggested that the coming of the Son of Man could refer to Jesus’s resurrection, to his sending of the Spirit at Pentecost, or to his coming in judgment against Israel with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Sometimes interpreters have tried to strengthen their case for one of these by reinterpreting one or more of the other occurrences of the Son of Man’s coming in Matthew in the same way.


In Part 2 we consider an alternative explanation to these passages.


[1] Craig L Blomberg -see part 2

[2] See also parallels in Matthew 16:8 and Luke 9:27

[3] See 2 Peter 1:16-18

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