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Jesus Botched Predicting the End Times?

It might look that way...if you don’t read historical sources that reveal when Jesus’ words were fulfilled

Jimmy Akin

Because of certain statements Jesus made, some have thought he predicted the end of the world in his own day—wrongly, since the world didn’t end.

One statement is that “this generation will not pass away” before the events of the Olivet Discourse take place (Mark 13:30). However, Jesus wasn’t predicting the end of the world. When read in context, this statement referred to the events leading up to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in A.D. 70.

Another statement also occurs in the Olivet Discourse, when Jesus describes the coming events and says, “And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds” (Mark 13:26-27).

Since Jesus will return from heaven at the end of the world (Acts 1:11), many have understood this as a reference to the Second Coming. And, because prophecy can have more than one fulfillment, it may point to the Second Coming. However, this wasn’t what it referred to in the events leading up to the destruction of the temple.

Part of the confusion is caused by the fact that many only study their Bibles and don’t read the historical sources that reveal what happened when Jesus’ words were fulfilled.

The Jewish historian Josephus, who was an eyewitness of the events, reported that God gave great signs in the heavens to show that the temple would soon be destroyed. These included a star that resembled a sword hanging over the city, unexplained light shining around the temple and its altar, chariots and soldiers fighting in the clouds, and heavenly voices saying “we are departing” from the temple (Jewish War 6:3:5[288-310]). The same signs are mentioned by the Roman historian Tacitus (Histories 5:13).

It is quite possible that the sign of Jesus appeared in the clouds to signify judgment. However, it’s also possible that this should be understood as a continuation of the common Old Testament image of God riding the clouds like a chariot, coming in judgment on those who have done wrong (Ps. 104:3, Isa. 19:1-2, Jer. 4:13-14, Ezek 1:4, 26-28). It was even prophesied that the Son of Man would ride on such a cloud and be given dominion by the Lord (Dan. 7:13-14).

In such passages, God did not appear physically in the clouds, but came spiritually as a judge. Jesus’ prophecy thus may be fulfilled symbolically in the events of A.D. 70: after the Jerusalem authorities destroyed the temple of Jesus’ body (John 2:19-22), Jesus came spiritually to judge the Jerusalem temple, which he had found wanting (Mark 11:15-17; John 2:13-17) and so announced its doom (Mark 13:2).

And, now that he has been given dominion by the Father, he gathers his elect or chosen people from the four winds through the spread of the gospel. The cessation of worship at the Jewish temple thus corresponds to the dawning of the Christian age.

This also is the explanation for a statement that Jesus makes to the high priest Caiaphas. When asked if he is the Christ, the Son of God, Jesus replies: “I am; and you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62).

Jesus is not prophesying that the Second Coming will occur during Caiaphas’s lifetime. His statement reflects Daniel 7:13-14, where the Son of Man is brought before God in heaven to receive his kingdom. The prophecy thus refers to Jesus ascending into heaven (Acts 1:9), where he received his kingdom (7:55-56) and where he now reigns (1 Cor. 15:24-26).

Theologians also have explored the idea of an adventus medius (“middle advent”) of Christ prior to the Second Coming. It is a spiritual “coming” of Christ in which he is preached to the world and becomes present with his people (see Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 2, epilogue).

This is the explanation for passages such as when Jesus says, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23) or “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). These refer to spiritual comings of Jesus, not his Second Coming. We thus need to be aware that not all passages that speak of Christ as coming refer to the end of the world.

GET WHAT JESUS REALLY SAID ABOUT THE END OF THE WORLD

A final statement that should be considered is, “There are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power” (Mark 9:1; cf. Matt. 16:28; Luke 9:27).

This is not about the end of the world, for “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21), and some of Jesus’ disciples were about to see it manifested in a powerful way. In each Synoptic Gospel (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the Transfiguration immediately follows Jesus’ announcement (Matt. 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-10; Luke 9:28-36). Jesus takes three of the disciples—Peter, James, and John—up a mountain. His clothing becomes dazzlingly bright, Moses and Elijah appear beside him, everyone is enveloped in a cloud, and God the Father speaks from heaven, identifying Jesus as his Son and his Chosen, and declaring, “Hear him!”

This manifestation is the coming of the kingdom “with power” that Jesus referred to, and the text of each Gospel suggests that this is the way the evangelists understood it. Not only does the Transfiguration happen right after the announcement, but each Gospel says it was about a week later (Matt. 17:1, Mark 9:1, Luke 9:28—the slight difference in the number of days may reflect reckoning parts of days as wholes and counting days as beginning at sunset, midnight, or dawn). Peter, James, and John thus were the three who did not taste death before they saw the kingdom coming with power (see again Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazarethvol. 1, ch. 9).


This article is excerpted from Jimmy Akin’s 20 Answers Booklet, The End Times, released in the 2020 collection and available at the Catholic Answers Shop.

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