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Why did Jesus not return?

One of the most disturbing and troubling aspects in the New Testament is it appears to many readers that the early Christians thought their savior who had just been crucified would come again very soon. If that is true, then Jesus has failed for 2,000 years to fulfill this prophecy and it would be a tremendous blow to those who claim Jesus was God and the New Testament represents His Word.  Not surprising, Christian apologists have been very active for centuries attempting to explain this apparent discrepancy.  Certainly, most of the major biblical scholars at the major secular universities have no problem with just accepting that Jesus was the latest in a along line of failed messiahs. So, what does the New Testament say about the second coming that never came?  Conservative Christians' most common explanation is that Jesus said he would come 'quickly' and that there are verses that state no one knows the exact time, but He never claimed to say He would come soon.


Let's take a look at some of the verses and let the Bible speak for itself:


Hebrews 10: 37 -  "In just a little while, he who is coming will come and all will not delay;"


Rev. 1:7 - "... he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him..."


Rev. 1:1 - "The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gae to show to his servants the things that must soon take place"


Rev 3:11 - "I am coming soon".


Rev 22: 12 - "Behold, I am coming soon."


Rev 22: 20 - ", surely I am coming  soon. Amen."


James 5: 8 - "... for the coming of the Lord is at hand."


Philippians 4:5 - Different translations - many state the "Lord is near", which could mean close by or soon. But those that differ do make the difference and it's time weighted, not geography. For example:  "Remember, the Lord is coming soon." (NLT),  "The Lord is at hand."  (KJV, NKJV, ESV, WEB, WBT, ERV, AmKJV, KJ2000), "The Lord will soon be here." (Cont. EV), "The Lord is coming soon." (GNB)


1 Peter 4: 7 - "The end of all things is at hand."


1 John 2: 18 - "Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour."


1 Corinthians 7: 29 - 31 - "What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them.  For this world in its present form is passing away."



And to be sure the listener or reader understood that soon really did mean soon, the NT includes these verses:


Matthew 10:23 -  "When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes."


Mark 9:1 -  "And he said to them, 'Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power."


Matthew 16:28 - "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."


So, above are listed 12 verses that all say Jesus would come soon. It's bad enough that Christian apologists need to explain each one individually, but are we to turn our intellectual backs on the observation that collectively, across multiple books and times, the consensus of all these verses cries out with one message?  What about Occam's Razor? To Biblical scholars outside of conservative seminaries the obvious is overwhelming - the early Christians thought Jesus was God and would come back soon. This prophecy has failed for 2,000 years and yet, at least in America, a huge percentage of the population STILL believes He is coming soon.


The last two verses deserve some comment. What are the ways (possible vs. probable?) that conservative Christians try and salvage Mark 9:1 and Matthew 16:28?


From the ESV (2008) Study Bible:


1. It refers to Jesus' transfiguration which follows these verses


2. His resurrection


3. The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost


4. The spread of the kingdom through the preaching of the early church


5. The destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in 70 AD


6. The second coming and final establishment of the kingdom


Whenever one sees this many possible explanations, you can be assured that none of them are correct except the obvious #6; it just means what it says and does NOT need mental gymnastics to explain the obvious.


The most common attempted interpretation that I've heard and read is #1. The verses immediately following the above passage state this:


Matthew 17: 1,2 - "And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light." 


Trying to explain Mark 9:1 and Matthew 16:28 with the transfiguration doen't make sense. By saying that there are some that will not "taste death" until they see Jesus again, it means that some will. Jesus' transfiguration takes place six days after the troublesome verses. How many of the 12 died in less than a week?  Also, Jesus talks about them seeing his "kingdom" not his power, glory, or light within him. Think of all the other ways it could have been written if it was just referring to the transfiguration. The "kingdom" applies to much more than just the transfiguration - his face and clothes becoming bright.  Jesus meant what he said; many would die before his kingdom would be again established but some he is speaking to now would still be alive when he comes again.


Another common explanation for Mark 9:1 and Matthew 16:28 is to attribute the prophecy to #5.  But did the "kingdom" come to the world at 70 AD?


For a more complete list of verses that point to a failed expected Jesus return that never happened see James Tabor's list here:  (Link)  (Link) (Link)


David Madison (PhD Biblical Studies) - Jesus the apocalyptic failed messiah  Link


A summary discussion of attempted apologetic explanations: Link


~ Biomed