RE: [asa] A theology question (imminent return of Christ)

From: Dehler, Bernie <>
Date: Wed Oct 08 2008 - 13:01:29 EDT

Hi Edward- I agree with all your proofs below, 100%! I think you nailed the case that the disciples all expected the return of Christ real soon in their lifetime, and it didn't happen. They were wrong. But how do YOU deal with it? Do you just tuck it away in the back of your mind as an unresolved mystery? Was Jesus wrong in what He taught them?

You also wrote:
" Oddly enough, the plain straightforward fundamental meaning of such verses continues to be denied by "fundamentalist" "inerrantist" Christians who have used every means possible to try and deny what appears quite obvious."

I agree quite strongly.

Pastor Murray, for example, I read your posts. I recognize it as standard teaching, but it doesn't make sense to me, for all the reasons Edward wrote below. Somehow you are not seeing what Edward is pointing out, or else you have a way to deal with it that I don't know about. I'd like to see your comments on his post.

Pastor Murray, in Acts, the rich sold what they had for the good of the group. That was way out of the norm. I think the text makes that clear. It was extreme. Why would they do such an extreme thing? You make it sound like you are downplaying how extreme and rare it was. My opinion is that I think if those disciples would have known that we were still waiting for Christ's return today, almost 2,000 years later, they would not have done it (sold everything and shared everything).


-----Original Message-----
From: Edward Babinski []
Sent: Tuesday, October 07, 2008 10:52 PM
Cc: Dehler, Bernie;;;;;
Subject: Re: [asa] A theology question (imminent return of Christ)

Hi Bernie [Dehler], and others...

Bern, I think you hit the nail on the head, one that other scholars (including moderate Evangelicals) have hammered upon over the millennia.

In particular note that the verses you cited in the Book of Acts speak about Christians selling all they had and sharing everything (presumably taking care of even the poorest among them, thus taking the Sermon on the Mount quite directly and seriously) and Acts said they did this in order to "testify to the resurrection," Jesus' resurrection -- the point being that early Christians taught that Jesus' resurrection was the "first fruits" of the general resurrection soon to come with the judgment of all mankind not far off. See Matthew, "His angels will gather..." and "separate the sheep from the goats." The "first fruits" were taken from the field and enjoyed in a celebration, they were the first fully matured fruits in the field, and every farmer hearing such a phrase knew that the maturation of all the rest of the fruit in the field was not far off, but would soon have to be harvested. Therefore, "first fruits" could NEVER be considered very far away
 from the general harvest.

So YES, you are quite correct about the heightened expectation back then, the sense of urgency to testify to the world, the sense of imminency, existing in the early church, even prophesied by Paul that "WE shall not all sleep," and in 1 John, "it IS the last hour, by this we KNOW it is the last hour, because many antichrists HAVE [ALREADY] arisen." Such serious expecations/prophecies uttered by early apostles can be found throughout the N.T. Take the Letter of James:

Come now, you rich [those living at the time the letter of James was written], weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you... It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure... Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand... ...Behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. [5:1,3,7-9]

The author of James sought to address the impatience of some at the delay of Jesus' return. He reassured them that the "the coming of the Lord is at hand," "the Judge is standing right at the door."

Or consider passages from the letter to the Hebrews:

...In these last days... ...He [Jesus] would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. [4] ...As you [the first century Christians being addressed] see the day drawing near... ...For yet a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. [1:2; 9:26; 10:25,37]

Notice the statement, above, that "...He [Jesus] would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself." "At the consummation" can also be translated, "at the end of the age." And Jesus, according to the gospel of Matthew, informed his listeners exactly what "the end of the age" referred to:

...The harvest is the end of the the end of the age...the Son of Man will send forth his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. [Matthew 13:40-41 - based on the description of "the end of the age" found in Daniel 12]

Look at what Paul wrote to the believers at Corinth:

...The rulers of this age...are passing away ["will not last much longer" - Today's English Version] ... Do not go on passing judgment before the time [i.e., "before the time" of final judgment which he predicted was near at hand], but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts..." ...The time has been shortened so that from now on both those who have wives should be as though they had none [i.e., Paul preached that the time was so "short" that married Christian couples "from now on" ought to abstain from having sex! [5] ]; and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it [i.e., there was no time for marriage or buying or selling - only in a state of holy celibacy could the Elect remain pure
 while awaiting the soon return of Christ]; for the form of this world is passing away ["This world, as it is now, will not last much longer" - Today's English Version]... ...These things were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come... Proclaim the Lord's death until he comes [i.e., Paul did not say, "Proclaim the Lord's death until the day you die," but rather, "until he comes," which means that he considered Christ's coming to be nearer than the time when the believers he was writing to would all be dead]. We [Paul and the first century believers being addressed] shall not all sleep... ...At the last trumpet...the dead will be raised...and we shall be changed. Maranatha [="Come Lord"] [1 Cor 2:6; 4:5; 7:29-31; 10:11; 11:26; 15:51-52; 16:22]

Or consider what Paul wrote to the believers at Thessalonica:

...How you turned to God from wait for His Son from heaven [Compare 1 Cor 1:7, "...awaiting eagerly the revelation (revealing) of our Lord Jesus Christ," and, Heb 9:28, "Christ...shall appear a second those who eagerly await Him." These instructions to "eagerly wait" for Christ's return reveal how imminent the second coming of Jesus was believed to be.]... For who is it not even you [the first century Christians being addressed], in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming? ...May establish your hearts...before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we [Paul and the first century Christians being addressed] who are alive and remain [notice how Paul included himself as one who will still be alive] until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep...the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are
 alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air... ...May your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. [1 Thes 1:9,10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:15-17; 5:23]

Keep in mind Paul was writing to people living in the first century, and also that he was repeating a "word" that he had received directly from "the Lord." Namely, that "we" [the first century Christians who "remained alive" at the time this letter was written, including Paul, its author] "shall be caught the clouds to meet the Lord in the air!" For Paul there was no doubt that Jesus would arrive before he and the believers he addressed would all be dead. "We," including himself, "shall not all sleep" [1 Cor 15:51].

But they do sleep today, the "word of the Lord" notwithstanding. In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul remained just as certain that Jesus would return shortly:

...It is just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution...these will pay the penalty...when He comes... [2 Thes 1:6-10]

That is to say, Jesus would be revealed from heaven "with his mighty angles in flaming fire" soon enough to "relieve" the afflictions of the Thessalonians, and Paul, and other first century Christians. Compare Paul's expectation of supernatural judgment and "relief" with this prediction made in the letter of Jude:

...Certain persons HAVE crept in [to the church] unnoticed [i.e., in Jude's day], those who were long beforehand marked out for condemnation...about these [i.e., ungodly persons living in Jude's day]...Enoch...prophesied saying, "Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of his holy ones to execute judgment..." [4,14-15]

Jude's message, like Paul's, and like the author of Revelation's was that Jesus would soon arrive, punish those who were afflicting the churches throughout the "world," and provide "relief" for steadfast believers.

Or take these passages from Paul's letter to the believers at Philippi:

...He who began a good work in you [the first century Christians being addressed] will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus [i.e., rather than saying, "until the day you die," which he assumed was not going to happen to all of them, since, as Paul pointed out in 1 Cor, "we shall not all sleep!"]... ...In order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ [Compare 1 Tim 6:14, "Keep the commandment...until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ."]... ...We eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ... ...Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. [Philip 1:6,10; 3:20; 4:5]

What about Paul's letter to the believers in Rome?

...The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is soon [mello] to be revealed to us... ...The whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now... ...We...groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. ...Knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed! The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand... ...The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. [Rom 8:18,22-23; 13:11-12; 16:20]

No one has ever preached more explicitly that Jesus would return (even "must" return - Rev 1:1) in their lifetimes, than the New Testament letter writers who addressed the churches throughout the Roman Empire in the first century A.D. Oddly enough, the plain straightforward fundamental meaning of such verses continues to be denied by "fundamentalist" "inerrantist" Christians who have used every means possible to try and deny what appears quite obvious.

Like Dispensationalism, "Preterism" is an attempt to uphold inerrancy and deny the obvious. But I ask Preterists to read the verses above and note that neither Paul nor any of the others connect the "coming of the Lord" with the "destruction of Jerusalem," but instead connect it with the general resurrection and final judgment.

On the positive side, I ought to add that THERE ARE NON-INERRANTIST CHRISTIANS WHO REMAIN EVANGELICALS, and who accept that such predictions are faulty but who take very seriously the sociological world in which such predictions were made, and who conclude that one can be a Christian -- but the historical and sociological contexts in which the Bible was composed are far more crucial to studying it than the principle of "inerrancy." See for instance this book, video, and website:


The video for the above book is even sold along with N.T. Wright's videos at this website:


From: Dehler, Bernie <>
Date: Tue Oct 07 2008 - 18:01:41 EDT

Here's a question I have.

In the NT, it is obvious that the disciples thought Jesus would return at any time and that the end was near. For example, that's why in Acts it says the believers had everything in common- sold what they had and shared everything. We would too if we seriously thought Christ would return tomorrow, but we don't really believe it. So we keep our own money- our retirement and college plans for our kids. We don't believe in the imminent return of Christ like the first believers did, as evidenced by our behavior.

Here's my question: Was Jesus wrong when He taught about the immediate return? How do we explain his slowness in coming, when they all thought it would have happened almost 2,000 years ago? And since it has been so long already, what's the big deal if Jesus waits another 2,000 years? I know that's inconceivable to most evangelical Christians, just like if you told a Christian in 100AD that Christ still did not return by 2000AD.

No need to post scripture about "scoffers who say Christ isn't going to return." That isn't the question. The question is how to you resolve the fact that Christ clearly taught, and His disciples clearly believed, in the imminent return, which didn't happen yet? There was no imminent return. If Christ returns today, it was not imminent.

It is a genuine problem that I have and am pondering, as a believer.



From: Bethany Sollereder <>
Date: Tue Oct 07 2008 - 18:20:19 EDT

Hey Bernie,

Funny you should mention the idea that we would not have retirement and
college funds if we really believed... at the Bible college I attended, we
had a speaker come in and tell us that when he was young he scorned all
those things because of the immanence of Christ's return. Now, at
retirement age, he was unable to, and actually advised us not to take his

I'm not sure where you mean that Jesus said he would return immediately.
When he speaks of coming on the "clouds of heaven" etc. I like to follow
N.T. Wright's approach which says that this is language of vindication -
vindication which came with the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. As for when the second coming would be, I don't think he actually said it would be
immediate. It seems to me that most of his teachings/parables on the nature of returning are usually emphasizing the uncertainty of the timing of the return. I'm thinking of the parables of the women with the lamps, or the servants with the master gone away. Also, the one time Jesus speaks
directly of the timing, he says he does not even know the day or the hour,
only the Father knows.

I don't know that it would be a big deal if he waits another 2000 years.
Why would it be? My job is to be faithful while I have time.

Also, this just occurred to me, so I haven't done any studying on it, but
some of the language may also be referring to the resurrection, which did
happen immediately, while some would be talking about the "proper" second
coming. As in all prophetic writings/oracles, the time scale in view is
always a difficult thing to pick out.


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Received on Wed Oct 8 13:02:15 2008

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