This past month I visited an old friend for vacation that I had not seen in years. We talked about everything under the sun from football to world events. As we discussed world events he began to talk about how bad things are getting and how we are in the "last days." I asked my friend to grab his Bible and we sat down for a more serious discussion of the subject.
I started out by asking him a few questions and had him write his answers down on a piece of paper:
Has Jesus come back yet? Fast answer: NO!
Are we in the kingdom yet? Fast answer: NO!
In general how should we interpret the Bible? Answer: Take it for what it says, and interpret it in a literal sense. OK.
What do we do when our theology/eschatology does not match what Jesus says? Fast Answer: Change our theology, because Jesus can’t be wrong!
I asked him if he remembers Josh McDowell’s book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. He did remember. So I reminded him that as McDowell set out to disprove Christianity, he stated that Jesus was either a "liar, lunatic or Lord." Thankfully, Josh got it right…. his conclusion was that Jesus is the Lord, and he received Christ as his Lord and Savior!
I proposed to my dear friend to keep these questions in mind as we carefully review five statements made about Jesus' return. Here are the passages he wrote down, and I would encourage the reader to do the same:
1. Matthew 16:27-28: For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN RECOMPENSE EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. Truly I say to you, there are some of those standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.
Jesus says there are some standing there with him who would not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. Either Jesus has come in the glory of His Father as He stated or some of those guys are still alive today, 2000+ years later!
Many have tried to explain this away by saying that in the next chapter, six days later, Jesus was transfigured and this is when this event occurred. My question then is: Were there any angels with Him? Was every man recompensed of his deeds at the transfiguration? Not that we know of. Others have tried to split verses 27 and 28 to explain a short-term and a long-term meaning. When were we taught to do that in Sunday School?
2. Matthew 24:30 Matthew 24:34: In the Olivet Discourses Jesus describes His return. He describes to His disciples what signs they should look for that were to precede His coming. In verse 30 it says: “and then the signs of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory.” A few verses later in verse 34, Jesus says: Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
Jesus now tells His disciples that His coming on the clouds and the events He describes concerning the temple and the tribulation would happen within their generation.
Did this happen? Did Jesus get it right? Tragically, some say "no it didn’t happen." Famed Christian theologian C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, said this about this passage:
"Say what you like,” we shall be told, “the apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have been proved to be false. It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. And, worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find very embarrassing. Their Master had told them so. He shared, and indeed created, their delusion. He said in so many words, ‘this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.’ And he was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else. It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible." (C.S. Lewis, The World's Last Night: And Other Essays, p.97)
Many skeptics of the Bible have said the same thing. I don’t believe that the skeptics or C.S. Lewis got it right. Jesus got it right! He is neither a liar, nor a lunatic. He is the Lord!
As I shared this with my old friend, he began to take a closer look at the Word. So I asked him again, "So is Jesus a liar, lunatic or Lord? Jesus said He would come within His generation, yet you said He hasn’t returned yet, and C.S. Lewis says Matthew 24:34 is the most embarrassing verse in the Bible!
3. Matthew 26:64: Jesus is on trial before the Jewish Council prior to His crucifixion and says this to His enemies: “You have said it yourself, nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER AND COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN." So, interpreting the passage in its literal sense, Jesus tells His enemies they will see Him coming on the clouds. Did Jesus lie to them? Was He confused, and got it wrong because of the beatings He was taking, or is He the Lord, and in control of everything, including His own death for our sins? My old friend at this point had become very quiet as He began to look at these passages more carefully.
4.. Then we turned to John 21:18-23 This passage occurs after Jesus has risen from the dead. He is waiting on the beach for the disciples as they have gone back to fish. He has a unique conversation with Peter and John. He calls Peter to tend His sheep in verse 17, and says this in verses 18-23:
"Truly, truly I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself, and walk wherever you wished, but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “ Follow me!” Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also leaned back on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” Peter therefore seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” This saying therefore went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!"
So, interpreting this passage in a general sense, John would remain alive until Jesus comes again. (And Peter isn’t happy about it!)
Has Jesus come again? If the answer is "No" then we must ask "Is John still alive?" Well, no he is not, so we have to ask the question: Is Jesus a Liar, Lunatic or Lord?
5. Lastly, Revelation 1:6-7says: “and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father; to Him be the glory and the dominion, forever and ever, Amen. BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the land will mourn over Him. Even so Amen."
If we analyze this critical passage, we see that John, in writing to his original audience, tells them that they are a kingdom. My friend had said we are not in the kingdom yet, but John tells his audience, who are under the great tribulation (Revelation 1:9), that they are a kingdom! Then he says that Jesus is coming on the clouds and even those who pierced Him would see it. Now who pierced Him? Three possible answers: 1) the Romans; 2) the Jews of His generation; or 3) all of us have pierced Him with our sin. In the literal sense it would be the Romans and the Jews of His generation. Currently, do any of those folks have eyes to see His return? No. But if He returned within His generation as He said He would in Matthew 24:34, then many and most would have seen and known that the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple in 70 AD, was Him coming on the clouds in judgment. John also tells his persecuted audience that the events to be described in the book were to shortly take place (Revelation 1:1-3).
My good friend took these verses very seriously as he is a true student of the Bible. But He found these verses to be at odds with what he has been taught and what the popular view is. So, as I asked him, I ask you, the reader, after reviewing these passages:
- Has Jesus come on the clouds within His generation, as He said He would, to His disciples, the Jewish council and to the readers of the Book of Revelation?
- Are we in the kingdom yet? John told his readers they were made to be a kingdom.
- In general, how are we to interpret the Bible? Read it for what it says, take these verses and interpret in a literal sense? We did!
- What do we do when our theology/eschatology does not match what Jesus said? Change what Jesus said or study His Word and bring our eschatology in line with what He said?
- Most importantly: Is Jesus a Liar, Lunatic or Lord? We all know this answer. But the popular view of eschatology today may be in conflict with what Jesus says.
- How many times must Jesus say it for us to believe it? There are many other passages that point to a different conclusion than what most of us have been taught.
Be a Berean and study the Word!
Paul R. Lopez is a longtime educator, coach, and student of the Word. Because he, too, was raised to believe the popular view of eschatology, he welcomes your questions or comments.