As Paul tells it ...
End-of-Time Sayings

Home Search Bibliography About the Author

Jesus Traditions

The reader’s patience is requested in the fact that these Jesus pages are in effect a kind of sub-Web, “piggy-backing” on the principal Web, http://www.paulonpaul.org, and thus that the As Paul Tells It . . . designation at the top of each page is not quite accurate. The Jesus Traditions Home Page is readily accessible by clicking on Contents, to be found at the top and bottom of each page.

Contents of Jesus Traditions

Material in red = Mark .. in blue =   Q   .. in green = Special Matthew .. in fuchsia = Special Luke

 

The Apocalyptic Pot a-Boiling


The seven decades between A.D. 30 and 100 were a period of active end-of-time proclamation and speculation. But such speculation was tempered by end-of-time disappointment, the delay of Christ’s glorious coming. The impact of this delay upon the first century church and New Testament writings was of considerable proportions.

 

Paul. Beginning with intense end-of-time proclamation, such as we find at the founding of the Thessalonian congregation, he was obliged over time to make adjustments, with the recognition that he and most others would enter the age to come by death. Click on adjustment. Without abandoning the hope of a future coming of Christ (Philippians 3:20-21), Paul revised his end-of-time teaching in discernible stages:

  Stage 1. The founding visit at Thessalonica (and probably at other foundations too): all will be alive at Christ’s glorious coming (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).
  Stage 2. After some have died at Thessalonica: most will be alive (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
  Stage 3. With the passage of some months or years: some will be alive (1 Corinthians 15:51).
  Stage 4. Some months later, facing possible execution: he himself may die and be with Christ (Philippians 1:20-23; cp. 2 Corinthians 4:16–5:10).

It also happened that Paul was emphasizing the present reality of the end-of-time events, such as resurrection, judgment, salvation. For Paul the decisive death and resurrection experience had already taken place, as the believer was united with Christ in baptism (Galatians 2:19-20; Romans 6:3-4).
     

The Author of Matthew. One of the characteristics of Matthew (A.D. 80-90) is a tendency to heighten the end-of-time teaching which he found in Mark. In this way Matthew chose to reinforce the usual end-of-time teaching, in the face of continuing delays in Christ’s glorious coming. A certain apocalyptic exuberance is also  evident in Matthew’s own special material.

It is not so simple to discern a tendency in Luke (A.D. 80-90). In contrast to Matthew, the author’s use of Mark shows only a moderate interest in end-of-time events, even the possibility of some reduction of the predictive element.

     

2 Thessalonians. Like Matthew, the pseudonymous author of this letter elected to reinforce the end-of-time teaching, as a response to end-of-time delays. He did so with an elaborate scenario where the end would be preceded by the man of lawlessness (presently under restraint), his revelation and his destruction (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12; click on scenario). 
     
The Fourth Gospel. By contrast, this work, dating from around A.D. 100, followed the pattern of Paul. It is a later but similar attempt to affirm the present reality of events traditionally located at the end of time, especially eternal life and judgment. The author does not seem to be very interested in end-of-time events, although he does speak of judgment, and resurrection of the believer “on the last day” (John 6:40, 44, 54; compare 11:24), with a future reference. Click on End-of-Time in John

 

Apocalyptic in the Jesus Tradition


Given the intensity with which the apocalyptic pot was boiling between A.D. 30 and 100, the interpreter is left uncertain about the degree to which sayings in the Jesus tradition have been shaped by such expectations. We would like to know how much of this end-of-time speculation had its origins in the teaching of Jesus himself: was Jesus misunderstood by his followers, or did he perhaps provide stimulus for such speculation? 

The end-of-time teachings in the tradition are found, some in Kingdom of God sayings, and some in Son of Man sayings. (A link will connect you to a brief discussion of the various ways the term Son of Man is used in the tradition.) The Kingdom of God sayings present a somewhat mixed picture, suggesting that God’s sovereign reign would soon break into human life, and indeed had already in significant ways broken in. In a number of sayings the Son of man plays a decisive rôle as the agent for bringing these end-of-time events to pass. 

     

   1. . . How near?

We begin with a group of sayings in which Jesus uses end-of-time language to suggest present fulfillment in his proclamation and in his actions. (Consult links for further comment on texts.)

 

Mark 1:14-15

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

In Mark’s epitome of Jesus’ preaching, we find a summary announcement of the near approach of the Kingdom. Jesus and his people are living in a time of fulfillment, but we are not told how close is the Kingdom’s coming. 

     

Matthew 12:28 || Luke 11:20 

 

Matthew 12:28

Luke 11:20

But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you [or, come upon you]. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you [or, come upon you].

This  saying qualifies as an unambiguous statement of the kingdom’s presence in the healing activity of Jesus.

     

Luke 7:18-23 (cp. Matthew 11:2-6)

18So John summoned two of his disciples 19and sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ 20When the men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”’ 21Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. 22And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. 23And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.’

Another  saying reinforces the same understanding of Jesus’ healing activity as a sign of present fulfillment, though the term Kingdom of God is not used.

 

Luke 17:20-21 (special Lucan material)

20Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; 21nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you [or within you].’

 Is Jesus being evasive? or is he focusing on the inward, spiritual aspect of God’s reign? or is he saying that what they are asking is just the wrong question, implying that they really do not know what the Kingdom of God is? The answer of Jesus in this text certainly does not qualify him as a wild-eyed apocalyptist!
     

Of the three groups of sayings which we are surveying, the sayings in this group, which  emphasize the present realization of end-of-time events, are most likely to represent the views of Jesus. Given the intense apocalyptic interests of the early church, we have little reason to suppose that early Christians would have been inclined to create sayings of this sort. They exhibit a degree of novelty which is unaccounted for by views held in the early church. The same cannot be said for the next group of sayings to be considered.

 

   2  Some standing here will not taste death before . . .
     

We now take a look at texts which date the end-of-time events to the generation of Jesus’ listeners. 

   

Mark 9:1  

This text from Mark, the earliest of the gospels, stands between a prediction of the future coming of the Son of Man (8:38) and the Transfiguration narrative (9:2-10).
     

Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.

The coming of the kingdom within the lifetime of Jesus’ listeners seems a straightforward interpretation. The coming with power likely refers to an end-of-time event (though some have understood it as Jesus’ power to conquer sin and disease, or as his resurrection, or as the gift of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church—demonstrations of the inbreaking of God’s reign).

     

Mark 13

The Gospel of Mark was written (A.D. 65-70) during or just after two disastrous events: the persecution of the Christians in Rome under the emperor Nero (A.D. 64), and the Jewish Revolt against Rome (66-70), which left Jerusalem and the Temple in ruins, and Christianity as well as Judaism without its traditional center.

Embedded in Mark is a section often called his “Little Apocalypse,” for its description of tribulations for the faithful and of the end-of-time events (Mark 13). The following is representative of the tribulations:

8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; … 9they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me… 12Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 13and you will be hated by all because of my name.

Cosmic catastrophe and the glorious coming of the Son of Man are associated with the tribulations:

24But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. … 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. … 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.

Whatever confusion may have occurred in transmission and editing, this chapter (Mark 13), as it stands, gives the reader the impression that these end-of-time events will take place in the writer’s generation. (Click on Little Apocalypse for an attempt to sort out some of the confusion.)

Is this Jesus the apocalyptist? or is this a previously existing apocalypse embedded within the gospel? or is it the composition of the author or one of his sources?

     

Mark 14:61-62

In this scene Jesus is on trial before the Jewish high court (Sanhedrin).

61Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ 62Jesus said, ‘I am; and “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,” and “coming with the clouds of heaven.”’

Jesus is represented as acknowledging his messiahship and announcing his glorious coming, when presumably he will be visible to his judges.

 

Matthew 10:5-8, 23 (mostly special Matthew material)

5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”  8Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. . . . 23truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

The coming of the Son of Man, during Jesus’ ministry? A bit of a surprise. Did Jesus get it wrong? or did the author of Matthew? or did the author’s sources?
     

One suspects that the sayings in this second group,  predicting the end of the age in that generation, were formulated not by Jesus but by early Christians in their apocalyptic enthusiasm.

     

   3  . . . Like a Thief in the Night

As we fill in the picture of end-of-time teachings in the synoptic tradition, we review another group of sayings, i.e. those which announce or imply end-of-time events without dating them to that generation. 
     

Mark 8:38

Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

 

Mark 14:25

Matthew 26:29

Mark 14:25

Luke 22:18

I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.

This saying, which is part of the Last Supper narrative, anticipates another meal, a meal in the age to come. A future coming of the Kingdom may thus be indicated (and in Luke’s version a future coming is made explicit). At the same time, it is possible that Jesus is not predicting a future coming of the kingdom, but that he will enter the age to come by death and will preside at the messianic banquet as envisaged in Luke 13:28-29 || Matthew 8:11-12, below.

 

Luke 11:2 || Matthew 6:9-10

Matthew 6:9-10

Luke 11:2

9Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.

This brief petition (in a probably  passage) has a forward look. Without excluding present manifestations of the Kingdom of God, it seems to anticipate the future fulfillment of that reign. The phrase in Matthew, Your will be done, appropriately explicates the meaning of Kingdom of God.

     

Luke 13:28-29 (cp. Matthew 8:11-12)

Matthew 8:11-12

Luke 13:28-29

 

 

 

11I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

28There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. 29Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.

 

 

The messianic banquet in the age to come seems to be the theme common to Matthew and Luke in this  saying. The patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, figure prominently here, in line with prevailing Jewish expectation. While such a celebration seems to be a future event (relative to historical experience), we find no suggestion that end-of-time events are dated, or are imminent.

 

Luke 12:39-40 || Matthew 24:43-44

39But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Here in a  saying we have end-of-time teaching without an apocalyptic scenario; its point is the suddenness and unpredictability of the coming. To much the same effect is another Q saying, which compares the Son of Man’s day to a lightning flash, lighting up the sky from one side to the other (Luke 17:23-24 || Matthew 24:26-27), and thus not an event to be localized. 

 

What are we to make of these sayings, which expect end-of-time events imminently but without dating them? We may well proceed with caution, whether we accept them as authentic, or understand them as the product of the early church’s proclamation. They create fewer problems of non-fulfillment than the sayings in group two, but the passage of each day—and of each century and each millenium— makes them less convincing. 

 

 

The Transfiguration

Our discussion of end-of-time teaching would be incomplete without reference to the episode of The Transfiguration, which may be understood in various ways, but which in the link referenced is interpreted as a preview of end-of-time events.

 

Revised February 7, 2004

 

Contents of Jesus Traditions

 

Previous Home Next

 

Copyright © 2000-2005 by J. Peter Bercovitz. All rights reserved.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Articles (as noted) used by permission of
Proceedings: Eastern Great Lakes and Midwest Biblical Societies. Materials on this site may be downloaded for personal study and research, but quotations of this material should be appropriately acknowledged.

Send mail about this site to webmaster@paulonpaul.org.