What were the first Christians taught regarding Jesus' second coming, death, the judgment and resurrection from the dead?
Why do the New Testament writings express such a sense of urgency and how did that urgency fuel the spread of Christianity in the first century?
These are the questions we'll tackle in this post.
Welcome to the 30th post in my series of rethinking Christian eschatology. Because these posts build upon each other, if you've not already done so, I invite you to read the previous posts in this series before continuing here.
Now we have shifted our focus to what the remaining New Testament Scriptures had to say about these subjects.
We studied the beautiful connection between the prophesied second gathering and Jesus' church. We observed how GOD set water baptism as the means of transferring a repentant believer from the physical world into the spiritual Israel—His chosen people.
In this post, we're going to zoom up to 15,000 feet and look across the New Testament writings.
I want to show you four truths from the New Testament Scriptures:
- There exists a strong urgency throughout the New Testament writings.
- The first Christians were taught that Jesus was coming soon.
- The first Christians were living during the last days.
- The end was going to come during their generation.
The purpose of this post is to:
- Give us a high-level perspective of what the earliest Christians were taught.
- Show that the observations we have made to this point are perfectly harmonious with these Scriptures.
Let's dive in...
7 But when [John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
(Matt. 3:7 NIV)
Note: The Greek word translated as "coming" in the underlined phrase above is transliterated "melló," which means "about to." Thus, the verse more accurately reads, "Who warned you to flee from the wrath about to come?" Melló is an important word to follow throughout the New Testament writings. It occurs 110 times.
22 You [i.e., the 12 apostles] will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
(Matt. 10:22-23 NIV)
27 `For, the Son of Man is about to come in the glory of his Father, with his messengers, and then he will reward each, according to his work.
28 Verily I say to you, there are certain of those standing here who shall not taste of death till they may see the Son of Man coming in his reign.'
(Matt. 16:27-28 YLT)
Note: The word "melló" appears in Matt. 16:27. Note how, this time, the YLT translators properly render it "about to come."
29 “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 And then the sign 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. 31 And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.
32 “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; 33 so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
(Matt. 24:29-34 NASB)
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
(Luke 21:25-32 NIV)
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
(Acts 2:14-21 NIV)
Note: Peter plainly affirmed that:
(1.) The quoted verses from Joel was what Joel was talking about in Joel 2:28-32.
(2.) The events that were unfolding there on Pentecost were what Joel had prophesied about.
(3.) Peter and those he was speaking to were living during the last days at that time.
(4.) During "the last days" was when the Holy Spirit would be poured out.
(5.) During this time period, everyone who called on Jehovah's name would be saved.
(6.) During this time period the sun would be turned to darkness, the moon to blood, before the great day of the LORD.
People typically readily accept 1-5, but either don't think about or ignore this last point from Joel's prophecy.
11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
(Rom. 13:11-14 NIV)
20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
(Rom. 16:20 NASB)
25 Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. 27 Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.
29 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; 30 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; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.
32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—
(1 Cor. 7:25-33 NIV)
8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them [i.e., the Israelites under Moses] did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.
11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.
(1 Cor. 10:8-11 NIV)
26 [Jesus] then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,
(Heb. 9:26-27 NKJV)
Note: When I used to think that Jesus' second coming was still to come, I always wondered why Heb. 9:27 gave no exception for those who would still be alive at Jesus' return on that last great day of life on earth. In other words, I wondered, "Why doesn't the verse say, 'And as it is appointed for men to die once, except for those alive at the Lord's return...'?" No exception is given. All will experience death.
24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For,
“In just a little while,
he who is coming will come
and will not delay.”
“But my righteous one will live by faith.
And I take no pleasure
in the one who shrinks back.”
39 But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.
(Heb. 10:24-27, 35-39 NIV)
Note: Heb. 10:37-38 quotes the LXX version of Hab. 2:3-4, which says:
3 For the vision is yet for an appointed time, and it will come up at the end, and it will not be in vain; if he should tarry, wait for him, for he will surely come, and he will not tarry.
4 "If any man should shrink back, My soul will not be well pleased in him; but the righteous shall live by My faith.
(Hab. 2:3-4 OSB)
Note that Habakkuk's prophecy said it was going to "come up at the end." Recall what we've already studied about the use of the phrase "the end" throughout the Scriptures.
In Heb. 10:37, the phrase "In just a little while..." is literally, "a very, very little while"—referring to an especially near-term event.
1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
(Jam. 5:1-9 NIV)
Note: Are these same people (v.7) still patiently waiting? Has Jesus been standing at the door for 2,000 years?
1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
13 Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.
20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
(1 Pet. 1:1-9, 13, 20 NIV)
Note: See who Peter addressed this letter to? The righteous who had been physically scattered. Thus it is likely Peter was writing primarily, if not totally, to Jewish Christians here.
Also, see that Peter said in v.5 that salvation was coming to the primary audience in the last time. He then connects this salvation with Jesus' second coming (vv.7, 13) and finally observes that the last times were the present time, for the purpose of the primary audience (v.20).
7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.
17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,
“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
(1 Pet. 4:7, 17-18 NIV)
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.
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 John 2:15-18 NIV)
1 The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
(Rev. 1:1-3 NIV)
Note: Pay attention to who the primary audience of Revelation was and the plainly worded purpose for which Jesus revealed it to these people at that time: because the time was near!
10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
(Rev. 2:10, 15-16 NIV)
10 Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown.
(Rev. 3:10-11 NASB)
6 The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.”
7 “Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll.”
10 Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near.
20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
(Rev. 22:6-7, 10, 20 NIV)
Let the good and honest heart acknowledge that:
- There is indeed a strong urgency throughout the New Testament writings.
- The first Christians were plainly taught that Jesus was coming soon.
- The first Christians acknowledged that they were living during the last days. We have previously established that, in the Scriptures, the phrase "the last days" refers to the end of the old covenant.
- The first Christians were taught that the end was going to come during their generation.
Got questions or comments? Leave them below. (I'm truly happy to help. But please, carefully read the entire series first.)