All fundamentalist and literalist Christians have grown up with the following scriptures burned into our minds....
I Thessalonians 4:15-17 "...For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout...Then WE which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air..."
I Corinthians 15:51,52 "...WE shall not all sleep, but WE shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump...and WE shall be changed."
Romans 13:11-12 "And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for NOW is OUR salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand..."
James 5:8 "Be YE also patient; establish YOUR hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh."
I John 2:18 "Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby WE know that it is the last time."
I Peter 4:7 "But the end of all things is at hanbe ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer."
Revelation 22:20 "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly..."
Millions in Fundamentalist and Evangelical Churches have grown up with the idea that the return of Jesus, a return which will fix everything that is wrong with everything and reward the true saints, is always imminent. We read the above scriptures as if they were written for us, as it is we who are finally the ones "upon whom the end of the age has come." Unlike everyone before us, we really really are the ones who will see it and be changed, avoiding the reality of physical death.
There never has been, is not now and never will be a shortage of preachers and pastors who just know we are living in the final, absolutely last days. They make their living off it.
The signs are everywhere and every world event is assigned biblical import and meaning. It's how you grow a church. Not by teaching to enlighten the inner self, but live out a life of fear and "it won't be long now" and spread the fear to as many as possible, which is defined as "Doing the Work."
In Fundamentalist movements, the tradition goes on and becomes more pronounced as , earthquakes, floods, fire, volcanoes and "unusual" (they aren't) events, or wars and rumors of wars, especially in the middle east rear their ugly heads. If someone blew up the Dome of the Rock, well... there... see, now tell us that Jesus is not a few minutes away from returning.
The fact that most wars are waged by either the Christians, Israelis or the Islamic nations, among and between themselves, which are the religions whose teachings are supposed to save us and make our lives better, doesn't seem to strike us as odd. In fact, at some deep level deeply religious fundamentalists, seem to believe that millions must die violently, so that "all these things can come to pass" and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit can be visited upon the Christian survivors... or Islamic or Israeli depending on who wins. Well of course, the Christians win.
Each knows who that it will be themselves that overcomes the other. It's in the book, all of them.
The most popular New Testament "proof texts" for this thinking among Christian Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, comes from Mark 13 and the parallel passages found in Matthew 24 and Luke 21. These written in answer to the disciples question... "WHEN shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of your coming?"
It's all about WHEN. The "when" is unknowable even if one believes with all their heart it has to be soon. The faithful forget that speculation on the future is always just that. It is not fact. It is not how it will be and all speculation over the past 2000 years as to "when", to date has been 100% wrong.
Far too many Pastor types base their entire ministry on the imminent return of Jesus.
It's all about the second coming and it's all about SOON for the most rabid and judgmental COG splinters. Those who question the wisdom of this mistaken approach to life become the scoffers who nip at the heels of the saints.
"...there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation,"
But running that risk, and with all due respect to the sincere seeker of Biblical truth, I predict that Jesus will not be returning any time soon.
Why not? Because in the very predictions of Jesus lie the fact that he was himself wrong about them. Jesus put a time limit in the context of his own predictions that has long since passed no matter how apologists endeavor to resurrect his prophecies for a yet future time.
"Verily I say unto you", This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled" (Matthew 24:34).
We simply have to admit, at face value, Jesus was wrong and not only DID that generation pass away, but so have countless others that followed. Jesus has not been misunderstood in this statement. He was wrong. Sincere not doubt and it simply will not go into the bible-reader mind that this might be the simple truth of the matter. There has to be another explanation that makes Jesus right in this perspective not 2000 years past.
And there is! We have read it wrong. Jesus did not mean what he said and we can relax. Jesus wasn't talking to those people at that juncture in history.
"This generation" was not the one Jesus was talking TO, but rather the generation that "these things" would begin to happen IN. Whew! It's in the far future and means a future society when all these signs accelerate and come to a crashing finale ending with the Second Coming.
We now have wiggle room to account for the fact that Jesus has not returned yet. Jesus wasn't mistaken about his own times, he was referring to another time.
Gleason Archer, who offers this solutions to the "Jesus didn't mean it would be in his time," notes accurately what we all know 2000 years later.
"Obviously these apocalyptic scenes and earth-shaking events did not take place within the generation of those who heard Christ's Olivet discourse. Therefore Jesus could not have been referring to his immediate audience when He made this prediction..." (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pg 338).
Archer has to say this as he cannot possibly entertain the idea that Jesus was himself wrong in his perceptions of the times in which he lived and his role in those times. Later in the Gospels, authors would lower the expectations of the early Church, who thought Jesus meant them by reminding them late in the game when it was obvious Jesus wasn't coming any time soon that "a day with the Lord is as a thousand years. Sorry, we forgot to tell you that in the beginning." As long as one is incapable of thinking Jesus was himself wrong the Kingdom of God being just around the corner if he did his part, the doctrine of disappointments would have to be addressed as time went on.
And so we simply need to ask a very simple question. To whom was Jesus speaking? From the opening NT texts, it is obvious that the disciples, apostles and members of the church thought it meant THEM and did not get any hint of Jesus meaning anything other than THEM in THEIR time, which was short. The idea that Jesus would "build my Church" came decades after Jesus death when most were dead or dying of old age and yet the end did not come. Jesus never envisioned a Church that would follow decades and millennia after his death. Jesus life would always be lived and lost in the context of Judaism and the Synagogue.
But back to the original question. To whom was Jesus speaking when he said the words and to whom did he mean for it to apply? The answer is within the context, plain and simple.
"Take heed that no man deceive you." (Matt 24:4)
"...ye shall hear of wars, and rumors of wars..." (Matt 24:6)
"Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted..." (Matt 24:9)
"When ye therefore shall see the the abomination of desolation..." (Matt 24:15)
"But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter..." (Matt 24:20)
"Behold, I have told you before." (Matt 24:25)
The context in which Jesus spoke was his own. The "you" that he was addressing was the group he was addressing then and the group to which all these things would happen for, and soon. Jesus was telling those disciples that these things would happen in their time. Jesus made a mistake in his perceptions.
In our time, Christians read the same words and see the "ye" and "you" as "me" and "us" just as the original disciples would have. The only difference is that the disciples actually were disappointed and this generation has yet to realize their own disappointment to come.
The proof that Jesus himself meant the people he was talking to is found in the fact that the "this generation" comment is actually the tale end of a much larger, often overlooked quote taken in it's entirety.
"So likewise YE (THEM) when YE (THEM) shall SEE ALL these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto YOU, (THEM) THIS (THAT) generation shall not pass, till ALL these things be fulfilled." (Matt 24:33-24 emphasis mine)
There is no reason to twist the words of Jesus to mean more than they were ever intended to mean. A scripture can never mean what it never meant. The early disciples and infant Church, knew it meant them and we see the gradual deterioration of their personal confidence in the immediacy of the Second Coming promise throughout the NT.
I Thessalonians 4:15-17 "...For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout...Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air..." Meaning...some would die, but not us who tell you this. Jesus still means us.
I Corinthians 15:51,52 "...We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump..." Meaning...some but not all of us would die, but it still means us (THEM)
Romans 13:11-12 "And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand..." Meaning...we had some doubts, but now we know it's almost here. Jesus still meant us.
James 5:8 "Be ye also patient; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh." Meaning...impatience was growing, hang in there. Jesus still meant us.
I John 2:18 "Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time." Meaning...Jesus still meant us.
I Peter 4:7 "But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer."
Revelation 22:20 "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly...." Meaning...ok, it's been about 60 years, but Jesus still means us.
Obviously, everyone of these quoted hopes and statements were wrong. Jesus did not return for them and to date has not returned for anyone. Paul and the early church who wrote in his name was just as wrong as the many COG prophetic types are wrong in this time. And it is based on the fact that Jesus himself was wrong which I know most Christians can never come to admit.
For Paul it becomes....
" I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." Meaning...Ok, I give up, Jesus didn't mean us, or at least not me. I was wrong. 2 Timothy 4:8-9
...and at best, this will also become the reality for those alive today seeing the imminent return of Jesus in every newspaper and on every turn of the dial in this dangerous and contentious world of ours.
I'm not scoffing. Being accused of scoffing was a label for those in the early Church. The disciples expected Jesus return within days of his death and when they met him in Galilee, even doubted that. Its what you say to those that are becoming disillusioned but the others know that the return is still in their lifetime for sure. Scoffers were undermining the confidence of the early followers and disciples of Jesus. An observation is not scoffing. Observations are based on the passage of millennia. It's a 2000 year old observation. To motivate with fear, false prophetic fulfillment's of non- prophecies, and imagined prophetic accuracy on topics anyone could speculate somewhat accurately about, is simply foolishness and makes the Church, in any form look stupid and ignorant. Jesus said his generation would not pass until the Son of Man be come. He was mistaken.
So bent on not allowing the member to even remotely entertain the idea that Jesus was wrong, Paul was wrong and the Church is wrong , it was prudent to shift the blame for doubt to the member and thinker and away from the clergy, and thus we have...
2 Peter 3:3 "Knowing this first, (meaning---we forgot to add this apologetic) that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, 4 And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. 5 For this they willingly are ignorant of....."
Obviously, the Church took Jesus words literally for them and not for some future generation. But still Jesus doesn't return to them. This shifts the problem to the scoffers, doubters and those that misunderstood Jesus and not the Church who needs to keep the hope of imminent return going like a carrot before the horse. The Church never entertained until they had to, the idea that Jesus didn't mean what he said about soon. It also implies that this doubt is deliberate and calculated. It can never just be doubt based on evidence and time just going on without any evidence of Jesus return.
Even with the temple gone and the Romans more in power than ever, He didn't return. It must have felt for them then as one might say today. "If Jesus didn't return for the Holocaust, what will it take."
The "scoffers will come" scripture was added when it was obvious to the Church that people could and were scoffing. And what some consider scoffing is merely noting that the thing spoken is not so. It's not evil, it's just stating the obvious and putting, in this case, the church on the spot to explain its continued use of imminent return going long.
It also lends credibility to Jesus mournful cry at the end of his life..."my God, my God...why have you forsaken me." I expect Jesus really meant that. It was a real shock not to have had things work out as one had supposed. Jesus had done his part. He had pushed the Romans right up to the edge and himself, right up to execution...and still, God did not intervene, sweep the Romans from the earth and set up the Kingdom. Only after Jesus actually died did the followers of Jesus have to rethink it all.
I know... and expect it to be said, "you'll think differently when Jesus returns, or you find yourself in hell with lots of time to rethink your position." I speak in the hope that the average Christian church member won't be motivated and won't tolerate pastors who use the fear of living their real lives, planning for futures and loving in the present to promote their own misguided agendas and speculations. One does not have to see the world only through the eyes of those that speculate on how things are or will be because frankly they don't and can't know. They have never gotten it right yet.