Was Jesus Wrong About His Second Coming?

Title: Was Jesus Wrong About His Second Coming?

Text: Matthew 10:23

Date: June 14th, 2009


Continuing in our study of the Gospel According to Matthew, last week I skipped talking about perhaps one of hardest verses in the New Testament to understand perfectly – Matthew 10:23. I did so on purpose because there is no way I could cover the rest of the passage and also talk about this one verse because I need a least a whole message to deal with this one difficult verse. If you have a Study Bible you can look at the comments made about this verse and find all kinds of different understandings as to what this verse means. We don’t have time to cover all the many different interpretations of Matthew 10:23, but I’d like to point out a few – some that are legitimate and others that are not legitimate. In other words, while the verse is hard to understand, there are some explanations that are permissible for Bible-believing Christians to hold, while there are other interpretations that are definitely not all right for serious Christians to hold. For example, there are different ways of explaining the meaning of the verse that honor and respect the divine inspiration of the Bible. These different interpretations in no way call into question the authority of Jesus or the apostles, nor do they call into question the authenticity of the Bible itself. These are the kinds of explanations that are perfectly legitimate. On the other hand, there are liberal or radical interpretations of this verse that are definitely out of bounds for sincere Christians who seek to honor God and God’s Word in their lives. For example, one liberal understanding of the verse simply says that the Bible is wrong in this passage. The original author of Matthew – many liberal scholars even doubt that the author was Matthew or that it was written by an eyewitness – was mistaken about the coming of Jesus Christ. The verse is hard to understand because the writer of the Bible here was wrong, they say. Now this kind of thinking, this type of interpretation, dishonors God and dishonors God’s Word because it calls into question the reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible itself. Any committed Christian realizes that his faith is based on the fact that the Bible is true. The Bible is trustworthy and reliable – or as the theologians describe it – infallible and inerrant. Whatever the Bible teaches is true. We can depend on it for faith and practice. If it speaks, it speaks truthfully. So any interpretation, any understanding of a verse or passage must assume that what is being taught is true. In Matthew 10:23, truth is being taught by Jesus himself, “When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” Whatever Jesus is talking about, it’s true. We just need to figure out what he means in order to understand what he is teaching. So let’s attempt to make sense out of this very difficult-to-understand verse. We’ve got to believe everything is in the Bible for a reason, even the difficult verses. We must trust that God wants to teach us something important. Let’s see what that might be.


First, there are the illegitimate interpretations of this verse. Matthew 10:23,“When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” Like I said before, there are a number of skeptical or liberal interpretations for this verse that are totally out of bounds for real Christians to follow. One of the false interpretations was made famous by the well-known liberal theologian and humanitarian missionary Albert Schweitzer, who asserted that Jesus was simply wrong about his second coming. According to Schweitzer, Jesus told his disciples that they wouldn’t complete their mission to the Jews before he appeared again to usher in the heavenly kingdom. That didn’t happen, so Schweitzer concluded that Jesus must have been wrong in his prophecy. Now I don’t know very much about the personal spiritual life of Albert Schweitzer, but based on his willingness to judge Jesus as wrong, I can see that he didn’t hold Jesus to be divine, or as Christianity has always taught, the deity of Christ. If Jesus is who he claimed to be he couldn’t have prophesied something that didn’t come true (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). Jesus couldn’t and can’t be wrong about anything. Now we know that there are things that Jesus as God-in-flesh didn’t know – or in other words, things that God the Father in heaven hadn’t revealed to Jesus on earth to communicate to humanity. For example, we know because Jesus tells us, that even he didn’t know the exact time of his coming (Matthew 24:36). But that’s different from telling his disciples that it would be before they finished their gospel mission to the Jews, and then being wrong about it. In other words, Jesus may not have known everything about everything in his divine/human state on earth, but he certainly wouldn’t have taught anything false. If he didn’t know something or hadn’t been given that information by God the Father to reveal to humanity, he said so. He never would have taught something only to turn out wrong. So we must reject Schweitzer’s interpretation of this verse. But there are other explanations of this passage we must reject also. For example, still other liberal theologians, while not claiming Jesus was wrong, assert that Matthew is wrong about what he recorded. Jesus wasn’t wrong because he never said any such thing, but it was Matthew or the disciples who are wrong. They claimed Jesus taught that he’d return before they finished preaching to the Jews, but that’s not what Jesus really taught. Some even go so far as to claim the followers of Jesus made it all up, while others don’t go that far, but go as far as saying it was believed by the followers of Jesus that he’d return before they finished evangelizing Israel in the first century. But again, we must reject all such interpretations because they make Jesus, the New Testament or both, lairs. We’ve got to be able to trust the Bible as truthful. And we can’t pick and choose either, which parts might be true and which might be false. We’ve all seen some people who call themselves Christians picking and choosing which parts of the Bible they will believe and follow, but this approach always leads eventually to unbelief and immorality, if not in the very persons doing it then later in their children, or the next generation of the church. No, we must assume that what the Bible teaches is true or else all of Christianity falls.


Second, there are the legitimate interpretations of this verse. Matthew 10:23,“When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” Just as there are illegitimate interpretations of this difficult verse, so to there are legitimate interpretations of it. In other words, even though it is a difficult passage to interpret, there are some valid options for Christians to consider. Now most of the Bible is rather straightforward in its teachings. Most verses can be easily understood. Other verses are more difficult to get to the correct meaning. And still a few more verses are extremely difficult to understand with 100% certainty – this is one of those kinds of verses. Thank God that most verses are not like this verse. Thank God that we can understand most verses easily. But in those cases where the meaning is not obvious, we must consider what the options are in interpretation. For example, some solid Bible scholars feel that the passage refers to the transfiguration of Christ – that glorious appearing of Jesus with Moses and Elijah before three of his disciples. Christ had told them that they would not die before they saw the glory of the Lord revealed (Matthew 16:27-28, 17:2). The transfiguration would surely fulfill that prophecy. Others think that Jesus is referring to the destruction of the temple and the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 by the Romans. There are places in the New Testament that refer to the coming of the Lord in judgment, like in Revelations 2:5 where Jesus says some churches, “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place.” That’s a possibility, just as the transfiguration. Another interpretation is Jesus is referring to the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. That is a form of Christ’s coming, an invisible, yet powerful coming of Christ (John 14:18). In addition, there is still yet another view that sees Jesus referring to a future date during the end of the end times when he comes in glory to establish his kingdom on earth. The evangelization of the Jews has still not been totally accomplished when Christ returns a second time. That’s another possibility. Now the difficult thing is to determine which interpretation is best. And since we can’t simply ask Jesus what he means to say in this passage, we can’t get a certain answer. Sure, there are those who feel they are certain they understand the true meaning of the verse, but so far no one view has won the unanimous consent of all Christians. I think this is an example in the Christian faith where we simply have to allow for a diversity of interpretations on this specific verse while we seek to understand it better and hopefully come to a better conclusion. All of these possibilities could be true, although some seem to be better than others. Without being dogmatic about it, let me attempt to give what I think might be the best explanation.


Third, the best attempt to explain the meaning of the verse.  Matthew 10:23,“When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” It seems to me the best understanding of the verse is something along the lines of future prophecy, end-time prophecy. At some point Christ will return to the earth in glory in what is called The Second Coming. That hasn’t happened yet, but every Christian of every age is waiting for it to happen and holds out hope that it might happen during their own lifetime. At some point, some generation will be alive when it finally happens. Accordingly, Jesus is speaking to some future generation of followers, potentially any and all generations of every age, that he will return while they are still carrying out their gospel mission, called the Great Commission in Matthew 28 – “Make disciples of all nations . . .” We have to realize that when Jesus is talking to his original twelve disciples most of the time he’s also talking to all generations of Christians in the future too. He isn’t simply teaching his twelve disciples, he’s also teaching us as well. We can’t limit the teachings of Jesus to the original twelve, because we must read our Bibles and believe and live out the truth Jesus taught to us as well. If that were not the case, we could dodge any responsibility to live the Christian life because we could always say, “Jesus taught the original disciples these things but they aren’t for us because they weren’t specifically addressed to us, but only to the immediate followers of the first century.” No. While Jesus was teaching the original twelve disciples directly, he’s also teaching us today indirectly; his truth applies to us as well. So, when Jesus teaches the original twelve that they wouldn’t complete their Christian mission before he returns, he really is talking about his second coming but he’s not necessarily talking only to the original twelve, but also to future generations, maybe even to us today. There will be a generation alive when Christ returns and many of the things Jesus taught his original twelve disciples and which did not apply to them specifically, will apply to the generation alive when Christ actually returns for the second time. So in other words, Jesus’ words potentially applied to the original twelve disciples and also potentially to every subsequent generation of believers and potentially apply to us also or possibly to some future generation, but what is certain is that they will specifically apply to some generation of Christians at some point when he returns. This understanding seems to fit the context of the passage. I’ll leave it for you to judge whether you think it’s the best interpretation. The point is, just as Christ said in Acts 1:7, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority,” we must be ready for Christ to appear at any time. We might be the generation that sees his coming. Christ is not confused about it, neither is the New Testament. While we don’t have an exact understanding of it, we don’t have to be confused. It hasn’t happened yet, so we must look for it and be ready for it at any time. Are you ready for Christ’s return? Is your soul ready to meet your Lord and Master? Is there anything you need to confess or repent of before that time comes? If so, get your soul ready by trusting and obeying God’s will now.


One Response to “Was Jesus Wrong About His Second Coming?”

  1. Posts about Holy Spirit as of June 16, 2009 | PRAYtheREVOLUTION Says:

    […] have really long names. Or Matt if you prefer or as I like to affectionately call him, Brother Was Jesus Wrong About His Second Coming? – jeffshort.wordpress.com 06/16/2009 Title: Was Jesus Wrong About His Second Coming? Text: […]

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