Question: Jesus promised the end of the world during the lifetime of His contemporaries. He repeated his prediction several times. Why has not it occurred?
Answer: The evangelists indeed quote Jesus Christ multiple times as he named the signs of the imminent end of history. These include, among others, many turning away from the faith, an increase of wickedness, a spate of epidemics, the rise of false prophets, wars and disasters of a planetary scale. The Book of Revelation, or the Apocalypse, tells us about the enthronement of Anti-Christ details the persecution of believers at the end of time. The Gospel also predicts the second coming of the Lord. He will not come as the son of man born in a secret cave in Bethlehem, but in a very different manner: As lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24: 27). The Judgement Day will follow, and the parable of the goats and sheep gives us an idea about this trial.
But nowhere does Jesus Christ speak about the exact dates of the end of times. On the contrary, He underlines that it is a great secret known only to the Father: But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Matthew 24: 36). So he calls on us to be vigilant, sober and be ready to stand before the Son of Man at any moment.
So what is the basis for the perception that Christ had predicted the end of history and His second coming soon after His death and Resurrection?
Typically, the following verses are quoted in support of this view:
1. Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16: 28)
2. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. (Matthew 24: 34; Mark 13: 30). The latter verse in both Gospels follows the description of the second coming.
So what are the caveats and limitations to these interpretations?
Concerning Matthew 16: 28, it does not follow from the context of the narrative that it refers necessarily to the Second Coming. In the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, Christ unveils, little by little, the mystery of His sacrifice and the atonement of our sins. In his conversation with His disciples, He also gives proof to the words of Saint Peter that He was truly the Son of God. But the Apostles still had difficulty digesting His revelation. Even Saint Peter, who had confessed Christ as the Son of God a moment before, began to contradict His teacher by refusing to accept His remarks on suffering and death. In response, the Saviour speaks about “taking the cross and following him” and mentions all the things that we must do for our salvation, finishing with the above verse about the Son of Man.
His reference to the Son of Man was well familiar to the Jews who were reading the Scripture. It originates from the Book of the Prophet Daniel detailing the future coming of the Son of Man, whose dominion will be everlasting and whose kingdom will never be destroyed. Although Christ called himself the Son of Man more than 60 times across the Scripture, some apostles needed time to realise and be convinced that Jesus was that same Son of Man, Messiah and Saviour to Whom the prophets had referred. The first among them were Peter, James and John, who witnessed the Transfiguration of Christ and heard the words of God the Father, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him, I am well pleased. Listen to him!” Together with the Saviour, His Kingdom came into this world. It is the reality of His mysterious presence, into which every believer in Christ may enter. It was to this spiritual vision with which the faithful regard the Son of Man in His kingdom and recognise their Saviour that Jesus was referring in His remarks.
His reference to “this generation” has two possible implications. The eschatological words of the Saviour about the end of time has two layers of meaning, one following from the other. The first is the prophecy about the end of the world, and the second is the future fall of Jerusalem. Both are closely interconnected. The invasion of Jerusalem by the Romans happened in the year 70 and was accompanied by the destruction of the Temple. Many witnesses to this event viewed it as catastrophic and reminiscent of the end of time. To quote Saint Justin Popovic, the reference to “this generation” could apply to the contemporaries of Christ who saw the destruction of the great temple of the Old Testament and also, in the broader sense, to the Christians who will live to the end of the age.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds