The Futurist’s Big Dilemma
S. Lewis is considered by many to be the premier Christian apologist of the twentieth century. In reference to Matthew 24:34 and similar passages, he stated the apparent problem thusly:
“Say what you like, the apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have been proved to be false. It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. And, worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find very embarrassing. Their Master had told them so. He shared, and indeed created, their delusion. He said in so many words, ‘this generation shall not pass till all these things are done.’ And He was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else. It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.”
Skeptics of various stripes weigh in on this too. They point to several passages by Jesus and his apostles to argue that Jesus did not return in the time frame He predicted (in his own generation)—so He was a false prophet. For example, Albert Schweitzer, the 1952 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for philosophy, in his book, THE QUEST FOR THE HISTORICAL JESUS, made this charge. Bertrand Russell also made such an accusation. Russell was one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century and the Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1950. He published a pamphlet entitled “Why I Am Not a Christian.” In the pamphlet he explained that one of the reasons he rejected Christianity was that Jesus failed to return as He promised. Concerning Jesus, Russell wrote:
“He certainly thought that His second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at that time. There are a great many texts that prove that. . . . and there are a lot of places where it is quite clear that He believed that His second coming would happen during the lifetime of many then living.”
Jewish and Muslim critics make this charge as well. Consider this attack by the group Jews for Judaism:
“No amount of Christian theological acrobatics will ever solve the problems engendered by the historical reality that a promised imminent fulfillment made two thousand years ago did not occur as expected by the New Testament. Simply stated, Jesus is never coming back, not then, not now, not ever.”
The dilemma has tentacles in every direction. It arises with the cults too. Mormons use the notion that Jesus was a false prophet in order to excuse Joseph Smith for HIS wrong prophecies. (Since Jesus was wrong, Joseph Smith can be excused.)
If Jesus was a false prophet, he could not be divine. He could not have even been a reliable teacher! Skeptics charge that the writers of the New Testament, who recorded the teachings of Jesus and received their instruction from our Lord himself (either first or second hand)—were also false teachers. Thus they could not have been inspired, and their status is reduced to a confused band of followers of another false Messiah.
If these charges against Christianity are valid for the pervasive and keynote issue of eschatology, the reliability of the rest of the New Testament comes into serious question. The Christian faith rests squarely on the reliability of the promises of Jesus. If the New Testament and the words of Jesus are not trustworthy, our hope is misplaced; heaven and salvation through Jesus are cruel illusions.
Christians, you cannot just stick your head in the sand on this. There is only one legitimate resolution to this problem—and it is not some imagined “dual fulfillment.” The Bible only speaks of one Parousia. If Jesus was a true prophet, his Parousia (“second coming”) is not what most modern Christians and skeptics think it was, and Jesus did in fact come in clouds of glory in conjunction with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70. His return “in judgment” was just like similar comings of God in the Old Testament.
See also my articles about the nature and timing of Jesus’ Second Coming at my prophecy website:
(This is an excerpt from my book CHRISTIAN HOPE THROUGH FULFILLED PROPHECY. If you are inclined to look into this more deeply, check out the summary and reviews at Amazon.com, where you can purchase your copy.)