Did Paul predict the return of Jesus during his life time?


The answer is no, Paul did not predict when Jesus would return.  There is not verse in the New Testament in which he even hints at a date for the return of Jesus.  However, it is easy to get a sense from the writings of Paul that he felt it was likely Jesus would come back sooner rather than later.  I Thess 1:10 is an example of a passage in which Paul tells the Thessalonians to live as if Jesus might come back in their lifetime.  He tells them to “wait for his Son from heaven.”  2 Thess 1:6-10 is another passage in which Paul leaves the impression that the return of Jesus might be sooner rather than later.  It should be noted, though, that Paul never said that Jesus would come back in his own lifetime or the lifetime of his hearers.  God want us to live our lives both as if he might come back to day and as if he might not come back until well after we leave the earth.  We should be prepared to meet him at any moment, but we should also be prepared to leave a legacy to the next generation.  The Parable of the Virgins in Matthew 25 teaches this concept.

Some have said that Paul was in error, but this is an unfair charge.  What thing that he said in his letters is untrue?  The answer is none.  God left Paul and the early church with the message that we should always be prepared for his return.  It is a bit harder for us, who live nearly two thousand years later, to take this call to be ready at any moment for the Lord’s return because we have obviously been waiting for a long time. God filled the New Testament, and especially the writings of Paul with a sense of the immanent return of Jesus.  He did this for a reason, because God wants us to always be prepared and watchful.  This is what Jesus taught.   “Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:13).  I suggest that all of us heed this call, and I also suggest that Paul’s writings are designed, in part, to help us maintain this sense of keeping watch for the coming of Jesus.

John Oakes

By the way, I answered a similar question a while ago at the site.  Here is the answer I gave at that time:

J. O.

I believe that these scholars have it correct–mostly.  A casual read of the New Testament leaves one with a strong impression that these early Christians expected an immanent return of Jesus.  This is true because the statements of Jesus caused them to think this way.
Having said this, the question deserves a careful look.  Paul said (1 Thess 4:15) “We who are still alive…”  Here he paints the second coming as immanent.   Here is my question, though.  Did Paul ever teach that the second coming was to occur in his own generation?  The answer is no.  He taught its immanence, but not its timing.
This is what Jesus did.  In Luke 21 and Matthew 24 and 25 Jesus taught us to be ready at any hour for the return of Jesus.  The parable of the foolish virgins is a case in point.  Note, however, that the foolish virgins did not have enough oil in their lamps.  They expected the groom to come earlier, note later than he did.  Peter said that to God (2 Peter 3:8) that to God a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day.  Perhaps most tellingly, the Lord Jesus Christ himself said (Matthew 24:36) that no one knows the day or the hour of the return of the Son, not even the Son himself, in his human nature.
So here is my conclusion.   Those who see strong evidence for the New Testament writers giving the impression that Jesus might come back very soon–even in their own lifetime–are correct.  Paul, Peter and arguably Jesus himself left the disciples with the impression that the second coming of Jesus was immanent.  However, what none of them said was that it would definitely come in the lifetime of their hearer.  Jesus wants his followers to live at every moment as if that moment might mark his return.  He wants us to be on our guard, to be ready at all times for him to come back.  Yet, he wants us to keep our lamps full.  He wants us to be ready for him to come back at any moment, yet also to prepared for the long haul.  No one knows when he will return.
I believe those you are reading may be presenting only one side of this picture, even though what they are pointing out (the teaching of immanence) is legitimate.  Paul was NOT mistaken.  Neither was Peter.  They were following the command of Jesus to command people to be ready at all times for the return of Jesus.  This explains the language used by Paul and others.  I say that Paul definitely did NOT predict a second coming of Jesus.  He taught his followers (and us!) to be ready for him to come back in our generation.
The quoted passages do not disagree with my conclusion.  Matthew 10:23 is not talking about the second coming of Jesus.  That is really obvious. Matthew 16:27-28 is a prophecy of the events on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).  Matthew 24:33-34 is a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (although parts of this difficult prophecy are also about the return of Jesus).  Etc….
As for the “last days,” they were and we are living in the last days.  The days from the resurrection of Jesus until the return of Jesus are, by biblical definition the “last days.”  The Hebrew writer tells his hearers (including us) that we are living in “these last days.”  In Acts 2:17, Peter tells us that the prophecy of the last days was fulfilled right there at Pentecost.  I do not doubt at all that we are living in the “last days.”  The question is how long these last days will endure.  You are right that the NT tells us that we will be soon be rescued from the wrath.  The question is when is soon? (2 Pet 3:8)  My answer:  I do not know, but I fully intend to be ready for the last days to come to an end during my lifetime.  However, I also intend to build the church locally and globally so as to prepare to hand it to the next generation, in case the “last days” continue well past my own lifetime.  I believe this is what Jesus wants us to do.  It is true, as Paul says in 1 Cor 10:11 that the end of the ages is upon us.  We are living in the last days.  However, this does not prove that Paul taught that Jesus was coming back during his lifetime.  He never says this.
The coming quickly of Revelation 3 was Jesus’ coming in judgement on the Roman persecutor.  I believe that this judgment has already happened!  The Roman persecution came to an end in about AD 316 with the Edict of Milan.
I could say more, as you give a lot of passages, but my response to the others will be of the same sort.  I hope this helps.
John Oakes


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