It would appear from reading Peter, Paul, James, Jude, and John in the New Testament, that all these men believed that some kind of end was near to them, in their time.
In 1 Corinthians Paul exhorted his readers to live pure lives and then, in order to warn his readers, he used examples of how God punished the Israelites in the past. Then he said…
Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. I Corinthians 10:11
In James chapter five, James rebukes stingy rich people and then he encouraged his fellow believers to be patient…
Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door! James 5:7-9
Peter, in his first epistle, encouraged his readers to turn away from their past evil habits and to live pure lives. And then he said…
But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in you prayers. I Peter 4:7
John, in his first letter, encouraged his readers to not love the world, but rather love God. And then he said…
Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know it is the last hour. I John 2:18
In Hebrews, the author encouraged the readers to remember what Christ accomplished for them, and then he said…
…not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:25
Jude, in his short epistle, warned his readers of false teachers and impostors who had infiltrated the early Church. Then, after describing those trouble makers, Jude wrote…
But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. Jude 17-18
In my last article, I wrote of how Jesus prophesied about two events: 1) The coronation of King Jesus and the destruction of the temple; 2) The Last Day resurrection and final judgement. I believe that prophesy #1 was fulfilled in the first century by AD70 and that prophesy #2 is still future. Would the NT authors agree with me? I have the advantage of looking back on 2000 years of history. I know what happened in AD70. I know what has not happened since then. The NT authors did not have this advantage. They did not even have a complete book of scriptures to refer to. Therefore, I believe that the NT authors combined Jesus’s two prophesies as one, and believed that both those prophesies would come to pass within their lifetimes. They were not wrong in their theology, but they were mistaken in their understanding of how their theology would play out in time.
To support this theory I only need to read the New Testament. I will start with Paul. In this article I will focus on I & II Thessalonians.
Imagine yourself as a member of the Thessalonian church around the year AD50 when this letter was written. You are hearing this letter being read in your church, and Paul is speaking directly to you and your church family. Paul writes, “…you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come,” and, “…what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy,” and then, “so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints,” and you can’t ignore this, “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep… And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” Paul continues to speak this way for the rest of the letter.
It does seem that Paul believed that he and the Thessalonian church would experience the coming of the Lord personally, especially when reading chapter four. Paul wrote of two groups of Christians: those who are asleep and those who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord. Paul placed himself, and the Thessalonian church, within the group of those who are still alive at Christ’s coming.
Jesus spoke of the Son of Man coming in His kingdom (prophesy #1), and Jesus spoke of a last day resurrection (prophesy #2 — see my last article). Paul most certainly expected Christ to come in His kingdom very soon, and he was right to believe so. Paul knew from Jesus’s own words that the temple would be destroyed, and Paul knew the significance of that: no longer was the center of worship in Jerusalem — a new order of things had begun under King Jesus. However, I believe Paul mistakenly thought the resurrection would happen at the same time. And why wouldn’t he? The gospel was being proclaimed with power across the empire, many miracles were happening, and people were already being transformed in powerful ways. Why wouldn’t Jesus be coming back soon to complete history?
Paul, again in 2 Thessalonians, speaks as though the coming of the Lord is near, and the persecuted Thessalonians would receive rest “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels.”
But there was a problem with the Thessalonian church. They seemed to believe that the Day of Christ had already happened and they had been left out. It is unknown exactly why they thought this, but apparently they had been deceived somehow. Paul assures them that the Day had not already happened, and that two things would come first before that Day: a falling away, and the Man of Lawlessness being revealed. I’m not going to attempt here to identify who this man might have been (Nero? the High Priest? Herod? John Levi Gischala?), but it is clear from Paul’s language that this man was present in the time this letter was written, around AD50…
Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. II Thessalonians 2:5-8 (ESV)
It is strange to think the Man of Lawlessness is someone who will be revealed shortly before the Last Day resurrection and final judgement (a still future event), but was already being restrained in Paul’s day, and that Paul and the Thessalonian church knew what was restraining him. It makes more sense to connect the Man of Lawlessness with the destruction of the temple in AD70, an event which was relevant to the Thessalonian church and to Paul and to all the Christians and Jews living in the first century. Again, I believe Paul was correct in thinking the coming of the Lord was near (coming into His kingdom/coronation/destruction of the temple) but was mistaken in thinking this also included the final resurrection and final judgement.
**All scripture, unless otherwise indicated, is from the NKJV**