What Is “The Coming Of The Son of Man”?

Written by
Matt Johnson
Apr 26, 2022
Matt Johnson

Introductory Note: The view of the Parousia which I will be proposing in this article can be described as a variant of “Full Preterism,'' but with important (and perhaps novel) differences. I expect that few will agree with my admittedly heterodox conclusions. I’ll clarify at the outset that this article does not intend to persuade the ideologically entrenched. As a recovering religious ideologue myself, I know how pointless such efforts can be. For too many Christians, the doctrinal ends justify the hermeneutical means. When our theology is confronted by incongruent “problem passages,” we are all-too-adept at finding ways to “make the text work” with our preferred orthodoxy. Despite the heavy-handedness often required of such interpretations, many have no intellectual qualms in doing so. This article is written, rather, to engage those able to acknowledge the problem posed by certain statements made by Jesus in the Gospels, to traditional (“Futurist”) eschatology. I write in particular for those who, like myself, have gone through--or are currently facing--the daunting process which has come to be known as "Deconstruction." Deconstruction allowed me to view certain eschatologically-charged passages from a fresh perspective, divested of traditional doctrinal agendas, and eschatology soon became my theological ground zero. Much to my surprise, this process resulted in me shifting from an Annihilationist and an ardently-held Futurist viewpoint, to Universalism, and something akin to Full Preterism. In this article I will be sharing some of the unexpected realizations I had concerning the nature of the event popularly called "the Second Coming". I was surprised at many points along this path, not least by how well my newfound understanding of "the coming of the son of man" pairs with the Universalist vision.

1. The Coming of the Son of Man

Jesus never spoke of a "return” to earth or "second" coming, but talked instead of an event he called the "coming" of the "son of man". When Jesus spoke of "the son of man coming in clouds" (Mark 13:26), or "the son of man coming in his kingdom" (Matt. 16:28), he was making an allusion to Daniel 7, a connection altogether missed by many Christians. His original Jewish audience, however, would have been familiar with this long-awaited eschatological figure and event, and would have recognized his allusion as such.

Daniel 7:13-14: “I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven one like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”

Notice that in this passage, the "coming" of the "son of man" is not a coming here, but rather a coming before the throne of God in heaven: he is "presented" before God and found worthy of authority. The “coming” described in Daniel 7 is not a descent or “return” from heaven to earth, but the opposite: the “son of man” is carried by clouds into heaven and enters into the holy presence of God, whereupon he receives an eternal kingdom. This was the event to which Jesus was referring when he spoke of “the son of man coming in clouds,” and “the son of man coming in his kingdom”. While most Christians assume such phrases to be references to a hypothesized “second” coming and bodily “return” to earth, this idea is nowhere present in Daniel 7, and Jesus was likely predicting no such thing.

So what is the "coming of the son of man", and when does it happen? In this article, I’ll offer an answer to these questions, and challenge what I have come to see as a pervasive misunderstanding of Jesus’ words: eschatological “Futurism”. 

2. Jesus’ Predictions

Whatever the "coming of the son of man" entails, Jesus appears to predict, on numerous occasions, that this event would happen within the lifetime of his contemporaries; that is to say, within about 30 to 40 years of him making these predictions. For example, Jesus states emphatically in Matthew 16, verses 27 and 28,

“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

This same prediction is attributed to Jesus in each of the synoptic gospels.

Luke 9:26-27: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

Mark 8:38-9:1 "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” And Jesus was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

Jesus’ clearest exposition of these apocalyptic events is found later on, in the Olivet Discourse, as recorded in Mark 13, Luke 21, and Matthew 24. Towards the end of this discourse--in which Jesus describes in great detail a coming apocalypse, culminating in “the son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26)--Jesus remarks, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Mark 13:30). The phrase, “all these things”, presumably includes “the son of man coming in clouds” mentioned only four verses prior. There's really no exegetically honest way to parse out the preceding passage, so that the phrase “all these things” refers only to certain verses, while not referring to others. At least when taken at face value, statements like these pose a problem for traditional Christian eschatology.

Christians today refer to the “coming of the son of man” using different terminology, calling it the “second coming” or “return of Christ,” phrases not used in the Bible, let alone by Jesus. Many Christians believe that the fulfillment of this seminal event remains yet in our future, despite nearly 2000 years having passed since Jesus predicted it, and in apparent contrast to Jesus' statements that this event would happen within the lifetime of his contemporaries.

This view is called “Futurism”. Because of how they understand this event, Futurists are still waiting for its fulfillment. Many Futurists believe, or assume, that being a Christian and a Futurist go hand in hand. Many are unaware that there is an alternative view which holds that the “coming" of the "son of man”, and the accompanying apocalypse predicted by Jesus, has already happened. Those that are aware of this view often denounce it as “heresy.”

3. The Fall Of Jerusalem in 70 AD

This alternative view is called Preterism, and Preterists contend that “all these things'' happened by or around 70 AD, within the timeframe of Jesus’ prediction. What’s so special about 70 AD? 70 AD was the year the Roman armies surrounded, besieged, and ultimately destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the second Jewish temple--a truly monumental event in the eschatological history of Israel, if not the grand finale itself. Unfortunately, many Christians are unaware that this event even took place.

The siege of Jerusalem began only a few days prior to Passover that year, and many Jews quickly became trapped within the city confines. After starving the city's inhabitants for a few months, the Roman forces were able to break through Jerusalem’s weakened defenses. They ransacked the city, raped and slaughtered many of those inside, took many survivors as slaves, and destroyed the second Jewish temple. Sound familiar? Jesus predicts remarkably similar events in the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13, Luke 21, Matthew 24), as well as in Luke’s version of the Triumphal Entry (Luke 19).

In Luke’s version of the Triumphal Entry, Jesus approaches the city of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Upon seeing the city from afar, he begins to weep, and predicts its downfall.

Luke 19:41-44: “When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”

Jesus on the Mount of Olives in Luke 19, Flevit super illam by Enrique Simonet (1892), Wikimedia Creative Commons

In Luke’s version of the Olivet discourse, Jesus elaborates vividly on these events. Upon hearing his disciples discussing the grandeur of the temple, Jesus remarks:

Luke 21:6: “These things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.”

At the disciples’ prompting, Jesus then launches into a detailed description of the lead up to these events and the ultimate fate of Jerusalem:

Luke 21:20-24: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”

The Jewish historian Josephus (37 AD -100 AD), in writing about the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, recounts how the desperation of those trapped within the city was so great that one previously wealthy woman, named Mary of Bethezuba, killed her suckling son, and then roasted him over a fire and ate him. Woe to those who are nursing, indeed. [1]

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, by David Roberts, Wikimedia Creative Commons

4. The Corpse and the Eagles

Have you ever wondered what Jesus meant when he said, in the midst of the Olivet Discourse, “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather”? (Matt. 24:28, cf. Luke 17:37) The corpse is Jerusalem, or Israel more generally. The city and nation were considered by Jesus to be spiritually dead. The Greek word here translated as “vulture” is aetos[2], which means “eagle.” The only reason it is instead rendered as “vulture” in our English translations is due to the mention of a corpse. Since eagles do not usually eat carrion, Bible translators use the word “vulture,” in order to cover for a perceived zoological misstep. However, Jesus probably did mean “eagle”, and not “vulture”, because the eagle, or Aquila, was the well-known standard of the Roman legions at the time, and an object of worship for many soldiers. A soldier known as an aquilifer, or eagle-carrier, would carry this symbol atop a pole. Wherever there is a corpse (Jerusalem), there the eagles (Roman legions) will gather. Jesus was cleverly insinuating that a spiritually dead and rebellious Jerusalem would be overrun and trampled underfoot by the Roman legions, which was definitely not what his Jewish compatriots wanted to hear. And that is exactly what happened in 70 AD. Unfortunately, our English translations obscure this historical connection by rendering aetos as “vulture”, instead of “eagle”.

Roman Aquila
Roman Aquilifer

This Roman standard, despised as an idol by the Jews, was likely also the “abomination of desolation...standing in the Holy Place” mentioned by Jesus (Matt. 24:15, c.f. Mark 13:14). This event was likely fulfilled when the Roman armies took possession of the second Jewish temple, entered into the Holy of Holies, looted its sacred treasures, and then burned the whole thing to the ground.

Looting of the Jewish Temple in 70 AD, Arch of Titus, Wikimedia Creative Commons

But where does the “coming of the son of man” enter into the picture? In the Olivet discourse, Jesus links the fall of Jerusalem with his “coming”. The “coming of the son of man” is something that happens just after, seemingly as a result of, the fall of Jerusalem. Let's pick up where we left off in Luke’s account. Having just described the trampling of Jerusalem by the Gentiles (the Romans) in verse 24, Jesus continues in verse 25,

Luke 21:25-27, 32: “There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory...Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.”

The “coming of the son of man” is the culmination of the apocalypse predicted by Jesus. One might even say that the very purpose of the apocalypse is to bring about this singular event. Jesus emphasized (“truly I say to you”) that this apocalyptic process would reach its crescendo (“the coming of the son of man”) before the generation of his day had passed away. In light of his prediction’s timeframe, and assuming Jesus spoke these words as recorded in the New Testament, it would appear that we are faced with two options.

5. Was Jesus Wrong?

Option number one is that Jesus was wrong, and these events didn’t happen within the predicted time frame. This is the path taken by many Biblical critics, who see this as proof of Jesus’ and the Bible’s fallibility. For most Christians, option one is something to be avoided at all costs. Option two is, of course, that “all these things” in fact happened within the predicted time frame. The apocalypse and the "coming of the son of man" must therefore refer to events that occurred by or around 70AD.

This latter idea is incomprehensible to most Christians, because it doesn't fit the expectations for these events that have been drilled into them by their respective traditions. Many Christians are sure that Jesus was predicting the end of the world, and not just the end of the corrupt jewish polity in 70 AD. They have been taught to eagerly desire and expect Christ to come back to take over the world by violent force, to publically vindicate and reward his followers for their ideological fealty, and to subjugate and/or annihilate their enemies with fire. Thus, finding the above options unsatisfactory, Futurists Christians propose a third option: they argue that Jesus’ words don’t mean what they appear to mean.

6. The Meaning of Genea

For example, some have argued that the Greek word genea (normally translated as “generation”) doesn't mean “generation” in Mark 13:30, Luke 21:32, or Matt 24:34.

Matt. 24:43: “Truly I say to you, this generation [genea] will not pass away until all these things take place.”

They suggest that Jesus uses it to mean “race” in this one particular instance. They contend that Jesus was simply stating that the Jewish race would not die out before his return. Proponents of this idea point out that there are a few occurrences of genea in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) in which the word could be understood as meaning something like “race.”

Rendering genea as “race” in Matt. 24:34, and its parallel occurrences in Mark and Luke, reduces Jesus’ bold, prophetic declaration to an unremarkable non-answer to the disciples question, “when will these things occur?” More importantly, however, setting aside the statement of Christ in question, Jesus’ use of the word genea elsewhere in the gospels is consistently and clearly used in reference to his contemporaries.

This word occurs 43 times in the New Testament, including 13 times in Matthew, 5 times in Mark, and 15 times in Luke. It is not used to mean, or translated as, "race" in any of its other occurrences in the New Testament. Every other time Jesus uses it, it plainly refers to his contemporaries. Arguing that genea in Matt 24:34, and its parallel occurrences in Mark and Luke, all of a sudden and in contrast to all its other occurrences, means "race" is a claim not motivated by any feature of the text, but rather by retroactive concerns over fulfillment. Doctrinal ends are used to justify the hermeneutical means. On this basis it can be rightly dismissed as a disingenuous reading of Scripture. As James Stuart Russell articulates in The Parousia, "It is no part of the business of an interpreter to vindicate the sayings of inspiration; his whole care should be to find out what those sayings are."[3] The text says what it says, and the plain meaning of Jesus’ words here appears to conflict with the Futurist expectation.

7. Which Generation?

Other Futurists agree that genea means “generation” here as elsewhere, but claim Jesus was not speaking of his current generation, but rather that future generation upon which the end of the world eventually falls. They argue that Jesus is merely predicting that all the apocalyptic events of the end will occur within the span of some singular, future generation. Of course, it's been almost 2000 years since Jesus spoke these words, and that span of time has been filled with all sorts of plagues, famines, and wars, the very sort of “birth pains” Jesus describes as signaling the end. The main problem with this view, however, is Jesus’ use of the pronoun “this” (Greek: οὗτος, hoytos, meaning “this one, visibly present here”[4]) as opposed to the pronoun “that” (Greek: ἐκεῖνος, ekeinos, meaning “the one there...referring to the more remote subject”[5]). The “generation” to which Jesus was referring in Mark 13:30, Luke 21:32, and Matt 24:34 appears quite plainly to be the same generation that he routinely berated during his earthly ministry: the evil generation of his day (compare Matt. 11:16; 12:39, 41, 42, 45; 23:36; Mark 8:38; Luke 11:48-51; 17:25). As with the genea-as-race interpretation, this interpretation too reduces Jesus’ bold, prophetic declaration to a rather unremarkable statement that, “Whenever the end eventually comes, the tribulation leading up to it won’t take longer than one human lifespan.”

8. Those Standing Here

In Matthew 16:27-28 (repeated also in Luke 9:26-27, Mark 8:38-9:1), Jesus again appears to predict that the “coming” of the “son of man” would happen within the lifetime of his contemporaries. In this instance, however, he does not use the word genea, but explicitly states that “those standing here” would live to see the event.

Matthew 16:27-28: “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

Futurists often argue that this prediction can be accounted for by the Transfiguration. But the Transfiguration did not involve multitudinous "angels." Neither, at that time, did Jesus "repay every man according to his deeds.” Are we to really understand the “coming of the son of man” mentioned in verse 27 and the “coming of the son of man” mentioned in verse 28 as referring to two separate and distinct events: a hypothesized “second coming” in verse 27, and then the Transfiguration in verse 28? Such a division of the text is arbitrary and artificial, and fails to recognize the eschatological import of the phrase, “the coming of the son of man”.

Nonetheless, Futurists argue that the glorious manifestation of Jesus at the Transfiguration counts, in some sense, as "the son of man coming in his kingdom.” And certainly, the Transfiguration did happen while some of Jesus' contemporaries were still alive. Actually, it occurred only six days after Jesus made the prediction in question. In his book, “The Last Days According to Jesus,” R. C. Sproul comments on the strangeness of this proposal:

“That events like the transfiguration and resurrection are manifestations of the coming of God’s kingdom is hardly in dispute among most New Testament scholars. The only problem with this linkage is the time-frame reference. In this case, however, it is not that the time-frame is too remote or temporally disconnected from this prediction. Rather it is that the time-frame reference is too near. In Mark’s Gospel, the account of the transfiguration is set in the very next verse, and this verse begins with a specific time reference: “After six days…” (9:2). If Jesus’ prediction to the disciples is fulfilled within one week (or a few weeks, if the prediction refers to the resurrection, ascension, or Pentecost), why would he specify that these events will occur before “some of those who are standing here...will...taste death” [9:1]? It seems strange that Jesus would say, “Some of you will not die this week.”...The time-frame indicated by the reference to some surviving death strongly suggests that there would be an interlude of several years between the prophecy and its fulfillment.” [6]

Arguing that Jesus’ prediction was referring to an event later that week plainly evades the force of his language. Furthermore, if the dramatic imagery evoked by “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” can rightfully be counted as “fulfilled” by an isolated event witnessed by three disciples, then with what credibility can Futurists claim that “the son of man coming in clouds” mentioned in the Olivet discourse in any way necessitates or involves a “second coming” as traditionally conceived?

As we will shortly discuss, the phrase, “the son of man coming in clouds” was a clear allusion to Daniel 7, and while most Christians fail to notice this, his original Jewish audience would have more readily recognized him as referring to this singular eschatological event. The idea that in Mark 9, by the phrase “the son of man coming in his kingdom”, Jesus is referring to one event (the transfiguration), and then later, by the phrase “the son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory” he is referring to a different event (a hypothesized “second coming”) fails to recognize the distinct eschatological import of this particular phrase.

James Russell Stuart says of this issue, “Who can doubt that ‘the coming of the Son of man’ is here, what it is everywhere else, the formula by which the Parousia, the second coming of Christ, is expressed? This phrase has a definite and consistent signification, as much as his crucifixion, or his resurrection, and admits of no other interpretation in this place.”[7] Concerning the idea that the Transfiguration fulfilled Jesus’ prediction concerning “those…standing here,” he says, “It is enough to say that such an interpretation of our Savior’s words could never have entered into the minds of those who heard them. It is so far-fetched, intricate, and artificial, that it is discredited by its very ingenuity.” [8]

9. The Temporal Nearness of the Parousia

The aforementioned predictions of Christ are not the only problem passages for Futurists. Many other statements made by Jesus only compound the problem for this view. For example:

Matt 10:23: "But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes."

How long would it take for the disciples to preach the Gospel throughout Israel, a small country occupying about the same area as the state of New Jersey? Would this endeavor take two thousand years and counting? Likewise in Mark 14:62, Jesus tells the high priest, “You shall see the son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62, c.f. Matt. 26:64). But if this event has yet to happen, then how could Caiaphas--who is long dead--have seen it?

In truth, proclamations emphasizing the temporal nearness of this event saturate the New Testament (see 1 Cor. 7:29-31; 10:11; Rom. 13:12; 1 John 2:18; James 5:8-9; 1 Peter 4:7; Rev. 1:1, 5; 3:11; 22:6-7, 10, 12, 20). Hebrews 10:37 is particularly explicit.

Hebrews 10:37: “For in yet a very little while, he who is coming will come, and will not delay.”

Futurism is hard to square with such declarations, at least if one is trying to remain intellectually honest. There’s a problem here. If terms like “soon,” “near,” “quickly,” and “a very little while,” can rightfully be understood as referring to a span of two thousand years and counting, what might Scripture not mean? Russel points out that, “More time has already elapsed since the incarnation than from the giving of the law to the first coming of Christ, so that, on [the Futurist’s] hypothesis, the end of the age is a great deal longer than the age itself.” [9]

Given the significant challenge scripture itself presents to Futurism, we need reconsider the popular understanding of “the coming of the son of man” in light of Daniel 7. So, what is this event to which Jesus repeatedly referred?

10. The Coming of the Son of Man in Daniel 7

The title, “son of man,” and Jesus’ third-person application of this phrase to himself, can strike Christians today as a little odd. Why did Jesus so often refer to himself in this way? The moniker, “son of man,” did not originate with Jesus; it was an expression with which many of his Jewish listeners would have been familiar. The “son of man” was a mysterious eschatological figure expected to establish the long-awaited messianic kingdom. “The son of man coming in clouds” was a readily recognizable allusion to a passage in Daniel 7 which described this figure. In this passage, Daniel recounts a dream, in which he is shown the rise and fall of four kingdoms, represented by various animals. After the terrifying fourth kingdom is described (a kingdom routinely identified with the Roman Empire), Daniel says this,

Dan. 7:13-14: “I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven one like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”

Many Christians, when they read Jesus speak of “the son of man coming”, suppose that he is describing a coming here. And herein lies the problem. It is a problem that arises when reading Jesus word’s independent of their appropriate Jewish context--a mistake to which “gentile” Christians are particularly prone.

The “coming” described in Daniel 7--that is, the “coming” to which Jesus was alluding--was not a coming here, but rather a coming before the throne of God. The “son of man” is presented before God’s throne. Where is God’s throne? In heaven. This vision describes a spiritual transition of power that takes place in the heavenly realm, “in the clouds.” In contrast, Christians today believe the “coming of the son of man” entails the bodily descent of Jesus from the presence of God in heaven, to earth. That is, the exact opposite of how Daniel describes this event. The disconnect between the traditional Christian understanding of the “coming of the son of man” and the depiction of this event found in Daniel 7, is stark.

11. The Interpretation of Daniel’s Vision

Later in Daniel 7, Daniel asks an angel to explain the meaning of his alarming vision. Concerning the “son of man” and his kingdom, the angel remarks,

Dan. 7:18: “‘But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come.’’

Dan. 7:21-22: “I kept looking, and that horn was waging war with the saints and overpowering them until the Ancient of Days came and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom.”

Dan. 7:25-27: “He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. But the court will sit for judgment, and his dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.”

To the potential discomfort of the careful Futurist reader, the immediate, earthly presence of the “Son of Man” (or “Highest One” as the angel appears to refer to him) is conspicuously absent in the angel’s interpretation of Daniel’s dream. The “sovereignty…dominion and…greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven” is said to be delivered into the hands of “the people of the saints of the Highest One,” while the “Highest One” himself appears to remain, well, “on high”: that is, enthroned in heaven. The “saints of the Highest One” exercise dominion on his behalf, as his proxy in the world. It is “the saints” who are explicitly stated to “take possession of the kingdom” (vs. 22). The “Highest One”, or “son of man,” is nowhere described as abdicating his heavenly post to descend or return to the earth.

The passage describes a spiritual transition of power in the cosmos. The corrupt celestial powers and angelic principalities which have hitherto ruled over the nations (not from literal earthly thrones, but from an exalted, heavenly vantage), are dethroned by God. The “saints of the Highest One” are given dominion, and are called upon to wield that power in his service. The popular notion of a “bodily return” of the messiah to the earth, commonly called the “Second Coming”, is unattested both in Daniel’s vision itself, and in the angel’s interpretation of Daniel’s vision. Daniel 7 offers no direct support for the Futurist’s expectation of a “bodily return” of the messiah. To the contrary, such an idea countervails the force of the passage, which celebrates the glorious ascent of the messiah into the highest heaven. The “son of man” “comes” (Hebrew, atha[10]) on the clouds and “reaches” or “attains” (Hebrew, meta [11]) the very presence of God. The notion of a “second coming,” in which this messiah descends bodily from heaven back down to the earth, is nowhere present in the text itself. It must be “read-into” the text.

The “son of man’s” ascent into heaven--described in Daniel 7--is likely the event to which Jesus was referring when he spoke of “com[ing] in the glory of His Father with His angels” (Matt. 16:27). The angels and the glory of God do not come here; rather, Jesus comes to them. Jesus was predicting that he--unlike any other human being--would soon ascend into the midst of God’s holy glory, stand among the angelic assembly, and even take a seat at the right hand of God (Mark 14:62, Matt. 26:64). In this way, Jesus gains a unique and special audience with God, and is thus able to mediate on behalf of his followers, and arbitrate justice to those who were “ashamed of [him] and [his] words” (Luke 9:26, Mark 8:38). It is precisely this heavenly vantage, and close proximity to God’s throne, which enables him to “repay every man according to his deeds”. Having been seated at the right hand of God, it would make little sense for Jesus to then abdicate this throne, and return to earth to take a lesser, earthly throne. 

12. Celestial Wonders

Although this spiritual transition of power takes place in the heavenly realm, it is nonetheless attested to by celestial signs visible from “down here”. Jesus tells his followers that “the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky.” And indeed a number of celestial events appear to have happened around 70 AD, and were recorded by the Jewish historian Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus. Most notably, both Josephus and Tacitus record an event witnessed by many throughout Judea in which armies of angels preparing for war were seen in the sky. Josephus recounts the event here:

“There appeared a miraculous phenomenon, passing belief. Indeed, what I am about to relate would, I imagine, have been deemed a fable, were it not for the narratives of eyewitnesses and for the subsequent calamities which deserved to be so signalized. For before sunset throughout all parts of the country chariots were seen in the air and armed battalions hurtling through the clouds and encompassing the cities.” [12]

Tacitus (56 AD - 120 AD) mentions the same event: “There were many prodigies presignifying their ruin which was not averted by all the sacrifices and vows of that people. Armies were seen fighting in the air with brandished weapons. A fire fell upon the Temple from the clouds. The doors of the Temple were suddenly opened. At the same time there was a loud voice saying that the gods were removing, which was accompanied with a sound as of a multitude going out. All which things were supposed, by some to portend great calamities.” [13]

Additionally, Josephus describes the appearance of “a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued the whole year.” He also records the same occasion mentioned by Tacitus, wherein “...the priests on entering the inner court of the temple by night...reported that they were conscious, first of a commotion and a din [loud noise], and after that of a voice as of a host, ‘We are departing hence.’” There seem to have occurred a number of ominous supernatural and celestial events to portend the fast approaching calamities and the coming spiritual upheaval that would spell disaster for Israel.

Some might protest that this “sign” in the “sky” mentioned by Jesus is said to be seen by the whole world, something that cannot be said of the regional celestial signs that occurred around 70 AD.

Matt. 24:30: “The sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the son of man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.”

However, translating the Greek word as “earth”--here and everywhere else it occurs--is misleading (the same goes for translating the Hebrew word eretz as “earth”). To English speakers, the word “earth” connotes planet. But this would not have been a concept present in the mind of the ancients. While certainly true of the ancient Hebrew authors, by the time of Christ most still believed the world was flat. They had no concept of “planet”. Both eretz and simply mean “land”, as that which was distinct from “sky” and “sea”. It is used frequently throughout the Gospels in exactly this sense: to refer to various regions or territories, such as the “land” of Israel.[14] The more honest, less anachronistic rendering of Jesus' words here is that "all the tribes of the land will mourn". That the “land” of Israel is in focus here is made clear by the reference to “tribes”, a word used throughout the New Testament to refer specifically to the Israelites.[15] Jesus is predicting not a planetary catastrophe, but primarily a national, or Jewish, apocalypse, which will cause all the tribes of Israel to mourn. The fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the second Jewish temple would certainly have had this effect.

13. Chaos in the Roman Empire

However, it should be noted that the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70AD coincided with a period of intense tumult throughout the Roman Empire. The Roman emperor Nero was widely described by many alive at the time as “the Tyrant” and a “beast”. The Jewish war began under his reign, but he then committed suicide in 68AD after being threatened with execution by the Senate. A period of chaos followed, known as the “year of four emperors”, during which four emperors rose to power, each removing and replacing the last. After Nero’s suicide, Galba reigned for 7 months, but was then murdered in a coup led by Otho. Otho then reigned for a mere 3 months, at which point he committed suicide after losing a battle to Vitellius. Vitellius reigned for 8 months, but was then captured, tortured, and killed by Vespasian’s soldiers. It was unclear to many of those living through these events whether the Roman Empire--and the civilization it supported--would survive the tumult. Finally, some semblance of stability arrived with Vespasian, who reigned for 9.5 years beginning at the end of AD 69.

For those living through these events, it would certainly have felt like the world as they knew it was coming to an end. Men would have indeed been “dismayed at what was coming upon the world”, and would have “look[ed] in perplexity at the roaring of the sea” (the Roman Empire encapsulated and could be symbolized by the Mediterranean Sea). This would have been especially true for Christians facing persecution from both the Jews and the Romans. Nero was, after all, a psychopath who claimed to be God, demanded worship from everyone in the Roman Empire, and who tortured and killed many Christians. It would also have felt like the apocalypse for the Jews throughout Judea and those trapped in Jerusalem during its siege and eventual destruction.

In contrast to these extreme cataclysms, many Christians today are regularly convinced that the end of the world is just around the corner whenever they hear of the latest natural disaster, or government malfeasance, events which in many ways pale in comparison to the horrors of 70 AD. Can you imagine what it would have felt like to live through those events? To those alive at the time, it would have been an apocalypse in a very real sense.

14. Apocalyptic Language and Hyperbole

But what about all this apocalyptic talk of,  for example, the sun and moon being darkened? (Matt. 24:29, c.f. Luke 21:25, Mark 13:24-25) First off, I think there's a case to be made that these things did happen, at least to a degree. The smoke of a burning Jerusalem, a conflagration which would have lasted days, would have certainly darkened the sun and moon to some extent for those nearby and within the city.

More to the point, however, this extravagant language is characteristic of the apocalyptic genre. This same language is used in prophecies concerning the fall of ancient Babylon, Edom, and Tyre. Concerning the fall of Babylon, for example, Isaiah declares,

Isaiah 13:9,10,13: “Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation; and He will exterminate its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; the sun will be dark when it rises and the moon will not shed its light...Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken from its place at the fury of the LORD of hosts in the day of His burning anger.”

In Isaiah 34, Isaiah gives a prophecy concerning the fall of Edom and its capital city Bozrah. In this proclamation, Isaiah states,

Isaiah 34:3-5: “So their slain will be thrown out, and their corpses will give off their stench, and the mountains will be drenched with their blood. And all the host of heaven will wear away, And the sky will be rolled up like a scroll; All their hosts will also wither away. As a leaf withers from the vine, Or as one withers from the fig tree. For My sword is satiated in heaven, Behold it shall descend for judgment upon Edom and upon the people whom I have devoted to destruction.”

The imagery found in such Old Testament prophecies bears a strong resemblance to the eschatological imagery of the New Testament, including the Olivet Discourse. Russel comments, “here again we have the very imagery used by our Lord in his prophetic discourse; and if the fate of Bozrah might properly be described in language so lofty, why should it be thought extravagant to employ similar terms in describing the fate of Jerusalem?” [16]

Just as the celestial cataclysms described in Old Testament prophecy were not to be understood literally, but rather poetically, so also the same kind of language found in the New Testament need not be taken literally. It's called hyperbole. It's a rhetorical device used for dramatic effect. As literalistic minded westerners living in the 21st century, we may find hyperbole distasteful. Today it has the negative connotation of “exaggeration.” But ancient cultures, and even some cultures today, had and have no problem with hyperbole. In these cultures, it was and is a staple of their discourse. Today's Christians would do well to let go of the anachronistic demands they place on the ancient Biblical authors, and to stop reading the New Testament out of its cultural and literary context.

15. 70 AD in Prophecy

Many Christians are totally unaware of the monumental events that befell Israel and Jerusalem in 70AD and the years leading up to it. But surely such a cataclysmic event would have been predicted by Israel’s prophets? Would they have been totally silent concerning these events? Would they have skipped over them altogether? This would have been a prophetic failure of massive proportions. To the contrary, the terrible “day of the Lord'' predicted by the Old Testament prophets, along with Christ and his disciples, was the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD. This was the apocalypse they were warning their countrymen about, and it happened within one generation of Jesus' ministry, just as he predicted. Jesus was their final warning; he was the son sent to the vineyard as the landowners' final appeal (Mark 12:1-9). Jesus says of these events in Luke 21:22, "These are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled." Jesus doesn't say that some of the Old Testament prophecies will be wrapped up by these events; he says "all things that are written will be fulfilled". This is the view of Full Preterests, who contend that all of the Bible's eschatological predictions were fulfilled by or around 70 AD. During his ministry, Jesus publicly made explicit and detailed predictions of an imminent national disaster. The occurrence of this disaster in 70 AD was his vindication.

16. What is the Kingdom of God?

The "coming" of the “son of man” is intimately linked with the establishment of the "kingdom of God", a connection seen both in the teachings of Jesus and in Dan. 7 itself. Often in Jesus’ teaching, the two events appear so closely linked so as to be interchangeable. Compare Matthew 16:27-28 with Mark 8:38-9:1 and Luke 9:26-27.

Matthew 16:27-28: “‘For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.’”

Mark 8:39-9:1: “‘For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.’” And Jesus was saying to them, ‘Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.’”

Luke 9:26-27: “‘For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.’”

Understanding the nature of this kingdom can help shed light on the nature of the son of man's "coming". For example, does Jesus teach the Kingdom of God as a literal, earthly kingdom? If so, that would support the popular Christian conception of a militaristic, bodily return of Christ from heaven to earth to establish such a kingdom by force. If, however, the “Kingdom of God” is taught as, primarily, a spiritual reality, that could support the Preterist view that the “coming” of the “son of man” is likewise not of this world. So, let’s take a look at how Jesus describes the Kingdom of God.

Luke 17:20-21: "And when he was asked by the Pharisees, ‘when is the Kingdom of God coming?’ He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God does not come as something one observes, Nor will persons say, 'Look: Here it is' or 'There it is' for look: the Kingdom of God is within you.’” [17]

Jesus explicitly describes the kingdom of God not as some earthly reality to be observed, but rather a spiritual reality that takes root in the hearts of men and bears fruit with time. It is not the top-down exercise of power so exemplified by worldly rulers, but something that emerges out of the heart of the individual.  It is likened to a mustard seed that grows slowly, quietly, not a suddenly appearing event in history. The kingdom of God is within you. That is to say, the territory which God desires to be king over is not some plot of dirt, but rather the human heart itself.

Jesus describes the kingdom of God as something that must be entered into as a child, free from worldly attachments (cf. Mark 10:15, 23-24). Such descriptions frame the Kingdom not as a physical territory, but something akin to a state of being. He tells a man, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). If the Kingdom of God is a physical reality in time and space, then this statement makes little sense. Again, the Kingdom of God spoken of by Jesus appears to be an inner spiritual reality. And of course, before Pilate, Jesus explicitly says that his kingdom is “not of this world,” nor is it established by force (John 18:36).

Of course, Futurists will argue that the kingdom has dual aspects, and is both a spiritual reality now, and also a future physical reality. To be clear, many Preterists too expect the Kingdom of God to increasingly manifest in our physical reality. The question is how this physical manifestation comes to be. Does it come through a sudden, top-down divine intervention in history (a militaristic return of Christ to earth), or through the bottom-up transformation of individual hearts across time?

According to the Futurist view, it would appear that the Kingdom’s spiritual aspect is insufficient to bring about the Kingdom’s physical manifestation. The “spiritual” Kingdom is, in a sense, a failed experiment, necessitating the violent divine intervention initiated by the bodily return of Christ. The church’s witness to the world, then, is ultimately doomed to failure. In the popular Futurist narrative, the world is never actually reconciled to God, but rather subjugated to Him by means of force.

Jesus teaches the Kingdom of God as, first and foremost, an inner, spiritual reality. This kingdom-of-the-heart should indeed bear fruit in this world. However, he does not teach the militaristic intervention so craved by many Futurists. Like the Jews who demanded a military conqueror as their messiah, so also many Christians today (and through the ages) demand a literal kingdom that begins with a militaristic return of Christ culminating in a mass slaughter of the church's enemies: a kingdom in which they, as believers, finally wield power. Does this sound in keeping with the character of Christ as seen in the gospels?

17. The Visibility of the Coming

The greatest challenge posed to Full Preterism by Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels is the emphasis on the visibility of the coming of the son of man. For example, Jesus compares it to lightning (Matt. 24:27; Luke 17:24). He repeatedly tells his audience that many of them would live to see this highly visible event. But if the coming of the son of man refers to the presentation of the messiah before God’s throne, an event that transpires in heaven, as I am arguing, then how is it seen from down here? To deal with this challenge, lets focus on Jesus’ statement to the high priest while being interrogated,

Mark 14:62: “[Y]ou shall see the son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (c.f. Matt. 26:64).

“The right hand of power” is a reference to the throne of God. Jesus says he will be seated next to this. Even in Futurist eschatology, the throne of God is not something found on earth. So, Jesus is clearly describing a heavenly scene here: he tells the high priest that he would “see” Jesus sitting enthroned next to God in heaven. But how would it be possible for a person living on earth to literally see such a thing?

We should be hesitant to insist on a literal understanding of Jesus’ words, because that's just not how he talks. During his ministry, Jesus routinely used dramatic, concrete images to illustrate spiritual truths. Time and again, his hearers ran into problems because they insisted on understanding his words literally. Nicodemus was flabbergasted when Jesus told him he must be born again (John 3:4). He asked how it would be possible for him to crawl back into his mothers womb. The disciples became paranoid after Jesus had warned them to “beware the yeast of the Pharisees”. The Jews were ready to have Jesus executed when he proclaimed, “tear down this temple, and I will rebuild it in three days”.

18. The Vindication of Jesus

We should exercise caution against over-literalizing Jesus’ words. Must the high priest, or Jesus’ other listeners, have had a literal vision of heaven, or could Jesus be describing something more figurative--his ultimate, public vindication? A “seeing of the heart”, by which Jesus’ contemporaries finally recognize Jesus for who he was: the “son of man” described in Dan. 7? The fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the second Jewish temple would have shocked the Jewish community to its core, leaving them thunderstruck (cf. Matt. 24: 27). In the aftermath of this soul-crushing disaster, as they tried to make sense of their nation’s evisceration, perhaps “seeing the son of man sitting at the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven” describes their final, reluctant realization that Jesus, who had warned them repeatedly and in very specific terms of this coming disaster, was indeed the great prophet, the anointed “son of man” envisioned by Daniel. Finally, only after being brought to their knees, could they “see” Jesus for who he was, the “son of man”, the Anointed, who sits “at the right hand of power” up “in the clouds”. The tribes of Israel see Jesus differently, after having witnessed Jesus’ prophetic warnings come to pass, and they mourn (Matt. 24:30). Perhaps the “gathering” of the “elect from the four winds” could be the resulting integration of once apostate Jews into the folds of the church.

According to this line of thinking, the coming of the son of man was an event that happened within the lifetime of some of Jesus’ contemporaries, just as he predicted. It was also an event that was signified to many alive at the time by various supernatural signs and in the destruction of Jerusalem, the temple, and the dissolution of the Jewish polity. In the aftermath of the disaster, those Jews left alive retroactively recognize Jesus as the “son of man” described by Daniel. They “see the son of man sitting at the right hand of power”, utterly vindicated. The “coming of the son of man” is the direct result of the fall of Jerusalem. The whole purpose of the apocalypse was to bring about this realization in the Jewish people. The result of this “heart-seeing”--the retroactive, inner recognition of Jesus as the anointed--is instrumental to the arrival of the kingdom of God, which is not a worldly kingdom but an inner condition of the heart of man, which spreads and grows through lifetimes and generations.

19. The Writing of the Gospels as Evidence of Jesus’ Vindication

But did this actually happen? Did the retroactive recognition of Jesus as the Anointed happen en masse around or following the events of 70 AD? There is a powerful piece of evidence that there was, in fact, a profound shift in the way many Jews saw Jesus around this time. That evidence is the writing and widespread distribution of the Gospels themselves.

Mark, seen by many as the earliest of the four Gospels, is thought by many scholars to have been written in or around the year 70 AD, with the other three gospels being written in the years and decades that followed. No matter their precise dating, whether written sometime before, around, or after 70 AD, these texts clearly signify a profound change in the way many Jews understood the figure of Jesus. These texts were borne out of what was originally understood to be a sort of Jewish “reformation” movement, as opposed to an entirely new religion called “Christianity”. The gospels clearly present Jesus as the Jewish "Anointed”. He is framed as the Jewish Messiah or Christ: the fulfillment and embodiment of the true faith of Abraham. Additionally, the Gospel authors--whoever they were--clearly intended to present Jesus as thoroughly vindicated in the eyes of their readers, many of whom would have been Jewish. And indeed these texts were surprisingly successful in achieving this purpose, becoming widely circulated and highly influential. The writing and widespread, successful distribution of the Gospels provides striking evidence of the vindication of Jesus in the Jewish mind around this time.

More than that, these texts elevated and cemented the person of Jesus as the Jewish “Christ” for centuries--even millennia--to come in the hearts and minds of untold billions. To put that in context, remember that Jesus was a nondescript, Jewish peasant living in the backwaters of the Roman Empire, whose career as an itinerant spiritual teacher lasted a mere three years, or less. While we now take Jesus’ historical influence for granted, it really is quite amazing. Whatever you think about the historical legitimacy of their presentation of Jesus, the Gospel texts are some of the most, if not the most, influential and widely read texts in all of human history. They have largely informed and shaped our understanding of the person of Jesus. They have been translated into nearly every extant human language, and have been studied and argued over for as long as they have been around. The vast majority of human beings alive today have heard of “Jesus” in large part due to these four ancient texts. "Jesus" has become a household name. "Jesus" and "Christ" are paired in speech with such frequency that not a few millennials probably believe that "Christ" was his surname.

The image of Jesus as the crucified god-man has become a moving symbol and powerful archetype in the human psyche. It continues to challenge and confront our conception of God and his relationship to humanity. There is no doubt that it has shaped and transformed the world in which we live. In addition to being the vindication of Jesus in the Jewish mind around the time of 70 AD, the “son of man coming in his kingdom” is the subsequent elevation of Jesus as the “Christ” in the collective human psyche. The widespread and impactful spiritual influence that the figure of Christ has had on human thought and action for over two millennia (and counting) is one which not even the "unbeliever" can deny. This is the “coming of the son of man in his kingdom” envisioned in Daniel 7. The galilean peasant has been and continues to be an exceptionally influential figure in human history. The very calendar we use is organized around his life (a fact even the recasting of BC and AD as BCE and CE cannot obscure). One of the world's largest religions claims Jesus as its inception, and even Islam features him as a prominent prophet.

Read in light of the above discussion, and considering Jesus’ sustained (and growing) influence in the world, the prophecy found in Daniel 7:13-14 appears to contain much truth.

Daniel 7:13-14: “I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven one like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”

The “Christian” movement has become the most ethnically diverse religion in the world. Untold billions of people living through the ages since Christ have sought to organize their lives around his teachings. People of all races and backgrounds have revered, studied, and worshiped the man. Might this rightly be considered a kingdom, or dominion? Do not peoples of every nation and language seek to serve him, however flawed their attempts may be? If so, this powerful “kingdom” has not yet passed away, and shows no signs of doing so. Daniel's vision continues to hold true, despite all historical odds.

So, what is the “coming of the son of man” in “great power and glory”? It is the dramatic vindication of Jesus brought about by the fall of Jerusalem, the retroactive recognition of Jesus as the Christ by many Jews and Gentiles alike, and the historical miracle by which Jesus of Nazareth was elevated and established as a permanent and powerful fixture in human thinking and consciousness for millennia to come.

20. What About the Rest of the New Testament?

My intention with this essay has been to argue that Jesus himself never predicted a "second" coming or "return" to earth, as popularly conceived. It is for this reason that I have confined my analysis to the Gospels (as our best record of Jesus' teaching) and Daniel (the passage he is clearly quoting). I have, by necessity, dealt mostly with the Synoptic Gospels, since Jesus is remarkably silent concerning “the coming of the son of man” in John’s Gospel. The only possible exception to this is John 14:3, where Jesus makes the following statement:

John 14:3: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

The eager Futurist may be tempted to see an allusion to the “second coming” in this verse. However, Jesus spoke these words to his closest disciples, all of whom are now dead (at least in body), and hence, no longer here on earth. So then, did Jesus keep his promise to the individuals to whom he issued it? Did Jesus indeed “come again” to receive his disciples to himself? If so, then this verse cannot refer to anything like the “second coming” hypothesized by Futurists, an event which has yet to occur. Whatever Jesus meant by his promise to his disciples, it must already have been fulfilled, since, presumably, Jesus’ disciples have already been received by Christ into heaven. This statement is best and most plausibly accounted for either by Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to his disciples, or else by a personal encounter with Jesus at the moment of the believer's death. For example, Jesus is commonly encountered during “Near Death Experiences”, and often acts as a sort of guide who ushers people into the light of God. Perhaps this was the manner in which the disciples were “received” by Jesus to the place prepared for them.

It should also be noted that the “place” which Jesus prepares for his disciples is clearly not here, on earth. This statement does not offer support for the notion that Jesus will return to establish anything like an earthy, millennial kingdom. Actually, this verse seems to preclude that possibility. Jesus predicts his departure from the earth to another place. He promises to one day receive his disciples to that place, so that where he is, there they may be also. Hence, both Jesus and his disciples will end up somewhere other than here. If this statement is interpreted as referring to a singular event in history thousands of years in the future (which I do not believe to be the natural reading, since the promise would then have little or no relevance to the individuals to whom it was issued), it can--at most--be understood as describing something like a “rapture,” and the Futurist understanding of the Parousia certainly involves more than just this. Jesus’ statement in John 14:3 amounts to a promise that he will not abandon his followers to this world, but will one day gather each to himself. This verse cannot arbitrate between the view I have proposed in this article, and the popular Futurist conception of the Parousia.

There are certainly numerous passages in the New Testament, outside the Gospels, in which the authors seem quite clearly to predict a "second coming" and bodily "return to earth" in line with the Futurist expectation. I freely acknowledge this. I have no interest in attempting to explain away these passages through some artificial and heavy-handed "interpretation" of the text, as when Futurist's explain away Jesus' predictions that the "coming of the son of man" would happen within the lifetime of his contemporaries. This is exactly the kind of thing which I am trying to avoid. Nor is it my goal to shoe-horn every New Testament passage into a "one-size-fits-all" eschatology. I have become comfortable with the idea that different New Testament authors held different views of--and expectations for--the Parousia, among other things. I am also comfortable with the idea that some New Testament authors--human as they were--had an imperfect understanding of this event.

As the Christian message spread throughout the Gentile world, it is easy to imagine how “the coming of the son of man” came to be construed as a coming here, since most Gentiles would have been unfamiliar with the phrase’s Daniel 7 context. The notion of a “second coming” would have been very appealing to Christians at the time, especially considering the persecution many faced. Many Jews had likewise expected a political, warrior messiah, and were disappointed and disillusioned that Jesus did not achieve their desired ends. The notion of a “second” coming (in which Jesus returns to take care of some “unfinished business”) would have been very desirable to such individuals.

Such an idea would not have seemed altogether outlandish to individuals alive during the first century. Following Nero’s suicide in 68 AD, many Roman’s expected (and feared) that Nero would somehow return to life and power (this widespread belief is now known as the “Nero Redivivus” legend), and there were even a number of individuals who claimed to be the resurrected Nero. Consider also how quickly Herod jumped to the conclusion that Jesus must be a resurrected John the Baptist in Matt. 14:1-2. My point is that such thinking was not uncommon at the time. Prior to the catastrophic events of 70 AD, there would also have been a lot of mystery (and hype) concerning how Jesus' dramatic predictions would play out. In such an environment, it's no wonder that “the coming of the son of man” came to be understood--or rather misunderstood--as a militaristic return to earth to seize political power.

 When Jesus’ words are read in light of Daniel 7 (their proper context), the picture of the Parousia that emerges stands in stark contrast with the popular Futurist conception. In so far as first century Christians believed that Jesus would very soon return bodily to the earth (as many certainly did), they were--quite plainly--wrong. They were wrong either about the nature of this event (as involving a bodily return), or else they were wrong about its temporal immanence. If, in seeking to protect a New Testament author’s prediction from being falsified, one is forced to argue that phrases like, “very soon” and “without delay” are perfectly compatible with the passage of 2,000 years and counting, one has departed from the realm of common sense and intellectual plausibility. One has simply emptied these terms of their semantic value in order to explain them away.

In my opinion, the only treatment of the Parousia that does not engage in such hermeneutical games, while still conforming to the popular (and cherished) idea of complete Scriptural “inerrancy”, is the view proposed by Full Preterist James Stuart Russell. Russell put forth the idea that Jesus briefly returned bodily to the earth sometime around 70 AD to rapture away the faithful, but that we have no historical record of this event. “Let God be true, and every man a liar,” he quotes. [18] He elaborates,

“Doubtless most readers will shrink away from the demand made upon their faith, when they are asked to believe that the predictions of our Lord in Matt. 24, and the kindred prophecy of St. Paul in 1 Thess. 4, had veritable accomplishment. Many will regard it as an extravagance which refutes itself. Let them consider whether this demand is not made by the most express affirmations of Inspiration. These predictions are bounded by certain limits of time. The time is explicitly declared to fall within the period of the then existing generation. No artifice of logic, no violence of interpretation, can evade or gainsay this undeniable fact. Credible or incredible, reasonable or unreasonable, the authority of Scripture is committed to the affirmation”. [19]

While I agree that such a view is the only treatment of the Parousia that affirms Scriptural inerrancy, without requiring questionable hermeneutics to explain away 2000 years, I personally do not find this position to be historically or intellectually plausible. I contend, rather, that Russell’s view (and its awkward historical implausibility) is premised on the same faulty assumption that Futurists make: that Jesus was predicting anything like a bodily “return” or “second” coming in the first place. I believe this deeply ingrained notion is dispelled by an attentive reading of Daniel 7, which describes the event to which Jesus was referring.  I contend, further, that some New Testament authors appear to have misunderstood Jesus’ teaching on this particular issue. This does not strike me as a surprising turn of events or a historically implausible claim, though I understand it will make Scriptural inerrantists uncomfortable. To be clear, my view is not compatible with complete Scriptural inerrancy.

While I recognize that the conception of the Parousia found in some New Testament writings is flawed, I nonetheless remain comfortable affirming that these documents are “profitable for teaching” and “inspired,” to borrow the phrasing of 2 Timothy 3:16. Of course, by “inspired”, I do not mean “innerrant.” Rather, I mean to affirm that the authors of these works had genuine, transformative encounters with the Divine, and were moved to write about them.

21. Conclusion

It should not at all surprise us if Jesus’ words were, at times, misunderstood by Christians in the first century. If Jesus was regularly misunderstood while he was still bodily present during his earthly ministry (both by his audience, and his disciples), it is quite plausible (if not a forgone conclusion) that his teachings would be, at least to some degree, misunderstood after his bodily departure. The Holy Spirit is not an inoculation against error (as church history so plainly reveals), nor is “correct-thinking” God’s primary goal for his people, as if this life amounted to a multiple-choice theology test. His goal and purpose, rather, is to cultivate and encourage “right-living” and “right-relationships” among his people. God's concern isn't that his people always be “right” (I suspect he cares little about this), but rather right-eous. As we continue to reflect on Jesus’ life and teachings, I suspect that we have yet more to learn--and perhaps, unlearn.

For many people, if the Preterist eschatological vision were true, it would amount to a colossal disappointment. Where is the victorious messiah riding out to war, who overthrows the world's political institutions at the end of the age? But I would point out that many Jews, and even followers of Christ, felt a similar disappointment with the so-called "first” coming of Christ. Jesus was not the political messiah they so desperately hoped for. He did not lead the military coup to overthrow their Roman overlords that they zealously sought. Instead of leading Israel to political freedom and sovereignty, he was humiliated and crucified by the Romans as a criminal. He became, for a time, an object of ridicule. In the same way, many Futurists find Preterist eschatology to be intolerably disappointing, because it doesn't deliver the militaristic, divine intervention they think they were promised. I believe this is yet another way in which Jesus challenges our flawed, human notions of Divinity. We assume that God will inevitably take over and rule the world by force, because that's what we would do if we had that kind of power. Jesus reveals that God has a different vision for the world, and radically different methods for bringing about its salvation and reconciliation. 

22. Further Reading

For those of you who are interested in learning more about Preterism, I have four recommendations to pass along.

The first is R. C. Sproul’s, “The Last Days According to Jesus.” Personally, I am not a fan of Sproul or his theology, but I think he does a good job here. In this book, he surveys the issue and compares and contrasts the arguments put forth by writers on both sides. If you’re not a Preterist, this would be a friendly place to start, because Sproul’s even-handed book is far from being a Preterist polemic.

If you're looking for a highly detailed examination of the New Testament from the perspective of a Full Preterist, then you’ll want to check out, “The Parousia,” by James Stuart Russell. Russell goes passage by passage, book by book, and makes a compelling and wide ranging Scriptural case for Full Preterism. I was genuinely surprised and impressed by Russell’s exegetical solutions on numerous occasions, and this volume contains many historical insights. Despite my disagreement with Russell’s ultimate conclusion (that there was a historically unattested “second coming” and “rapture” around 70 AD), I found the historical insights present in his volume to be indispensable. Unfortunately, good print copies of this work can be difficult to find. 

If you want to know more about the events of 70 AD, you can find a first-hand account of these events in, “The Jewish War”, by Flavius Josephus. Josephus, a jew, lived through and participated in these monumental events. He initially fought alongside the Jewish rebels until he was captured by the Romans. His allegiance then shifted, and from that point on he assisted the Roman authorities. “The Jewish War” is his retelling of events, and English translations of this work are abundant and affordable.

Lastly, I recommend reading straight through each of the Gospels, keeping in mind what you now know about the events of 70 AD. This is what first instigated my shift from Futurism to Preterism. Having ordered a copy of David Bentley Hart’s, “The New Testament: A Translation,” I decided to read through it. With no particular mind to eschatological questions, the connection between Jesus' teaching and the events of 70 AD became increasingly, inescapably clear. As I began to learn more about those events, I was surprised that I had never heard about them in church or other Christian settings.


  1. Josephus, The War of the Jews. Book VI, Chapter 3, Section 4
  2. aetos, Strong’s #G105, G105 - aetos - Strong's Greek Lexicon (nasb95) (blueletterbible.org)
  3. James Stuart Russell, The Parousia: A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming, new ed. (1887; reprint, Pantianos Classics, 2018), 78.
  4. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Strongs NT 3778
  5. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Strongs NT 1565
  6. R. C. Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus, new ed. (1998; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015), 61-62.
  7. James Stuart Russell, The Parousia: A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming, new ed. (1887; reprint, Pantianos Classics, 2018), 12.
  8. Ibid. 13.
  9. Ibid. 78.
  10. atha, Strong’s #H858, “to come,” H858 - 'ăṯâ - Strong's Hebrew Lexicon (kjv) (blueletterbible.org)
  11. meta, Strong’s #H4291, “to reach, come upon, attain,” H4291 - mᵊṭā' - Strong's Hebrew Lexicon (kjv) (blueletterbible.org)
  12. Josephus, The Jewish War, Book VI
  13. Tacitus, Histories, Book V, Chapter 13.
  14. For numerous examples of this, see the concordance results for ge, Strong’s #G1093: G1093 - gē - Strong's Greek Lexicon (nasb95) (blueletterbible.org)
  15. See the concordance results for phyle, Strong’s #G5443: G5443 - phylē - Strong's Greek Lexicon (nasb95) (blueletterbible.org)
  16. James Stuart Russell, The Parousia: A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming, new ed. (1887; reprint, Pantianos Classics, 2018), 36.
  17. Translation by David Bentley Hart in, “The New Testament: A Translation.”
  18. James Stuart Russell, The Parousia: A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming, new ed. (1887; reprint, Pantianos Classics, 2018), 208.
  19. Ibid. 206.

Matt is a husband and stay-at-home dad of two. He enjoys working on his house and yard, making fishing lures for his hobby business (the Chautauqua Bait Company), as well as hiking, writing, and thinking about difficult questions. He has a particular interest in understanding the opening chapters of Genesis.