I often see comments in Bible commentaries that the Apostles were convinced the second coming would happen in their lifetime. However I have never been convinced by the arguments they make to draw this conclusion. What I am wondering is what the Biblical argument is for the alternative view: That the Bible and the Apostles did not necessarily expect this, and were not so naive.

Some passages commonly referred to in the subject are:

Rom. 13:11–12; 1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:16; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Thess. 2:2; Heb 10:25

Note: I do accept that there was this feeling of an imminent return shortly after Pentecost but I am speaking about after when the Epistles were written and there was more scripture concerning this doctrine. It was only natural after Penteconst to assume an immediate return having no other information to go on.

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  • As a counter argument, consider that up until his death, the Disciples expected Jesus to become king of Israel. (How many would have followed him had the message been "support me now, then I'll die, then you'll die, and in a few thousand years …"?) Years later, Paul still believed the return would be in his lifetime. (1 Corinthians 15:51 says "Behold, I tell you a mystery: *We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed*". 1 Thessalonians 4:15 says "… *we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord …*". Notice that it is "we", not "those of us"; he included himself.) Sep 24, 2021 at 18:08

3 Answers 3


The apostle John provided a word of caution, showing a bit of a misunderstanding on the part of the apostle Peter regarding Christ returning soon. This is in John's gospel account, at the end. After his resurrection, while at the Sea of Tiberias, Jesus had signified how Peter's future death would glorify God. Peter then asked, 'What about John?' This is John's record of the event:

"Jesus saith unto [Peter], If I will that [John] tarry till I come, what is that to you?" Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die; yet Jesus said not unto him, 'He shall not die'; but 'If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?' (John 21:18-23)

The error of the disciples is shown by John. Peter was told he would die; John was to tarry - the wrong conclusion jumped to was that John would not die. When Jesus spoke about him tarrying, John had been about 30 to 35 years of age. Here is how the book below puts it:

"From that moment until the writing of the fourth gospel and the three epistles, but above all until the setting down of this book [Revelation], John tarried. Then Jesus came, appearing by his angel to give the Revelation of Jesus Christ to his slave John.

John tarried: but the reason was that he was constrained by a spiritual discipline virtually unknown in church history and certainly unknown at the present time... It was simply that the Lord willed that he should tarry... Contemplative, silent; waiting; in effect, tarrying for a lifetime. And, as a lifetime slipped away, it must have seemed tarrying for ever.

Some forty years after Jesus spoke the words quoted in John 21:22, Jerusalem was destroyed and the remaining apostles were scattered. John, by then about seventy years of age, now made homeless as to Jerusalem, tarried still.

The persecutions of Nero came and went. More to the point, the ministry of the apostle Paul arose so mightily, finally to pass away. Yet for this man, John, by now beyond normal old age, really an ancient, tarrying remained.

John had survived the first generation, and seen the passing away of the second generation as that in turn aged and departed. John had endured the persecutions of Nero. He had seen the end of the apostles, Paul included, long, long ago. But now storm clouds began to gather again. Under the Roman Emperor Dominitan the fires of persecution were rekindled.

The Dominitan persecutions raged from the year 81 to 86. During this period the last apostle, John, was banished to the remote Island of Patmos. This was about the year 95. This approximated to the great age of the apostle. It was also about the time in which at long last there came the conclusion to John's seemingly endless 'tarrying'.

Finally, in the Spirit, and by his angel, the Lord came for John, and came that he might render the last, the great, the consummate witness of the new testament, till time should be no more. [Rev. 10:6] It was for this, the Revelation of Jesus Christ... that the slave of Jesus Christ had been kept for longer than might be considered endurable or even possible. But by the grace of the Spirit he had been kept; by the grace of Christ he had endured; and by the grace of God he had submitted. Now at length he was called to render the most momentous, the mostly overwhelming testimony of all the sixty-six books of the Holy Bible, with which the whole was to be brought to its fitting conclusion." (The Revelation of Jesus Christ, John Metcalfe, pp.2-4)

Once John had discharged his final duty and written the whole of that Revelation to be distributed to the congregations in Asia Minor, he - the last surviving apostle - would know that the final judgment would not occur in his lifetime. So would all the other Christians, none of whom were apostles. They would all know that various events would have to now happen, culminating in the final judgment. They would know the churches were repeatedly told to endure, to hold fast, to overcome (chapters 2 & 3). That would take time.

Therefore, in addition to other new testament scriptures - 1 Peter 3:7-15 & Revelation 6:9-11 - all Christians on the cusp of the second century A.D. would surely understand that more had to happen, with only one very elderly apostle still alive (though not for much longer).

  • Wonderful, reminds me of Luke… Skywalker.
    – steveowen
    Sep 24, 2021 at 21:44

Peter seems to suggest that the coming of the Lord is not as imminent as originally thought, citing God's patience, and his measure of time as the reasons:

"...by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 8 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. 14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you..." (1 Peter 3:7-15 NASB bold mine)

  • That's one passage. Any others? Jul 12, 2015 at 3:29
  • I think this is a good start. What I have noticed in various commentaries is that the passages that speak of a very imminent return...some comentaries draw a conclusion that the Apostles were confused and some understand the return of Christ in the destruction of Jerusalem;)
    – Mike
    Jul 12, 2015 at 9:52
  • 2 Thess 2:1-5 is another impressive example. Sep 25, 2021 at 13:52

I would recommend the following:

Revelation 6:9-11

When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.

It would likely have been clear to the early church that the number of the martyrs was not complete, since the church was under intense and continual persecution from the Roman government for several centuries.

This is distinct from the destruction of Jerusalem, where some commentators seem to imply that all of Christ's warnings were apocalyptic.

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