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There are verses in the earlier Gospels that fairly explicitly say that Jesus will return:

"I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." (Mark 14:62, NIV)

"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." (Matthew 16:28, NIV)

From what I understand, this immediate coming that the earlier Gospels speak about, and Paul's understanding of the imminent return of Jesus, were later ignored by John's gospel.

Since Jesus has not returned, and he has not come with his kingdom, nor has he "come on the clouds of heaven," how are these verses interpreted in Roman Catholicism?

  • Could you be specific as to what Tradition you're asking about? I have a potential answer from a Catholic perspective. – shiningcartoonist Oct 13 '15 at 16:29
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    This is a great question, but unfortunately it is unbelievably broad. Some say that Jesus's words here have already been fulfilled. Others say that this still points to a future second coming, which will be either one event or two or more events. Bringing up Paul's writing complicates the picture even more. Please specify a tradition to make this more answerable. – Nathaniel is protesting Oct 13 '15 at 16:30
  • I don't believe either of those verses are talking about Jesus returning. So I'm not really sure what your question means. – Flimzy Oct 13 '15 at 18:38
  • @Flimzy "... 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." Who is this son of man then? – cool breeze Oct 13 '15 at 19:09
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    I think your question would be much improved if you asked "How do Catholics interpret these verses?" rather than assuming that they mean something (which many believe they do not mean). – Flimzy Oct 13 '15 at 20:04
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Although it's true that the first Christians did believe that the Second Coming was imminent, Christ also taught that "you do not know the hour".

Mt 24:44 — Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

Mk 13:32–33 — But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time will come.

Lk 12:40 — You also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

As the question recognises, this hasn't happened yet. Thus it's easy to see that the belief that the Second Coming was imminent was a misunderstanding — not that it's a bad thing to live each day as if it were your last because you might face the final judgement tomorrow. That's still the case (cf Jas 4:13–15).

So the question becomes one of interpreting Mt 16:28: "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom," which is also recorded in Mk 9:1: "And he said to them, 'Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.'"

If we are to believe that Christ did not lie to his hearers, or was mistaken himself, then a plain reading of these verses as referring to the Second Coming is obviously wrong: those standing there have certainly died by now.

There are two potential interpretations.

One is that "seeing the kingdom of God come with power" refers to Jesus' own death, when "the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised" (Mt 27:51–52). This is by far the easiest interpretation, as it admits a plain reading of the scripture. The kingdom of God had shown its power, and they would have seen it.

The second, deeper, interpretation is that the death Jesus was referring to was the everlasting damnation to Hell.

  1. Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgement that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven—through a purification592 or immediately,593—or immediate and everlasting damnation.594

    At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.595

Catechism of the Catholic Church

In this interpretation, experiencing death before seeing the power of God needs explanation.

Jesus' use of before was to remind his hearers that the judgement could come at any time, and they should live each day as if it were their last. For if the Second Coming were tomorrow, they would not die before seeing it: they might see it and die tomorrow, and they would be judged tomorrow. In order that the judgement tomorrow would not condemn them, they needed to conform their lives to his teachings.

  1. The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few."616

    Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where "men will weep and gnash their teeth."617

CCC

This interpretation takes Jesus' teaching out of his own time and its narrow application to just his own contemporaries, and allows the Eternal God to apply it to all time, including to hearers today.


592: Cf. Council of Lyons II (1274): DS 857-858; Council of Florence (1439): DS 1304- 1306; Council of Trent (1563): DS 1820
593: Cf. Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336): DS 1000-1001; John XXII, Ne super his (1334): DS 990
594: Cf. Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336): DS 1002
595 St. John of the Cross, Dichos 64
616: Mt 7:13-14
617: Lumen Gentium 48 # 3; Mt 22:13; cf. Heb 9:27; Mt 25:13, 26, 30, 31 46

  • Andrew, theologically speaking, if one believes Paul to be an apostle and supported by the Holy Ghost, can he make such a blunder? – cool breeze Nov 16 '15 at 19:43
  • If you want to mention Paul, you should do so in another question (as it was removed from this one). – Andrew Leach Nov 16 '15 at 21:03
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Apparently the Catholic view does not consider this verses problematic, and they are reconciled as following,

Mark 14:62, Although this pronouncement refers to the parousia, there is nothing in it to indicate when it will happen. The high priest will see it, he is not told when.

Matthew 16:28, The coming in this verse is not the parousia but the manifestation of Jesus’ rule after his resurrection

Information from:

https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/most/getchap.cfm?WorkNum=215&ChapNum=6

http://www.usccb.org/bible/matthew/16

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