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)

Edit: adding another verse in order to make sense of the answer linked below.

Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. (Mark 13:30, NIV)

End of edit

One interpretation of this is that Jesus believed the end of the world would happen within a few decades. If that's what Jesus meant, was it a new suggestion or were there precedents? What evidence is there that Christians in the first century subscribed to this belief?

Other interpretations have been suggested, like the ones summarised in this answer:


What are the earliest sources we have for such interpretations?

What sources show us how ideas about the apocalypse changed over the course of the first hundred years or so of Christianity?

I'd sort of expect there to have been a big crisis in the religion when it started to become clear that the first generation was all dead and the end of the world hadn't come, but as far as I can gather that didn't really happen. There were new sects and theological disputes as the faith spread, but the date of the apocalypse doesn't seem to have been a central factor. Is that right?

  • 1
    Another interpretation (that of Jehovah's Witnesses) is that Matthew 16:28 is fulfilled a few days later by the Transfiguration in the next chapter.
    – user32540
    Apr 7 '19 at 22:25
  • 1
    The question you've linked to is about interpretations of Mark 13:30 instead of Mark 9:1, which is Mark's analogue to Matthew 16:28.
    – user32540
    Apr 7 '19 at 22:37
  • Good point. I'll add Mark 13:30 to the question. Thanks. Apr 8 '19 at 7:28
  • christianity.stackexchange.com/q/67704/23657. This related question addressed JWs interpretation of Matt 16:28
    – Kris
    Apr 9 '19 at 3:00

The text you link to, Matthew 16:28, is so very closely linked to the next verse, '... and after six days' that its natural interpretation is that the those present actually saw the coming of the Son of man on the mount of transfiguration and that Jesus' words relate to that experience, not to the end of the world.

But it is evident that the early church viewed the return of Christ as immediate. That is to say, as imminent in their own, personal apprehension.

Paul says to Titus :

... the grace of God that bringeth salvation ... looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the Great God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ. [Titus 2: 11, 13 KJV.]

The urgency and immediacy of the expectation was a hope and a desire. Faith looked in hope for the coming of the Lord Jesus. Love longed to see him as he really is, either again or for the first time.

The women who went to the tomb went there in love, to anoint the body of Jesus. Mary was bereft without him, longing just to find his deceased body, frustrated because someone appeared to have stolen him, John 20:15.

After his ascension, the disciples had to be exhorted to activity by no less than angels as they were standing around looking at the spot in the sky into which Jesus had disappeared, Acts 1:10 and 11.

Paul had to exhort some of the Thessalonians that if a man will not work neither let him eat as it appears some had given up working because of the imminence of the Lord returning and the world ending. Paul had to remonstrate with them that it was irresponsible to respond in that way, II Thessalonians 3 : 6-15.

At the end of his life, Paul exhorts Timothy :

Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day : and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing, [II Timothy 4: 8 KJV.]

It was love that prompted the early church to look for the appearing of the Lord.

Towards the end of that era, as scripture closed, John the apostle, aged then between ninety and more than an hundred years old - at the very end of his Revelation and at the close of the first century, writes :

Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus. [Revelation 22:20 KJV.]

Yes, I see that "early Christians viewed the end of the world as imminent". And I believe that the bible itself as a "source" demonstrates that views about the apocalypse did not change at all during the first century.

For further generations, faith and love and hope should be unchanged, despite the passage of time, despite the passing generations. For with the Lord, a day is as a thousand years, and just a couple of days have passed since he ascended. And the Lord is not slack concerning his promise, II Peter 3:8.

Faith and hope and love still gaze upwards, imminently expecting the return of the Lord Jesus.


Historical-critical scholars such as Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) believed Jesus was a failed prophet.

"...saying that no one, including himself, knew the exact time of his return, but it would be before the end of the end of the first generation of followers." wikipedia

I didn't notice a more traditional understanding of this concept in your link. It is called "the continual coming of Christ in the church." It was taught by those like Augustine (354-430), Tyconius (about 380), Origen (184-253), and though it is generally misunderstood, Justin Martyr (100-165). Augustine explained it this way.

"--whether to that coming of the Saviour which continually occurs in His Church, that is, in His members, in which comes little by little, and piece by piece, since the whole Church is His body, or to the destruction of the earthly Jerusalem." St. Augustine of Hippo: The City of God Book XX, ch 5

Earlier Origen talked about "this generation."

Origen: The uninstructed refer the words to the destruction of Jerusalem, and suppose them to have been said of that generation which saw Christ’s death, that it should not pass away before the city should be destroyed. But I doubt that they would succeed in thus expounding every word from that, “one stone shall not be left upon another,” to that, “it is even at the door;” in some perhaps they would succeed, in others not altogether. Origen: Yet shall the generation of the Church survive the whole of this world, that it may inherit the world to come, yet it shall not pass away until all these things have come to pass. But when all these shall have been fulfilled, then not the earth only but the heavens also shall pass away; that is, not only the men whose life is earthly, and who are therefore called the earth, but also they whose conversation is in heaven, and who are therefore called the heaven; these “shall pass away” to things to come, that they may come to better things. But the words spoken by the Saviour shall not pass away, because they effect and shall ever effect their purpose; but the perfect and they that admit no further improvement, passing through what they are, come to that which they are not; and this is that, “My words shall not pass away.” And perhaps the words of Moses and the Prophets have passed away, because all that they prophesied has been fulfilled; but the words of Christ are always complete, daily fulfilling and to be fulfilled in the saints. Or perhaps we ought not to say that the words of Moses and the Prophets are once for all fulfilled; seeing they also are the words of the Son of God, and are fulfilled continually. Catena Aurea

Referred to as chiliasm, Justin Martyr referred to a thousand years in Jerusalem and compared it to both the carnal and spiritual life of Adam.

I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, [as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare. (Dialogue with Trypho, ch LXXX) For as Adam was told that in the day he ate of the tree he would die, we know that he did not complete a thousand years. (Dialogue with Trypho, ch LXXXI)

The concept of spiritual life is best compared to New Jerusalem rather than the earthly Jerusalem.

(Heb 4:3)  For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. (Heb 4:4)  For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. (Heb 12:22)  But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, (Heb 12:23)  To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, (Heb 12:24)  And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.

This can be understood as the spiritual light in our hearts.

2Pe 1:19  We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: 2Co 4:4  In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.  2Co 4:5  For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake.  2Co 4:6  For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

So the coming Jesus sometimes referred to was present in His generation.

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