Why Didn't Jesus Return in the First Century?


There are many Christians who have read through the New Testament, and read verses like Matthew 16:28. These verses make it seem like Jesus told His disciples that He would come back within the first century. There is some debate in the scholarly world as to whether the disciples understood this to be the case. I honestly did not do enough research on whether or not they felt that He would come back to be able to definitevly say yes or no in this post. Some would argue that the disciples felt he would come back within their lifetime, which is why the gospels weren't recorded until several decades after Jesus rose. Others say that the disciples rightly ascertained that many of the prophecies had double fulfillments both with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 as well as the end of the world. Still others argue that verses like Matthew 16:28 have their fulfillment in Matthew 17:1-9, where disciples are promised that they will see Jesus coming in glory, and they are given a vision of that coming in glory (also see John 21:20-24, with John witnessing the Revelation on Patmos). There are other resources online that deal much more definitively with those questions.

Recently at an online Bible study, we were talking about the question of why Jesus didn't come back in the first century, during John the Revelator's lifespan. What was He waiting for? I had recently read about some of the parallels between John's vision and Daniel's vision, and realized that for the Jews, there was likely a similar question in Daniel's time (i.e., why didn't the Messiah come within Daniel's lifespan).

Daniel 10 follows Daniel 9. In Daniel 9, Daniel writes that he had been reading the book of Jeremiah the prophet, and had understood that Jerusalem would lie in desolation for 70 years (Jeremiah 25:12; 29:10). The captivity started in 606 B.C., and most scholars agree that Chapter 9 happened shortly after the third year of Belshazzar's very brief rule, dating this vision to 538 B.C., meaning that the 70 years were almost expired. God had already begun his fulfillment of the prophecy by overthrowing the king of Jerusalem. In a similar manner, John is writing on the Island of Patmos, in exile, roughly around 95 AD, which woul dbe about 64 years after Jesus' ascention to heaven. Both prophets are very old, and have lost many of their companions to old age or death. John at this point was without Paul, Peter, and James; Daniel at this point was without Shadrach, Meschiach, and Abednego.

Although we don't know everything that was on Daniel's mind, it is possible that Daniel may have been thinking about the coming of the Messiah. Jeremiah 29:10-14 not only explains that the captivity will last 70 years, but it also says that there will be a time of prosperity when God gathers Israel from all the places that it had been scattered. This prophecy seemingly sets up the scene for what many Jews anticipated would be the era in which the Messiah would come. For example, the Temple would be established and all nations would stream to it (Isaiah 2:1-2), the Messiah would gather all tribes together (Isaiah 11:11-12, Jeremiah 33:14-16; Jeremiah 23:5-6), a prophet and deliverer like Moses would deliver them from exile (Deut 18:18-19; Jeremiah 30:7-9), and the Messiah would judge all the nations (Isaiah 42:1,4) and be king after the line of David (Jeremiah 30:7-9; Hosea 3:5).

Daniel, understanding that the time is almost come in Daniel chapter 9, prayers for the Lord to deliver Isreal out of captivity. As Daniel is praying, Gabriel comes, and speaks to Daniel. But instead of telling Daniel that the Messiah is going to come within 2 years (within Daniel's lifetime), he tells Daniel that from the time that the commandment to restore and rebuild Jerusalem comes until when the Messiah comes, it will be 69 weeks. Under the day-year principle (Numbers 14:34, Ezekiel 4:5-6, Genesis 29:27), this represents 483 years, which is well beyond the expected lifespan of Daniel and all of his contemporaries. No doubt, this is a profound disappointment to Daniel not to see the age of peace and prosperity that the expected Messiah would bring in.

That brings us to Daniel 10, which starts with Daniel expressing anguish because "the time appointed was long (Daniel 10:1-3)." Daniel had been meditating upon the fact that it seemed that the Messiah would not come in his lifetime, when he receives a vision. This vision is extremely similar to the Revelation that John receives in John 1:9-20. The list of parallels are shown below:

Vision Daniel John
Prophet's status Highly esteemed (Dan 10:11) Disciple whom Jesus loved (John 21:20-24)
Exiled in Persia (Dan 10:1) On Patmos (Rev 1:9)
Last living person who saw the Temple who saw Jesus (John 21:20-23)
Date 24th day of 1st month (Dan 10:4) The Lord's day (Dan 1:10)
Messenger's clothes Linen (Dan 10:5) Garment down to the foot (Rev 1:13)
Messenger's Belt Fine gold (Dan 10:5) Golden girdle (Rev 1:13)
Legs/Feet Burnished bronze (Dan 10:6) Brass (Rev 1:15)
Eyes like flaming torches (Dan 10:6) as a flame of fire (Rev 1:14)
Voice Like the sound of a multitude (Dan 10:6) as the sound of many waters (Rev 1:15)
Response Afraid, no strength left, face to ground (Dan 10:8-9) Falls down as dead. Afraid (Rev 1:17)
Touched Messenger touches him (Daniel 10:10) Christ lays hand on him (Rev 1:17)
Audience Thy people (Dan 10:14) The seven churches (Rev 1:11)
Instructions Write Dan 10-12 in a book (Dan 12:4) Write the vision in a book (Rev 1:11)
Subsequent vision Outline of history until the end (Daniel 11) Outline of history until the end (Rev 2-22)

So, just as Daniel was possibly looking forward to the restoration of the temple and the uniting of all the scattered tribes of Israel by a Messiah while he was in exile, it's possible that the exiled John was also looking forward to the resurrection of his friends by Jesus Christ and the beginning of God's physical kingdom of heaven. Both are praying and looking forward to this event when they are visited by a messenger from heaven, who breaks the news that there is still a lot of time to go before their expectations are fulfilled.

So that brings us back to the question: why didn't Jesus come back in the first century. It seems that it is God's plan that he has a purpose to fulfill in the spans of time during exile. When Israel was in Egypt, God was waiting because the sin of the Amorites had not yet reached its full measure (Genesis 15:16). After 430 years, God fulfilled his promise to bring Abrahams descendants out of Egypt (Genesis 15:13). For 490 years of Daniel 9:24-27), God was forgiving the Jews seventy-times seven (Matthew 18:22), before He began His dispensation to the Gentiles after the final rejection of the Jews of His prophets in the stoning of Steven in Acts 7. So now, it seems that God is extending a third probationary period. God's timeline is set up in a certain way so that the effects of sin can be fully and completely seen in every era, and no argument can be raised that God rushed through things and did not give people a chance to repent and to come unto a knowledge of the truth. When everything is said and done, at the name of Jesus every knee willl bow, and every tongue will confess that God is a righteous judge (Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10-11).