If Paul, the “father” of the religion was wrong about Jesus Return then where does that leave Paul’s promise of Eternal Life in Jesus? And if even Jesus, Son of God and the Christ was mistaken… Does Christianity just come down to a roll of dice, another instance of Pascal’s Wager?
Christian Insecurity: The Problem of the Second Coming
By David Turner, Jerusalem Post
“Catholic Christians have always believed that Jesus Christ would come back to close the current period of human history in earth. The time when Jesus will return is given many names: the Day of the Lord, the Parousia, the end time, and the Second Coming of Christ.”
“Be patient therefore, brethren… for the parousia of the Lord has drawn near.”
The issue of the Second Coming, or Parousia represents the fault line between Christianity and Judaism. According to Judaism the messiah will be validated by fulfilling God’s promises, namely Malkhut haShamayim, the Kingdom of God or, Peace on Earth. According to the Christian narrative Jesus will fulfill this upon his return, an event long-anticipated (see Paul; expectations in the year 1000; more recently on the year two-thousand). This long expected Parousia is another source of what I refer to as, Christian Insecurity.
If scriptural anti-Judaism is the “objective” source of modern antisemitism then the emotional source driving Judeophobia and the “need” to solve the Jewish Problem is the product of theology. According to Paul the central “promise” of Christianity is eternal life, the reward for faith in Jesus to be bestowed upon Jesus’ return:
4:16 the Lord himself will come down from heaven … and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (emphasis added)
In the end Paul’s predictions passed without the hoped-for Return and this inspired the challenge reflected in his letter, 1 Corinthians15. With Paul’s own death unredeemed Jesus’ Second Coming was deferred to an undetermined future.
The failure of the Parousia reflected in 2 Thessalonians would remain so for centuries. The promise of life-eternal would, until Jesus’ return, remain but a “promise,” an act of faith. And more the problem since based solely on Paul’s uncertain assurance. Pascal clearly described the roll of dice in his “wager” based on Paul being right or wrong. A person has a 50/50 chance of going to Heaven; the Atheist is 100% assured of not.
Whether or not Paul turns out, at some indeterminate future date to have been right about Jesus’ Return, his epistles provide no more assurance than does Pascal. But for those who would explain how Paul could have been consistentlywrong regarding the Parousia, if Christian scripture is, as described by many, the “inerrant word of God” (as recently as 1978 the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy maintained that “Holy Scriptures are to be received as the authoritative Word of God”) how explain Paul’s confusion regarding the imminence of the Parousia? How understand the “John” gospel’s many references to Jesus’ Second Coming? The failure of Jesus return is “explainable,” and many such explanations have been suggested over the centuries. But always at the end the hoped-for and anticipated Return fails to be realized, and Pascal’s Wager upon which the promise rests.
These were and continue problems for “scholars,” for theologians. In the Real World the promise of Jesus return remains forever unfilled, deferred always to an uncertain future and ever anticipated. And “anticipation” tends to intensify during periods of personal and social stress; and at dates associated with the anniversaries of Jesus’ birth and death.
With the approach of the year 1000 (identified with the year of Jesus’ birth) and 1033 (with the crucifixion) dread anticipating the End of Days and for the Rapture accompanying Jesus Return gripped Europe:
“Manifold signs and prodigies came to pass in the world, some earlier and some later, about the thousandth year from our Lord’s birth.”
So wrote Radulfus Glaber, one of the few contemporary historians of the time. Certainly the period leading up to the year 1000 brought with it great expectation. And however many such events described by the monk were historical or fanciful (some present day historians describe Radulfus exaggerating and “over-dramatic”) it is nonetheless obvious that the approach of the year 1000 brought with it anticipation and apprehension and, when Jesus failed to appear, deep disappointment. The year 1033 similarly came and went. Still,
“there was a resurgence of apocalyptic fervor that the “End” was near. There was no shortage of prophets to predict a NEW date: The years 1186, 1229… 1492-4 were all examples of “predicted” dates… In looking for a “cause” as to why the End had NOT occurred, charismatic preachers traveled from town to town, preaching that before the Second Coming would occur that all unbelievers must first be removed from society.”
In A Marginal Jew – Rethinking the Historical Jesus, John P. Meier, Catholic priest and historian, provides this interesting observation:
“And he said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power”… most likely… produced by early Christians who sought to reassure themselves of Christ’s coming in glory as the years passed by with no parousia in sight.”
Reassurance needed by early Christians regarding the Return and fulfillment of Christianity’s central promises remained a problem for the first thousand years and the second thousand until today. That the problem continues to demand explanation is clear from Anglican scholar Arthur Moore’s suggestion seeking to save the “promise” by transferring “blame” to Jesus who was, “in this matter…simply mistaken and that such errancy belonged to His humanity.”
In other words since people are expected to make mistakes, Jesus in human form also would be prone to this failing. But where does that leave Christian promises? If Paul, the “father” of the religion was wrong about Jesus Return then where does that leave Paul’s promise of Eternal Life in Jesus? And if even Jesus, Son of God and the Christ was mistaken… Does Christianity just come down to a roll of dice, another instance of Pascal’s Wager?
Today, two thousand years into Christianity, the distance between that religion and Judaism is clearly defined. Not so in the early centuries. At that time Christianity still held to Jewish expectations regarding events accompanying the arrival of the messiah, including the arrival of Malkhut haShamayim, God’s “Kingdom ofHeaven.” Paul’s response to the failure of the Malkhut was to defer God’s Kingdom to Jesus’ Return. But Paul’s promises of Jesus’ return also failed to occur.