Good Question: Was Jesus a failed apocalyptic prophet that the embarrassed church had to re-work into something different?

[draft: Sept 25, 2012]

(This is a different question than 'Was Jesus a Failed Messiah?')


Hi Glen(sic) Miller,

I recently discovered your excellent site when I was looking up arguments to go against an atheist with, and I was and am impressed with the high level of research and time that you put into each of the hard questions you tackle. So when I came across a blog post on a forum that really bothered me, I felt that you may do the best job of refuting it.

My apologetics question is basically, "Was Jesus a Failed Eschatological Prophet?" This is not just asking about a few verses, but about the purpose of Jesus' ministry and its "apparent" unfulfillment. Numerous references by Jesus (and other New Testament writers) to a nearing of the end times have always bothered me in the back of my mind, but this blog post (which I will copy in its entirety here) really shakes my faith. It basically tries to show that the thrust of Jesus' message was that His end-times kingdom was coming very soon, and all his followers like Paul and John believed this. Then when this didn't come true, the church distanced itself from the end times, such as in the last Gospel, John, where its message focuses more on eternal life than the apocalypse. I had originally came across this post in a forum because I was bothered with Jesus' statement in Matthew 26:64 that the high priest would see Jesus coming in the clouds of heaven. Yet this post I found was much broader in its attacks on Jesus and the New Testament message.

By the way, I did search your topics list to see if you addressed this issue, and your article to a Finland reader ( was very helpful. I do not ask that you repeat your responses from that article, but only I wish that you would answer some of the other arguments mentioned in the blog post that has been bothering me, which is below (I apologize for the length of this post -- but I'm truly troubled by it):



PART FIVE ==================== (see Part One for series header)



Is there a clear pattern of successive watering down of Jesus' prediction of the eschaton within the generation of His disciples? (Specifically under the assumption of the priority of Mark)?


We have already cited one assessment that points out that no pattern of linear development can be demonstrated.


"A closer look at the developments and concepts in early Jewish eschatology field can prevent from following some of the inadequate and simplifying categories developed in the history of New Testament research. From the perspective of Jewish texts, not only the divide between future-orientation and present-orientation or between eschatology and apocalyptic appear rather inappropriate but also the argument that apparently conflicting eschatologies point to different groups or authors is considerably weakened in view of the fact that early Jewish compositions (such as the Enochic texts) or even more larger corpora (such as the 'sectarian' writings from Qumran or the Qumran library as a whole) can combine quite different eschatological views without any hint that they might be incompatible. ... Any concept of linear development in early Christian thought, e.g. from Jewish towards Gentile or Hellenistic concepts, from a short-term future-orientation to present-oriented or timeless concepts or from apocalyptic to non-apocalyptic viewpoints appears too uniform and simplistic and cannot be maintained in view of the variety of the material. Such concepts were too often conjectured from modern ideas of history or from dogmatic viewpoints and particular hermeneutical interests, and are better avoided in historical research." [HI:ENTSRD, 28]


Allison, who accepts/defends the 'failed apocalyptic prophet' position (similar to the blogger's) also notes that that data is ambiguous--that one can see both  'more apocalyptic' and a 'less apocalyptic' trends in the data of the NT and early church. In this passage, he describes these:


"This makes it easy to imagine that, as time moved on, there was a "momentous influx of apocalyptic ideas," and that Jesus was, in the words of my teacher W. D. Davies, "increasingly draped in an apocalyptic mantle and specifically Jewish expectations developed in the Church in a form highly enhanced from that which they had assumed in Jesus' own teaching." Does not critical study of the canonical Gospels offer the proof? Whatever one makes of the thesis that Q2 added apocalyptic materials to Q1, there is, on the postulate of Markan priority, no doubt that Matthew at least enlarged the number of sayings in which Jesus refers to the final judgment. According to John A. T. Robinson, "the Synoptists witness to a progressive apocalypticization of the message of Jesus ... as the Gospel of Matthew most forcibly illustrates." ...  All this, however, makes for a one-sided story. Early Christianity also moved in the opposite direction. Paul's Naherwartung is most intense in 1 Thessalonians, his earliest extant letter, less intense in the later Paulines and in the epistles that his circle produced (e.g., Ephesians and Titus). Again, Luke 9:27 drops "with power" from Mark 9:1 ("There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power") and thereby makes it easier to find fulfillment in something this side of the parousia, while Luke 22:69 turns the prophecy of the parousia in Mark 14:62 ('"You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,' and 'coming with the clouds of heaven'") into a statement about Jesus' enthronement ("From now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God"). And John's Gospel, probably composed after the Synoptics, contains fewer apocalyptic materials than they and uses (kingdom of God/heaven) a scant two times. For reasons such as these, a few have inverted the conclusion of Streeter, von Dobschiitz, and the rest: apocalyptic passion declined over the decades. According to Paula Fredriksen, for instance, "the later the writing, the lower its level of commitment to an imminent Apocalypse; the earlier the writing (i.e., Mark and, before him, Paul) the higher." Bultmann even proposed that Jesus "was probably far more an eschatological prophet than is apparent from the tradition."  ... The truth is that, concerning early Christianity, plotting a one-way eschatological development traverses the facts. A graph would not display a single vector pointing in a single direction. While eschatological enthusiasm was waning in one place, it was waxing in another; there was no unilinear rise or decline." [NT:CJ, 142,143]


Okay, let's look at the NT data. (Since there are separate questions for the epistles and the Gospel of John, we will only treat the Synoptic material in this installment.)


First, we will look at the 'timing' passages we surveyed in Part One, to summarize any 'trends' in the synoptics.


The obvious place to start is with the passages/texts shared by all three of the Synoptics. We will look at them side-by-side to see if we can see any clear WD (Watering Down). This will not be decisively, necessarily, because authorial intent/selection can easily explain any omissions or emphases, but if we do not have any MAJOR changes in content, then the WD-hypothesis is certainly weakened.


Let's start the (possible) timing passages from MR, and the relevant parallels in MT/LK (table in compareSYN3.html).


Mark's Wording

Timing Implication

Matthew's wording

Luke's Wording



time is fulfilled;

KoG has come near

But Return/End is still future?

KoH has come near

[no parallel to this first preaching of Jesus, but 'KoG is near' phrase is in the Sending of the 70 (Lk 10). "Fulfilled" motif is closest in the Jubilee-is-fulfilled passage in Lk 4.]

MR and MT both have K-has-come-near, but only MR uses the 'fulfilled' word.

No evidence of WD

stand before governors and kings;

gospel to all nations



No end until gospel preached everywhere

stand before gov/kings

MT makes MR's 'to all nations first' explicit (no end until…); but LK drops the 'open ending'--could have used this, if WD was intended

No evidence of WD

wherever gospel preached in the whole world


wherever gospel preached in the whole world

wherever gospel preached in the whole world

This passage must have been written down in ANTICIPATION of a world-wide proclamation of the gospel, to obey the Master!

No evidence of WD

you don’t know when the master will come; evening, midnight, cockcrow or dawn

No signs before Return

do not know on what day your Lord is coming… for you know neither the day nor hour

If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn…

MT doesn’t have the night reference (is closer to Jesus' statement), but LK does

No evidence of WD

great signs/False messiahs

Signs before Return

great signs/False messiahs

(cf looking for the Son of Man,? Lk 17.22ff)?

Messiah image linked to SoM.

No clear WD-ing (from MR to MT), and LK and MT share the 'false Son of Man appearance' passage

when you see these things, know he is near

Signs before Return

when you see these things, know he is near

when you see these things, know the KoG is near

MT=MR, LK changes 'he' to 'KoG', but KoG is still eschat in this passage (like in the 'some thought the KoG was to appear immediately' passage).

No evidence of WD

end is still to come, but the beginning of birth pangs

Signs do not mean immediately--only a start

end is not yet, but the beginning of birth pangs

end is not yet, many will say 'end is near', but not happen immediately

No real change, but LK adds 'time is near' to claims of false messiahs, and drops the birth pangs image (replaced by 'not immediately'). Lk adds 'insurrections' to the list, suggesting the Messianic claimants issue is in his mind--perhaps explaining the 'time is near' remark) too.

No evidence of WD

after that suffering, astral dims, then see SoM coming in clouds

Signs/suffering before Return

immediately after the suffering; astral dims, then SoM appears

astral signs, after distress/fainting, then they will see SoM coming in a cloud; when they begin to take place, then your redemption is drawing near

LK is closer to MR wording than is MT

No evidence of WD

this generation not pass till all takes place; no one knows the hour!


this generation not pass till all takes place, no one knows the hour

this generation not pass till all takes place

LK drops the 'Son does not know the time' (although he has 'no one knows' in other passages). If there was a 'delay issue' this early, this would have been a PERFECT place to leave the remark in, and perhaps amplify it (as some assert that he did with the 'some thought' passage).

No evidence of WD

when, then flee; variable (pray); sake of elect days will be cut short


when, then flee; variable (pray); sake of elect days will be cut short

when/then flee; trampled by Gentiles until the time of the Gentiles are fulfilled

MT=MR; LK adds TIME OF GENTILES (from Is 2.2f/Mic 4.1f, and Paul, Rom 11.25) and wrath against THIS PEOPLE; drops 'cut short for elect' terminology.

Unclear. Luke's 'until times of Gentiles' may relate to the 'days cut short' of MT/MR, or to the 'gospel to all nations' present in MR/MT already. So, there is no clear WD moves in here.


So, in the shared (possible) 'timing passages', there is no clear evidence whatsoever of WD ('watering down'). The 'strong' passages stay 'strong', and there is no apparent shift in the time horizons between the gospels.


Next, let's consider the possible non-Markan 'timing' passages in MT and LK.


For the passages shared between MT and LK (but not in MR) we will ask if they represent a 'group' WD move (away from MR), and if they reveal an even-later-Luke WD move (away from a MT-later-than-MR). The WD-hypothesis would suggest that both might occur.


Then, we will look at the possible 'timing' passages unique to MT and unique to LK and see if they reveal any WD movements in the same directions.


According to my rough table (see compareSYNMTLK.html), there are 5 possible timing passages shared by MT and LK which do not show up in MR, 4 passages unique to MT, and 5 passages unique to LK. Here are the comparisons and comments:


Matthew's Wording

Luke's Wording

Timing Implication



all blood of prophets upon that generation

this generation be charged with the blood of all


insignificant wording change; looks mostly in synch with the other 'this generation judgment' passages in ALL3

no evidence for WD from MR or between MT-LK

make disciples of all nations; I am with you to end of the age

repentance /FOS proclaimed to all nations


Both in synch with MR's worldwide mission themes; MT has both present (I am with you) and future (to end of age) elements!; LK is more summarized.

no evidence for WD from MR or between MT-LK

gospel to the gentiles (wedding banquet)

we ate and drank with you (Gentiles before Jews)


Theme of Gentile receiving benefits because of unfaithful Israel shows up elsewhere--Parable of the Wicked Tenants (ALL3), and Romans 9-11.

no evidence for WD from MR or between MT-LK

you will not see me again, until you say Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord

how often I would--but you would not; not see me until the time comes when you say Blessed is the one


Same wording; connected to judgment upon Jerusalem/leadership--as in the MR apocalypse which follows this text; predicts that Israel will accept Jesus in Future, prior to Return. See Discussion Point 1

no WD from MT to LK;  acceptance of Jesus is foretold in OT and reiterated by Paul in Romans 9-11; no real evidence of WD from MR.

My master is delayed and bad conduct; unexpected hour

unexpected; if says "master is delayed"

Long-time / Delay

The MR version of this is abbreviated (13.33ff), but suggests that the absence of the house owner is prolonged, as is MR's version of the Parable of the Tenants (12.1-12). See Discussion Point 2.

No clear evidence of WD. The word 'delay' itself would not indicate much.

not break bruised reed until He brings justice to victory (Isaiah)




no evidence for WD from MR or between MT-LK

not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes


Earlier than 'end of generation'?!

(discussed elsewhere--would prove 'too much' at face value --smile)

evidence AGAINST WD from MR to MT

I will build my church



Omitted by LK suggests that this is about authorial selection, and not about WD.

no evidence for WD from MR or between MT-LK

many did works of power in My name



Generally fits with 'signs of false messiahs' in MR and LK

no evidence for WD from MR or between MT-LK


you will long to see one of the days of the SoM but will not


fits generally with 'endurance during suffering until the Return in Power' theme in MR/MT

no evidence for WD from MR or between MT-LK


asked for timing, got none


Polemical context with Pharisees; pointed to King instead of timing

no evidence for WD from MR or between MT-LK


today you will be in paradise; remember me when you come into your kingdom


the connection between K and paradise is unclear in the passage

no evidence for WD from MR or between MT-LK


if you had recognized the time of your visitation from God


This is the same theme as the dual-coming of Elijah in ALL3; and the 'not until you say Blessed' passages in MT/LK. See Discussion Point 3.

no evidence for WD from MR or between MT-LK


because they thought the KoG was to appear immediately


this is an introductory statement to the parable of Talents, with the generic parallel to MT 25.14ff. It actually doesn’t say anything about specific TIMING -- only that somebody believed the KoG was to appear immediately. See Discussion Point 4.

no actual evidence that LK watered down anything, since the core parable is the same as MT's and is similar to MR 13.34f.





Again, there is no clear evidence of any WD movement here, and most of the passages either imply a long-time or are ambiguous. There are 4 of these passages which I want to comment on further (the Discussion Point references above):


Discussion Point 1. Jesus' reference to Jerusalem 'not seeing' Him again, until they say "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord" (both in MT and LK), is directed at the leadership who rejected their King. Before this saying, the common people had already greeted Him at His entry into Jerusalem with this saying [Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord] and with variants [e.g., Hosanna to the Son of David, Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David, Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord]  in MT 21; MR 11; LK 19, and the children in the temple area with one of the same variants [Hosanna to the Son of David] in MT 21.15. But the leadership was not included, and they explicitly repudiated the children's acclamation in MT 21.15-16. Also, that this is directed against the leadership only--that THEY would not see Jesus again until THEY uttered that statement of celebration and praise---can be seen from Jesus' lament over Jerusalem. It was the leadership that 'would not' let the Lord gather 'the children' under His wings.


But the passage does assume that the leadership would someday in the future accept their Messiah, even though how far away that 'someday' would be is not hinted at in our text. Paul, in Romans 9-11, affirms the same thing, but does not give any speculation as to when (he is writing in the late 50's). In the context of Jesus statement--and His eschatological statements--we would assume that this particular 'generation' of leadership would NOT be the ones who reversed course. They would see the judgment upon their regime, in the devastation of Jerusalem by the Romans.


Accordingly, this passage only echoes the teachings of imminent-but-avoidable judgment, advanced by the OT prophets, John the Baptist, and the early messages of Jesus. No watering-down at all.


Discussion Point 2. This 'delay' reference is only making explicit what is already in other terminology in MR (e.g., the 'long trip' reference in MR 13.34, apodemos-- away from one's country, abroad, LSJ; occurs once in Josephus Ant 2.165 referring to migration of Jacob's family to Egypt).


Many consider the MR passage itself to be an abbreviated form of these two passages:


"The parable of the man who goes on a journey is reminiscent of the longer parable in Matt 24:45–51 or in Luke 12:35–40 and may even be an abbreviated form of one of them (abbreviated either by the evangelist or by Jesus himself)." [Evans, C. A. (2001). Vol. 34B: Mark 8:27–16:20. Word Biblical Commentary (340–341). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]


"The similitude in 13:34 is an incomplete sentence, and we must provide something like “It is” to make “like a man …” into a complete sentence. It has been suggested that the parable (or similitude) may be a Markan version of Luke’s parable of the watchful servants (12:36–40), the parable of the pounds (19:12–27/ Matt. 25:14–30), or the parable of the wise and foolish servants (Matt. 24:45–51; Bultmann 1968: 119; Lambrecht 1967: 249–51; Hooker 1991: 323–24; Evans 2001: 340–41)." [Stein, R. H. (2008). Mark. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (624). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]


We have already discussed the issue of 'delay' in the biblical corpus in an earlier installment of this series. [Cf: "Considering the way in which so many parables are used in Matthew, it is likely that in its original context the story may have been used to illustrate the OT lessons and warnings about Israel’s use and misuse of her calling by God." [Albright, W. F., & Mann, C. S. (2008). Vol. 26: Matthew: Introduction, translation, and notes. Anchor Yale Bible (301). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.]


Discussion Point 3. This LK passage is basically the same theme of the 'two arrivals--one unrecognized and rejected, one enforced', seen in ALL3 of the Synoptics. This was originally revealed by Jesus about John the Baptist in the post-Transfiguration passages of Mark 9.9ff and MT 17.10ff:


And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 12 And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him. (Mk 9:11–13).


And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. (Mt 17:10–13).


Luke omits this specific discussion about the Elijah-John rejection (although the identification in LK is present), but the non-recognition and non-acceptance motif is in continuity with MT and MR.


The reference in MR to 'as is written of him' is generally taken to be a reference to Malachi 4.4-5, which sets out the ministry of the future Elijah figure, and the possibility that Israel will not respond positively to his ministry:



"Mal. 4:4–5 in Context. The overall structure and themes of Malachi and many of the key issues relating to Elijah were dealt with earlier (...). In summary, Mal. 4:4–6 forms a kind of double appendix to the book. The appeal to Moses looks back to remind the nation that it is still under the law, thus linking the prophets to the ancient tradition, and the reference to Elijah, by looking forward, anticipates Yahweh’s future return (Childs 1978; Petersen 1995: 232–33). --- Elijah (cf. the LXX’s ton Thesbitēn), widely understood to be an identification of the (covenant) messenger of 3:1, is to prepare the nation for “the great and terrible day of the LORD.” The expression is found in Joel 2:11, 31 and reflects a similar interest in postexilic writings (cf., e.g., the parallel expressions in Zech. 2:11; 3:9; 9:16; 14:1, 4; see A. E. Hill 1998: 376). In Mal. 1:14, in response to being dishonored by a cheating Israel’s defective offerings, outraged Yahweh describes himself as “great” and “terrible,” setting the threatening tenor for the rest of the book (e.g., 2:3, 9; 3:2, 5; 4:1, 3). --- Elijah’s task—“to turn [šwb] the hearts of the parents to their children” and vice versa—though sometimes taken to mean righting the family dislocations of 2:10–16, seems best understood in the light of the immediately preceding reference to Moses as the restoration of the postexilic faithless generation to the covenant loyalty of the ancient forefathers (Verhoef 1987: 342; A. E. Hill 1998: 387–88; cf. Jer. 6:16’s exhortation to return to the ancient paths, and Isa. 63:16, where “Abraham does not know us”), which was a primary concern behind the fifth commandment (Phillips 1970: 81). --- The whole work finishes on a disturbing note: the possibility that Elijah will not succeed, that Israel will not return to true obedience of Torah, and consequently that Yahweh will “strike the land with a curse” (4:6). In light of the covenant language throughout (e.g., 2:4–5, 10; 3:1) and the proximity of a reference to the statutes of Moses, the verb nākāh (“strike”) recalls the exodus (Exod. 3:20; 9:15; 12:12) and the Deuteronomic curses (Deut. 28:22, 27, 28, 35) (see A. E. Hill 1998: 389)—the same word is used of the servant’s wounds as he bears exiled Israel’s covenant curses (Isa. 53:4). In combination with ʾereṣ it includes not just the land, but especially the people (Isa. 11:4; Jer. 43:11; cf. Judg. 19:30; Isa. 66:8). The noun ḥērem likewise recalls the stipulations of Deuteronomy (e.g., 20:17 [ḥāram]), suggesting that if Israel continues to behave like the surrounding nations, it will come under the same exterminating judgment (e.g., Isa. 34:2; cf. 66:24). --- On this basis, pen (“lest”) does not refer to whether Yahweh will come—that much is certain. The only question is Israel’s fate when he does, and that depends entirely on their response to Elijah (Verhoef 1987: 343–45; A. E. Hill 1998: 390)." [Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. (2007). Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (188–189). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos.]


So, this passage (in LK) only shows the variable nature of the judgment-aspects of the Eschaton. It certainly does not reduce it to an 100%-present or 100% future understanding.


Discussion Point 4. This passage is the clearest statement we have that at least somebody believed that (some version of) the Kingdom of God was about to appear--probably at the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem for that Passover. And, although the wording is not explicit, most commentators understand Jesus to be correcting that belief as mistaken. This is not surprising, of course:


·         There had been several messianic claimants --with substantial followings--before Jesus even arrived;

·         The Qumran community provides evidence that some believed the Kingdom would break into history (before Jesus even arrived on the historical scene);

·         The crowds seemed to have their own 'agenda' for His kingship (John 6.15)--apart from His teaching (a la the Zealots--which was before Jesus even arrived on the historical scene);

·         His teaching that the KoG/KoH was already 'there' (in the inaugurated, in-the-King sense) was clear;

·         His signs and miracles were evidence of the in-breaking of God;

·         His own disciples seemed to misunderstand Jesus' teaching about the suffering Messiah consistently--even though He had corrected them multiple times already.


In other words,


1.      The belief that the full, political, upheaval, military, nationalist Kingdom was 'any day now' was a popular expectation that 'Jesus walked INTO' and tried to distance Himself from.

2.      The fact that some people held this view does NOT mean that Jesus was the source of that view (!)

3.      The attempts that He made to 'purge' His TRUE eschatology of these elements (eg, victory without suffering, honor without pre-humility, the devil's 'short cut' offer of world rulership) while still maintaining the prophetic eschatology and quasi-apocalypticism of the Hebrew Bible show the need for such 'correction'.


Let's see some of the discussions of these points in the secondary literature:


"The importance of the proximity of Jerusalem comes from its historic role as throne city, from the time when David took it as his royal city to reign over the united tribes of Israel (1 Sam 5). More recently Herod the Great had taken Jerusalem by force to impose his rule upon the Jewish nation (with particular support from Jericho on the eve of his advance upon Jerusalem [Josephus, War 1.335–60; Ant. 14.459–91 (his successor Archelaus seems to have been able to take up his rule without force, but only because his Roman associates had already put down a series of uprisings [War 2.1–112; Ant. 17.20–344])]). I have argued elsewhere (“Luke’s Readers,” 129–240, esp. 144–203), especially in connection with Acts 6:13–14, that Luke is sensitive to a polemical castigation of Christianity as an insurrectionist movement, hostile to the existing Jerusalem religious structures (cf. the Qumran attitudes to Jerusalem and their expectations of the eschatological fate of the “wicked” regime in power there). In this context, the prospect of the immediate coming of the kingdom of God in Jerusalem takes on the coloring of a military takeover by Jesus at the head of a fanatical band of followers. All of Luke’s account to follow is at one level a careful distancing of Jesus from any such possibility. Apart from this specific focus, however, the concern here is to insist that the execution, rather than royal instatement, that awaited Jesus in Jerusalem represented no failure but a stage in the implementation of God’s purposes for the consummation of the kingdom. --- (The standard view, that the parable seeks to explain the delay of the Parousia, does no justice at all to the link between the expectation of immediacy and the arrival of the historical Jesus in Jerusalem)" [Nolland, J. (1998). Vol. 35C: Luke 18:35–24:53. Word Biblical Commentary (913). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]


"They intended to come and make him king by force (John 6:15). The present incident is reminiscent of the Zealots, a militant movement that found in Galilee fertile soil for its nationalistic brand of Judaism." [Arnold, C. E. (2002). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Volume 2: John, Acts. (66). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.]


"The final days in Jesus’ earthly ministry were looming on the horizon, and, as he approached Jerusalem, Jesus was concerned with teaching the people some important lessons about last things. This was necessary because many incorrect ideas were circulating, and Jesus wanted “to correct the [false] impression that the Kingdom of God would begin right away” (19:11). He had an attentive audience, and the occasion was right to share such timely instruction." [Trites, A. A., & William J. Larkin. (2006). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 12: The Gospel of Luke and Acts (255). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]


"If Jesus were the Messiah, proclaiming the kingdom and saying things like salvation was “today” (19:9), Jewish hearers would naturally expect the kingdom right away (Acts 1:6). The most common expectation of the kingdom would include the subjugation of Rome and other Gentiles." [Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Lk 19:11). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]


"While those present in the home of Zacchaeus were listening to Jesus describing himself as the One who had come to seek and to save the lost, he proceeded to tell a parable. He did this in order to correct certain harmful ideas that were being spread; especially the notion that now the kingdom of God was immediately going to appear, the kingdom of outward, earthly, Jewish splendor. --- That the people in general were constantly looking for such a kingdom is clear from John 6:15. That even the minds of The Twelve continued for a long time to be filled with such expectations can be learned from Mark 10:35–45 (the request of the sons of Zebedee) and Acts 1:6. --- It was especially the Passover Festival, with its many reminders of the glorious deliverance from Egypt, that fanned the embers of the revolutionary spirit. Moreover, the closer these pilgrims drew to Jerusalem, from which leadership in any such upheaval was expected, the more also the hope of instant deliverance rose. And now that they had arrived at Jericho, Jerusalem was just around the corner. The distance from Jericho to Jerusalem was only 27 kilometers (17 miles); in fact, only 24 kilometers (15 miles) when Bethany is figured in with Jerusalem, as is sometimes done." [Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953-2001). Vol. 11: Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke. New Testament Commentary (858–859). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.]


"It denigrates focus on “overrealized eschatology” (19:11). The parable assumes an interim between the two phases of Jesus’ earthly career. The disciples’ responsibility in this interim is to faithfully serve the absent king by making use of the gifts and responsibilities he has given. The idea of a delay was hard for the disciples to understand, given their firm conviction that Jesus would set up his kingdom immediately. As late as Acts 1:6 they still held out hope for an instant full kingdom, although by Acts 3:20–21 that view had been tempered by reflection." --- The reason for the teaching is twofold: Jesus and the disciples are drawing near to Jerusalem and the disciples’ have false expectations about the consummation of the kingdom. --- The reference to the consummation’s delay is interesting since Luke elsewhere notes the kingdom’s presence or nearness (11:20; 17:21). This unique remark shows that Luke has a two-stage view of the kingdom: it arrives now but comes in fullness later (Nolland 1993b: 913). The full earthly kingdom to appear in Jerusalem—an idea common in Judaism (Tg. Isa. 31:4–5; SB 2:300)—is what the disciples always expected. They continually struggled, however, to comprehend these two stages. Luke 9:45 and 18:34 show their struggle to understand Jesus’ departure. Acts 1:6 shows that the earthly kingdom is still on their minds even after receiving exposition from Jesus, while Acts 2:38–40 and 3:16–21 show how they finally put the two phases together. Jesus wants the disciples to understand that Jerusalem is about to be the place of passion, not parousia. In addition, the disciples need to sense their responsibility in the interim period. Rejection like that demonstrated throughout the Jerusalem journey requires that the plan come in two stages (Danker 1988: 307). Rejection also requires that the disciples be prepared to serve faithfully until the king returns, as the following parable will teach." [Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke Volume 2: 9:51–24:53. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (1531). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]


"He was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. That this reason for the parable stems from Luke’s pen is evident, but this does not mean that he created this from nothing in order to answer the question about the delay of the parousia in his own day. Several passages suggest that the disciples might have been led to think the consummation of the kingdom was imminent. [footnote: Cf. Luke 9:27; 21:32; 24:21; note also the request of James and John with regard to the kingdom (Mark 10:37) to which one should not add “after we die,” Matt 10:23.] The same expectation is encountered in Acts 1:6. Such expectation among the disciples was perhaps further heightened as Jesus approached his final destination—Jerusalem. If this is true, then Jesus’ parable, which was intended to teach that there would be a time of stewardship between the present time, i.e., the time of Jesus’ ministry, and the end, was used by Luke to teach his readers that Jesus himself taught a “delay” in the consummation. The term “people” indicates that Luke had the same audience in mind as referred to in 19:7. “To appear” refers to the appearance of the kingdom in its consummated form. At that time the “thou petitions” of the Lord’s Prayer (11:2–3) would find their fulfillment." [Stein, R. H. (1992). Vol. 24: Luke. The New American Commentary (472). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.]


The “they [who] supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately” of whom Luke speaks in v 11 can only refer ambiguously to the crowds who were following Jesus and who had gathered to see him in Jericho. His disciples are included, as are others. According to recent events, the identification of disciples in Jesus’ audience is particularly apropos, since Jesus had anticipated that they would be concerned with seeing the coming of the kingdom (17:20–37) and because of their ongoing miscomprehensions regarding the nature of the events awaiting Jesus in Jerusalem (18:31–34)." [Green, J. B. (1997). The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (677–678). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.]


"Some other first-century leaders gathered large followings in the wilderness who believed that they could perform signs like Moses or Joshua and overthrow the Romans. The crowds wanted a worker of earthly miracles and an earthly leader like Moses (some Jewish traditions—Philo, the rabbis, etc.—viewed Moses as a king; cf. Deut 33:4–5)" [Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Jn 6:15). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]


"John 6:15 force him to be their king. Many scholars have seen John’s portrayal of the feeding of the 5,000 as an independent story with many fictional elements, such as naming Philip and Andrew and especially including the final scene where the people try to make Jesus the conquering king. The Synoptics move directly into the walking on the water scene, after Jesus dismisses the disciples and the crowds and goes off by himself to pray (Mark 6:44–46 and parallels). However, these details are not mutually exclusive. When Jesus sent the crowds home, it is easy to surmise that a group of nationalists refused to go and demanded that Jesus begin the messianic rebellion. Also, the messianic fervor can be seen in Mark’s picture of the people’s and Herod’s reactions, wondering if Jesus might be Elijah or the Baptist returned from the dead (Mark 6:14–16). The accounts can be harmonized and do not contradict one another (cf. Bernard, Morris, Carson). Blomberg (2001:120; so also Pryor 1992:31) takes this scene as a sign of historicity: “It fits the rising nationalistic fervor of first-century Israel, cuts against the grain of Johannine redaction in treating Jesus as a merely political king, and embarrassingly portrays Jesus as having to run away from the crowds, as it were.”" [Osborne, G., & Philip W. Comfort. (2007). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 13: John and 1, 2, and 3 John (91–92). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]



So, Jesus' words at the beginning of the Lucan parable (similar to the one in MT and containing some elements in common with the corresponding one in MR 13) fit with all we know about Jesus (from ALL3 Synoptics) trying to correct mistaken understandings of His messiahship and the in-breaking of the promised kingdom.


There is no evidence here for watering down (or of Jesus being the source for such a position).


Now, I have just zeroed in on the passages which are often assumed to have 'timing' implications, but there are many more passages which would be considered 'eschatological' (or even 'apocalyptic') without clear timing references.


To play it safe, we should look at these passages to see if there was any watering down in the language or images. In other words, if the imagery in MR is much more 'vivid' or 'violent' than that in MT and/or LK, then this might count as evidence for WD. It would not be STRONG evidence, though, because authorial purpose could easily account for such features.


For example, Luke often seems to translate or summarize Jewish 'insider' references to more generic versions, suitable for his gentile readers:


"In all likelihood, Luke’s readers were Gentile Christians. This is seen principally in Luke’s omission of items that would be chiefly of interest to Jews and in his avoidance of terminology that presupposes knowledge of Hebrew and/or Aramaic. (That is not to say, however, that Luke’s writing style betrays no Semitic influence; see below.) .--- Of all the Gospels, Luke’s literary style comes closest to the style of the ancient Greek classical writers. The most obvious example of this style occurs in the opening four verses of his Gospel, known as the Prologue (or Preface, see commentary on 1:1–4 below). However, another important feature in Luke’s writing style is his frequent use of the vocabulary of the LXX. Semitic features often appear because Luke found them in his sources; but many times Luke consciously and deliberately utilizes the language and vocabulary of the LXX in order to present his account in what may be called “biblical Greek.” For example, Luke describes Jesus in 9:51 as having “set his face to go to Jerusalem,” an expression which is probably meant to recall the prophet Ezekiel whom God commanded: “Son of man, set your face toward Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuaries; prophesy against the land of Israel” (Ezek. 21:2, RSV)." [Evans, C. A. (1990). Luke. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series (3, 5-6). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.]


"Luke attempts to improve on Mark’s rough language. Mark’s inelegant formulation, “and his disciples began to make their way, plucking ears of grain” (καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἤρξαντο ὁδὸν ποιεῖν τίλλοντες τοὺς στάχυας, Mark 2:23), is rewritten by Luke: “his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands” (καὶ ἔτιλλον οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἤσθιον τοὺς στάχυας ψώχοντες ταῖς χερσίν, Luke 6:1). Luke refuses to describe as a “sea” (Mark 1:16–20*; 4:1–2) that which is only a lake (Luke 5:1–2). Whatever sounds vulgar to the educated, or irritates Christian sensibilities, Luke replaces. With sexual vocabulary, as well, Luke exercises restraint, at the cost of an occasional loss of spontaneity and vividness: he deletes the word σπέρμα, “seed,” as a term for progeny (20:29; cf. Mark 12:20), and does not risk the term πορνεία (“sexual sin”). Prudishly, he calls a prostitute “a sinful woman in the city” (7:37). --- The question of the occurrence of Semitisms is a difficult one. On the one hand, Luke avoids many of the Semitisms from his source, Mark. On the other hand, Luke prefers a Semitic, or rather, biblical, tone in his narrative and employs Semitisms whenever he finds them tolerable, that is, when they appear legitimized by the usage of the LXX. The numerous sayings of Jesus, which Luke does not want to touch, also limit his modifications. Luke is in a situation similar to that of people in advertising today, who must sacrifice some of their favorite slogans for the sake of general comprehensibility." [Bovon, F., & Koester, H. (2002). Luke 1: A commentary on the Gospel of Luke 1:1–9:50. Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (4–5). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.]



"One need only consider Luke’s wording and reformulation of the Marcan material to become aware of his concern to improve its Greek style. Years ago, J. C. Hawkins said of both Matthew and Luke that “to a large extent they clothed the narratives, and to some extent they clothed the sayings, which they derived from those sources, in their own favourite language” (Horae synopticae [2d ed.; Oxford: Clarendon, 1909] 26). Though it is not easy to show it, the same seems to be true of Luke’s use of the “Q” material. However, one also notes in the Lucan writing a concern not to change the wording too radically, for he has not simply recast the inherited material into a wholly different idiom. Luke’s reformulation is usually the improvement of as much of the Marcan wording as his sense of good Greek demanded. --- Some of the ways in which Luke has improved the Greek of his sources may be noted here. Part of the improvement is the result of the use of fewer Semitisms, and part of it the use of more resources of the Greek language. These can be seen in the following ways." [Fitzmyer, J. A. (2008). Vol. 28: The Gospel according to Luke I–IX: Introduction, translation, and notes. Anchor Yale Bible (107). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.]


(We will see this selection-issue in our discussion of John' gospel also.)


Okay, I built the chart/table of 60+ passages in the Synoptics which have some kind of phrasing that seems either (1) future-eschatologically oriented; (2) Kingdom-themed; or (3) indicative of 'realized' or 'inaugurated' eschatology. (see compareNONTIMING.html).


These categories are not exclusive, obviously, because a parable that had a future judgment image, a reference to the KoG/KoH, and used an organic-growth model for some element in the parable, would show up in all three columns/categories.


I cannot go through these individually (although we have already discussed many of these in prior sections of this series). But I will point out some highlights (referring in most cases to the Item number in the first column. The H.Seq numbers are still the index numbers to Throckmorton, as usual):


·         The ratios of future-eschat to realized/inauguration-eschat [the bottom row in the table] are very close for the three gospels. MT has 29:15 (about 2:1), MR has 11:5 (about 2.3:1), and LK has 22:10 (about 2.2:1). This would suggest that there is no large-scale watering down (ie., moving from future to realized/inaugurated) from MR to MT/LK or MT to LK.


·         Item 1 (a house divided): MT is decidedly more apocalyptic than MR. MT has reference to 'two ages', and the Kingdom of God--MR does not. Even LK is slightly more apocalyptic than MR, referring to 'enemy kingdoms'.


·         Item 4 (Gadarene/Gerasene demoniac): MT is slightly more apocky than MR, by including a reference to an appointed future time of punishment/torment for the demons.


·         Item 5 (blessing the little children): ALL3 have the same reference to 'entering the K'--no change in eschat-view between them.


·         Item 9 (resurrection arg with Sadducees): LK is slightly more apocky than the others, by connecting the resurrection with an 'age'.


·         Item 11 (interpretation of the parable of the Sower): MT is slightly more eschat-ish than MR, since MT adds the 'kingdom' terminology to the wording. Note: although this is an organic image, it is not evidence for a realized/inaugurated eschatology, since it is applied only to individuals in this passage. In other words, it is not the KoG that is 'growing' (in this case), but the gospel message which is affecting the life of the individual hearer.


·         Item 14 (parable of the mustard seed): Unlike the parable of the Sower, this story DOES support an inaugurated eschatology. ALL3 display this organic-growth model of the kingdom (as opposed to some apocalyptic version of that kingdom). This shows that the realized/inaugurated model was present from the very beginning (in MR) and not some convenience PR campaign of 'damage control'.


·         Item 20 (Jesus the cause of division): This is where LK reports that Jesus came to bring 'fire' (of division) upon the earth. It hearkens back to JtB's description of Jesus as the One who will baptize in the Holy Spirit and in fire. In the JtB statement, MT and LK are slightly more apocky that MR (who omits the 'fire' reference). LK is slightly more apocky than MT because he includes the 'fire' reference in addition to the 'sword' (of division) reference. The trend is opposite what the hypothesis would predict.


·         Item 26 (on temptations): MR's wording shows that KoG is an equivalent term to 'eschatological life', and that both are opposite to hell. We might argue that MR was more apocky than MT because only MR has the KoG terminology, but this conclusion would be refuted by the shared 'hell' imagery (obviously apocky) and the overlapping of the 'life' terminology (which is eschat-life in this passage).


·         Item 29 (on Elijah's two comings): We already discussed this theme, that it showed that MR and MT had the same dual-appearances motif for JtB. This argues that the 'delay' (or gap?) between the first appearance of the messianic pair (JtB, Messiah) and their second appearance was early in the tradition, and not some later addition to 'explain away' the early tradition. This is contrary to the hypothesis as well.


·         Item 31 (Suddenness of the coming of the Son of Man, flood image): Both LK and MT have the same image (no WD between them). MR has passages on 'suddenness' but not one on the Flood/Noah. The destruction of the Flood is called 'sudden' in MT/LK, but the lead time was fairly long. According to tradition, Noah warned that generation for over a century, and later Judaism had that generation stretch all the way back to Gen 6 (as we saw in our discussion of 'generation'). This long period is also mentioned in 2 Peter. The apocky character is obvious from the catastrophe images of 'flood', 'sudden', 'destruction', and 'not expected'. So, there might be a DD ('distilling down' into something MORE apocky), but nothing WD ('watering down' to something LESS apocky).


·         Item 36 (interpretation of the parable of the weeds): This passage is in MT only but is a perfect example of a mix of future-eschat and inaugurated-eschat. The story has two warring kingdoms side-by-side (very apocky), both are present now (realized), and both are still growing organically (inaugurated). There is a harvest and angels (very apocky). This would certainly not be a watering-down of anything in MR.


·         Multiple items of future rewards: the directive to do good deeds/prayer in 'secret' is linked to future rewards from the Father. Although this could refer to simple post-mortem rewards in heaven, it is just as natural to see them as referring to rewards in the eschatological KoG. This theme is echoed in MR and LK at various places, so it is neither a watering down nor a heightening of an eschatological theme.


·         Item 43 (on reproving another believer): This passage ('there I am in the midst of them') sounds a little like the 'invisible presence' of the Great Commission in Mt 28, but it is too ambiguous for our purposes here. It cannot be safely assumed to support a realized or inaugurated eschatology (IMO).


·         Item 46 (seed growing secretly): This parable is only in MR and is an organic (inaugurated) model, and even has the almost anti-apocky notion of 'growing accidentally'. This passage -- not repeated in MT or LK--provides some strong support against the hypothesis.


·         Item 55 (the Lawyer's question): This passage has similarities to the question of the greatest commandment passages in MT/MR, but is framed with a question about 'eternal life'. That the term 'eternal life' does not indicate a WD move, should be obvious from the use of the term in the Rich Young Man passage in MT/MR/LK-where he asks the same question about 'inheriting eternal life'. This clearly shows that eternal life is not a 'late development' within the gospel tradition, contrary to the hypothesis.


·         Item 57 (the return of the 70): this passage is unique to LK, and has Jesus saying that He 'saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven'. Although this is very apocky-sounding, it is unclear whether it is eschatological in intent. It could simply be a metaphorical statement, or a visionary statement of the temporary thwarting of Satan's accusatory activities before God (relative to the people whose lives were touched by the mission of the 70). We don't really know the scope of reference, since the Adversary will still be active and 'in power' (this is your hour) until after the Cross.  So, I do not think this text can be used in our discussion at all.

Okay, so where does this leave us?


1.      The possible timing passages provide no evidence in favor of watering-down.

2.      The eschatological passages provide no evidence in favor of watering-down.

3.      Both sets of passages provide SOME evidence against WD (i.e., by showing the presence of all 3 types of eschat-frameworks in all 3 synoptics).



Okay, on to the next part, on the Gospel of John and the rest of the NT (Part 6)...

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