Did Jesus say that He would return while the disciples were still alive? Did Jesus promise that He would rapture the church, or come in judgment during the disciples’ lives? If so, is this a failed prophecy? What does the Bible say?
Didn’t Jesus Say He Would Return During the Disciples’ Time?
There are some passages in the Bible which have caused confusion for some, which seem to indicate that Jesus should have returned during the disciples’ lifetime. The first set of scriptures that seem to reference that Jesus would return to set up His kingdom during the life of the disciples is this:
“And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.” (Luke 9:27); Note: A similar verse also occurs in Mark 9:1 and Matthew 16:28.
This verse is often used to try to discredit the Bible as a failed prophecy, suggesting that Jesus would return, yet He never did. However, the verses in question was fulfilled literally on at least three occasions in the scriptures, where the disciples had the rare opportunity to see Jesus coming in power.
Literal Fulfillment #1:
The first instance that the disciples saw this verse fulfilled literally in their lifetime was at the transfiguration. During the transfiguration, they were allowed to see Jesus in His full glory, with the power of the Kingdom, just as He said. Here is Matthew’s account:
Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”
These disciples were blessed to see a glimpse of the vision of Christ’s full coming glory.
Literal Fulfillment #2:
The next literal fulfillment of this verse comes at the day of Pentecost. In this text, we see the official establishment of the church. The church is often referred to as the “kingdom of God,” and so we see the disciples had once again the opportunity to see the “kingdom of God” come in “power.” This is when Peter stands up and gives a powerful sermon, and the disciples are given the Holy Spirit to aid them in their ministry.
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Literal Fulfillment #3:
If any skeptics are unsatisfied with the above explanations, which clearly show that “some standing there” were able to see the power of the kingdom of God come (in the form of the
transfiguration and the day of Pentecost), then this last verse will leave you with the inescapable conclusion that the verse was fulfilled literally.
In the Book of Revelation we see John, Jesus’ beloved disciple, receiving the complete vision of the coming of Christ and the destruction of heaven and Earth. Throughout the entire book, John is given horrifying visions of what will happen in the end times. He sees the anti-Christ, the battle of Armageddon, the destruction of the “heavens and the Earth,” and the creation of the new heaven and Earth.
So John was given the complete vision, and He indeed saw Jesus coming in His full glory, seated on His throne as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Scriptures Which Seem to Indicate Jesus’ Return
There are a couple of other passages which seem to indicate that Jesus may return during the lives of his disciples. Here is one:
“But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”
The scriptures above do not indicate that Jesus will return during the life of the high priest, but rather, simply states the fact that when Jesus does return, He is coming with the clouds of heaven with great authority and power. Indeed, “every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” (Romans 14:11)
There will not be one person who is able to stand when glorious King Jesus returns. A great thunder will erupt as every knee will pound the earth in praise when the Christ returns. Even the most bitter skeptic will have no choice but to bow to God.
Another scripture in question is this one:
Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep. Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”
Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?”
Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”
Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?”
The scripture above in the book of John shows us two important things. First, Jesus rightly prophesied about how Peter would die. When the scriptures say, “Another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish,” this is referring to his death. Peter was crucified, and Christian tradition holds that he requested to be crucified upside down so as not to emulate Jesus’ death.
The second thing this verse shows is that Jesus makes no promise that any of His disciples would be alive when He returns. In fact, the scriptures themselves clarify this statement by adding an explanation, “Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that He remain till I come, what is it to you.”
In other words, Jesus never promised to return before John’s death, but simply that it is none of your business what Jesus wills. He can do what He wants. What’s it to you if John is alive or not?
What About the End Times?
The last verse that most people get confused about is when Jesus is speaking about the end of the age, and the end of time:
“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, He is there!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand.
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven.
“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
“But of that day and 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 is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”
People get confused because the part that says, “This generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” But the description in the context is the complete destruction of the world, which the Book of Revelation clearly depicts as a future event. Scholars agree that when Jesus says, “This generation,” He is not speaking of the disciple’s generation, but rather, the generation that witnesses the horrific events described by Jesus (the tribulation, false christs, and the abomination of desolation).
Conclusion: Jesus Never Gives a Date on End Times
Jesus never reveals the day of His coming, but rather says for us all to “Watch.” He never says that He will return during the disciples lifetime, but rather, says they will see His coming glory (which they did on at least three occasions). He never puts a date on His return, but says that no man knows the day or hour.
Are you ready for Christ’s return? Jesus could return at any moment. Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord? Have you made Him your master? If you haven’t dear friend, please place your faith in Christ. Whosoever believes on the Lord will not perish, but have everlasting life. There is a coming judgment, and this world is passing away. Place your faith in the risen Christ, and you will receive forgiveness for yours sins.