Near expectation

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In Christianity , near expectation is the assumption that the announced return of Jesus Christ is to be expected in the immediate future. There are indications in the New Testament for this imminent expectation .

“Expectation” often means that the first followers of Jesus expected that he would come back a short time (a few months or years) after his death, that is, while his disciples were still alive . But a near expectation can also arise at later points in time (around 90 AD, see Revelation of John , or apocalyptic communities in the 19th and 20th centuries), in that the remaining time between one's own presence and the return of Jesus is very short is suspected.

Imminent expectation in the Gospels

In the synoptic gospels there are three different series of statements relating to the coming of the kingdom of God: firstly, references to a speedy return of Jesus, secondly, references to a delay in this return, and thirdly, the emphasis on the uncertainty of the timing.

Second coming while the disciples were still alive

According to Matthew 10:23, Jesus said: "You will not be finished with the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes."

In his future speech, Jesus said: “This generation will not pass until all of this has happened. ... But about that day ... nobody knows ... ”( Mark 13 : 30–32) Here two event blocks are distinguished: Already forty years after Jesus' ministry, Jerusalem was destroyed (in the year 70), what some of Jesus' generation still witnessed; “That day”, on the other hand, could refer to the return of Jesus.

Parousia delay

The Gospel of Matthew also contains the announcement of the world mission (but announced after Jesus' death) (Matthew 24:14) as well as the command to do so (28:19) - a longer period of time was probably intended for the fulfillment of this task. Several parables also indicate the possibility that the coming of Jesus will be delayed; Because of this delay, a bad servant may think, "My master is far from coming" (Matthew 24:48). The bridesmaids experience that “the bridegroom has not come for a long time”, so that they get tired and fall asleep (25: 5). Also the parable of the weeds in the field, which one should let grow together with the wheat and not uproot prematurely, suggests a longer period of time (13: 24-30), finally also the various references in Jesus' speech about the future, what everything else should happen before the end (e.g. 24: 6-8).

By the time the gospels were published it had been several decades since Jesus' ministry. It was clear to the writers and readers at the time that the interval between Jesus' first and second coming was on the order of at least decades . New Testament scholars discuss the extent to which the so-called “deadline words” (sayings that herald the imminent coming of the full reign of God) go back to Jesus himself. There were attempts to classify these “deadline words” in successive phases of early Christian history (near expectation, decline in hope - therefore attempts at reinforcement, parousia delay). Conservative New Testament scholars, on the other hand, attribute these sayings to the historical Jesus and try to unite them into a coherent overall picture. Here it becomes apparent that the historian's prior understanding of each one plays a role in the interpretation of these sayings of Jesus.

Imminent expectation from Paul

The time when the relevant sources were created must also be taken into account when it comes to Paul's expectations. His earliest letters were written around 50 AD, 20 years since the public ministry of Jesus. These letters therefore do not speak of a return of Jesus a few years after his departure.

Paul announced that “we, the living who remain until the coming of the Lord, will by no means pre-empt those who have fallen asleep” ( 1 Thes 4:15  EU ). This is often interpreted to mean that Paul meant that he would still see the return of Jesus. Another interpretation does not understand the phrase "we, the living who remain ..." in the very literal sense that Paul himself and all Christians living in Thessalonica now , with whom he joins in "we", were closed at that moment will belong to the living, but sees the goal of the statement not in the definition of the group of people who will then be alive, but in the fundamental clarification of what will happen to the two groups - those who are then living and those who have already died.

When Paul said goodbye to the Ephesians around AD 56, he spoke of the suffering that was to come, of the completion of his course (i.e. his death), and announced to them that they would not see him again ( Acts 20:23 -25  EU ). It sounds like he was counting on his death and not on his life until the return of Jesus.

In the mid-1950s Paul wrote: "God has raised the Lord and will also raise us through his power" ( 1 Cor 6:14  EU ). If “us” is to be taken literally here, then Paul was counting on his death. For the resurrection concerns those who have already died; those who are still alive at the time of Jesus' coming will be transformed .

Other New Testament texts on this

An important book for the early Christian expectation of the future is the Revelation of John . It should show “what must happen soon ” (Revelation 1,1), because “the time is at hand ” (Revelation 1: 3; 22:10). For soon we find the Greek expression en táchei , to be rendered by quickly , hurriedly, or with great speed . This word is also found in Jesus' announcement “I am coming soon ” (Revelation 3:11;, Greek tachy . This does not necessarily mean that the time until Jesus' coming is short, but rather that his coming will be lightning-like and surprising.

The announcement that God's intervention would be "at great speed" was already familiar to Old Testament readers. There was something to be read there: “Look, I am sending my messenger; he should pave the way for me. Then suddenly the Lord, whom you seek, comes to his temple ”(Malachi 3: 1). Jesus identified this messenger announced here with John the Baptist (Mt 11:10), i.e. himself with the suddenly coming Lord. In fact, about half a millennium passed between Malachi and Jesus.

Some texts of the New Testament reveal the discussion about the “parousia delay”. For example, the positive aspect of this “delay” is pointed out: This means that many people can still turn to God (2 Peter 3). As for the timing, Jesus' comparison is repeated: He comes “like a thief”, that is, surprising and unexpected.

Explanations of the sense of a near expectation

Two millennia have passed since Jesus' public ministry. As a result, a near expectation appears problematic. Various reasons have recently been put forward for their meaning.

From a Christian perspective, Jesus' coming overshadows everything else. The decades since Ascension Day are seen as the prelude to this great event, for example by Johann Albrecht Bengel : "It is in accordance with the majesty of Christ that he is continuously expected all the time between his Ascension and the future". The biblical end expectation is ascribed a life and society-changing force.

With their expectation of the return of Jesus, many Christians express their political hope: The hoped-for new world could not be made by people, but only by God himself. In 1943, Arnold Köster expressed this as follows: “There is only one solution to the world crisis , and that is the returning gentleman! "

A strong focus on the return of Jesus is easy to expect in so far as the possibility of a waiting period of centuries or even millennia is hardly considered.


  • Heinz Giesen Rule of God - today or tomorrow? On the message of salvation of Jesus and the synoptic Gospels (= Biblical Investigations. Volume 26). Pustet, Regensburg 1995, ISBN 3-7917-1454-6 .
  • Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer : “The end is near!” The mistakes of the end-time specialists (theological teaching and study material; 24). Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft, Bonn, 3rd edition 2007 (reprint of 2nd edition 1993, now with register), part D.
  • Günter Klein : Article eschatology, New Testament. In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie 10, 1982, pp. 270-299 (especially pp. 273, 279 f., 295).
  • Hans Schwarz : Beyond Utopia and Resignation. Introduction to Christian eschatology. R. Brockhaus, Wuppertal 1990.
  • Hans Weder : Presence and rule of God. Reflections on the understanding of time in Jesus and in early Christianity. (Biblical-Theological Studies; 20). Neukirchener Verlag, Neukirchen-Vluyn 1993

Single receipts

  1. Anthony A. Hoekema: The Bible and the Future. Grand Rapids (Michigan) 1979, p. 112; described by Schwarz: Jenseits von Utopie , p. 99.
  2. To such evidence refer e.g. B. Ulrich Betz: Article Second Coming of Christ. In: Evangelisches Lexikon für Theologie und Gemeinde, Bd. 3, Wuppertal / Zürich 1994, S. 2168 f., Or Gerhard Maier : Article eschatology. In: Das große Bibellexikon (paperback edition 1996), vol. 2, p. 523 f.
  3. About Lorenz Oberlinner : The position of the “Terminworte” in the eschatological proclamation of the New Testament (PDF file; 1.70 MB) . In: Peter Fiedler (Ed.): Present and Coming Reich: Student gift Anton Vögtle for his 65th birthday. Verlag Kath. Bibelwerk, Stuttgart 1975, pp. 51–66.
  4. This explains Joseph Ratzinger : Eschatology - Death and Eternal Life (Small Catholic Dogmatics; IX). Friedrich Pustet, Regensburg 1977, p. 31; “On the question of the near future” pp. 42–49.
  5. ^ Kurt Erlemann: End times expectation in early Christianity. Tübingen / Basel 1996, pp. 26, 47-52, 88, 145.
  6. ^ Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer : The fascination of the topic "End Times" for Bible readers in the 20th century. In: Free Church Research 11 (2001) pp. 156–177, there 167.
  7. The Revelation of John , explained by Adolf Pohl (Wuppertal Study Bible). Wuppertal / Zurich 1989, p. 68 (on Rev 1, 1–3).
  8. To this Klaus Berger : Commentary on the New Testament. Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh 2011, p. 941: The question “Where is the second coming of the Messiah?” Can also be found in the Jewish apocalypses of the last third of the 1st century.
  9. Bengel: Gnomon Novi Testamenti , 1742, to Acts 1,11.
  10. Schwarz: Beyond Utopia , p. 79.
  11. ^ Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer : Sermons during Stalingrad. A documentation on the Viennese Baptist pastor Arnold Köster in January and February 1943. In: Zeitschrift für Geschichtswwissenschaft 48 (2000) pp. 1078-1097, there 1091.
  12. So with reference to the early Christian community Emil Brunner : The Christian doctrine of the church, of faith and of perfection (Dogmatics; 3). Zwingli-Verlag, Zurich 1960, p. 448.