Did Jesus and Paul Say When the End Times Would Come?
Their words about the last days are intentionally metaphorical, precisely to avert things like the 'Left Behind' mania.
Here's a fact seldom recognized in this age of the "Left Behind" book series: Every single person in the last two millennia who has ever gone for the jackpot of predicting when the Second Coming is going to happenhas been wrong.
There's been a 100 percent failure rate.
What would Jesus and Paul say about the current End Times mania? What would they think of all the people correlating Bible prophecies and current events, or writing about pre-tribulation rapture?
Jesus and Paul would not have recognized this whole approach to biblical prophecy. They would have been very surprised to hear that they were, in fact, talking about events at the end of the 20th century or the beginning of the 21st century.
It's true that both Jesus and Paul believed they were living in the times when the Kingdom of God was breaking into human history. Both of them operated within an eschatological worldview, and almost everything they say has an eschatological undercurrent or overtone. The discussions about current fulfillment of numerous prophecies, the inbreaking Kingdom of God, about the future destruction of the Temple, about the future of Israel, about the death and resurrection of Jesus, about the future resurrection of believers, about the building up of the eschatological community of God which will involve Jews and Gentiles-all of these themes arise in the teachings of both Jesus and Paul precisely because they both believe they are already living in the End Times.
But this does not mean Jesus and Paul believed that the eschatological age would conclude shortly. Indeed, there were many things that needed to happen before that could transpire.
For them, the end of the eschatological age meant the ushering in of the new heaven and the new earth, not the end of the space-time continuum. No New Testament writer thought that God intended to bring the world or the space-time continuum to a dead halt, to be replaced by life in a disembodied condition in heaven. Heaven, even in the Book of Revelation, is viewed as an interim destination, not a final destination. It is just a way station along the way to the resurrection and the new heaven and new earth that will arrive after the return of Christ and his full establishment of the Kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.
Both Jesus and Paul are notably reticent about the timing of the end of the world. They do not even speculate about the timing of the Second Coming of Jesus, which would be a precursor to eschatological events. Mk. 13.32 is about as clear a statement as one could hope for: Jesus says in regard to the Second Coming that "of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the son, only the Father."