Did Jesus Come In the First Century Following His Ascension?
There is ample evidence in the word of God that Jesus did indeed come in some sense (or senses) in the first century. For example, he came in his kingdom (Matt. 16:28) with power (Mk. 9:1) on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:4-5,8; 2:1-4,33). Now, look how Jesus described the sending of the promised Comforter (the Holy Spirit) in John 14:18: "I come unto you." Surely no one will conclude that this must mean a bodily coming of Jesus! How would he come? Not bodily, but representatively, through the Holy Spirit whom would send (Jn. 15:26). Again, in Matthew 24:29-30, Jesus taught that during that generation (24:34) "they shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." The context of Matthew 24 tells us how they would see him. The context of the chapter is the destruction of Jerusalem. Unquestionably, Jesus did not appear, bodily in 70 A.D. when Jerusalem fell. Instead, Matthew 24:30 speaks of his presence in Jerusalem's judgment. He authorized it and brought it to pass (cf. Isa. 19:1). They would see or discern his presence when this destructive judgment occurred. Yes, Jesus Christ came in judgment in 70 A.D., but it was not his bodily return! Similar language is used to describe his coming in judgment against the powers persecuting the saints in Revelation 1:7 (cf. Rev. 19:11-21). None of these "comings" of the Lord prevent a future coming of Christ in bodily form at the end of time!
The A.D. 70 doctrine would make every mention of the "coming of the Lord" or "day of the Lord" mean the same event, regardless of its usage in context. It is a fact of biblical interpretation that the same phrase can have different meanings. For example, take the expression "laid hands upon." In Acts 4:3, it means to arrest, in Acts 13:3, it means to commend; in Luke 13:13, it means to heal, in Acts 8:17 and 19:6, it means to impart spiritual gifts. To arbitrarily assign one meaning to this phrase every time it is used would result in absurdity! Yet, this is exactly what the A.D. 70 doctrine does with "coming of the Lord" and "day of the Lord."
The problem with limiting the coming of the Lord to 70 A.D. is demonstrated by at least three passages in the New Testament:
(1) Consider Acts 1:9-11, where angels tell the apostles that Jesus "shall so come in like manner as ye beheld him going into heaven" (v. 11, ASV). In what manner did Jesus go into heaven? Jesus ascended into heaven actually and personally, in his resurrected body (Lk. 24:39). In Acts 1:9-11, five words are used which emphasize that actual sight was involved on this occasion. His apostles "were looking" as Jesus was taken up (v. 9). A cloud received Jesus "out of their sight" (v. 9). The apostles were "looking steadfastly into heaven" when two men in white appeared to them (v. 10). These messengers asked the apostles, "Why stand ye looking into heaven?" (v. 11) And finally, the apostles were assured that Jesus would return in like manner as they had "beheld him"' going into heaven (v. 11). The apostles actually saw Jesus' bodily ascension. This is the manner in which he will return (1 Thess. 4:16-17). Jesus did not come in bodily form, nor was he personally seen io the events of the coming of the kingdom (Matt. 16:28; Jn. 14:18), the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (Matt. 24:30), or in the defeat of the persecuting powers of Revelation 1:7. Christ's personal, bodily return is yet future!
(2) Next, consider 2 Peter 3:5-7, 10-11, where the A.D 70 advocate "spiritualizes" away the meaning of the word of God. By his word, God created and then destroyed the world with water. By that same word of God, the heavens and earth which now exist are stored up for fire, awaiting a day of judgment against ungodliness.
For this they wilfully forget, that there were heavens from of old, and an earth compacted out of water and amidst water, by the word of God; by which means the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: but the heavens that now are, and the earth, by the same word have been stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction and ungodly men. . . . But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up (2 Pet. 3:5-7,11).
The A.D. 70 advocates try to make the heavens and earth (v. 7, 10), which shall meet a fiery end, the Jewish economy (as do the Jehovah's Witnesses). But, this is to no avail. The world which was overflowed with water is now stored up for fire. This fiery judgment shall occur on "the day of the Lord" (v. 10), as his "coming" (v. 4). Was the world of Noah's time actually flooded? Then the world which now -exists shall actually be destroyed wit h fire! If this verse had been fulfilled in 70 A.D., none of us would be here!
The abuse of this passage illustrates the error in biblical interpretation which is present in this system of error. As D.R. Dungan notes:
Many seem disposed to regard themselves as at liberty to make anything out of the Bible which their theology may demand or their whims require. And if, at any time, they find a passage that will not harmonize with that view, then the next thing is to find one or more words in the text used elsewhere in a figurative sense, and then demand that such be the Biblical dictionary on the meaning of that word, and hence that it must be the meaning in that place (Hermeneutics, p. 217).
The A.D. 70 doctrine attempts this with "the day of the Lord" and his "coming" in 2 Peter 3:4-11, but it finds no support here!
(3) 1 Corinthians 15 teaches a future, bodily resurrection from the dead. While the A.D. 70 doctrine says the resurrection is past already (having occurred in 70 A.D.), this passage decisively refutes that claim. To the Realized Eschatologist, the primary meaning of 1 Corinthians 15 is the resurrection of Christianity out of Judaism, not the resurrection of mankind at the personal return of Jesus Christ. To briefly set forth their case, hear Max King on what is resurrected in 1 Corinthians 15:
"Next (1 Cor. 15:35-44 – jp), Paul answers questions concerning how the dead are raised and with what body they come forth. The primary application (emp., jp) deals with the development and rise of the Christian system itself, with a secondary application belonging to believers and their state within the system. The natural body that was sown (verse 44) answers to the fleshly or carnal system of Judaism in which existed prophecies, types, and patterns from which came the spiritual body designed of God. . . . The natural body (emp., King's), receiving its death blow at the cross and beginning then to wax old and decay (Heb. 8:13), became a nursery or seed-body for the germination, growth, and development of the spiritual body by means of the gospel.
"Thus, out of the decay of Judaism arose the spiritual body of Christianity (emp., jp) that became fully developed or resurrected by the end-time. Hence, this is the primary meaning of Paul's statement (emp., jp), 'It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body and there is a spiritual body'" (The Spirit of Prophecy, pp. 199-200).
The assumed definitions and applications in that quotation alone show the subjective nature of this doctrine! The Scriptures are twisted to say what has already been decided, namely, that Christianity arose out of Judaism, an event which we are told was completed in 70 A.D.! I cannot think of a better illustration of 2 Peter 3:15-17! Can you?
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul answers the teaching by some "that there is no resurrection of the dead" (v. 12). He does this by first establishing the validity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ (vv. 14 1). Then, he presents the consequences of denying the resurrection of the dead (vv. 12-34). Next, he anticipates objections of bodily resurrection (vv. 35-50). Finally, he praises the victory over death God gives us in Christ through the resurrection (vv. 51-58). The very thing defined in this chapter is denied by the A.D. 70 doctrine, namely, a future, bodily resurrection] To demonstrate this as the central theme of the chapter, consider w. 20-23. Here, the bodily resurrection of all mankind is said to be based upon the bodily resurrection of Christ! The resurrected Christ is the first fruits of the dead (vv. 20,23). The offering of first fruits under the law of Moses was the choicest and earliest ripe crop (Num. 18:12; Exod. 23:16,19), indicating that all the crop which followed belonged to God (cf. Deut. 26:2-11). Also, we should note that the crop which followed was of the same kind or type as its first fruits. In like manner, the resurrection of Christ from the dead is an assurance and guarantee that all who die shall be raised. And, we are assured that our resurrection will be the same kind as his. As surely as bodily death come to all because of Adam's sin (Gen. 3:19), bodily resurrection will come to all because of Christ's bodily resurrection (vv. 21-22). This reveals his power and preeminence over death (cf. Jn. 5:28-29; Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:18). Thus, Paul defends the doctrine of bodily resurrection from the dead upon the basis of Christ's bodily resurrection. The later fruit (resurrection of all the dead at Christ's coming) must be the same of fruit as the first fruits, namely, bodily resurrection! Jesus' body was raised from the dead, and our bodies shall be raised, too. Nowhere do we discover a Judaism-Christianity contrast in 1 Corinthians 15. That can only be found in the imagination of the A.D. 70 advocates!
The attempt to assign to 70 A.D. every end-time event (including the final coming of Christ, bodily resurrection and the judgment) cannot be supported by Scripture. It is completely refuted by Acts 1:9-11, 2 Peter 3:1-11, and 1 Corinthians 15. But, why this fascination with the date of 70 A.D.? In out next article, we will see the answer to that question.