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Jesus, the Son of Man, and the final coming of God: the origin of early Christian “second coming” expectation in Jesus’ eschatological vision

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posted on 2023-11-06, 04:04 authored by Murray James Smith

The ubiquitous early Christian expectation that Jesus “the Christ” will “return” has no straightforward antecedent in the Scriptures of Israel or early Jewish literature. Modern scholarship argues—in various ways— that the expectation also did not come from Jesus, but only emerged after Easter (J. D. Crossan; D. C. Allison; B. D. Ehrman; J. D. G. Dunn; N. T. Wright). Against this consensus, the thesis argues that the origins of the expectation are to be found in Jesus’ own Christocentric reading of the coming of God tradition of Israel’s Scriptures. 

Chapters 1 and 2 survey previous research and outline the approach. Recognising significant weaknesses in the dominant modern “criteria approach” to Jesus Research, the thesis builds on the “new historiography” (J. Schroter; J. D. G. Dunn; C. Keith), and outlines a historical method involving four key tasks: contextualisation, synthesis, interpretation, and reconstruction. It argues that Jesus’ eschatological vision is best reconstructed when we attend to: (i) Jesus’ role in the transition from Second Temple Judaism to early Christianity (T. Holmen); (ii). the characteristic features of his proclamation “recurrently attested” across the Gospels (D. C. Allison), and; (iii). the narrative testimony to that proclamation in each of the Gospels. 

Chapters 3 to 5 trace the contours of Israel’s coming of God tradition, showing that the Scriptures consistently look forward to a great and final divine advent in glory for judgment and salvation (ch. 3). Daniel 7 and Psalm 110 locate themselves within this tradition, while introducing an eschatological “son of man” or “Lord,” who participates in the final coming of God (ch. 4). The early Jewish texts adapt and develop this tradition in significant ways, but retain Daniel’s emphasis on the central role of a human eschatological figure who embodies the final divine advent (ch. 5). 

Chapters 6 to 9 examine the testimony of the Gospels to Jesus’ eschatological vision, locating him in the transition from early Jewish expectations for the coming of God to early Christian expectations for the return of Jesus. Jesus proclaimed “the kingdom of God” as the coming of God to reign on earth (ch. 6). He proclaimed the arrival of God’s kingdom in his own life and work, but also expected an interval between the climax of his own career and the final consummation (ch. 7). Outside the Gospels, the early Christian texts consistently look for Jesus’ return, and support this expectation by appeal to a threefold Scriptural logic, grounded in the coming of God tradition (ch. 8). The Gospels recurrently attest Jesus’ use of the same threefold Scriptural logic. He expects to: (i). embody the final coming of God; (ii). be personally present at the consummation of God’s kingdom; (iii). be enthroned as “Lord” (Ps 110.1) and “come on the clouds” as the glorious “Son of Man” (Dan 7.13). The ubiquitous early Christian expectation for Jesus’ return is most plausibly explained as a result of Jesus’ own eschatological vision (ch. 9). 

The thesis has significance for a number of questions, including: (i). the relationship between Jesus and the Gospels, and method in Jesus Research; (ii). the significance of the coming of God tradition in early Judaism and Christianity; (iii). the interpretation of Daniel 7; (iv). the “Son of Man Problem;” (v). the “delay of the Parousia,” (vi). the emergence of “early high Christology” and the development of early Christian doctrine; and; (vii). the shape and focus of Christian eschatology. 


Macquarie University Research Excellence Scholarship (MQRES)

Macquarie-Tyndale Travelling Scholarship

Sir Asher Joel Foundation


Table of Contents

Introduction. The question and the thesis -- Chapter 1. The state of the question -- Chapter 2. Approaching an answer -- Chapter 3. The God who comes: Israel’s theophany tradition -- Chapter 4. The coming of God, Psalm 110’s “Lord,” and Daniel’s “Son of Man” -- Chapter 5. Daniel’s “Son of Man,” David’s “Lord,” and the coming of God in Jewish expectation -- Chapter 6. Jesus’ proclamation of the coming of God to reign on earth -- Chapter 7: Jesus’ expectation for an interval before the final coming of God -- Chapter 8. Jesus’ expectation to embody the final coming of God: evidence outside the Gospels -- Chapter 9. Jesus’ expectation to embody the final coming of God: the testimony of the Gospels -- Conclusion. Jesus and the logic of his return -- Appendices -- Bibliography

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Doctor of Philosophy

Department, Centre or School

Department of Ancient History

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Christopher Forbes


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