Scripture scholars differ in explaining Jesus’ delayed Parousia. All agree that the first Christians presumed He would return shortly after His Resurrection and triumphantly lead them into heaven. They also agree on the influence His unexpected "no-show" had on the evolution of early Christian theologies.

But scholars part company when they offer reasons for the delay. Some believe the historical Jesus simply was mistaken: though He thought His death would bring about the end of the world as we know it, it didn’t. Others contend Jesus’ followers were mistaken: they misunderstood what He said about the time of His return and only discovered the truth when the Parousia didn’t happen as expected.

New world

No matter which reason you prefer, it’s certain Jesus ministered in an environment in which most religious people anticipated a new world order. The apocalyptic tenor of the book of Daniel — written about 150 years before Jesus — mirrors the common belief that Yahweh is on the verge of stepping into the world and definitively changing everything (Dan 12: 1-3).

Though Yahweh’s intervention will be preceded by a "distress unsurpassed since nations began," Daniel’s community is confident they will eventually triumph and, like the stars, "live forever in the firmament of God’s heaven."

Jesus’ person and ministry doesn’t get rid of this anticipation; it simply adds a new dimension. His followers believe there’s no way God can change the course of history without Jesus playing an essential role in the process. After all, Jesus now sits "forever at the right hand of God" (Heb 1: 11-14, 18). Such a person would have to take part in this most important of events. What Jesus accomplished by His death and Resurrection, He accomplished forever. He can never be separated from the world’s destiny.

That’s why, shortly before Jesus’ death and Resurrection, Mark has Him speak about His role "in those days after that tribulation" (Mk 13: 24-32). Christians can’t imagine God judging the world without the "Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory." His elect will be saved from the terrors of the great tribulation, gathered from the four winds, collected "from the end of the earth to the end of the sky."

There’s just one problem: "This generation" has passed away, but "all these things" have yet "to take place." the Parousia never happened at the time and in the way people of the first century anticipated.

Still to come

Not all is lost. We’re just not anticipating the same end of the world that Jesus’ earliest followers anticipated. If we’re honestly trying to imitate the faith of those disciples, we’ll be finding Jesus present in the world order with which we’re familiar.

In the middle of the 20th century, for instance, Rev. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin used his deep faith in Jesus’ presence in all creation to interpret the universe’s evolutionary destiny from a Christian perspective. Because of modern scientific discoveries, he dealt with a world which no one in the first century could have imagined.

Like Teilhard, we also should be discovering and reflecting on Jesus’ presence in our own daily experiences

The Hebrews author gives us a hint on where to being our discovery process. "Where there is forgiveness of sins," he writes, "there is no longer offering for sin." We don’t have to zero in only on future events to find Jesus influencing our world order. Every time we experience or offer forgiveness, we discover Him breaking into the world as we know it, changing it in a significant way.

Of course, such a view implies that when it comes to discussing earth-changing events, we’re not in the audience watching the show; we’re on-stage participants!