Paul wrote as though he believed Jesus was coming back any minute. He said he expected that the people in Thessalonica, like himself, would be relieved of their troubles “when Jesus returns from heaven, with his entourage of mighty angels” (2 Thessalonians 1:7). Didn’t happen. Jesus did not come back, as far as we can tell from reading ancient Christian writings. Christians continued to suffer. Paul was executed, beheaded according to some reports. Did Paul get it wrong?
Many Christian scholars would answer yes, Paul got it wrong. They say that Paul’s earliest writings, such as the letters of 1, 2 Thessalonians, reveal that he expected Jesus to come back before Paul died (see 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17). They also say that later in his life, he came to believe that he might not live long enough to see the Second Coming. In a letter he wrote about a decade later, he wrote from prison saying he was ready to die: “As far as I’m concerned, if I live, I live for Christ. If I die, I win the jackpot. Here’s my dilemma. If I live, I get to keep on working and helping grow the church. But honestly, I don’t know which I want more. I’m pulled both ways. I want to leave and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:21-23).