NORMAN’S QUESTION (summarized and paraphrased):
The New Testament letter of 1st Thessalonians regards the coming of the Kingdom as imminent. But don’t 2nd Thessalonians and later New Testament letters indicate the church was coming to terms with the fact that Paul (and Jesus himself) were mistaken about this?
THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:
Experts say the first of the two letters Paul, Silvanus and Timothy sent to friends in the Greek city of Thessalonika was the earliest New Testament book to be written, dated only a couple decades after Jesus’ crucifixion.
Both that letter and 2nd Thessalonians (which some few think might actually have been written before 1st Thessalonians) demonstrate that from the very beginning Christians looked forward to the return of Jesus as the culmination of history. After 20 centuries, expectation of the “Second Coming” or “Second Advent” or “Parousia” (Greek for “presence”) remains a central belief.
The Religion Guy consulted numerous resources on this complex terrain and relies especially on the late F.F. Bruce of England’s University of Manchester, a clear thinker and writer and, significantly, a major evangelical Protestant scholar. That movement has focused muich attention on the End Times for a century and more. Bruce wrote a commentary on the two Thessalonian letters, and treated related material in the Gospels in his classic “Hard Sayings of Jesus” (1983).
Norman has a point because of one pronoun in 1 Thessalonians 4:15: “We who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep” (that is, have died).
Though the three letter-writers did not expressly say so, Bruce wrote, their first person plural pronoun “we” indicates that in the first blush of newborn faith -- yes -- they thought they and their contemporaries might well still be alive when Jesus returned.