Nevertheless, the apostle Paul and other members of the first generation were wrong about the timing of the Parousia. Christ did not return, and the End did not arrive as was expected. This embarrassing miscalculation on the part of the early Church may help to explain in part why the apocalyptic dimension of the NT has not been fully appreciated until relatively recently. Doctrines of biblical inspiration and infallibility may have encouraged overlooking or ignoring NT passages that speak about the Parousia’s arrival in the near future. Errors with regard to the timing of the Parousia, however, have allowed later interpreters to question the certainty of the Parousia’s arrival as well and then dismiss the Parousia altogether. In other words, because the Parousia did not occur when it was supposed to, it probably will never happen, so why consider the Parousia at all? The apostle Paul’s thinking, however, demonstrates that a change in the timing of the Parousia need not undermine the certainty of its coming. . . . [A]lthough Paul may have changed his mind about whether or not he would be alive at the Parousia, Paul never gives up hope in Christ’s future return.
– Charles D. Myers Jr., “The Persistence of Apocalyptic Thought in New Testament Theology,” in Biblical Theology: Problems and Perspectives: In Honor of J. Christiaan Beker (ed. Steven J. Kraftchick, Charles D. Myers Jr., and Ben C. Ollenburger; Nashville: Abingdon, 1995), pp. 212–13 (bold emphasis added).
So Jesus’ coming really isn’t imminent, nor is the Bible inerrant. But even though Paul was way off on the timing bit, we can take comfort that he really was right that Jesus will actually return someday. What a blessing.
What shall we make of this charge against the truthfulness of Scripture? Does the passing of two thousand years indeed prove that Christ’s coming was not imminent in the early church era, and that the apostles were mistaken?
Certainly not. Remember the clear statement of Christ in Matt 24:42: “You do not know what hour your Lord is coming.” The exact time remains hidden from us, as it was from the apostles. But Christ could nonetheless come at any time. The Judge is still at the door. The day is still at hand. There are no other events that must occur on the prophetic calendar before Christ comes to meet us in the air. He could come at any moment. And it is in that sense that Christ’s coming is imminent. In the very same sense, His coming was imminent even in the days of the early church.
I suppose it is also possible that Christ could delay his coming another two thousand years or longer. Given the rapid decline of society, I do not see how that is possible, but neither did the apostles when they surveyed the state of the world in their time. He still could delay His coming. That is why Christ taught us to be prepared, whether He comes immediately or delays longer than we think possible (cf. Matt 24:42–25:12).
In any case, the passing of two thousand years is no reproach whatsoever against the faithfulness of God or the trustworthiness of His Word. This is precisely the point Peter made when he anticipated the scoffers who would arise, mocking the promise of Christ’s return (2 Pet 3:3–4). . . .
And therefore the fact that two-thousand years have elapsed is utterly irrelevant to the doctrine of Christ’s imminent return. Christ’s coming is still imminent. It could occur at any moment. The command to be ready and watchful is as applicable to us as it was to the early church. In fact, the return of Christ should be an even more urgent issue for us, because it is drawing nearer with the passing of each day. We still do not know when Christ is coming, but we do know that we are two thousand years closer to that event than James was in those earliest days of the Christian era, when the Holy Spirit moved him to warn the church that the coming of the Lord was at hand and the Judge was already standing at the door.
– “Is Christ’s Return Imminent?” The Master’s Seminary Journal 11 (2000): 11–12 (bold emphasis added).