Someone needs to do the same with the rest of the New Testament. (Andrew Perriman’s The Future of the People of God: Reading Romans Before and After Western Christendom is a good start.)
Here’s my contribution:
Romans 13:11: “Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.”
Romans 16:20: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”
Philippians 4:5b: “The Lord is near.”
Hebrews 10:25: “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
James 5:8-9: “You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.”
1 Peter 4:7a: “The end of all things is near.”
1 John 2:18a: “Children, it is the last hour.”
A few notes: First, these quotations come from every major New Testament writer of epistles – Paul, James, Peter, John. Second, they all speak of an imminent event. Third, they all write after the cross and resurrection, after Pentecost, after the turning to the disciples, and yet something more is still about to happen.
Finally, this event is variously described as the coming of day, the coming of the Lord, judgment, the trampling of Satan the accuser, and even “salvation.”
Many have noticed that the expectation of an imminent catastrophe is essential to NT eschatology, and thus to NT theology as a whole. Often, though, this gets fudged into “we should always expect the imminent return of the Lord.” That won’t do. Much more honest to say, with liberals, that Paul, James, Peter, and John all believed some catastrophe called “the Lord’s coming” was about to happen, and it didn’t. That (incorrect) interpretation at least allows words to mean what they say.
If Wright is correct that Jesus spent His ministry announcing doom against Israel (and Wright is right), we have to take the imminent language of the rest of the NT seriously, and integrate it into our understanding of NT theology far more consistently and rigorously than we have.
As Leithart notes, the competing explanations offered by liberals (the event never happened) and fundamentalists (we should always expect the Lord's imminent return) are inadequate, both from an historical and a biblical perspective. The fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 is a well documented historical event witnessed, among others, by the Jewish historian Josephus. One would be hard pressed not to see this as precisely the conflagration foretold by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24 and parallels) and, consequently, anticipated by those New Testament writers who made frequent reference to an imminent catastrophe.
This is not to say that the church should abandon its hope of Christ's return in glory. That remains an essential element of Christian eschatology. Recovering a proper perspective on the early church's understanding of the relation of the fate of Old Covenant Israel to the proclamation of the Gospel of the New Covenant, however, will restore to the contemporary church a more robust and hopeful eschatology: one which looks beyond the end of this world toward the coming of a world without end where Christ is King and all wrongs are set right.