Categories: New Testament
Did the apostles avoid writing early in their careers because they thought judgment day was going to happen in their time? Were they expecting the second coming be a judgment day based on the Jewish concept of what the Messiah was going to do?
The reality is that we don't know who wrote most of the New Testament documents. Early on, people believed that the gospels were written by disciples or close followers of Jesus. That, of course, gave those writings increased stature and authority. Some modern scholars still hold to those views.
But it is true that the first generation Christians believed that Jesus would return soon. He had said to them, "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom." (Mt. 16:28; Luke 9:27) Doesn't that sound like things would be happening in the immediate future? Hence, there would be no need to record Jesus' words and deeds for future readers since the end of the world was imminent. However, when that didn't happen and some of those first generation Christians began to die off, those who remained were very motivated to preserve the words and works of Jesus.
Whether or not they thought "the second coming [would] be a judgment day based on the Jewish concept of what the Messiah was going to do" is still a matter for further study. The quick and easy response should be "yes." But as people learn more about the Jewish concept of Messiah and Jesus' role in that capacity, the answers are more ambiguous. The Jewish term for "Messiah" could be applied to anyone who had been "sent" by God. It was connected to the Davidic dynastic because the Davidic king was the ruler chosen by God. The prophets, however, did not use this term for a future king. They referred to God's agent, namely the Persian ruler, Cyrus, as their deliverer. Daniel connects the restoration of Jerusalem with a "coming one", but gives no additional information.
Things become even more difficult to follow in the inter-testamental documents from which the dual role of priest and king seems to evolve. (This could have been in response to the power exerted by the Hasmonean kings.) Documents from this time also link the Day of Judgment with a "Son of man" who would be a messiah-like figure. But the bottom line is that there was no one fixed meaning for Messiah during Jesus' time.
Jesus' own use of the word is, likewise, ambiguous. When Peter confessed him as Messiah, he immediately directed his thinking to a "suffering" Son of man. Jesus does admit to being the Messiah at his trial, but only in Mark. The inscription on the cross, "King of the Jews," was meant as mockery. When Jesus fed the multitude in John (6:15), he hurried the disciples off the premises because the people wanted to make him king. Additionally, all the gospels go to great lengths to affirm that Jesus' messiahship would not be political but, rather, spiritual.
In the intervening years, Christians have appropriated the term to refer to Jesus. He was the "crucified Messiah," who died for our sins and brought redemption to the world. This is not a Jewish concept.