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In Matthew 10, Jesus sends out His disciples for the first time. Verse 23:

But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.

What does it mean for the Son of Man to "come"? Isn't he already on the earth? Is he referring to his resurrection? If so, wouldn't "come" refer to His second coming and not just His resurrection? What does the meaning have to do with the disciples not being able to finish going through the cities of Israel?

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NIV Matthew 10

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans.
23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

One straightforward interpretation is to apply it to the immediate context. The twelve were set out on their mission to tour some towns of Israel quickly and then Jesus would rendezvous with them very soon in Chapter 12.

The trouble with this interpretation is that part of the mission description included

18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.

before the son of Man comes
    ἕως the Son of Man ἔλθῃ

ἕως (heōs)
Conjunction
Strong's Greek 2193: A conjunction, preposition and adverb of continuance, until.

ἔλθῃ (elthē)
Verb - Aorist Subjunctive Active - 3rd Person Singular
Strong's Greek 2064: To come, go.

The use of εως with aorist subjunctive is for a definite future event.

Darby Bible Translation

But when they persecute you in this city, flee to the other; for verily I say to you, Ye shall not have completed [the missions for] the cities of Israel until the Son of man be come.

shall not have completed τελέσητε (telesēte)
Verb - Aorist Subjunctive Active - 2nd Person Plural
Strong's Greek 5055: (a) I end, finish, (b) I fulfill, accomplish, (c) I pay. From telos; to end, i.e. Complete, execute, conclude, discharge.

https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G5055&t=KJV

to perform, execute, complete, fulfill (so that the thing done corresponds to what has been said, the order, command etc.)

i.e., mission accomplished.

With this translation, varieties of interpretations are possible, including Jesus' resurrection, the tongues-of-fire Pentecost, the destruction of Jerusalem, etc., each one with its pros and cons.

I opt for a future fulfillment of Matthew 10 related to the Second Coming of Christ.

One reason is pointed out in Walter Smetana's answer: the parallel between Mt 10:23 and Matthew 24:14:

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

As often true with prophecies, they have a first (or immediate) fulfillment and a future fulfillment mixed in the same message. It reflects God's sense of temporal dimension. God exists outside of time which He created. A couple of thousands years later, Matthew 10 is making more and more sense to the church. At some point in the future, with hindsight Matthew 10 will be seen as a perfect prophecy to some events yet to come to pass.

Jeremiah 23:20 The anger of the LORD will not turn back until he fully accomplishes the purposes of his heart. In days to come you will understand it clearly.

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    +1. Prophetic passages often show a merging of the immediate future with the longterm future, as if the speaker is seeing into the distance, describing both the immediate foreground and the more distant background. To that immediate generation, the future is both. To a coming generation, there will be a reduced clarity and hindsight will come into play. – Nigel J Jun 30 at 12:38
  • Exactly, I wish I had your comment in my answer. – Tony Chan Jun 30 at 12:42
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    It's there for you to include if you wish. No attribution needed. If it's true, it's true, no matter who said it. – Nigel J Jun 30 at 12:45
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    God reward you in His Kingdom. – Tony Chan Jun 30 at 13:07
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    Thank you for this answer @TonyChan! If the interpretation of this passage is related to the second coming of Christ, can you share what it means for the disciples to have not "completed" the cities of Israel? One would assume the cities of Israel would all have heard the Gospel of Jesus before His second coming right? Or is there another meaning behind "completed"? – Gremosa Jul 1 at 21:38
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Since Jesus Christ is man, Matthew writes of His origin:

Now the origin of Jesus Christ was in this way: His mother, Mary, after she had been engaged to Joseph, before they came together, was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit. Mt 1:18.


Since Jesus Christ is God, the Son of God, one could say incarnation was the Son of God's coming:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,

So little to be among the thousands of Judah,

From you there will come forth to Me

He who is to be Ruler in Israel;

And His goings forth are from ancient times,

From the days of eternity.

Micah 5:2.


One can say that Christ came again in resurrection, after death, both physically for forty days and, more importantly, as the Spirit (into His disciples) forever (the subject of John 14--17):

I go and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will receive you to Myself, so that where I am you also may be...I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter, that He may be with you forever, even the Spirit of reality, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him; but you know Him, because He abides with you and shall be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I am coming to you. Yet a little while and the world beholds Me no longer, but you behold Me; because I live, you also shall live. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. Jn 14:3, 16-20. See also Mt 28:20; Jn 20:22.


But Matthew 10:23 and 24:1-3 refer to His permanent physical return, at the end of the age. Not to His resurrection.

And Jesus came out from the temple and was going away, and His disciples came to Him to show Him the buildings of the temple. But He answered and said to them, Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, There shall by no means be left here a stone upon a stone, which shall not be thrown down. And as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, Tell us, When will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming and of the consummation of the age? Mt 24:1-3.

He who has endured to the end, this one shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole inhabited earth for a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. Mt 24:13-14.

Both are in the context of gospelizing (as is Mt 28:18-20). Mt 10:23 "You shall by no means finish the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes" means that even by His second coming, not all the villages of Israel will have been personally visited by His believers. (No?)

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