In the book “Curious Myths of the Middle Ages“, the author recounts a very interesting myth about a wandering Jew. Supposedly, this Jew had been with Jesus. To those in the 13th century, this would definitely interesting considering the Jew would have to be 1200+ years old.
But this myth survived for good reason: it was the only way they could make sense of the Bible. Jesus stated:
Mat 16:28 Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
Jesus was speaking to people of his own time, stating that some of them would not die before the second coming. Obviously, the second coming did not happen within a normal lifetime of Jesus’ statement. Thus the 13th century observer needed a mechanism to save Jesus’ words. In came acceptance of the wandering Jew:
There can, I think, be no doubt in the mind of an unprejudiced person that the words of our Lord do imply that some one or more of those then living should not die till He came again…
So the theory was invented that one Jew did not, in fact, die. This Jew would instead perpetually wander the earth telling others about his time with Jesus:
…at the time of our Lord’s suffering he was thirty years old, and when he attains the age of a hundred years, he always returns to the same age as he was when our Lord suffered. After Christ’s death, when the Catholic faith gained ground, this Cartaphilus was baptized by Ananias (who also baptized the Apostle Paul), and was called Joseph. He dwells in one or other divisions of Armenia, and in divers Eastern countries, passing his time amongst the bishops and other prelates of the Church ; …
when questioned by the bishops and religious ; and then he relates the events of olden times, and speaks of things which occurred at the suffering and resurrection of our Lord, and of the witnesses of the resurrection, namely, of those who rose with Christ, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto men. He also tells of the creed of the Apostles, and of their separation and preaching. And all this he relates without smiling, or levity of conversation, as one who is well practiced
in sorrow and the fear of God, always looking forward with dread to the coming of Jesus Christ, lest at the Last Judgment he should find him in anger whom, when on his way to death, he had provoked to just vengeance.
On one hand, the Christians of the Middle Ages have to be given credit for their Calvinist-like ability to salvage the text with ridiculous propositions. On the other hand, the Christians of the Middle Ages have to be criticized for lacking reading comprehension skills. Jesus was not trying to make a claim to his audience that everyone would be long dead except one who would be immortal. Jesus really meant that the second coming would happen in the lifetime of his listeners.