PMT 2015-032 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
Revelation is a fascinating and exciting book that is also perplexing and disorienting. It is as much debated as it is understood. The controversy over Revelation begins with its opening statements. And it continues until his closing words.
John opens Revelation with two seemingly clear statements:
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John.” (Rev 1:1)
“Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” (Rev 1:3)
Then he closes his glorious book with two parallel statements, reiterating his point:
“He said to me, ‘These words are faithful and true’; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon take place.” (Rev 22:6)
“He said to me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.’” (Rev 22:10)
Before Jerusalem Fell Lecture
DVD by Ken Gentry
A summary of the evidence for Revelation’s early date. Helpful, succinct introduction to Revelation’s pre-AD 70 composition.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
These near-term statements have tripped-up commentators over the years. I would like to point out several of the leading attempts to re-interpret John’s introductory and concluding statements. Then after that I will engage a lengthy discussion of the near-term indicators. This is an important exegetical endeavor for the postmillennialist because many modern Christians see Revelation’s judgment scenes as contradictory to the postmillennial hope.
The following statements are made by those who do not believe Revelation’s events were near.
1. John was mistaken
The events were expected soon, but John was wrong. M. E. Boring (73) asserts that John’s near-term expectation for “all the events his letter envisions” erred: “Does this mean he was wrong? Yes. Christians who reverence the Bible as Scripture, the vehicle of God’s word, ought not to hesitate to acknowledge that its authors made errors. . . . When John adopted apocalyptic as the vehicle of his message, he adopted its errors as well.” W. J. Harrington (44–45) concurs: “When John declares that the time is near, he means that, in his view, the End is soon. Was he, then, mistaken? In one sense, obviously yes. The end did not happen in his day, nor has it occurred nineteen centuries later. What we might learn from him is a sense of urgency.”
Nigel Turner (1045) agrees, noting that “conservative scholars try to see in this word the meaning ‘quickly’ (i.e. catastrophically) as well as soon, for the simple truth is that the events did not have an immediate fulfillment. James Barr (1984:39) notes that Rev “failed rather spectacularly to deliver on its promise that Jesus would come ‘soon.’” B. Robinson (1988: 16) is more gracious to John but agrees that: “John’s expectation of a speedy winding up of history . . . was premature.” But the meaning really is ‘soon.’”
W. Buchanan (35–36) puts the matter boldly: “John thought Christians were then near the end of the tribulation, and it would be only a short time before the predestined period would be over and the nation would be free from foreign rule. . . . John was not expecting to wait a thousand years. Based on Daniel, he expected an end to take place within three and one half years. That did not happen, and John made a mistake. That is all there is to it, and no one should try to claim some infallibly correct interpretation that will absolve John of error.”
This approach is unacceptable to those who believe Rev is divinely revealed (as John claims in 1:1, hopefully truthfully). And it is based on a radical misunderstanding of what Rev is really teaching, as we shall see. Furthermore, it certainly would not create a sense of “urgency” but rather a profound sense of disappointment and disgust akin to those who followed William Miller to the mountain top in 1843. Rev should be nothing more than a Qumran-like specimen of failed expectations.
2. John was ambiguous
The events were prophesied to be soon, but as was customary with Israel’s prophets, the special prophetic language is intentionally “ambiguous.” Prophetic ambiguity is intentional and designed to heighten the hearers’ expectations for moral purposes of readiness. Though not applying his discussion to Rev, we may easily see how Scot McKnight’s understanding of Hebrew prophecy would explain John’s nearness imagery. In discussing Jesus’ Gospel statements regarding the nearness of the kingdom and the apocalyptic judgments associated with it, McKnight (1999: 129) writes: “I will argue that Jesus had an imminent expectation and that this view is consistent with the prophetic movement in Israel. His perception was not erroneous. In its limitation, ignorance, and ambiguity, prophetic knowledge is not erroneous knowledge, but it is different from everyday, empirical knowledge.”
The Book of Revelation Made Easy
(by Ken Gentry)
Helpful introduction to Revelation presenting keys for interpreting. Also provides studies of basic issues in Revelation’s story-line.|
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
Though McKnight (129) argues against employing “exegetical gymnastics” to evade the import of prophetic near-term pronouncements, his approach seems to encourage just that. John’s statements are quite clear, repeated, and balanced with one another. He opens (1;1, 3) and closes (22:6, 10) with these nearness statements. He never declares that he does not know the time; he does not use ambiguous language in making his statements. Any prophetic-ambiguity argument will not suffice to discount the approaching judgments.
These are the most disappointing of the scholarly efforts to understand John’s near-term indicators. But they are not the only ones that miss the mark. Come again and discover some more vain attempts at ridding John of his point of view.
Free Gentry sermon on the Antichrist: Antichrist