PMT 2014-033 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
This is the second in a series focusing on the question of the temporal expectation in Revelation.
I am first presenting the attempts of non-preterist interpreters to get around John’s near-term declarations in Rev 1:1, 3; 22:6, 10. Once I have presented these efforts, I will provide extensive exegetical arguments showing that John does focus on the first-century. And then I will eventually answer the question as to whether John ever looks to the distant future.
In my last blog I noted the first two responses to John’s near-term expectations: (1) John was mistaken. (2) John was ambiguous. As you might surmise, I am offering the worst answers first — just to show you how desperate some commentators get over John’s statements. Now I pick up with a third explanation.
3. Revelation is motivational
The events are declared to be soon, but only for dramatic, motivational purposes. Michaels (48) argues that “Christians tend to get nervous about any implication that the Bible might be mistaken. yet a great deal is lost when the striking words soon and the time is near are not given their proper force. The conviction that the end of the world is near is what makes the book of Rev larger than life. . . . The intense awareness of the end of all things infuses the book’s imagery with sharpness and rich color. The announcement that ‘the time is near’ provokes not resignation or a feeling that nothing matters, but on the contrary a kind of jubilation at the preciousness of life and at the world God created and will create anew in the events that must soon take place.” J. L. Resseguie (63) holds a similar view when he states that John is building a sense of “tension” in his dramatic work. J. L. Maier (124) comments that “Jesus, like Godot, is just around a corner that is never turned.”
Six lectures on six DVDs that introduce Revelation as a whole,
then focuses on its glorious conclusion.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
Perhaps we may suppose that this approach would have infused the book with sharpness and color for its original recipients. But now nineteen hundred years of delay would surely dull that cutting edge and wash out the color considerably. And surely Jesus is not like Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot that depicts the meaninglessness of life.
4. The events will occur rapidly
The events will unfold rapidly whenever they begin to occur. Dispensationalist scholar John Walvoord (35) understands Rev’s opening comment thus: “That which Daniel declared would occur ‘in the latter days’ is here described as ‘soon’ (Gr. en tachei), that is, ‘quickly or suddenly coming to pass,’ indicating a rapidity of execution after the beginning takes place. The idea is not that the event may occur soon, but that when it does, it will be sudden (cf. Luke f18:8; Acts 12:7; 22:18; 25:4; Rom. 16:20). A similar word, tackys, is translated ‘quickly’ seven times in Rev.” Charles Ryrie (13) and LEGNT (610) also hold this view.
This interpretation does not offer any encouragement whatsoever. If the Church must wait hundreds and hundreds of years before the events occur, what is the significance of their finally arriving rapidly? Besides the soon-ness embodied in this phrase occurs again in other expressions in 1:3, 19, and elsewhere. F. D. Mazzaferri well argues: “Though tachos may connote speed rather than imminence, the former makes little sense in terms of 22:10, or in context with engus. Likewise, Jesus’ promise erchomai tachu, is scarcely intelligible, let alone a motivation for perseverance, except in the sense of imminence.” He even notes that in 1:7 “the pres. tense eloquently speaks of imminence in its own right” (Mazzaferri, 237).
5. John is speaking of God’s time
The events will occur soon according to the eternal God’s measure of time. Dispensationalist R. L. Thomas (1:55) recognizes the weakness of Walvoord’s position noting that “to say that relief will come ‘suddenly’ offers no encouragement but to say that it will come ‘soon’ does.” He argues that “when measuring time, Scripture has a different standard from ours. . . . It must be kept in mind that God is not limited by considerations of time in the same way man is (cf. 2 Pet. 3:8).”
L. Morris (46–47) holds a similar view: “We must bear in mind that in the prophetic perspective the future is sometimes foreshortened. In other words the term may refer to the certainty of the events in question. The Lord God has determined them and he will speedily bring them to pass. But this refers to his time, not ours, to the quality of the time rather than the quantity. With him one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day (2 Pet. 3:8).” Indeed, Alford (4:545–46) warns that this statement “must not be urged to signify the events of apocalyptic prophecy were to be close at hand.” According to C. Keener (61) “Revelation functions, therefore, as a “summons to readiness.” G. Osborne (797) agrees: “to God the period between John’s time and ours still connotes ‘soon.’” See also Ocemenius (22), H. B. Swete (2), H. Alford (4:535), M. Vincent (2:407), A. T. Robertson (283), M. R. Mulholland (9), D. W. Hall (11), and R. Stefanovic (57).
How this offers any more encouragement to a severely persecuted Church than Walvoord’s view is not clear. After all, on this view John would be stating: “The events within are imminent, but may in fact take 2000 years before they occur.” In addition I would make a three-fold rebuttal to the possibility that John is speaking of time as does Peter in 2Pe 3:8:
In the first place, Peter expressly states the fact that God views time differently from man. John does not. We cannot go about interpreting all temporal indicators by God’s estimation of time. Secondly, Peter is talking about God, whereas John is giving directives to men. Peter makes a theological statement regarding God and his perception of time; John provides an historical directive to men regarding their unfolding hardships. We must not confuse theological truth about God with historical directives to men. Thirdly, Peter is expressly dealing with the objection that certain prophecies have failed because they have yet to occur: “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation’” (2 Pe 3:3–4). Peter is facing the slowness of God’s judgment. John, however, is warning suffering Christians (among which he numbers himself, Rev 1:9) about what they must expect. He dogmatically declares repeatedly and in various ways that his prophecies “must soon take place” because “the time is near.”
Four Views on the Book of Revelation
(ed. by Marvin Pate)
Helpful presentation of four approaches to Revelation
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
6. The events are always imminent
The events are imminent in that they could theoretically occur at any minute. Premillennialist R. H. Mounce (41) takes this approach: “John writes that the events that constitute the revelation must ‘soon take place.’ That almost 2,000 year of church history have passed and the end has not yet come poses a problem for some. . . . The most satisfying solution is to take the expression ‘must soon take place’ in a straightforward sense, remembering that in the prophetic outlook the end is always imminent. Time as a chronological sequence is of secondary concern in prophecy. This perspective is common to the entire NT.” Later (404) he writes: “One answer to the problem of this as-yet-unfulfilled expectation is to hold that God is more concerned with the fulfillment of his redemptive purposes than he is with satisfying our ideas of appropriate timing.”
B. M. Metzger (105) adds: “In the Christian doctrine of the last things, the imminence of the end is moral rather than chronological: each successive generation, so far as can be known to the contrary, may be the last generation. In that sense the time is always near (22:10).” This views is held by G. E. Ladd (22) and A. F. Johnson (1981: 417).
But against this view we must wonder why John would use time-laden words to express his view of prophecy rather than simply saying these events “must” come about. Indeed, in 22:10 John’s revelatory angel seems intentionally to be reversing Daniel’s heavenly directive which stated: “But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time” (Dan 12:4). John’s directive is “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (Rev 22:10). Thus, we have the odd situation that around 600 years before John’s day, Daniel was commanded to seal up his prophecy until the end, but John is commanded not to seal up his prophecy for the end is near — though we have now gone over 1900 years into the future.
Besides this understanding of imminency in the futurist scheme is an abuse of the term: Webster’s New Twentieth Century Unabridged Dictionary defines “imminent”: “appearing as if about to happen; likely to happen without delay; impending.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines “imminent”: “Impending threateningly, hanging over one’s head; ready to befall or overtake one; close at hand in its incidence; coming on shortly.” Imminency has no meaning if that which is “imminent” stretches out for 2000 years — or more.
The efforts a re-interpreting John do not end with these six valiant attempts. There are more to come! And they will come “soon.” I promise.
Free Gentry sermon on the future hope of Christ’s church: Church