PMT 2015-035 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
Most commentators attempt to get around John’s near-term statements in his opening and closing chapters. But it is with great difficulty that they make the effort. The reason it is so difficult to discount John’s statements is because they are so clear. In this and my next article, I will be providing some textual insights for understanding his statements. But first, I will cite two of his statements:
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon [en tachei] 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 [eggus].” (Rev 1:3)
These appear to seal the case for the preterist analysis of Revelation. Unless of course John was kidding. But if you were to read Revelation in order to provide a psychological profile, you would conclude that he was altogether humorless. I recommend taking him at his word and letting the chips fall where they may. Unless you are employed by a dispensational church or school, then just shuffle on because it will not work. Dispensationalists are also perfectly humorless.
That en tachei means “soon” and that Rev primarily prophesies near term events is based on the following evidence. Each of the arguments below will not apply equally against each one of the alternative interpretations above. Some will apply more directly to one alternative than to another. All of these observations together, however, should demonstrate the strong, multi-faceted case for the preterist analysis.
1. Lexical meaning
According to Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (3:338) tachos means “immediately, without delay,” and “soon.” BAGD (992) gives the significance of the word as: “a very brief period of time, with focus on speed of an activity or event, speed, quickness, swiftness, haste.”
The adverb tachos appears in the NT only in the phrase en tachei (Lk 18:8; Ac 12:7; 22:18; 25:4; Ro 16:20; 1Ti 3:14; Rev 1:1; 22:6). In these places it means “soon, in a short time” (BAGD 993). Though some argue that in Ac 12:7 and 22:18 the emphasis is on the rapidity of movement rather than chronological nearness, both of these verses express urgent warnings to leave an area. Consequently, the purpose of the swift action is to get out of the area as soon as possible. Peter in the collapsed prison and Paul in antagonistic Jerusalem are not being urged to move rapidly whenever they get a chance to do so at some time in the future.
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Some commentators cite en tachei in Lk 18:8 as indicating rapid action rather than temporal nearness (e.g., J. Walvoord 32; Ryrie 13. Others view this text as teaching ever-impending imminence (e.g., R. Mounce 41; A. Johnson 1981: 416; G. Osborne 55). However, this key text itself must signify soon-ness. Note that: (1) Note that elsewhere the promised vindication of God’s saints “speedily” will be before the disciples “finish going through the cities of Israel” (Mt 10:23). Even in Rev we have a parallel sentiment to Lk 18:8 which demands a near-term interpretation. In 6:9–11 the souls of those slain cry out to God: “How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” The reply comes: “they should rest for a little while longer.” (2) This statement is preceded by a promise of certainty that “God [will] bring about justice” (18:7). So this issue is already expressed even before the additional promise of v 8. Furthermore, (3) to promise that an action will come rapidly whenever it may come offers no comfort to saints who are suffering now. To promise that Christ will be moving at the speed of light some two or three thousand years from now offers no relief.
2. Translational consensus
A survey of the translation of Rev 1:1 in the leading English versions of Scripture clearly evidence temporal nearness: “must soon take place” (NASB); “must shortly take place” (NKJV); “must shortly come to pass” (ASV); “must soon take place” (RSV; NRSV; NIV; TNIV; ESV); “must shortly happen” (NEB); “must happen very soon” (TEV; NET). The views of most commentators, however, differ from the translators. The commentators’ interpretations could have been served better by John had he avoided the temporal designate “soon” and simply stated: “the things must take place.”
Unlike the commentators, the translators’ hands are tied. They must translate it as the Greek demands. And think of this: If John saw the events as fast-approaching in his day, how else could he have said? He is very clear, as the translators recognize.
3. Varied expressions
Almost as if to ensure that he be understood, John employs several terms to emphasize his point of temporal nearness: (1) Here in 1:1 he uses en tachei (see above). (2) In 1:3 he uses the phrase ho gar kairos eggus, “for the time is near.” (3) In 6:11 while presenting his first judgment vision in the main drama — a vision which highlights one of Rev’s leading concerns (martyr vindication) — he states that the martyrs should rest only chronon mikron, “a little while longer.” (4) In 10:6 he learns that chronos ouketi estai, “there shall be delay no longer.” (5) In 12:12 he states that the devil has oligon kairon, “a short time.”
The word eggus (1:3; 22:10) pertains “to being close in point of time, near” (BAGD 271). It “indicates the proximity of a place, a time, a person, or a theological abstraction” (EDNT 1:371). It is used of summer approaching soon after the budding of a fig tree (Mt 24:32 ), Jesus’ death nearing at his last Passover (Mt 26:18 ), and the fast approaching Passover (Jn 2:13; 6:4; 11:55) and the Feast of Booths (Jn 7:2).
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The whole point of 6:11 is to assure the reader/hearers that martyrs for Christ’s sake will be vindicated — and soon: just “a little while longer.” They are seen beneath the altar in heaven crying out with a loud voice, specifically demanding: “how long” (e s pote)? Pote is an interrogative adverb of time (cp. Mt 24:3; 25:37–39; Jn 6:25; 10:24). At 6:11it literally means “until when”? The martyrs’ concern is with the time of their vindication. In ch 10 John hears seven peals of thunder (10:3) and was about to write what they uttered (10:4a) when a heavenly voice commanded him not to do so (10:4b) because “there shall be no longer delay” (10:6). In ch 12 we see a “war in heaven” between Michael and the dragon (12:7) which resulted in the dragon being thrown out of heaven down to the earth (12:9). Because of this, “now” (arti, temporal adverb meaning here “the immediate past, just [now],” BAGD 136) God’s salvation, power and kingdom have come (12:10). As a result of this battle and casting out of the dragon, the heavens rejoice, but the earth is to experience his great wrath because he knows “he has only a short time” (12:12).
4. Alternative options
Upon reading these several temporal statements we must ask: If John had intended to speak of the events as near, how could he have expressed that more clearly? By eliminating these phrases from his vocabulary we deny him common means of expressing shortness.
Two of these are particularly common expressions for indicating temporal proximity: eggus and tachos/tachu. The word eggus appears frequently in the NT, occurring thirty-one times (11 times in John’s Gospel and twice in Rev). Its verbal form eggiz occurs another forty-two times, with about half of those indicating temporal rather than spatial nearness. This is an important expression in the Gospels for declaring the nearness of Christ’s kingdom which he establishes during his ministry: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2). “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Mt 4:17). “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Mt 10:7). The words tachos appears eight times and its related term tachus thirteen. Thus, these terms appear a total of ninety-four times.
Were John speaking of ever-looming imminence the word ephist mi (21 x) would have been more appropriate. In 2Ti 4:2 the minister is always to “be ready” in any season to reprove, rebuke, and exhort. This word can also suggest that which has been set in motion (Ac 28:2) or suddenly (surprisingly) appears or erupts (Lk 2:9, 38). Were he speaking of suddenness whenever the events were to occur, the word aiphnidios would have been useful. It also bears the connotation of suddenly or surprisingly (Lk 21:34; 1Th 5:3).
The evidence is quite compelling that John was prophesying events that were to come very soon and within his own lifetime. But this is not all the evidence. I hope you will return for the second installment on this issue, because it will soon take place. And I am most definitely not kidding.