PMW 2020-066 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
This is the final installment of a seven part series on the interpretation of Revelation 1:1 and 3. This is the second and final part of the two-part conclusion of the series, where I focus on the positive evidence for the preterist interpretation. So now let’s consider:
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 eggizō 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 ephistēmi (21 x) would have been more appropriate. In 2 Timothy 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).
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5. Didactic placement
John places his two leading terms in his introduction and conclusion (1:1, 3; 22:6, 10): (1) He places these expressions early (1:1, 3) to alert the readers and hearers in advance that the following prophecies are near at hand. Before anyone could form any opinion about when they think these things might occur, he informs them right up front. Thus, the audience hears these statement upon entering the book and are reminded of them upon exiting it. Furthermore, (2) these statements appear in the more didactic portions of the book before and after the dramatic symbolism confronts — and confounds — the reader/hearer.
6. Frequent appearance
John’s concern with the near-term prospects of his prophecy do not serve as a quick sidebar comment. He frequently reiterates his temporal expectations, using the words/phrases thirteen times in Rev. Eggus appears at 1:3 and 22:10. Tachos and tachus appear eight times: 1:1; 2:16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:6, 7, 12, 20. Chronon mikron appears in 6:11; chronos ouketis estai in 10:6; and oligon kairon in 12:12.
7. Prophetic contrast
Later in John’s conclusion one of his time-frame indicators which occurs also in 1:3 reappears in 22:10. Here he it comes in a particular way that expressly demands its near-term emphasis. Here the angel commands John as his book is concluding: “‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.” Most commentators recognize that this statement is reversing a command given to Daniel in Da 12:4: “But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time.” So then, Daniel must seal up his book because the time is not ripe, whereas John must not seal up his because “the time is near.”
8. Literary parallel
Revelation clearly parallels the Olivet Discourse in many respects (e.g., Revelation 1:7 = Mt 24:30; Revelation 11:2 = Lk 21:24; Revelation 18:24 = Mt 23:35). In Revelation 1:7 we find a unique merging of Da 7:13 and Zec 12:10 that only occurs elsewhere in Scripture at Mt 24:30 (see discussion at 1:7 below). Both prophecies speak of Christ’s coming with clouds, the tribes of the earth, and their mourning. Interestingly, both are also set in near-term contexts. As I have been arguing John expects Rev’s events to “soon take place” (1:1) because “the time is near” (1:3); likewise Mt 24:34 states that “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
9. Audience circumstances
John is writing to Christians under severe duress and tribulation. In fact, he is enduring tribulation with them as he is banished to Patmos: “I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation” (1:9). He shows concern for their cries for vindication (6:9–11) and highlights the deadly assaults they are enduring (11:7; 13:7; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24). He warns his audience that through it all they must persevere (1:3, 9; 2:2–3, 10, 17, 19, 25–26; 3:3, 5, 8, 10, 12, 21; 12:11; 13:10; 14:4–5; 16:16; 17:14; 21:7) for there are severe consequences for failure (2:4–5; 14–16, 20; 3:3, 16, 19). He offers them a special blessing if they should die for the faith (14:13) and shows them God will vindicate them (18:20; 19:1–5).
In such a foreboding work as this, how could John write to his beleaguered audience about events hundreds of years off in the future? This is especially problematic in that he early and repeatedly uses language that suggests Rev’s near-term fulfillment, though, in fact, its judgments will not ultimately fall for thousands of years.
10. Redemptive-historical significance
As I point out in my Introduction (and often throughout the commentary), Revelation is focusing on a dramatically significant redemptive-historical event: the destruction of God’s temple in AD 70. This finally and forever closes the old covenant’s typological, sacrificial economy so that the new covenant economy may move into high gear (Jn 4:21; Heb 8:13). This event is so significant that Jesus prophesies it in one of his longest recorded discourses, the Olivet Discourse. In fact, many of his actions and much of his teaching warns of the approach of AD 70 as we may discover by a quick survey of the Gospels. We will see that John’s dramatic-symbolic imagery easily applies to this enormously significant episode.
Even dispensationalist Robert Thomas (1:55), who opposes preterism, admits: “A major thrust of Revelation is its emphasis upon the shortness of time before the fulfillment.” Thus, we must understand John’s near-term language in Revelation exactly for what it says. The events of Revelation “must soon take place” (1:1) because “the time is near” (1:3).
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Some commentators discern a flaw in the evangelical preterist’s argument regarding these nearness terms. Evangelical preterists hold to a still-future Judgment Day. In fact, they see that day prophesied in 20:11–15 following the (still future) loosing of Satan (20:3b, 7). As a result of this, idealist, amillennialist Poythress (34) argues “But 1:3 and 22:10 are like bookends enclosing the whole prophecy of Rev. The fulfillment of everything, not just a part, is near.” Dispensationalist futurist Hitchcock (473) agrees: “The failure of this view of the timing texts to account for all the events in Revelation within a chronological nearness renders this view invalid.”
This is not a problem for the preterist for two reasons:
First, John does not declare that “all” the prophecies in his book will occur “soon.” He simply states that Revelation speaks of “the things which must soon take place” (1:1). The preterist believes that the overwhelming bulk of the John’s prophecies deal with near-term events. In fact, the only place that extends beyond the near term is the one passage in Revelation 20 which expressly declares that it is looking beyond the near-term in presenting a period of 1000 years. That nine verses (20:7–15) out of 376 extend beyond the stated time-frame — while declaring they are doing just that — should not discount the legitimacy of the general time-control statements of Rev. The 1000 years actually begins in the first century, but John quickly glances into the future showing their final results.
Second, John’s stating that he is writing about “things which must soon take place” does not prohibit futurists and idealists from recognizing that some of the things he writes about are actually past events, as in Revelation 12:1–6 where Jesus’ birth and ascension are mentioned (Thomas 1995: 121, 126; Poythress 136). This does not contradict John’s statement that he is writing about “the things which must soon take place” (1:1). The point of the book is to present things that must soon take place, even though on occasion he has to provide past events and distant events for context.
That’s it for this series. Thanks for tuning in. I will be back with new material soon.