The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Making the Bible Say Its Opposite - Taking a Closer Look at the Time Texts - Part 5

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Dr. Hindson’s article “The New Last Days Scoffers” takes aim at a number of preterist arguments, most of which do not stand if the time texts are properly understood. He states that “the basic assumptions of preterism rest on passages that refer to Christ coming ‘quickly’ (Revelation 1:1), or ‘this generation will not pass’ (Matthew 24:34). They insist these must be related to and limited to the first century. By contrast, premillennialists believe that Christ’s coming is imminent and; therefore, could occur at any moment.” Now if the Bible actually says what Dr. Hindsom claims it says, then preterist interpretations would be wrong. He admits that the events of Revelation are said to happen “quickly” or “shortly,” as some translations have it (1:1), but he puts a futurist twist on the word’s meaning. Revelation 22 uses similar terminology to designate time:

  • “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of his book” (22:7).
  • “And the [angel] said to [John], ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (22:10).
  • “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (22:12).
  • “Yes, I am coming quickly” (22:20).

Anyone reading these passages for the first time would rightly conclude that whatever is being described in these verses, the event is on the horizon. In fact, it takes lengthy reprogramming by dispensationalists, who claim to interpret the Bible literally, to get people to believe time is not being discussed but only speed. Here’s how John Walvoord explains the use of “shortly: “The idea is not that the event may occur soon, but that when it does, it will be sudden (cf. Luke 18:8; Acts 12:7; 22:18; 25:4; Rom. 16:20).”[1] Of course, that’s not what Revelation 1:1 says, and neither do the verses Walvoord cites for support. In fact, dispensational author Robert Thomas writes, “but in at least two of these passages the conclusion is debatable (cf. Luke 18:8; Rom. 16:20).”[2] This does not mean that Thomas disagrees with Walvoord’s conclusion. “The strongest support for this view,” Thomas argues, “is by way of an objection to the other alternative, that the phrase means ‘soon’ and has reference to nearness of fulfillment of the events predicted. The objection is that such an alternative is impossible because a futurist approach to the book would require the events to have taken place close to John’s lifetime.”[3] So while Revelation 1:1 and 1:3 seem to indicate that the predicted events are to have taken place to John’s lifetime, don’t believe it, because it would mean that dispensationalism isn’t true. So how does Thomas get around his claim that he interprets the Bible literally? “[T]ime in the Apocalypse is computed either relatively to the divine apprehension as here and in 22:10[4] (cf. 1:3; 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20) or absolutely in itself as long or short (cf. 8:1; 20:2).” What does this mean? He goes on: “When measuring time, Scripture has a different standard from ours (cf. 1 John 2:18).” This is question begging in the extreme. Thomas assumes what he must prove. Consider his proof text of 1 John 2:18: “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know that it is the last hour.” John tells his readers that it is the last hour. If it wasn’t, the Bible is totally mixed up, confusing, and means the opposite of what it actually says. And what is the evidence that it was the last hour for John and the recipients of his letter?: that “even now many antichrists have arisen.” “From this,” the fact that even now many antichrists have arise, “we know that it is the last hour.” You don’t have to me a master logician to follow John’s line of reasoning.

In Revelation 1:3 we read, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written; for the time is near.” Near for whom? Obviously, near for those who first read Revelation. How do we know what “near,” “shortly,” “quickly,” and “at hand” mean? Dr. Hindson says these words mean “that Christ’s coming is imminent,” and he defines “imminent” to mean that Jesus’ coming “could occur at any moment.” Why didn’t the translators use “imminent” if that’s what they meant to say since the above time words in other contexts mean that events are always near either in terms of distance or time? When the interpreter uses the Bible to interpret the meaning of these words, there is no way that “near” and “quickly” can be made to mean an indefinite period of time.

Thomas Ice, an editor along with Dr. Hindson of the Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible, writes that “the terms ‘quickly’ and ‘near’ are more properly interpreted as qualitative indicators describing how Christ will return. How will He return? He will come back ‘quickly’ or ‘suddenly.’”[5] The problem with Ice’s analysis is that “quickly” does not anticipate a delay in any of the verses where the word is used in the rest of the NT (e.g., Matt. 5:25; 28:7; Luke 15:22; 16:6; John 11:29, 31; 13:27; Acts 22:18). When “quickly” is used, the action happens soon after. In fact, Ice uses Acts 22:18 as “descriptive of the manner in which the action takes place: ‘I saw Him saying to me, “Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.”’” If we apply Ice’s understanding of “quickly” to this verse, it would read this way: “When you decide to get out of Jerusalem, do it quickly.” But this makes no sense since Jesus’ words were a warning for Paul to “make haste” in leaving the city, that is, to do it “quickly,” because he had enemies in the city. If he waited and only acted speedily when he decided to leave, then Jesus’ warning was inconsequential.

Ice contrasts Acts 22:18 with 1 Timothy 3:14, a verse he describes as a “timing passage”: “I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long [en tachei].” If 1 Timothy 3:14 is a timing passage, then so is Revelation 1:1 since both use the same Greek words (en tachei). The Greek construction is identical in all three verses (Acts 22:18; 1 Tim. 3:14; Rev. 1:1). So let’s use “before long” in Revelation 1:1 and see how it reads: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God have Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must take place before long [en tachei].” There is no way Ice, Hindson, Thomas, and Walvoord can rework the Bible to get it to say what they need it to say.

In Revelation 1:1, John was shown “the things which must shortly take place.” Why must they “shortly take place? Because the reader is told that “the time is near” (1:3). Jesus defines “near” to mean “at the door” (Matt. 24:33). James writes that “the coming of the Lord is at hand [near],” and he defines “at hand,” like Jesus does, to mean “right at the door” (James 5:8, 9). If the purpose of Revelation was to demonstrate that the events of the book were a prophetic certainty that could occur at any time, John could have been told to write 1:1 this way: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His bond-servants the things which must take place.” This wording would have had the effect of expressing necessity without committing to any time parameters, the very thing dispensationalists claim the Bible teaches. Revelation uses this construction in several places (4:1; 10:11:5; 17:10; 20:3). But by adding “shortly,” Jesus is telling Revelation’s readers that not only are these coming events a certainty, they will happen quickly because “the time is near.”

Let’s let Milton Terry, the author of Biblical Hermeneutics, put this debate into perspective:

When a writer says that an event will shortly and speedily come to pass, or is about to take place, it is contrary to all propriety to declare that his statements allow us to believe the event is in the far future. It is a reprehensible abuse of language to say that the words immediately, or near at hand, mean ages hence, or after a long time. Such a treatment of the language of Scripture is even worse than the theory of a double sense.[6]

Are we really to believe that the speed of Jesus’ coming is what the Bible has in mind when it uses words like “near,” “at hand,” “shortly,” and “quickly”? What does it matter how fast Jesus comes when He comes? It was the certainty that His promised coming was near to them that mattered.

Endnotes:

[1] John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), 35.
[2] Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1–7: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), 55.
[3] Thomas, Revelation 1–7, 55.
[4] Notice what John is told in this passage: “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.” Compare Revelation 22:10 with Daniel 12:4.
[5] Thomas Ice, “Preterist ‘Time Texts,’” The End Times Controversy: The Second Coming Under Attack, eds. Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2003), 102. “Suddenly” is a completely different word in Greek (Mark. 13:36; Luke 2:13; 9:39). Another Greek word expresses a similar idea (Luke 21:34; 1 Thess. 5:3).
[6] Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments (New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1883), 495–496.

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