Dr. Jim Denison, in his article “Will the World End in Your Lifetime?” published on the Christian Post web site, concludes with these words:
“The last recorded words of Jesus are, ‘Yes, I am coming soon’ (Revelation 22:20). Early believers lived every day in expectation of the imminent return of our Lord. Secular cultures discount such beliefs as outdated superstition, but each of us is one day closer to eternity than ever before.
“I have no idea if Jesus will return in my lifetime. But I do know that if he doesn’t, I will go to him at the end of mine. Jonathan Edwards, the greatest theologian America has ever produced, resolved: ‘never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.’
“How would such a resolution change our culture? How would it change your life?”
I’m glad to see more evangelicals distancing themselves from the belief that the world is in such disrepair that there is no hope for recovery. The only thing that will save us is our “rapture.” I just wish Dr. Denison had argued his case better.
Why did “early believers [live] every day in expectation of the imminent return of our Lord”? Because the NT writers, following what Jesus told them, made it clear that Jesus’ coming would take place in their lifetime (e.g., Matt. 24:34; James 5:1–8). There is no other way to read the NT on this point.
If the Bible is to be taken at face value, then “I am coming soon” is a definitive statement about the time frame of Jesus’ coming. The Greek word “soon” or “quickly” (ταχύς) is always used to designate what was on the horizon. It is never used by the NT writers to mean a prolonged period of, especially a period of time that is nearing two millennia. In Revelation 22:10, we also find the phrase “for the time is near [ἐγγύς].”
Popular prophecy writer John MacArthur writes the following in the Introduction to his book Because the Time is Near:
As noted on page 332, the book of Revelation deserves immediate proclamation because the end is near. As the angel told John in the final chapter of Revelation, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book for the time is near.” (22:10). And so we study Christ’s future return — a return Jesus Himself says is imminent (22:7, 12, 20).1
Does MacArthur’s “near” mean the same as the Bible’s “near”? Remember that John received the Revelation in the first century. MacArthur writes that “the coming of Christ has been imminent for every generation from John’s day until the present.”2 Where does the Bible say this? It doesn’t!
First, the Bible never uses the word “imminent” (as in “any moment”) to describe Jesus’ coming. It’s always “near” or “at hand.”
Second, when these time words are used in other contexts, they always mean an event or events on the horizon not “any moment in time” spread out over 2000 years! Don’t believe me? Search through your concordance and check out these words for yourself. That’s why it’s surprising that MacArthur can write about “the plain, normal understanding of the words of Revelation.”3 I assume that this applies to the time words like “shortly” (Rev. 1:1), “near” (1:3; 22:10), and “quickly” (22:12). What was “the plain, normal understanding” of these words when they were revealed and written down by John and read by Christians in the first century?
Consider James 5:8–9, a passage that MacArthur uses to support his contention that Jesus could come “at any moment,” even though nearly 2000 years have passed.4 “You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (v. 8). “At hand,” or “near,” cannot be made to mean “any moment.” “At hand” is defined for us by the Bible in the next verse: “Behold, the Judge is standing right at the door” (v. 9). “At hand” = “right at the door.” How far from the door is Jesus in Revelation 3:20? Being “right at the door” means being close enough to knock. Who is James telling to be patient? His first-century audience! The command to be patient has little relevance if a long-dead generation still hasn’t seen the reality of this promised coming after the passing of nearly 2000 years. If fathers are told not to “exasperate their children” (Eph. 6:4), why is it OK for God to do it?
Denison quotes Jonathan Edwards without a context. Edwards was a postmillennialist and believed that the “coming” mentioned in Matthew 24 refers to Jesus’ coming judgment against Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and was not a description of a distant end-time event. Edwards writes:
’Tis evident that when Christ speaks of his coming; his being revealed; his coming in his Kingdom; or his Kingdom’s coming; He has respect to his appearing in those great works of his Power Justice and Grace, which should be in the Destruction of Jerusalem [in A.D. 70] and other extraordinary Providences which should attend it.
* * * * *
The degree of their punishment is the uttermost degree. This may respect both a national and personal punishment. If we take it as a national punishment, a little after the time when the epistle was written, wrath came upon the nation of the Jews to the uttermost, in their terrible destruction by the Romans; when, as Christ said, “was great tribulation, such as never was since the beginning of the world to that time,” Mat. 24:21. That nation had before suffered many of the fruits of divine wrath for their sins; but this was beyond all, this was their highest degree of punishment as a nation.
I’m glad to see Dr. Denison taking a positive prophetic stand, I just wished he had argued it a different way.
John H. Gerstner, “The Latter-Day Glory and Second Coming: From Jonathan Edwards — A Mini-Theology” (www.graceonlinelibrary.org/etc/printer-friendly.asp?ID=602).
Jonathan Edwards, “Observations on the Facts and Evidences of Christianity, and the Objections of Infidels,” The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Part 1, Chap. 2, § 17. www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/works2.x.ii.i.html
Jonathan Edwards, “When the Wicked Shall Have Filled Up the Measure of Their Sin, Wrath Will Come Upon Them to the Uttermost” (May 1735): www.biblebb.com/files/edwards/uttermost.htm
- John MacArthur, Because the Time is Near: John MacArthur Explains the Book of Revelation (Chicago: Moody Press, 2007), 14.(↩)
- MacArthur, Because the Time is Near, 332.(↩)
- MacArthur, Because the Time is Near, 332.(↩)
- John MacArthur, The Second Coming: Signs of Christ’s Return and the End of the Age (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 51.(↩)