Saturday, April 5, 2014

Revelation: Is Jesus Coming Quickly?

Is The Time of Revelation “At Hand”?

Why is it that several times in the Revelation does it appear that the events will take place “shortly” (1:1), that Jesus will be coming back “quickly” (Rev. 22:7, 12, 20) and that the time was “at hand” (1:3).
We know that the Bible is without error or mistake. Otherwise, if we say the Bible or the author was in error, then there would be nothing that we could be sure of at all. We rightly know that the Bible is not dishonest and does not “shade” the truth. But if there is more than one way to read and interpret a passage and at the same time retain its veracity and accuracy, and also still retain the holiness and inerrancy of the Scriptures, and keep its consistency with other parallel passages, then that will be the proper and appropriate interpretation of the passage. That especially applies with the words in relation to the timing of Christ’s return and the fulfillment of the Book of Revelation.
It is a matter of God’s perspective and purpose versus our own perspective and purpose that God used words that may imply “immediacy” of Christ’s return to ensure readiness of the believers, but those same words can also mean “imminence” or “suddenness” so as to retain the accuracy of the prophecy.
In relation to perspective and purpose, a helpful but admittedly incomplete analogy can be in thinking of how parents and children will view a long car trip. A child will ask, sometimes as soon as he or she begins a trip, “are we there yet?” or “how much longer will it be?” When Melissa and I would make that trip from our home in Brownsville to Grandma and Granddad’s house in Weatherford, the journey of 10 or 12 hours would sometimes seem overwhelming to our children. In fact, the younger the child, the shorter the attention span (we measured it to be somewhere between a millisecond and a nanosecond). The more mature the child (or in some cases, the parent), the less tedious the wait. So, what was our response to the proverbial question “how much longer? It was of course the proverbial euphemistic answer, “Just a little bit longer.”
Now the purpose is to lie or be dishonest with our kids, but to give them encouragement; we really did not want to frustrate the little ones. The purpose is to let the child know that in the long-run, and in the grand scheme of things, it will in fact only be “a little bit longer.” The purpose is to keep the child from the agony of anticipating something that really won’t be as long as what he or she would imagine once the end of the journey has come. And, by saying “just a little bit longer” actually served the purpose of making the trip seem only “a little bit longer.” The anticipation of a soon arrival helped make the journey enjoyable (especially for the parents!)
The perspective also is that for an adult, who has made many trips before, 10 or 12 hours is in fact actually only “a little bit,” when considering how wonderful the destination will be and in perspective that the length of time the adult has experienced. A day’s journey for a person of 40 years is 1 out of 14,610 days. But from the perspective of a 4 year-old child, a day’s journey is 1 out of 1,461 days, and when you discount the number of days that the child can’t remember from infancy, the perspective of a day is even greater than that of his 40 year-old father. That’s why years go by so quickly as we grow older, and Christmas always seems to never get here for a child. It’s a difference in perspective.
It’s more important to God and His revelation to humanity that we know the certainty of His return than the time of His return. The purpose and perspective of believers is of greater worth to God that we be ready whenever it is that He returns than for us to know the exact hour of His return.

In fact, if the early believers had known that it would have been 2,000 years in the future before some of the things would be fulfilled, their urgency would not have been nearly as great and their despair in the tribulation they experienced might have overwhelmed them. And as we will see, some of the things prophesied in Revelation and certainly in the New Testament passages did actually occur in their lifetimes and throughout the history of the church. That is what Jesus was referring to when He commanded John to write “what you have seen” and “the things which are.”

Jesus is Coming Shortly, Quickly

The Time of Revelation Is Shortly

So let us look at words such as “shortly,” “quickly,” “time is at hand,” KJV (or in the NKJV “the time is near”)

“shortly” “quickly” “speedily”
“Shortly” Greek: tachei tacei
an adverb translated shortly (4), quickly (2), speedily (1)
Related English words: tachyon-A hypothetical subatomic particle that always travels faster than the speed of light.
Revelation 1: - The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants--things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John,
Re 22:6    And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done. 
Are there passages that it means something other than “right away”? Yes.
Luke 18:8    I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? Here Jesus used the analogy of endurance of prayer and how the woman actually wore down the unrighteous judge by her long-suffering and patience. But when justice came, it came speedily.
Romans 16:20    And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.
Paul is clearly referring to Satan being defeated, but it did not come right away. Rome persecuted the Christians for hundreds of years after this writing.

“quickly” Greek: tachu tacu  
an adverb translated quickly (12), lightly (1)
Revelation 3:11 - Behold, I am coming quickly! This is Before the Tribulation.
Revelation 22:7 - "Behold, I am coming quickly! This is also Before the Tribulation.

Can quickly be conditional? In other words, can God say He is coming quickly and because of action by people, choose not to come? Yes, that is seen in the book of Revelation
Revelation 2:5 - Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place--unless you repent.
Revelation 2:16 - Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
Other related words can also mean “fast” or “swift,” rather than “soon.”
2 Peter 2:1 - But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. 

“time is at hand” (kjv) “the time is near” (NKJV)
kairos (time) engus (is near) Greek: kairos eggus
an adverb translated: nigh (13), at hand (6), nigh at hand (4), near (4), from (1), nigh unto (1), ready (1)
Revelation 1:3 -  Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand
Revelation 22:10 - And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand

Jesus used this phrase regarding His crucifixion, saying “My time is at hand” (Matt. 26:18). When combined with time or kairos, it can simply mean “at any moment.” Obviously, by the time of John’s writing the Revelation, salvation was nearer than the writings of Paul, who wrote in Rom. 13:11, “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.”
Jonah. So is it possible that something could be “near” and going to happen “quickly” and yet doesn’t happen? We have seen this in the Old Testament. In the story of Jonah, Jonah preached the message that God told him to preach. What was that message? “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4). Yet because they repented, God did not overthrow them at that time. Did that make Jonah a false prophet? No, it showed that God responds to the response of people and their repentance.
Moses. Not only will God respond to people, He will respond in prayer. In Exodus 34, God was going to bring judgment on the people of Israel, but because of the intervention of Moses, God “turned around” or “repented” in what He was going to do.
Luke 13:6-9. God’s judgment which would have come quickly can be delayed by the favorable response of people. This is seen in Jesus’ parable of the fruitless fig tree found in Luke 13:6-9

He also spoke this parable: "A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, 'Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?' But he answered and said to him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.' "

Thief. Besides “quickly” “at hand”, are there other Scriptures that would lead us to interpret that we should define Christ return as “imminent” rather than “immediate”? Yes, the passages which say that Jesus will come as a “thief.” Matthew 24:43-51 indicates that the long delay requires the people to be diligent to be ready in any hour. The parable is found in the context of when the end of the age will be.

But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. "Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods. But if that evil servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming,' and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The analogy of a thief is surprising since it compares the arrival of Christ to that of a criminal. Yet the subject of the parable is not Christ, but rather the enduring readiness of the believers. And it is used elsewhere in Luke 12:39, 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4, 2 Peter 3:10, and Revelation 3:3, 16:15. Like the battery, we should be ever ready.

Revelation and the Olivet Discourse

The Olivet Discourse
While we are on the subject of timing, we will briefly look at the Olivet Discourse, given on the Mount of Olives two days before Jesus died, found in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. (We will revisit these passages when we approach Revelation 4 and following chapters.) It seems like that some of the answers Jesus gave indicated that the disciples would see some of the fulfillment of his prophecy in their own lifetime. And they did!
In order to understand the answers Jesus gave, we must pay attention the questions. For instance, notice:

   In Matthew, His disciples ask Him three questions that they thought were related but we now know are different:
1) “Tell us when will these things be?”
3) And what will be the sign of Your coming,
4) and of the end of the age?"

   In Mark, we see the disciples (Peter, James, John and Andrew) privately asking Jesus the same first question, but a different second question:
1)  “Tell us when will these things be?
2)  And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?”

   In Luke, the disciples’ questions are identical to Mark’s, but different than Matthew’s second and third questions:
1) “Teacher, but when will these things be?
2) And what sign will there be when these things are about to take place?”

Question #1 of “when will these things be?” needs to be clarified. “These things” refer to Matthew 24:2, Luke 21:6 and Mark 13:2. What are “these things”?
Matthew 24:2 “Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone (of the buildings of the temple) shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
Mark 13:2 “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”

Luke 21 - 5 Then, as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations, He said, 6 "These things which you see--the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down.”

I was able to take this picture in 2004. I cannot wait to
return this summer, ten years later!
History and archeology show us the temple of Jerusalem with its beautiful stones was destroyed in 70 A.D., just as Jesus prophesied nearly 40 years earlier (The stones cast down can still be seen at the foot of the Temple mount in Jerusalem, see photo at the right). Therefore, the first question in Matthew and the two questions in Mark and Luke are different than the final two questions in Matthew. All four questions require four distinct answers. The first two questions are most clearly answered in Luke and the final two are most thoroughly answered in Matthew.
Remember, all three gospels were written prior to 70 A.D., before any of answers were fulfilled. As indicated in their questions, the disciples understandably thought that all four questions were related and would be fulfilled at the same time. If Jesus’ answer seems to combine the four questions, it’s not an error in the Bible, which is 100 percent accurate, and the Bible’s answer proves that it is accurate although not as exact as we would wish it to be.
Reading it now nearly 2,000 years later, it is not as defined as we wish it would be. Even Jesus, veiled and fashioned with the limitations as the Son of Man (see Philippians 2:6-8), He relinquished for a time some of the attributes of omniscience of being the Son of God. At the time of His speaking He did not know all of the details, although His Heavenly Father did, as Mark 13:32 states, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Furthermore, in Acts 1:7-8, Jesus basically tells them that it is not any of their business to know when the time will be, only that their business is to be busy about the Father’s business.
“It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Since the two questions in Mark and Luke surrounds the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., the fulfillment of some of the prophecies occurred in the lifetime of some of the apostles, including John, the author of the Revelation. The answers to questions three and four (found in Matthew) have not yet been fulfilled. Notice that Jesus says that various signs will take place, but “the end is not yet.” What end? The “end of the age” that the disciples (Question 4) had asked about. Some signs were fulfilled before John’s death, and there will be some signs at His coming for the church (the rapture) and some at the end of the age (His Second Coming to the earth, seen in Revelation 4-22).
What are some signs that have already been fulfilled?
Luke 21: 8And He said: "Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and, 'The time has drawn near.' Therefore do not go after them. 9But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately." 10Then He said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake. 13But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony. 14Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; 15for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. 18But not a hair of your head shall be lost. 19By your patience possess your souls. 20"But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. 21Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. 22For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. 24And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. 

Now, we know that everything shown above has already happened (people have come in the name of Jesus, there have been wars and commotions, nations have risen against nations, they have laid hands on believers, put to death, etc.) The times of the Gentiles has not been fulfilled.  
Will some of the things happen again? Absolutely and with even greater intensity in the Tribulation! The “times of the Gentiles” trampling on Jerusalem began in 70 A.D. and will be fulfilled according to Rev. 11:2 during the three and a half year Great Tribulation. The fulfillment came with “some of you” being put to death, namely James and Peter, and numerous other disciples, but definitely not John.
Neither John, nor Paul, nor Peter, nor even Jesus at the writing of the Gospel of Mark knew exactly when the end of the age would be. But they knew what the command was: “Be Watchful” (Rev. 3:2).