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
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.” Brownsville
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.”