Thursday, June 07, 2012

how soon is soon?

I don't write about my theological beliefs as often on here anymore. It seems that it usually comes across more strident and divisive than I want to appear. But in the last year or so I have been praying to be more bold in proclaiming what I believe the Bible teaches. So I ask, that you dear readers will stick with me even during times where you may strongly disagree and to think charitably of me as I will do for you. The post that follows has taken me many weeks to finish as I am still studying the passages in question, but I have gained an understanding that I believe can be shared, even as I add to the study in months to come.

As our pastor continues to teach through Revelation and as I continue to read and study on my own, I have become thoroughly convinced that the language used by Jesus and John to describe the timing of future events cannot be brushed aside.
As Shane reminds me, Revelation 1:1-3 sets the tone for the book with phrases like:
"what must soon take place" and "the time is near".

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
Pastor Ken Gentry makes this point taken from this post:
We see how John emphasizes the nearness of the events by his strategic placement of the near-term statements. Not only does he employ two very common and clear terms expressing temporal nearness, but he places them in both his opening and closing comments. Thus, they appear in his introduction and his conclusion. He states his expectation to his audience as they enter the book and as they exit it. He literally gets them coming and going.
His opening states: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must shortly take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John.” (Rev. 1:1)
His closing re-states this: “And he said to me, ‘These words are faithful and true’; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must shortly take place.” (Rev. 22:6)
His opening states: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” (Rev. 1:3)
His closing once again re-states this: “And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.’” (Rev. 22:10)  
The much talked about "literal" rendering of passages can find no better application than right here in these writings.
Jesus speaks with the same urgency when he says in Matthew 24:34:
I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
I have heard all the explanations for why Jesus did not mean that it would happen within 40 years or one generation. But the reason those explanations appear to be needed is because of a prior commitment to another view that would not allow for Jesus' words to be taken as literal as one generation of followers.
Looking at the verse as part of an answer given by Jesus to the disciples'question asked back in Matthew 24:3, which has just described what is going to happen to the disciples and the Jerusalem Jews in the next 40 years, then his answer of "this generation" fits the current discussion.
I have come to understand the passage in Mathew 24: 4-35 as being fulfilled by the fall of Jerusalem to the Roman army, as judgment for the crucifixion of Jesus by the unbelieving Jews. I obviously don't have everything worked out, but I have decided to be open to understanding the passage as having happened in 70AD. The same with the bulk of Revelation.

Here is a quote from Douglas Wilson's book, Heaven Misplaced which I have written about several times before. He recently posted this quote from the book on his site, thoughtfully saving me the hassle of having to type it up myself.
First a quote from Matthew 24, then his quote from his book.

“Immediately after the distress of those days

“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.
And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
~Matthew 24:29-31
Everywhere there is similar 'collapsing solar system' imagery in the Old Testament (see Ezek. 32:7; Amos 8:9; and Joel 2:28-32), the reference is always to the same thing -- the destruction of nations and cities. There is no scriptural reason to handle such passages differently when they are quoted in the New Testament, especially when they are quoted in response to a question about when Jerusalem was going to be destroyed. Everywhere the Bible uses this kind of language, it is applied to the judgment of God falling on a particular nation or city -- Babylon, Edom, Egypt, the northern kingdom of Israel. There is no scriptural reason to think it is any different in Matthew 24 (Heaven Misplaced p.105).
And his point is that Jesus is describing the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation which happened in 70AD.
For more on Matthew 24, this short post by Pastor Ken Gentry, discusses Jesus' meaning of his coming as lightning. Here is the final paragraph from that post:
Thus, the “coming” of Christ in Matthew 24:27 is a metaphorical judgment wherein he providentially governs the Romans in their war against Israel (cp. Matt 22:7). The lightning flash is a dramatic image of Christ’s judgment in the historical events of the Jewish War. He employs lightning as a terrifying symbol of destructive power, as Scripture does elsewhere:, Lightning is terrifying (Eze 19:16; 20:18), because it is so destructive (Psa 78:48–49). Scripture records numerous examples of such lightning imagery. Frequently the Scripture speaks of catastrophic wars as storms (e.g., Isa 28:2; 29:6; Eze 38:9).
Jesus and John both spoke with urgency and imminency and I believe it was because both were speaking of the same event, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70AD.

If you can by God's grace, be open to thinking differently about the Bible than you have been taught or may have even taught others, I can think of no better place to start than here with your Bible by your side.  We discuss these things often in our home and with friends and family who also desire to know and understand the Bible.  May you find grace and truth through the study of His Word.
“This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word." ~Isaiah 66:2

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