NT Eschatology—Letters 13
Although we could look at the other letters (1 and 2 Peter, Jude, the other Gospels, etc.), we’re going to look at the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. This is an incredible book. And a very hard book to discern, especially if one doesn’t have a good grasp of the Hebrew Scriptures.
But, we’re aren’t going into a detailed study of the entire book (maybe another series). Instead, we’re going to look at just a few key passages. We’ll begin with the opening verses.
A revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. Christ made it known by sending it through his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the witness of Jesus Christ, including all that John saw. Favored is the one who reads the words of this prophecy out loud, and favored are those who listen to it being read, and keep what’s written in it, for the time is near.
John wrote that this book, this letter, is a “revelation of Jesus Christ.” That is, it’s a revealing letter. It’s not one that’s supposed to be hard to figure out. John’s intention is to reveal, to uncover, to expose, to show us Jesus the Christ—not make him more obscure. The things he’s revealing are given to him by God. And note, those things “must soon take place.” Let that sink in. John wrote that the things in this letter, the things in this book, the things in this revealing...
Furthermore, and just so we don’t miss it, John said that things he wrote about would “soon take place” because “the time [was] near” when he wrote them. Remember, we saw that his first letter was written after this letter and in it he wrote that he and his contemporaries were living in the “last hour.”
Let’s think about this for a moment.
John stated he received this revealing “from God” specifically because the things he saw would “soon take place” for “the time [was] near.”
There’s no misunderstanding that.
For years now we’ve been at the mercy of people who tell us that “John really didn’t mean ‘soon’.” That the things John wrote about aren’t for the original recipients of this letter but they’re really for us, thousands of years after John wrote this. The obvious question is,
“How does the phrase ‘thousands of years’ equate to ‘soon’?”
The obvious answer is,
Again, it’s odd that most of the people who espouse this type of view—that John can’t actually mean what he said—are the same people who hold to a “literal” interpretation of the Bible. As has been seen by many, many other people, the “literal” interpretation is only used when it’s something that people already believe. That is, some people come to the text with a belief system already in place and read that into the text. This is called eisegesis. When one reads something that doesn’t line up with one’s belief system, the text must be twisted to mean something else altogether and the “literal” interpretation goes out the window.
If we take the same approach we have throughout this series, of putting ourselves in the audience of the original recipients, we would read those words from John and take them “literally.” He meant exactly what he wrote. The events he wrote about “must soon take place” from when the letter was written because the “time [was] near.”
This leads one quite naturally to ask, “What events could possibly have taken place within a short time frame that would fulfill this time restraint?”
And that inquiry calls into question pretty much every prophecy book that has been produced in my lifetime. With that question we have effectively moved from the theoretical and speculative and—quite frankly, the ridiculous—to the very solid ground of the exegete.
With that question, we have to figure out when the letter was written. Some maintain that it was very late in the first century, roughly 95-96 CE, during the reign of the Emperor Domitian.
While we won’t get into the reasons for this dating here, we still need to ask the question, “What events could possibly have taken place within a short time frame that would fulfill this time restraint?” The surprising answer is absolutely nothing. There’s nothing as grand as the events poetically described in the Revelation. Rome was still in power. And growing!
Since the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, a full 30 years prior to the supposed writing of this letter, nothing’s really going on for the Jews, either. Their last revolt against Rome comes in 135 CE, about 40 years before the supposed dating of this letter.
And, there’s nothing really going on for the Christians, either. I mean, they’re still being persecuted under Domitian’s reign. But if the Revelation is about that struggle, and Yahweh’s rescue and overthrow of Rome, then it’s a long way off. Rome didn’t “fall” until 4 September 476. 380 years doesn’t even come close to meaning “must soon take place” because the “time is near.” 380 years is not near to when this letter was supposedly written.
Furthermore, what’s amazing about all of this is that almost everyone who holds to this date for the Revelation believe that it’s written for our time! That is, it’s not meant for the original audience! When John addressed this letter to the “seven churches…in Asia” (Revelation 1.4), he really didn’t mean that. He supposedly meant the church of our time.
There’s another date that’s been tossed around for the Revelation. Yep. You guessed it. A lot of people hold the position that the Revelation was written before Jerusalem fell. The date is placed in the 60’s CE. There are a lot of reasons for this and most of them are contained within the letter itself. But, again, we won’t get into all that. If the earlier date is accepted, then the most natural fulfillment of the poetic imagery from the letter is the Jewish/Roman War that started in 66 CE. It fits within the timeframe, the scope, the themes, and the imagery very well. We’ll look at some more passage from this fascinating letter next time.
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In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC