By Elias Ayala (M.A.T & MDiv)
There is no doubt that the coming of Christ stands at the heart of the hope that believers have for the future. The day Christ returns will be simultaneously a day of joy and a day of judgment. Coming in humility as a baby in a manger is followed by the coming of a conquering King, who will judge the nations and deliver his people ultimately and completely. There is no doubt, that when King Jesus returns, there will be an evidential and empirical in-breaking of God into the world such that His appearance will not go unnoticed. However, great mystery, confusion and speculation have surrounded the details as to how and when this great event will come. One need only remember the misguided predictions and miscalculations of the late Harold Camping to see the great lengths of absurdity people are willing to go to predict the nearness or even in some cases the specific day of the return of Christ. Unfortunately, the words of Jesus himself have gone unheeded, when he emphatically declared, “That no man will know the day or the hour” (Matthew 24:36). Apparently, there have been countless teachers, preachers and prophetic prognosticators who have thought that they have “figured it out”; however, all of these so called teachers and preachers have had one thing in common: They were wrong in their calculations, predictions, and interpretations of the events roundabout them. This should give us reason for pause, since it is the task of the believer to sift through the scriptures and test whether any given interpretation or view is in fact a biblical one.
While it is not the case that I have it all figured out, I do think it is helpful to point out some of the reasons why people have been in great error in their understanding of these eschatological issues; especially in regards to the timing of Jesus’ return. Among the many errors in approaching issues of eschatology is the neglecting of the clear “time indicators” as to when certain events were to transpire. These time indicators are found all throughout the New Testament, especially in the book of Revelation. It is my contention that because of the ignoring of important “time texts”, many have wrongfully thrusted events that had relevancy to the original audience into the future, thus emptying the text of any meaning relevant to the original audience. In so doing, the book of Revelation, among many other parts of the New Testament, has remained a closed book. As interpreters of scripture, if we trip at the front steps of the prophetic material relating to eschatology, then how much more trouble will we have once we get to the front door, only to find the door locked. James Stuart Russell captures well the implications of missing the obvious, he writes, “It may truly be said that the key has all the while hung by the door, plainly visible to everyone who has eyes to see; yet men have tried to pick the lock, or force the door, or climb up some other way, rather than avail themselves of so simple and ready way of admission as to use the key made and provided for them.”1 The key for Russell were the “time indicators” found throughout the New Testament, but within the specific context of this quote, the book of Revelation. Let us turn to some of these time indicators.
In the beginning of the book of Revelation we are told: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must SOON take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is NEAR” (Revelation 1:1-3). Even before John delves into the imagery and symbolism of the prophecy, he provides clear time indicators as to the nearness of the events he is about to write by utilizing the unambiguous terms “NEAR” and “SOON”. These words cannot be ignored, otherwise the rest of the prophecy will be misunderstood and misapplied. Even if such an understanding challenges one’s beliefs about the book of Revelation and all other issues relating to eschatology, we need to allow the scripture to speak for itself. Without delving into the details of the book of Revelation, we continue to find these “time indicators” all throughout the New Testament thus giving strong evidence that the biblical writers were describing events that had great relevance to the early church.
Another portion of scripture that is helpful to look at is Hebrews 1:1-3: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in THESE LAST DAYS he has spoken to us by His Son…”. The book of Hebrews was written over 2,000 years ago, yet the author saw the days in which he was living as the “LAST DAYS”. Again, we see in the writings of Paul the same idea that the current times in which they were living, they were approaching some event, or events that signaled the “end” of something. Consider Paul’s words when he speaks about how God’s dealings with His people in the Old Testament were for the purpose of setting an example, he writes, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the END OF THE AGES has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Lastly, we can also consider the famous Olivet Discourse, perhaps the longest prophetic utterance made by Jesus himself. When asked a series of questions in private: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the END OF THE AGE”, Jesus provides a dramatic description of a time of great tribulation; however, not only does he respond to his disciples with the clear words, “when YOU see these things, know that the TIME IS NEAR, he caps off his long discourse and prediction (concerning the destruction of the Temple) with the phrase, “And THIS generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34). When one does a study as to how the phrase “THIS GENERATION” is used throughout scripture, they will find that it only and always refers to the immediate audience.
If what I have written thus far seems confusing, take courage and test all things in accordance with scripture. While I do not claim to be an expert in eschatology, I do think it is rather interesting that it is the scripture themselves that seems to contradict what many popular preachers on this topic are saying. If we do not let the scriptures own testimony speak for itself on this issue, then confusion results. So with all this said, I would like to affirm that I do believe that Christ will return bodily at some point in the future. I believe that there will be a resurrection and judgment. But I would like to ask the reader to consider that perhaps our traditional views on this topic need to be challenged a bit as we come to the scriptures and try our best to let them speak for themselves. As to the implications of what I have written thus far; perhaps they can be addressed in a future article.
1 James Stuart, Russell. The Parousia: The New Testament Doctrine of Christ’s Second Coming. International Preterist Association: 1887, 2003 Edition. P 367.