Following are some helpful tools of interpretation that I’ve picked up along my journey. Without sound hermeneutics (science of interpretation) the Bible is reduced to a subjective free-for-all.
|~FOR us but not TO us – The Scripture was clearly written for our benefit and admonition, however, it was not written directly to us. We must not lose sight of the fact that the NT was completed almost 2,000 years ago and its writers were communicating with a culture very different from ours. To forget that will cause significant interpretational problems.
~Someone Else’s Mail – It’s all too easy to pick up the Word and read it like it was written directly to us. Realizing that it was written to real people for specific reasons will help us put phrases like, “at hand”, “shortly” and “a little while” in context. This will show the folly of the “1,000 years to us is but a day to the Lord” argument that is so frequently used to satisfy our futurist paradigm. (as a matter of note – we only seem to use this defense with verses that cause us discomfort or confusion)
~Audience Relevance – Scripture was not written in a vacuum. We must interpret each word & verse with the audience in view. Keeping this in mind, the “Time Statements” of Imminence to follow won’t be as easily ignored or explained away.
~Context – The times, culture, language, and conditions make it imperative that we not place the words we read directly into a 21st century context. In my opinion this gives rise to so many errors. The apocalyptic language used in the NT was a continuation of the same found in the OT. There is no redefinition of terms. To place this type of language found in the Olivet Discourse, “…the stars will fall from heaven and the heavens will be shaken…” in a 21st century context has created some very colorful sci-fi like interpretations. These verses must not be removed from their historical context.
As you read the following verses consider all of the statements of imminency such as “this generation”, “a little while”, “quickly”, “about to”, “shortly”, “at hand”, “standing at the door”, “the time is short”, “must shortly take place” and “is about to come”. As we allow the impact of these time referents to quicken our spirit to the first century expectation ourselves to break free from our paradigm we will begin to see that every New Testament author along with Jesus clearly lived & wrote with a sense of fulfillment in their generation. Keeping in mind the 5 principles above, let the full weight of these verses collide with our current understanding. If we consider for any reason that these words of imminency were actually meant for a distant generation 2,000 years removed from their original context, then we must also consider the effects of what these failed promises would have had upon the early Church. We also must not lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with the inspired Words of Scripture.
Mt 10:16-23 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (AD 64-70) (This is not a collective future “you”—Jesus is speaking directly to His Disciples)
Mt 16:27-28 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done [parousia . Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. (AD 64-70) (see Lk 9:27) (This is a reference to His Parousia [coming]—it is clearly not a reference to the transfiguration since it contains all the elements i.e. angels, glory, rewards etc. of—I don’t think it would have been a surprise to anyone that “some standing here” would still alive 6 days later at the Transfiguration or a few months later at Pentecost)—See Rev 22:12 & Matt 25:31-34
Jn 21:22-23 Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” 23 Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?” (It is no coincidence that John was the only apostle alive in AD 70)
Mt 23:29-36 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. (“This generation” is not some future generation—this is clearly a reference to those living between AD 30 to AD 70—it should not escape our notice how often “you” is used)
Luke 11:47-51 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. 48So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ 50so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation.
Mt 24:32-34 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (Jesus does not speak of “that generation” but “this generation”. They weren’t to know the day or the hour but they certainly were to recognize the season—similar to the analogy of pregancy only God knows the day & hour of birth but we certainly know that when the birth pangs come the time is imminent)
Mt 26:63-65 But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!” 64 Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy! (Why did Caiaphas tear his clothes? He knew that only God came upon clouds re: Isa 19:1—we should not lose the context here. Jesus is speaking this judgment not in a general sense but upon Caiaphas. We should have no doubt that Caiaphas witnessed the terrible Day of the Lord)
Rom 13:11-12 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. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. (AD 57) (Their salvation was not simply one day closer to some future 21st parousia but they were about to realize the salvation of their promised expectation—because it was “at hand” indeed.)
1Cor 1:4-8 I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, That you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, So that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (AD 55) (They were eager in their expectations & they were not disappointed)
1Cor 7:29 But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, (they were under incredible persecution from the “wicked & perverse generation” & Paul knew that the Old Covenant age of Judaism was about to end in the destruction of Jerusalem)
Eph 1:21 far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come [about to come – mello]. (AD 60-62) (“This age” was about to give way to the a “new age”)
Heb 10:25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (AD 64) (For years I missed this one but then again I used to read the Bible as though it was addressed to me. I assumed “the day” referred to an imminent yet still future event. If I had read the text without modern millennial presuppositions I would have seen it long ago. “The Day” was certainly approaching & the common theme throughout Hebrews was to exhort the Jewish believers not to return to Old Covenant Judaism)
Heb 10:36-37 For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: “For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry.” (We must know that God is faithful. If He is still tarrying 2,000 years later what does that say concerning His commitment to meet His promises? “The day” was clearly imminent & this writer has honed the time statements down to “a very little while”. The closer the writing to AD 70 the more imminent the language)
Jas 5:7-9 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door! (AD 49) (James is clearly exhorting his contemporaries to hang on a little longer because judgment was about to be poured out on those that killed Christ)
1Pet 4:7 But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. (AD 68) (To presume that “at hand” refers to a generation 2,000 years removed is a travesty of Biblical interpretation—we do not exhort anyone to “be serious and watchful” if they have no impending need to do either. “The end of all things” must not mean what we have traditionally understood. It refers to the end of the Old Covenant age NOT the termination of the planet)
1Jn 2:18 Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. (Not just the last days but the last hour!)
Rev 1:1 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 (AD 65-68) (Tachos, translated “shortly” above is the Greek word 5034 which means quickness or speed)
In Acts 25:4 we find the same Greek word, tachos. “But Festus answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself was going there shortly.” Tachos is also found in Revelation 22:6. If we use the 1,000 years is but a day to the Lord interpretational grid then Festus still has not arrived at Caesarea! However in Acts 25:6 we read, “And when he [Festus] had remained among them more than ten days, he went down to Caesarea.” With the communication media the way it was in the first century it is plausible to consider that “shortly” could have had a variable meaning but is it reasonable to assume that its scope could be stretched to almost 2,000 years?
Rev 1:3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near. (John’s Revelation may be tough to dicipher but one thing’s clear—its fulfillment was intended to be in the first century)
Rev 1:7 “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him.” (Zech 12:10; Mt 24:30; Dan 7:13 – These passages are congruent with John’s Revelation and refer not only to “this generation” but the coming on the clouds of AD 70)
Rev 2:10 Do not fear any of those things which you are about to [mello] suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. (On the heals of “the time is near” in 1:3, it is clear that these words are meant for John’s readers)
Rev 2:25 “Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.” (Continued expectation of His Parousia—much like the exortation from the writer of Hebrews, “For you have need of endurance…for a very little while & the coming one will come & will not tarry)
Rev 3:10 “I also will keep you from the hour of testing which is about to come [mello] upon the whole world.” (As he said in First John, it is the last hour. It should not go without notice that most translations omit “about to” & substitute “shall”. However in the light of the following verse “coming quickly”, one might presumed that neutering the time reference is not particularly prudent. Translators clearly have their own paradigms with which the Word is filtered)
Rev 22:6 “…to show to His bond-servants the things which must shortly take place.” (Compare Dan. 8:26 “And the vision of the evenings and mornings which was told is true; Therefore seal up the vision, for it refers to many days in the future.”)
Rev 22:10 “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.“ (Compare Dan. 8:26 “And the vision of the evenings and mornings which was told is true; Therefore seal up the vision, for it refers to many days in the future.”)
Rev 22:20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! (We should not have any difficulty believing that He is faithful & that He did exactly as promised. It is only preconceived paradigms that cause us to believe otherwise)
The evidence is overwhelming. Every New Testament author believed that the Parousia would take place in their generation.
The end of the world or the end of the age?
As you read the verses to follow notice the two ages. You can feel the tension between “this age” & “the age to come”. According to the writer of Hebrews, “this age” was “passing away” almost 2,000 years ago & the “age to come” was in process of coming into fullness “as you see the day approaching, for yet a little while & He who is coming will come & will not tarry”. Those two periods coexisted from Jesus’ resurrection through AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem [the wicked generation that killed Jesus], the annihilation of the temple & the end of the sacrificial system. The “last days” is referring to the end of “this age” not a time 2,000 years future. We have difficulty because we read “this age” & immediately consider that it refers to our time in the Twenty-first Century. The “age to come” has no end & came into fullness in AD 70. Today we are living in the beginning of the “age to come”.
Presuppositions aside, let the sheer weight of the evidence saturate your mind.
Mt 12:32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age about [mello] to come. (AD 64-70)
Mt 13:39-40 The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. 40 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age.
Mt 24:13-14 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end [of the age] shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end [of the age] will come.
Mk 1:14-15 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (AD 63 or earlier) – before Luke & Acts
Mk 13:13 And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end [of the age] shall be saved.
Acts 24:15 having hope toward God, which they themselves also wait for, [that] there is about to be a rising again of the dead, both of righteous and unrighteous; [YLT] – (the Greek word “Mello” which means “about to be” is neutered of its time essence by most translations)
Acts 2:16-21 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: 17 ” ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20 the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. 21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ (AD 64 or earlier) Upon first glance one might think it strange that Peter includes the apocolyptic events in this prophetic Word from Joel. How do “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” and “the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood” fit in the at Penetcost? Peter is describing the “Christ event”, a 40 year antitype of the Exodus—it ran from Pentecost (AD 30) to Holocaust (AD 70) and was to occur at the end of the “last days”. We must study the Apocalyptic language of not only the parallel Second Testament passages of Rev 6:12-17, 2Pet 3:10-12, Matt 24:30; but also First Testament writings of Isa 13, Isa 34, Ez 32, Micah 1, Nahum 1 etc. Peter is not speaking of the end of the world but the end of the Old Covenant.
1Cor 1:8 who will also confirm you to the end [of the age], that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1Cor 2:6-8 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
1Cor 15:24 Then comes the end [of the age], when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.
Col 1:26 the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.
Heb 1:1-2 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; (AD 64)
Heb 8:13 In that He says, “A new covenant, ” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Revelation 21:4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”)
Jude 1:17-19 But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: 18 how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. 19 These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.
2Pet 3:3 knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts,
Rev 2:26 And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end [of the age], to him I will give power over the nations—
The Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven
As we consider the Kingdom of God it seems as though we have similar struggles to those living in the 1st century. Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom as evidenced by His power over demons, sickness and death. But today, 2,000 years later with the world seemingly in chaos, the question comes to mind, Has this Kingdom been ineffectual? Has it failed to thwart the power and might of the enemy? Is it possible that our expectations have led us to an inaccurate understanding of what the Kingdom is supposed to look like? And do you think 24/7 news coverage along with the proliferation of social media, detailing a constant barrage of every kind of calamitous even both big and small, has jaundiced our view of the world, making things appear far worse than they actually are?
The Kingdom is unseen and therefore did not come “with observation”. Are we, like those in the 1st century, expecting the physical manifestation of that Kingdom? Did Jesus teach us that on this earth there would be no more physical tears, pain or suffering? In the Lord’s encounter with the woman at the well we see this rather startling exchange.
“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you [Jesus] say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:20-24
The Kingdom will never be confined to physical locations & therefore has no border & is not constrained by time & space. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We worship the King through faith from the heart, not in temples made by human hands – for the Kingdom is not only “at hand” but it is “within us”!
Mk 1:14-15 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (AD 62 or earlier)
Lk 17:21-21 Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”
Rev 12:10 Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.
The sheer volume of the above verses on the immediacy of the establishment of Christ’s eternal Kingdom & the imminency of his return in judgment are staggering. There is clearly a theme throughout the inspired writings of these first century Christians & it our conclusion that they were clearly expecting fulfillment within their generation. It is no coincidence that one who was present when Jesus said, “…there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” may have been the one who Jesus spoke about to Peter when he said, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”
We can choose to ignore these many verses that don’t fit neatly in our “Left Behind” futurist paradigm or we can be open to the light of what Scripture may be trying to teach us. My prayer is that we not allow our presuppositions to dictate our interpretation of these texts. What we believe about the Kingdom & the personal & societal effects of the resurrection will determine the church’s success to become all that God designed it to be. If we continue to settle for an anemic, impotent Gospel then we will continue on our current path of the self-fulfilling prophecy of retreat & defeat. The battle has been won, the victory is ours. Heaven is our reward. Why do we have to wait for anything more?