The End of the Beginning!

In a recent church newsletter, the congregants were informed of a new series entitled, “The end: Understanding the Book of Revelation”.  In this upcoming set of sermons, the is “going to help make sense of this often confusing book of the Bible.” As one considers the first installment, “?The beginning of the end”, a few questions immediately flooded my slightly warped (some say very warped 🙂 gray matter.  

To what
 end is the pastor referring? The beginning of what end?  Though many would automatically presume it to be about the last days of planet earth and the end of human history, did you know that nowhere in John’s vision is such an end stipulated. 

Matter of fact, since most presume the book of Revelation to be a more comprehensive treatment of Olivet Discourse found in the synotpics (Matthew 24; Luke 21; Mark 13), it may come as a surprise to some (it shocked the heck out of me!) that the end of the world (kosmos) is not only never mentioned in the Gospels, but is not found in the entire Bible. Jesus frequently referred to the “end of the age” (Matt 13:49; Matt 24:3; Matt 28:20) but never the end of the world. And though that may seem like hairsplitting, it is anything but. Since the KJV (King James Version) wrongly translated “aion” as world, most Christians throughout the past hundreds of years, have mistakenly thought that the end of the kosmos was plainly in Jesus’ cross-hairs.  So, though the Revelation may in fact be about the “beginning of the end”, it’s extremely important to determine what end is actually in view. 

Based merely upon the sermon title, “The beginning of the end”, quite a few additional questions immediately spring to mind: 

  • Isn’t this an awfully long ending if ?”The beginning of the end?” began in the first century? (Acts 2:16-17; Heb 1:1-2) Both Peter and the author of Hebrews (I believe to be Paul) made it clear that the “Last Days” began in the 1st century. 
  • Doesn’t 2,000 years seem like an ?very long “last days”? 
  • Weren’t the last days, which were 
    first spoken of in Genesis 49, supposed to be at the tail end of the Old Covenant age which began at Sinai?,? 1,600 years before the last days began? If you’re like me, you might have to read that again to get the full impact.
  • If the first verse of John’s Revelation speaks of “things which MUST take place SHORTLY”, what in the world does “shortly” really mean if we’re still looking for these events to take place? 
Confused?  You should be. 🙂  And that’s probably why most people stay clear of this highly sign-ified book. 
So let’s get this straight. The ?Mosaic age ?in which ?the last days were supposed to modify, ?were? to last longer (2,000 years) than the entire Mosaic period (1,600? years)? Does that make any sense? That’d be like Babies R Us (which is selling off it’s inventory as we speak) having a “last days” liquidation sale,?last longer than the entire time the store had existed. LoL
Since the apple rarely falls far from the tree, it’s my educated guess that this pastor will present a somewhat typical version of premillennialism. Dallas Theological Seminary, the place where he received his degree, has been the hotbed for premillennial dispensational eschatology, which  was founded at approx the same time (1830s) as were the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Millerite… all of which share a common eschatological framework. Not the best of bedfellows. That alone should make one a bit nervous.
In this week’s sermon notes the first verse quoted, “…things which must take place shortly”, is listed under the subtitle: “The Revelation is an autobiography.” Though this verse and the other two verses quoted on page 1 (of the sermon notes) all contain imminent time references (Rev 1:3 “for the time is near; Rev 22:7 And behold, I am coming soon?…?“), I find it curiously telling that the pastor followed with the main bullet point exhortation, Why is a predictive approach to Revelation not the best? • The Bible warns against it… while quoting “but concerning the day and hour no one knows” 

Yes, the Bible clearly warns against “private interpretations”, but since John is told repeatedly in the first and last chapters in the Revelation of the “things that MUST take place shortly”, I’m not certain why it would be wrong to determine if these things did in fact take place shortly. Matter of fact, I think it’s imperative that we do that. 

When pastor warns against a predictive approach, is this not an indictment against the entire premillennial schema that he subscribes to? Just wander through your local Christian bookstore (after purchasing one of my wife’s wonderful books! 🙂 and notice how the plethora of apocalyptically-based novels and commentaries are warning us of our impending end. This is the drumbeat of this entire eschatological system that has dominated the evangelical community since the 60s.  
So when one references tsunami’s, earthquakes (one yesterday in Cuba), Middle East strife, school shootings and moral disintegration, as proof that we are nearing the end, aren’t we in a sense violating this edict against this predictive approach?  Though few go so far as the date setting of Harold Camping or Edgar Whisenant (88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will be in 1988), the winds of impending doom are constantly swirling throughout the church. I sat in a north Florida Sunday School some time ago and as the class neared its end, the leader said something like, “Men, things may be bad now, but they will only get worse. Get ready!”  
As I have heard pastors and others allude to the fact that things are only going to get worse, I have to wonder what impact this is having on our resolve to win the world for Christ? Matter of fact, in a rather sordid sort of way, some go so far to revel in the disintegration of our culture as proof that Jesus is closer to returning. (Kirk Cameron addressed that very issue in Monumental – short clip below.) 

Although I would wholeheartedly concur that today’s prophetic speculators have brought undue scorn upon the Bible’s credibility, I don’t think this is what Jesus was warning His disciples about. Jesus had just spent His entire Olivet monologue with the express purpose of telling them what was about to take place and when it would happen. Was Jesus truly dodging the disciple’s question, “…when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” Not at all. Jesus answered that question with great certainty in verse 34 “This generation will not pass away until ALL THESE THINGS be fulfilled”. So why when we read verse 36, do we assume that Jesus had no clue when He would return? Not knowing the day and the hour is one thing. Not knowing the millennia is quite another!
Matthew 24:36 (ESV) “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 
Was Jesus really telling his disciples that neither He nor anyone would ever have a remote clue when He was going to return? Is that really what this verse was supposed to convey? Jesus said He didn’t know the specific day or the specific hour, but He also emphatically stated that “all these things would come upon this generation” (Matt 23:36) and “This generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt 24:34)??. 

C.S. Lewis thought verse 34 was so misleading that it was really embarrassing (World’s Last Night). So much so that it called it the most embarrassing verse in the Bible. Most, instead of being embarrassed by it, do everything in their power to ignore it or alter it’s plain meaning. C.I. Scofield tried to do a little slight of hand, writing that “generation” (genea) actually meant “race” (genos). However, since that effort has been so summarily discredited, people choose other avenues like, “It’s the generation that sees the signs”.  It never ceases to amaze me, the excuses people try to come up with to make the Bible fit into their little box. The disciples asked one question, not three, and Jesus gave one definitive answer. At that point we have a choice. We can either attempt to change what Jesus actually said, or we can believe Him. 

So would you characterize Jesus’ statement “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have come to pass”, as having no idea? Sure, 40 years (a Biblical generation) is a heck of a long time, but it is still a clearly delineated time frame (from the cross in AD 30 to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70).  Jesus had already stated that He would return before his disciples finished going through the cities of Israel (Matt 10:23), while some in his larger flock were still alive (Matt 16:27-28), so adding “this generation” to the mix was really just a reaffirmation of what He had already told them.  
By the time we arrive at Matthew 24:34, ?Jesus had finished a rather lengthy explanation, detailing the events that would precede His return (at the end of the age) culminating in the temple’s utter obliteration (Matt 24:2-3).  
So to say that Jesus had no clue when He would return is, well, ludicrous. That may sound harsh, but Jesus made it abundantly clear that His disciples were to stay vigilant and should prepare for His return. That was the intent of the parables that followed Matthew 24. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus even gave the birth pains analogy, which made evident that although a mother wouldn’t know the exact day or the hour of her child’s birth, she would know that in approx 9 months she’s have a baby… so, once the birth pains arrive, she’d know that her baby’s birth was imminent. The point is that in both instances (Jesus’ coming and childbirth) there is a fixed, known time period, which was to end shortly after the birth pains began. 
That’s why Jesus prefaced His emphatic statement concerning “this generation” with the following:
Matthew 24:32-33 (NASB) “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near33 so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door

?Does this sound as if the disciples were not to know the season of His return? 22 times in the first 44 verses in this Matthew’s 24th chapter, Jesus referred to “you” as He warned them (His beloved disciples) of the impending events that would lead to the end of the age and the razing of the temple. So what hermeneutical (science of interpretation) principle would license us to assume that the “you” in “when you see these things” is not specifically referencing the disciples, but instead is some sort of generic “you” representing those of us living in the 21st century? 

When I was first confronted with the interpretive principle, “reader relevance”, I was shocked to notice the number of times Jesus referred specifically to His disciples. From start to finish there is a contiguous reference to Jesus’ disciples. So to make this passage about us seems arrogant and myopic. 

  • Do YOU see all these things? (verse 2)
  • Truly I tell YOU (verse 2)
  • Watch out that no one deceives YOU (4)
  • YOU will hear of wars and rumors of wars (6)
  • but see to it that YOU are not alarmed (6)?
  • Then YOU will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death (9)
  • YOU will be hated by all nations because of me (9)
  • “So when YOU see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation (15)
  • Pray that YOUR flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath (20)
  •  At that time if anyone says to YOU, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. (23)
  • See, I have told YOU ahead of time. (25?)
  • So if anyone tells YOU, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. (26)
  • As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, YOU know that summer is near. (32)
  • Even so, when YOU see all these things (33)
  • YOU know that it is near, right at the door (33)
  • Truly I tell YOU, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened (34)
  • Therefore keep watch, because YOU do not know on what day your Lord will come (42)
  • So YOU also must be ready (44)
  • because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (44)
Watch Matthew 23-24 (below) to get the full impact of “audience relevance”. Skip to the 9:22 mark of Matthew 24.
Is there any question to whom Jesus was speaking and is there the slightest doubt that Jesus was preparing His disciples so they would remain vigilant? “YOU must also be ready,” Jesus exhorted. Why would Jesus exhort them to “be ready” if none of this pertained to them, but rather was targeting a distant generation 2,000 years future? I realize that, in their/our arrogance, every generation thinks they are the most important in all of history, but this is not only not the case, but it’s also bad logic. 
Now, notice how Jesus’ brother James used the same language as Jesus did 30 years earlier. 
James 5:8-9 (NKJV) You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at handDo not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!
Jesus had said, “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; 33 so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door(Matt 24:32-33)
Is this just coincidental language?  James stated that Jesus’ return was not only near, it was ?”right at the door”!!!  And the closer they came to the end of the age, the more we see this language of imminence intensify. The passages below were written in the early AD 60s just a few short years from the destruction of Jerusalem. 
In Hebrews 10:37, 1 John 2:18 and 1 Peter 4:7 we read, “for in a very little while He who is coming will come and will not delay“; “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour; and The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.”
?Is there any doubt that these apostles were keeping track of the signs? Surely they neither knew the day nor the hour, but, given the anticipatory language above, it’s apparent that they knew the “last days” were coming to a close. John didn’t say he thought it might be the last hour, he said that he knew it was the last hour. 
According to the Apostle Paul, only those who were not paying attention to the unfolding events laid out in the Olivet were to be consumed by the wrath of God as He poured out His vengeance upon the Christ-killing generation. The thief would ONLY come as a thief in the night to those who were not vigilant. To the Christians who did not live in darkness, they would not be overtaken by the thief. They were sons of the day! 
1 Thessalonians 5:2-6 (NASB) For YOU yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. But YOU, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake YOU like a thief; for YOU are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let US not sleep as others do, but let US be alert and sober. “But YOU are not in darkness that the day would overtake YOU as a thief, for YOU are all sons of light and sons of the day.” 
So, when anyone tries to argue that Christ’s return in judgment against that wicked and perverse generation, was shrouded in so much mystery that no one should have a clue when He would return, you will know that they are in error because the Bible proves differently. If one ignores the timing, because they don’t understand the nature of His coming, confusion will abound. And once we ignore the context of the timing, the Bible becomes an interpretive Mr. Potato Head. ?It can be manipulated to fit our paradigm. 
The first century Jews missed Jesus’ first coming. Why? Because they expected a warrior prince to deliver them from their political bondage while vanquishing their oppressors, not a suffering servant who came to set them free from sin and death. So they crucified Him.
Is it possible that 21st Christians have made the very same interpretive mistake by misunderstanding the nature of Christ’s return? Jesus had already warned his followers not to be misled. “So if anyone tells YOU, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.” But why? How could they be certain that at some point Jesus would not be found among them again?  For the same reason Peter attempted to resist Jesus’ arresting party.
John 18:36 (NASB) Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” 
The Kingdom, Jesus told them, is not of this world. It’s spiritual in nature. The Kingdom was not coming with “signs to be observed”. 
Luke 17:20-21 (NASB) 20 Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!‘ or, ‘There it is!‘ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
Just a few chapters later, Luke, writing to a predominantly Gentile audience, wrote:
Luke 21:20-22 (NASB) 20 “But when YOU see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near21 “Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; 22 because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled.    
Is there any wonder why so many Christians have missed this when we’re so rooted in earthly/physical/temporal expectations?  If we miss the timing of His visitation (and I don’t know how much clearer Jesus and the the NT authors could have been), how will we understand the nature of that coming? Is there perhaps a reason why, after 2,000 years, Jesus has still not arrived in the manner expected, given the fact that, in the second to the last verse of the Bible, He said Behold, I am coming quickly? (Rev 22:20)  
I realize this brings discomfort to some (as it did me), but if we don’t begin to take God seriously when He said He was going to do something, aren’t we unwittingly entering into a state of disbelief simply because we want to hold on to what we’ve been told?
Let me add one more thought regarding this supposed second coming “mystery” and the exhortation to avoid prophetic speculation. It should be noted that Jesus said (while still in human form before His ascension) that His parousia (Greek word usually translated “coming”) would be in “this generation”. At that time, because of His human restrictions, only the Father knew the day and the hour of his return.  

However, would you not agree that once Jesus ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father (AD 30), that at that very moment He knew the day and the hour of His imminent visitation? Jesus’ glory was clearly restored to that His prior status before the foundation of the world. So to argue that, even after His ascension, He would never know the day or the hour of His return, is to assault the deity of Christ and the oneness of the trinity.

John 17:5 (NKJV) And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.

Jesus had already been glorified and was no longer encumbered by human constraints. So, when the Revelation was written (approx AD 62-64), I’m not certain how we can argue that Jesus was still unaware. Therefore, when we read the first 3 verses of the Revelation, what should our conclusion be? The King is telling us WHEN He will return. This is not a guess. “MUST soon take place” gives us no wiggle room. When the Creator of the universe says something must happen, do we have the nerve to question like the serpent did i.e. Hath God said?… 

Revelation 1:1-3 (NASB) The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 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.
The word Revelation is the Greek word “apokalupsis” which means the uncovering. Not the concealing! Many today seem to believe that the Revelation was never meant to be understood by actual recipients, but only properly understood by us. Wouldn’t then, the vision has been named the parakalýpt?, which means concealed? 
Luke 9:45 (NASB) But they did not understand this statement, and it was concealed from them so that they would not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this statement. 
Jesus, through the angel, told John of the impending events that were about to follow. So why is the sci-fi language about beasts, dragons and strange creatures with horns seemingly shrouded in mystery and intrigue?? To protect the recipients against their adversaries, both Roman and Jewish. This book was not a mystery to those steeped in the Old Testament. It only appears to us like a document concealed in secrecy because we have so little grasp of the Old Testament. 
Twice in the first 3 verses, and 5 times in our Bible’s last chapter, Jesus told them that His return was imminent. Personally, though I realize it’s not popular, I prefer to believe Jesus than the self-appointed experts who will not take God at His word. 
So is it true that no one was or is to have a clue when Jesus was to return? Clearly the Disciples didn’t know the day or the hour, but is it possible for us to know the exact time of His visitation? 
American Vision Founder, Gary DeMar, in the forward to Francis Gumerlock’s “The Day and the Hour: Christianity’s Perennial Fascination with Predicting the End of the World”, wrote:

“Trying to make the Bible say something that it does not is the point of Frank Gumerlock’s The Day and the Hour. Its historical documentation is overwhelming. We read how decade after decade of prophecy writers, over two millennia, assured their followers that their generation was the last generation. How could so many well-intentioned and seemingly well-informed Christians be so wrong on such an important topic? Is the Bible that unclear? Not at all. The Bible is not at fault. The fault lies with those who refuse to take it’s The result is that God ends up being a liar.

The Day and the Hour forces us to reevaluate the constant claim that today’s signs are certain indicators that Jesus is coming soon, that He is returning in our generation. Some might say, “Well, today is different. Conditions of the world are much worse than they were 500 years ago. There are more earthquakes, famines and wars. As you read The Day and the Hour, count how many times this same argument is used to support the claim that the end was near for Christians in long-past generations. 

The Day and the Hour is an ever-present reminder that if the history of date setting teaches us anything, it teaches that everyone who has ever made a prophetic claim has been wrong. In the final analysis, the Bible is the true standard, not the prophetic prognostications of prophetic speculators.”

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One Response to The End of the Beginning!

  1. BobSan says:

    Thank you Chuck for the tremendous effort you put forth in trying to explain the teaching of the truth. It is difficult to go against the establishment of the church traditions, for sure! You did an amazing job in presenting the time statements logically in your blog. Thanks again for all your efforts!

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