Revelation Part 2: The Timing

     [PART 1]
     This is the
second article in a series of lessons on the book of Revelation. In our last
discussion, we noticed how the book of Revelation was written prior to the fall
of Jerusalem in AD70. The dating of the book is important because it has
bearing on the interpretation. For example, if the book of Revelation was written
after AD70, then an interpretation that focuses on Jerusalem would be out of
the question because the things in the vision were concerning events past,
present and future to the time of John (Revelation 1:19). The first lessons,
and those following will be for the purpose of arguing the following: “The Revelation
that was seen by John was written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and
found its full fulfillment in the overthrow of Judaism in AD70.” While this
proposition may seem intimidating and, perhaps, threatening to some, I encourage
you to read the following lessons with an open heart and mind – trusting only
in God and not man. As mentioned, our second lesson will focus on the timing of
the fulfillment of Revelation.
     Audience Relevance

     Before
Revelation, or any passage of scripture, can mean anything to us, it must first
be seen in light of the original audience. The epistles in the New Testament
were written to living, breathing people. For example, Jesus said, “I know your
works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil.
And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found
them liars…” (Revelation 2:2). He is not speaking to you or to me, but He
speaking to those of the church of Ephesus (Revelation 2:1). Can we apply this
to us? Sure. It is important to have good works, to labor for the Lord, to not
give space to those that are evil, and to try the teachings of uninspired men,
but in considering the original meaning of this text, we must ask, “What did
this mean to them?”
     The same is true
when interpreting the rest of scripture. We have to ask how the original
audience would have interpreted the letter written to them because that is how
the Holy Spirit intended it to be read. Another example is that of a love
letter. If you were to find a love letter written from you father to your
mother, you would interpret the meaning of that letter in light of the original
audience: your mother! You would not expect others to interpret that they were
the original audience of the letter. We must think of the letters written to
the churches, and even Revelation, in the similar manner. While we know that
all scripture is for us, we also must keep in mind those to whom it was
originally written.

     God and Time

     When God inspired
man to write the Bible, He used words in a way that man could understand. This
same goes for the time statements found in scripture. God would say that things
were far away, and sometimes He would say that things were about to take place.
For instance, in the book of Numbers, Moses recorded, “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of
Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel, and batter the brow of Moab, and destroy
all the sons of tumult” (Numbers 24:17, emp. added). This prophecy about Jesus
was said to be far off into the future. In fact, this was recorded around 1500
years before Jesus was born. When God communicated this truth to Balaam, He
told him that it was something that wouldn’t take place for a long time. Also,
Daniel was told that the visions he saw were far away. In Daniel 8, Daniel was
told, “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” (Daniel 8:26).
     On the other
hand, God would sometimes tell His people that things were about to happen.  Prior to the fall of Jerusalem by the armies
of Nebuchadnezzar, Zephaniah wrote, “Be silent in the presence of the Lord GOD;
For the day of the LORD is at hand, For the LORD has prepared a sacrifice; He
has invited His guests” (Zephaniah 1:7). Zephaniah prophesied in the time of
Josiah (reigned 641 – 609BC). The temple in Jerusalem fell less than twenty-five
years later. In the New Testament, God also spoke through His followers and
said that the kingdom of God was at hand (Matthew 3:2). To emphasize this,
Jesus said, “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His
angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. Assuredly, I say
to you, there are some standing here who
shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom
” (Matthew
16:27-28, emp. added).
     Therefore, when
God uses statements of imminence, we can trust that He says what He means and
means what He says.
     Timing in Revelation

     We’ve seen that when God says
something is far off, it comes to pass at a relatively distant time from the perspective
of the original audience. However, when God says that something is about to
take place, that should be interpreted with the original audience. What did
that particular text mean to them? Once we answer that question, then we can
know that we have the correct interpretation. With all of this being said, what
does the book of Revelation say about the timing of its own fulfillment?
Interestingly enough, the answer is found in the opening verses!
“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, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of
Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw. 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” (Revelation
1:1-3, emp. added).
     How would John’s
original audience interpret these passages? They would have understood that the
things that they were about to read were to come to pass in their near future.
These aren’t the only places where God said that the things in Revelation were
soon to take place. For instance, in Revelation 3, Jesus said, “Behold, I am
coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (Revelation
3:11). Again, how would the seven churches of Asia interpret this text? Would
they not have expected Jesus to come quickly?
      Even in the
latter part of the book, after speaking of judgement, tribulation, and
resurrection, God had John record statement after statement that clearly
indicated that the time of fulfillment was near.
“Behold, I am coming quickly!
Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (Revelation
22:7).
“And he said to me, “Do not
seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand” (Revelation
22:10).
“And behold, I am coming
quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work” (Revelation
22:12).
“He who testifies to these things
says, “Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”
(Revelation 22:20)
                Did God
lie? Were these events not actually near? Did God mean to trick the original
audience by saying that Jesus was going to come quickly? These are the
questions and doubts that are implied when one wishes to push the interpretation
of Revelation out of the time frame that God placed it in. This isn’t said to
discount the sincerity of those who view a future fulfillment of Revelation,
but it is meant to cause you to think about when God said these things would
take place.
     Conclusion

     To finish off our thoughts, let’s
compare one of the closing passages in Revelation to another one in the Old
Testament. “And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of
this book, for the time is at hand” (Revelation 22:10). “But you, Daniel,
shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run
to and fro, and knowledge shall increase” (Daniel 12:4). Do you notice the similarities
and the differences? In one, Daniel is told to seal up the book because the
vision was not for his time. John, on the other hand, is told to not seal up
the book because the vision was for the near future. Daniel lived six hundred
years before John, and that was considered a long time. Here we are, two
thousand years later, and, according to some, God has yet to fulfill His
promises in Revelation. It is for these reasons that we hold to an early
fulfillment of the book of Revelation. This faith isn’t blind, however,
because, as we will in the lessons to come, we will point to history to show
the actual fulfillment of these things.
     In our lessons,
so far, we have put forth that Revelation was written prior to AD70 and that it
was to be fulfilled within the near future of the original audience. Our next
lesson will be focused more on the subject matter of Revelation as we notice
the martyrs, their vindication, and their reward. This will help to further
solidify the early date, and it will also help us to identify who the city of
Babylon is in the latter parts of the book.

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