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Particulars of Christianity:
313 Preterism

Addendum: "The Time Is At Hand"

Preterism Part 1: The Basics and Partial Preterism
Preterism Part 2: Olivet and the Transcendent "You"
Preterism Part 3: The Remaining "Proof Texts"
Preterism Part 4: Appealing to Josephus
Preterism Part 5: Uninterrupted Futurism into 2nd Century
Preterism Part 6: Nero, History, and Biblical Details
Preterism Part 7: Scripture and a Delayed Coming
Preterism Part 8: Brief Summary of Conclusions
Behold I Come Quickly
Things Which Must Shortly Come to Pass
When Was Revelation Written?
A Throne of His Own

Addendum: "The Time Is At Hand"

This addendum article will address the phrase "at hand," which occurs in Revelation 1 and 22.

Revelation 1:2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. 3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.

Revelation 22:10 And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.

Of course, by definition Preterism asserts that certain prophesied events (such as the tribulation, the false prophet, mark of the beast, antichrist, and a return of Jesus Christ) were fulfilled by 70 AD. However, a literal interpretation of the phrase "the time is at hand" in Revelation 1:3 and Revelation 22:10 is not compatible with or supportive of the Preterist position. First we will explain why this phrase ("the time is at hand") does not work with Preterism and then we will explain what we believe the correct, literal meaning of this phrase is.

First, in Revelation 1:3, John is told "…the words of this prophecy and the things written therein: for the time is at hand." Similarly, Revelation 22:10, states that the sayings of the Book of Revelation should not be sealed "for the time is at hand." Both verses indicate that the "time is at hand" in regard to the fulfillment of all the prophecies contained within the Book of Revelation. For emphasis, it's worth repeating that this phrase is attached to all the prophecies in the Book of Revelation. It is not selectively applied to only some prophecies. This is important because the Book of Revelation does not just contain prophecies of the tribulation, the antichrist's kingdom, and Jesus' return. The Book of Revelation also contains prophecies of the resurrection of the saints who died during the tribulation (20:4), the millennial reign of Christ over the earth with an iron rod assisted by the saints (20:3-7, 19:15, 2:27, 12:5), the resurrection of all the dead after the millennium (20:5, 13), the final judgment of all at God's great white throne (20:11-15), the coming of the heavenly city to earth (21:2-3, 10), and God's coming to live with men on the earth (21:20, 22:3-5). These important prophecies immediately commence after the completion of the tribulation and Christ's return.

Anyone who wants to suggest that "the time is at hand" (Revelation 1:3 and 22:10) requires a 70 AD fulfillment of Revelation's prophecies, must, by necessity, believe that all these prophecies also came to pass shortly after that 70 AD date (the resurrection of the saints, the millennial kingdom, the resurrection of all the dead, the great throne judgment, the coming of the heavenly city, and the eternal state wherein God dwells with man on earth forever). And yet, almost 2,000 years later these prophecies remain unfulfilled. Consequently, it is clear that these prophecies were not "at hand" in the first century AD. This is the first reason why it seems impossible to conclude that the phrase "at hand" was meant to indicate a fulfillment that was only a few short years away in the latter half of the first century.

Second, we can survey the meaning of the word "eggus," (Strong's number 1451) which is the Greek word for the phrase "at hand" in Revelation 1:3 and 22:10. Similarly, the Greek verb "eggizo" comes from "eggus" (Strong's number 1448). For example, "eggizo" is used by John the Baptist who says that the kingdom of God was "at hand." (I will return to John the Baptist's use of "eggizo" momentarily.)

In 1 Peter 4:7, Peter used "eggizo" to say that the end of all things is at hand. According to scholars, Peter probably wrote this epistle in the mid 60's AD. And because of that timing, this particular epistle works well with a Preterists interpretation of Revelation 1:3 and 22:10. However, other uses of "eggizo" are problematic because they are written much farther away from 70 AD. For example, Paul uses "eggizo" in Romans 13:11-12. Speaking of our "salvation," Paul says "now is our salvation nearer than when we believed." And in he goes on to say that the day is "at hand." The salvation that Paul said was "at hand" does not refer to the tribulation period itself or its beginning. It must be a reference to the deliverance brought when Jesus returns after the tribulation. However, most scholars hold that Romans was written in about 57-58 AD, perhaps as much as a decade and a half prior to 70 AD, when Preterists suppose that Jesus' returned.

Similarly, James 5:8 uses "eggizo" and says that "the coming of the Lord" (not the start of the tribulation) is "at hand." But James wrote his epistle in between 45-50 AD, some two decades or more before any 70 AD event. How long can we stretch the meaning of the Greek words "eggus" and "eggizo" beyond a few years? Furthermore, did Jesus' bring salvation to the Roman Christians in 70 AD? If not (if he merely brought judgment on the Jewish nation) then the salvation Paul told the Romans was "at hand" was in fact a great deal more than a decade and a half away. I would argue that we are still waiting for it nearly 2000 years later.

To put an even finer point on it, these phrases from Peter, Paul, James, and even in Revelation 1:3 and 22:10 are clearly intended as encouragements or warnings. But in the case of James' epistle, which was written in 45-50 AD, twenty years away is hardly "at hand" from the perspective of a human lifespan. Twenty to twenty-five years is anywhere from a third to a half of a human lifespan (especially in the first century when people generally did not live as long as they do today). So, what point would there be to telling people the Lord's return was "at hand" when they had nearly a third to half of their lives to live before needing to repent before he returned?

The point here is that the phrase "at hand" only really works as an encouragement or warning when it refers to "a few, short years" rather than a decade or two. However, if we assume that the starting point of the "at hand" timeframe is the moment when the words "at hand" were written on the page, then 70 AD is still too far away from the time Romans and James were written. Such a "from the moment they were written" starting point may theoretically work for Preterists when 1 Peter or Revelation are viewed in isolation. But this starting point does not work with the whole of the New Testament usage of "at hand."

Third, as mentioned earlier, John the Baptist used the word "eggizo" to say that the kingdom of God itself was "at hand." Jesus himself used "eggizo" with regard to the kingdom of God itself. On this issue, I think the Preterists are forced into a catch-22. The Preterist argument concerning the phrase "at hand" is essentially an appeal to interpreting such phrases literally. (I will address how the Futurist interpretation is also literal momentarily.) Here the application of "eggizo" to the kingdom of God is insightful. When "eggizo" is taken to literally mean an event is only a few, short years away, what happens to the meaning of the phrase "kingdom of God"? Based upon the promises and prophecies they had received, the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets expected a literal, physical kingdom involving "land promises," political dominance, and physical deliverance from their earthly political enemies. No such massive geographic or political event took place in either the first century AD or anytime in the 2,000 years since. But in order for the "kingdom of God" to be "a few, short years away" as declared by John the Baptist and Jesus, the Old Testament promises and expectations of the "kingdom of God" have to be "spiritualized" and "allegorized."

Consequently, here Preterism's inconsistency is revealed. Preterism purports to uphold a literal interpretation of the timing elements found in prophecies while at the same time the Preterists end up having to abandon the literal interpretation when it comes to the object of the prophecies themselves. Ultimately, either the literal meaning of the kingdom is wrong or the Preterists' suggested literal meaning of "at hand" is wrong.

Now let's turn our attention to how "at hand" should be interpreted.

First, in the case of John the Baptist and Jesus, I believe their uses of "eggizo" are meant to refer to the intrusion of Israel's king upon the stage of history. The people of Israel should repent because the kingdom of God was at hand in the sense that the king, the embodiment of that kingdom, was there in their midst in the person of Jesus Christ. Here, a literal interpretation of "eggizo" is preserved but that literal interpretation is shown not to require any first century Preterist fulfillment of tribulation, anti-christ, or kingdom prophecies.

Second, let me address the use "at hand" in end-times prophecies specifically (such as Revelation 1:3 or 22:10). The Futurist position here is both simple and literal. The phrase "the time is at hand" in Revelation 1:3 and 22:10 must be understood in accordance with its literal definition and its scriptural context, specifically including prior scriptural precedent. In this case, we must understand Revelation 1:3 and 22:10 in terms of other biblical usages of "eggus" in reference to future events. Here the commanding precedent is Jesus' statements in the Olivet Discourse. In Luke 21:30-31, Jesus uses "eggus" ("at hand") and says, "when we see the signs leading up to his coming we will know that his coming is at hand."

Luke 21:29 And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; 30 When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. 31 So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.

In Luke's account, the "at hand" timeframe is not applicable to the present time when Jesus spoke the prophecies. Jesus' return was not presently "at hand" when Jesus spoke this prophecy near 30 AD. (Even for Preterists it was 40 years away in 70 AD.) Instead, in Luke's account, the nearness or "at hand" timeframe refers to the point in time when the preceding signs begin to be fulfilled. Jesus' return would be "at hand" once the signs began to commence. In short, the literal meaning of "at hand" is preserved, but simply with a different starting point than the Preterists assert. Instead of assuming the return is "at hand" starting from the time those words were spoken or written on the page, the return is "at hand" starting from the time that the preceding signs begin to appear.

In fact, Preterists themselves acknowledge the connection between Jesus' use of "at hand" in Luke 21:30-31 and the occurrences of "at hand" in Revelation 1:3 and 22:10. According to Preterists, the Book of Revelation was written in the mid 60's AD and ended with the return of Christ and destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. So, according to Preterists, John wrote the phrase "the time is at hand" literally just as the events of the predicted events leading up to Jesus' return were beginning to unfold. Consequently, Preterists acknowledge that Revelation's "at hand" timeframe commences with the occurrence of the preceding signs, just as Jesus said in Luke 21:30-31. And in saying this, Preterists have automatically agreed to two factors. First, Jesus' statement is the precedent for interpreting similar phrases in Revelation 1:3 and 22:10. And second, that the "at hand" timeframe only commences once the signs have begun to unfold. Therefore, the issue with Preterists is not one of a dispute over the interpretation of "at hand" in Revelation or its connection to Jesus' statements in Luke 21. Instead, the debate with Preterists is simply a question of whether or not the preceding signs actually occurred in the 60's AD, thereby initiating the "at hand" timeframe described by Jesus in Luke 21.

Revelation 1:3 and 22:10 are simply applying Jesus' comment from the Olivet Discourse to Revelation's elongated, more detailed description of the events at the end of human history. All these "end of history" events will be "near at hand" once the required preceding signs begin to commence. (And I believe Peter, Paul, and James all understood this precedent for "at hand" given by Jesus and intended to pass on his admonishment for his church to vigilantly watch for the signs of his return rather than to grow slack and unconcerned with his return.)

This futurist interpretation is literal with regard to the phrase "at hand." It interprets the phrase "at hand" to mean "nearness of time" but it interprets this phrase in light of scriptural precedent - precedent which specifies a particular starting point for when the "at hand" timeframe will commence. Consequently, the futurist interpretation of "at hand" does not abandon the literal interpretation of scripture. In fact, the futurist interpretation can interpret all the components of prophecies literally, both the timing components and the content of the prophecies themselves, such as the nature of the kingdom of God and things like the darkening of the sun, moon, and stars.

We will close with two points about literal interpretation of prophecy. First, if Preterists don't uphold that the prophecies were fulfilled literally, why argue from a literal fulfillment of the timeframe components within the prophecies? Second, there is ample reason from the bible itself not to restrict "at hand" in Revelation 1:3 and 22:10 to mean "a few years away" in the first century AD. And it is much easier to interpret the timeframe required by the phrase "at hand" in light of directly related prophetic precedent than it is to explain how significant prophecies happened just after John wrote Revelation in the first century AD (such as the resurrection of the saints, the millennial kingdom, the resurrection of all the dead, the great throne judgment, the coming of the heavenly city, and the eternal state wherein God dwells with man on earth forever).