Behold, I Come Quickly
By Wendy Wippel
1987: Pastor David Chilton writes “The Great Tribulation”. The book claims to be “the most comprehensive and easily understood writing available on this cataclysmic event– which so many Christians are awaiting”. It also claims that Chilton proves “it will be a long wait”. Why? Because everything Revelation describes “occurred in 70 AD”.
Bible prophecy is, admittedly, a difficult exegetical nut to crack, which probably explains why, over the nearly 2000 years that Christians have waited for Jesus’ return, the nuts have cracked in basically four different ways.
Approaches to Bible prophecy fall into four broad and somewhat overlapping categories, essentially defined by when their respective adherents believe that the prophecies contained in Revelation and the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, and its parallel passages in the other Gospels) were, or will be, fulfilled.
One group (the idealists) don’t view the prophecies as related to time at all. Nope. They’re just one big allegory. Like Pilgrim’s Progress. And their correct interpretation is that those who follow the Lord will experience, during their walk with their personal savior, both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The events described in Bible prophecy, particularly the events of tribulation as described in Genesis, are a metaphor for that.
If that’s the case, you’d think that John 16:33 would have sufficed:
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
That pretty much sums the agony and ecstasy part up, doesn’t it?
Bring on the economy-sized bottle of Bible White –Out! We can get rid of about 18 books here! (17 major and minor prophets and Revelation.) It would save so much paper.
The idealists, thankfully, are a pretty small bunch, which makes sense. Because their viewpoint really doesn’t.
A second group, the historicists, believe that Revelation and the prophetic discourse of Jesus recorded in the Gospels are being fulfilled, all around us, every day, as part of the church. They’re known as the historicists.
Historicism, the viewpoint of the remaining remnant of the Puritans, view the book of Revelation as a metaphorical representation of church history till the return of the Savior. There was bad blood, as you may remember, between the Puritans and the Catholic church. Lots of blood, actually, which has influenced the Puritan interpretation. And their attempt to superimpose church history onto the clearly extraordinary events described in Revelation makes for some pretty interesting interpretations.
The locusts in Revelation 9, for example. Those are monks, don’t you know.
Fortunately historicists are also very much a minority view.
Which brings us to the last two: Those who believe that the fulfillment of Revelation and the Olivet Discourse is largely future (us), and those who, like Chilton, see it as past. Based on the Latin word for “past”, this group is called preterists.
Where did this view come from? RC Sproul, actually, popularized it, citing this as his reason: great intellects, like Bertrand Russell and Albert Schweitzer felt that the fact that Jesus had not yet returned, despite Him saying things like, “behold, I am coming quickly (Revelation 22:12), was proof that the Bible, and/or the Saviour, couldn’t be trusted.
“At issue for Russell is the time-frame reference of these prophecies”, said Sproul. “Russell charges that Jesus failed to return during the time frame He had predicted.”
Sproul’s fix for Russell’s criticisms?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t involve any reference to II Peter 3:3-4,
“Knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?”
No reference to that as proof that the Bible can be trusted.
Nope. His fix was to teach that Jesus has, in fact, already returned. We just missed it. He returned spiritually in judgment when Rome destroyed Jerusalem.
I guess we just have to, as Barney says, “use our imagination.”
The preterist viewpoint makes for some other interesting interpretations:
– The last days? That would be 33 AD-70 AD, when Jerusalem was destroyed. (No future meaning.)
– The Beast? Nero. (Or if they are feeling generous, the Roman Empire in general.) (No future ruler.)
– The False Prophet? Caiphas, the High Priest, and the rest of his cronies who rejected Jesus and brought Him to trial. (No future religious leader.)
– The New Jerusalem? The Church. (No future Jewish state.)
– Armageddon? A symbol of defeated and desolate Israel after their rejection of their Messiah. No future battle.
You may have seen where this is leading.
And all those prophecies that promise judgment, but also restoration, to the nation of Israel. Every major and minor prophet, in fact that deal with the end times? What about them?
Well, as they willingly admit, their focus is on Revelation and the Olivet Discourse.
But I am feeling magnanimous today, so let’s do them the courtesy of addressing Russell’s objection to Biblical Inerrancy.
What about all those statements that Jesus is coming soon?
Notice that the New King James says, “behold, I am coming quickly”. Not soon, as other translations include. The truth is that the word, “tachy”, in Greek, can be translated either way, and both are equally accurate. (Tachycardia, BTW, a medical term, has tachy in it. It means your heart is beating quickly.)
So how do you know what Jesus meant? Is He coming soon, or is He coming quickly?
We look for a comprehensive understanding from the Scriptures. And what does Jesus otherwise say about His coming?
“For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” (Matthew 24:27)
“in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (I Corinthians 15:52)
“Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments.” (Revelation 16:15)
That’s what God said.
Do we really need to care what Bertrand Russell and Albert Schweitzer thought?
“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy!” (Jude 24)
Aren’t you ready!