Both Matthew and Luke leave us wondering about the identity of the disciples who came forward to interrogate Jesus as to His pronouncement of severe judgment upon the city of Jerusalem and nation of Israel. Neither of their Gospel accounts reveals the names of those disciples (cf. Mt.24:l and Lk.21:7). Mark’s Gospel, however, reveals that it was Peter, James, John and Andrew who approached the Lord privately with questions regarding His prediction of utter destruction (Mk.13:3). While this knowledge of the names of the disciples may not be necessary for us, it is helpful nonetheless. We call this to your attention in order to point out that Peter was a first-hand recipient of that great prophetic oracle. As Peter declares in his second epistle, "…we were eyewitnesses of His majesty" (2 Pet.l:16). Therefore, we are reminded that when Peter speaks and writes he does so from the perspective of one who saw and heard the Lord himself. Additionally, of course, and of primary concern, is the fact that he is guided by the Holy Spirit of God as promised by Jesus (Mt.10:20; Mk.13:11; Lk.21:15).
The title of this essay derives from a statement made by the apostle Peter in a letter that he authored with the assistance of a co-worker named Silvanus (1 Pet.l:1;l 5:12). More precisely, the phrase comes from l Pet.4:7 which reads, "the end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer."
There are several aspects of this New Testament passage that make it a difficult one for those who hold to a traditional (not-all-fulfilled) view of eschatology. And there are likewise some things about this verse that make it a very persuasive argument in favor of realized eschatology or fulfilled prophecy. It is our conviction that this citation, by itself, illuminates some of the glaring weaknesses of the traditional view of end-time things. What is Peter saying in this verse? Are his words truly inspired and therefore authoritative? To whom was Peter writing this epistle and in what time frame was it written? Is there an "imminency factor", an expectation of nearness, contained in his words of instruction and exhortation? All of these are important considerations that will aid us a great deal in extrapolating the true meaning of Peter’s admonition.
First of all, we hope that our readers will be able to agree without dissent on the issue of Peter’s authoritativeness. If we cannot accept this point, then the interest expressed in searching for the meaning of Peter’s words regarding "the end of all things" really amounts to nothing more than intellectual intrigue. We believe that Peter is writing as one "moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet.1:21). Not only was he an eyewitness (in this case an "earwitness" as well) to the Lord’s apocalyptic prediction (Mk.13 often is referred to as "the little apocalypse" –apocalypse meaning "revelation"), but he also was under the miraculous guidance of the Holy Spirit. "The Lord worked with them" (Mk.16:20). The Holy Spirit, also known as "the Helper", was supplied to teach the apostles all things and to bring to their remembrance all that they previously had been taught by Christ (Jn.14:26). The Spirit of Truth was given, in the absence of Christ, to disclose things to come (Jn.16:13). Of course, this is the very thing that Peter does — he writes in a first-century context proclaiming that "the end of all things is at hand." If we take the time to dig even just a little bit, we’ll be able to recall that Jesus taught the disciples in the Olivet discourse, "this generation will not pass away until all these things take place" (Mt.24:34). The "generation" of Mt.24:34 is the same as the "generation" of Mt.23:36 — both refer to those living in the first century. Peter knows this very well because he recalls the words of Jesus spoken just a week or so prior to His transfiguration, "…there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom" (Mt.16:28; Mk.9:1). Studied side by side, Mt.16:28; 23:36 and 24:34 are extremely convincing in showing that eschatology was a subject that would find fulfillment in the first century. Peter’s memory, aided by the Holy Spirit, serves him well in reminding his readers of the words of Christ, "…they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory" (Mt.24:30). It is not coincidental to see a strong linkage between Peter’s exhortation in 1 Pet.4:7 and the words of Christ in Mt.24. Peter’s admonition is but a recapitulation of His Lord’s.
Regarding his original readership, 1 Pet.1:1 reveals his target audience as, "those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia." We believe that many, if not most, of Peter’s readers were Jews who had fled Jerusalem as a result of harsh persecutions. Some might have left Jerusalem and Judea in earlier years. Perhaps their ancestors were transported as part of some of the captivities and exiles. Others might have exited Jerusalem as a result of the persecutions spearheaded by Saul and his cohorts (Acts 8:l; Js.1:1; Jn.7:35). It also is possible that many who took up residence outside of Judea did so with commercial and even evangelistic motives (cf. Acts 2:9-11 with Gen.12:3 and Ex.19:6). Reliable manuscript evidence contains the Aramaic name "Simeon" in 2 Pet.1:2, which also may point to a Hebrew readership (in Acts 15:14 this is how James refers to Peter in the midst of a Jewish assembly). While it is not our desire in this article to give a detailed examination of the identity of the "Babylon" of 1 Pet.5:13, we do feel that the contention that Peter writes from Jerusalem (i.e. "Babylon" equals Jerusalem) supports the notion that his recipients might have similar roots and interests. Other internal evidences likewise aid us in arriving at this conclusion. 1Pet.4:17 says, "for it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begin with us first…" The "household of God" could well imply "the temple" and the "us" could easily speak of "the Jews".
A primary focal point in the exegesis of 1 Pet.4:7 is the question of imminency. One commentator has attempted to evade Peter’s plain and clear-cut speech by fabricating a supposed distinction between immediacy and imminency (R.Shelly, Something To Hold Onto, pg.65). Can Peter’s warning be understood as anything but an expectation of nearness? Another writer has expressed our thoughts on this matter with his brief, but to the point observation, "any interpretation that stretches the words `shortly’ and `at hand’ into 2,000 years stretches the truth." Translating Peter’s "at hand" to mean 1,900+ years is tantamount to giving license to make Scripture say whatever one wants it to say. It also requires that one "take away from the words of the book", which is a serious violation of God’s will and the common sense rules of good and sound hermeneutics (cf. Rev.22:19).
Not a few have begun to apply this verse (1 Pet.4:7) to the A.D.70 fall of Jerusalem. This is as it should be. However, the process of applying this passage to A.D.70 must not be used to soften Peter’s words. He did not say, "the end of some things is at hand." Neither did he say, AN end was at hand. Peter told of THE end of ALL THINGS in the context of THE revelation (not simply A coming) of Jesus Christ (1:7) which would bring them salvation (1:5,9) and grace (1:13) and a crown of glory (5:4) as a result of God’s judgment (4:5,17). All these things were ready (1:5; 4:5) and at hand (4:7) in those last times (1:20). After a little while (1:6; 5:10) they would be exalted, perfected, confirmed, strengthened and established (5:6,10). Truly, Peter was not announcing some minor happening —
he stated, "THE END of ALL THINGS is at hand." The phraseology in this passage has moved some scholars to surmise that since the end of all things obviously has not occurred (so they say), Peter must have been mistaken. What follows is a seriously compromised view of the plenary verbal inspiration of the Bible as taught in 2 Tim.3:16 and elsewhere. If Peter erred, then can we trust that other New Testament writers did not likewise speak falsehoods?
The canon of letting Scripture interpret Scripture requires one to let the chips fall where they may. It also might call for the revision of our doctrine of last things. If such is the case, then so be it! When Peter said "all things" we believe he was referring to the completion or fulfillment of ALL Biblical prophecy. Other Scriptures speak of this same end with a similar expectation of nearness. Jesus, in the Olivet sermon, promised, "this generation will not pass away until all these things take place" (Mt.24:34). Read Mt.24 and notice the numerous items contained in vv.1-33 — perhaps you’ll see the import of His words for the very first time! Luke also records the words of Jesus spoken in view of the impending fall of Jerusalem in A.D.70, "these are the days of vengeance, in order that all things which are written may be fulfilled" (Lk.21:22 — cf. 21:28 and 21:31). John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ is another New Testament document that addresses the subject of "the end" in a context of imminency (Rev.1:1,3; 22:6,7,10,12,20). The theme of that revealing prophecy could well be summed up in the phrase, "it is done" (21:5). The Apocalypse is a book that throughout tells how the mystery of God is finished and how His words are fulfilled (10:7; 17:17).
Finally, we think that it makes good sense to correlate Peter’s "restitution of ALL THINGS about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time" in Acts 3:21 with his "end of ALL THINGS" in 1 Pet.4:7. Are these not one and the same references? In both cases it can be seen that Peter is not discussing some minor end that would only prove, in some way, to typify a major end yet to come. Rather, he was speaking about THE END of ALL THINGS…which he cogently qualified as being AT HAND!
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