Responding to the Critics

Error in the Margins

The desperation of the opponents of Covenant Eschatology becomes increasingly apparent as one reads the attempts to escape the time statements of imminence relative to the Parousia. The purpose of this article is to examine brother Wayne Jackson’s attempt, in the January 1994 issue of the Christian Courier, to explain away Biblical imminence. In the past I have reviewed brother Jackson’s futile attempts to counter Biblical imminence. He is on record as saying that prophetic time statements are "extremely elastic"; and other regrettable objections.

Jackson’s comments appear under the heading "Notes From the Margin of My Bible." In this on-going column Jackson gives suggestions to Bible students to write helpful comments in the margins of their Bible to answer false doctrine, explain difficult texts, etc.

In his article, Jackson notes that "The opening statement of the book of Revelation indicates that it deals with certain things that ‘must shortly come to pass.’ Some have misunderstood this language and concluded that the entire book of prophecy was soon to be fulfilled — including events like the Second Coming of Christ (19:11-16) and Day of Judgment (20:11- 15). Such a theory is grossly erroneous." I shall demonstrate, however, that it is Jackson’s "notes in the margin" that are in serious error.

En Taxei
The Greek from which "shortly" in Revelation 1:1 is translated, is "en taxei." Jackson seeks to mitigate the imminence in this term knowing full well that if one accepts the normal meaning then his futuristic paradigm falls to the ground. The reader will notice that Jackson has to admit this language "indicates that it deals with certain things that ‘must shortly come to pass.’" Jackson admits the words indicate imminence, but immediately strives to prove they do not mean what they say!

The Greek term "en taxei" is used a limited number of times in the New Testament. Jackson admits "it can denote chronological nearness" [Acts 25:4]"; but he insists that "in prophetic literature it can be employed in an extremely relative sense." He cites Leon Morris "in prophetic perspective the future is sometimes foreshortened."

It is absolutely fascinating that Jackson increasingly adopts premillennial terms and arguments that deny the establishment of the kingdom in order to deny the coming of the Lord. In the March 1991 issue of the Courier Jackson calls comments from a millennial commentary "sound scholarship" to negate the statements of imminence in Obadiah 15. I noted in response how strange it is that Jackson was depending on premillennialism for his arguments. Now he is at it again. Millennialist Robert Shank, in seeking to mitigate the language of imminence in regard to the establishment of the kingdom in the first century, uses the term "foreshortened perspective" to mean that the prophets spoke of things as if they were imminent when in fact they were not. In a tract called "Premillennialism: A System of Infidelity" Jackson comments on the language of imminence in regard to the establishment of the kingdom in Mark 1; Luke 3: "John the Baptizer, Jesus himself, and the twelve disciples, all preached that the kingdom of heaven is ‘at hand,’ literally meaning ‘has come near.’ (Compare Luke 21:30 for the meaning of ‘at hand.’) Thus, they preached the nearness of the kingdom of God, and such can scarcely be harmonized with the notion that it hasn’t come!"

Now the millennialist says we must understand that the inspired writers utilized "foreshortened perspective" to speak of the establishment of the kingdom. This means they believed it near when it was not. Jackson says this is infidelity. But the New Testament writers use the identical words to describe the imminence of the parousia as they do the coming of the kingdom, e.g. James 5:8, but Jackson says they were only using "foreshortened perspective" and this is fine.

Notice Jackson’s dilemma. In the Christian Courier of November, 1980 Jackson addresses the Watchtower belief that Armageddon is imminent. Jackson appeals to the time statement "this generation" in Matthew 23:36 and 24:34: "My question is: by what rule of biblical interpretation does the expression ‘this generation’ (Mat. 23:36), refer to the first century, while the same ‘this generation’ allegedly alludes to the twentieth century?!" Brother Jackson is making my argument. He sees that it is grossly inconsistent to insist on the imminence of language in one text and then deny the imminence of that identical language in another text! We would turn brother Jackson’s question back to him: "Our question is: by what rule of biblical interpretation does the expression ‘at hand’ refer to the first century, [Mk. 1:15], while the same ‘at hand’ (James 5:8), allegedly alludes to the twentieth, or thirtieth, or ??? generation?!"

Certainty — Not Imminence?
Citing Morris, Jackson suggests that "en taxei" "may refer primarily to the certainty of the events in question." Such a claim is born of theological necessity not textual, exegetical, lexical or grammatical analysis. Were it not for the presuppositions about the nature of "the end," these redefinitions of time words would never have been suggested. One is reminded of Conzelmann.

Because of his literalistic concepts of the coming of the Lord and the objective failure of that event to occur imminently as demanded by language, Conzelmann began to redefine language- (and theology). To escape the embarrassment of Jesus’ emphatic time-frame for his coming in the first century generation, Luke 21:32, Conzelmann decided that "this generation" meant "humanity in general" and in other occurrences "it is doubtful who is meant."

Just how different is Jackson? Because of his literalistic presuppositions about the nature of the Day of the Lord he redefines language. Jackson says the Day of the Lord has not come, therefore "must shortly come to pass" is "extremely elastic" or simply means the events were certain to occur.

The inconsistency of Jackson’s view is seen when one compares an earlier article in the Courier with the current one. Commenting on a book by Steve Allen in which the author impugns the inspiration of scripture because of Jesus’ apparent failure to establish a literal kingdom Jackson says: "Mr. Allen has made the same crass mistake that the Jews of the first century did. He has viewed the passage, (Lk. 1:32-35, DKP), as a prediction that Christ would sit on the literal, political throne of David." Jackson is saying it is Allen’s literalistic interpretation that is at fault — not scripture. Amen!

But what does Jackson do? In regard to the parousia Jackson has "made the same crass mistake" that Mr. Allen makes. He has viewed the predictions of Christ’s coming in a literal sense. Since his slanted perceptions of the parousia have not occurred Jackson does not reject the Bible — but he certainly seeks to change it by denying the emphatic time statements concerning Christ’s second appearing.

The contradiction is exacerbated when one examines Matthew 25:31f. There Jesus sits on the throne of his glory — David’s throne. Now the premillennialist says this is literal and applies to the beginning of the millennium. Jackson says this has nothing to do with the establishment of a literal throne of David. But Jackson believes the coming is literal; the judgment is literal; the gathering is literal; the angels are literal. He believes everything about Matthew 25:31f is literal except Jesus sitting on David’s literal throne. Yet he condemns the millennialist and sceptics like Allen for crass literalism.

Does Jack
son believe "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" is "extremely relative"? Not for one moment! But why not? It is prophetic language. Does Jackson believe Jesus’ time statements about the fall of Jerusalem are "elastic"? Absolutely not! See his quote on the language of Luke 21:30 above. To Jackson, prophetic language of the imminent establishment of the kingdom must be taken seriously or it leads to infidelity. But of course that same language takes on a totally different character when used of the coming of the Lord. Such arbitrary presuppositions are hardly credible.

If "must shortly come to pass" simply means "is certain to occur," what would "a long time" mean? In other words, Jackson says Biblical language of imminence does not denote time but certainty. Well, what is the reverse side? If we are to think "certainty" when the Bible says "at hand" should we not therefore think "uncertainty" and "doubt" or "just maybe" when the Bible said something was a long time away? If not, why not?

Will Jackson honor his argument in regard to the establishment of the kingdom? Will he argue that when the Lord said "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" this simply meant the coming of the kingdom was "certain"? The answer is a definitive "No!" He would not accept his own argument.

Balaam said the Redeemer was "far off" and "not near," Numbers 24:17f. Per Jackson’s logic, this must have meant that the coming of the Savior was not very certain to happen. The same with the resurrection, Daniel 12:2-9, where Daniel was told the events he foresaw were not for his days but were far off for the last times. That must have signified those events were truly questionable. Likewise, the coming of the Lord. In Matthew 24:48 the servant would say "My Lord delays his coming." This must surely mean that the Parousia was tenuous at best.

Interestingly, however, Jackson would use this verse and others to insist that Jesus taught the possibility of a long delay in his coming. But how can our brother insist that language of imminence is to be stripped of all time content, and then turn around and insist that we honor the time indications in statements of delay?

Commence — Not Conclude?
Jackson suggests that "en taxei" may also mean "the reference may simply suggest that the things foretold in this book would commence (though not conclude) their unfolding in the near future." This statement admits the imminence factor of "en taxei." It admits that at least something was imminent. Jackson’s article then becomes a strange contradiction: on the one hand it is a serious error to believe "en taxei" means imminent, but, on the other hand, it may mean that after all. But only in a limited sense, of course.

It is incumbent on Jackson to demonstrate that the focus of "en taxei" focuses on the beginning of the events and not the conclusion. This he cannot do. John was told of "the things which you have seen, which are, and the things which shall take place after this" 1:19. The vision of Revelation encompassed past, present, and future events. The past certainly could not be about to shortly take place; and the present could not. Therefore it was the events that were future that were about to take place. And John was not given a single clue that some of the future events were near and some distant; instead we are told that it was "all things that he saw" concerning which "the time is near" 1:3.

The Biblical pattern of prophecy is that the prophets focused not on the commencement of the prophecy but on the conclusion. The reason for this is simple. The consummation/fulfillment of the prophecies would be the time when the promises and blessings of the prophecy were to be realized. Note some examples.

In Daniel 10 the prophet was given a vision that included his present, the near future, and extended into the far future. Was he told the events were at hand? If Jackson’s principle in Revelation were true we might expect this but it is not true. Daniel was emphatically told the events were for a long time off, Daniel 10:4, 14f. Likewise see chapter 8. The vision included Daniel’s present, imminent future and distant future. The prophet was not told the events were "at hand" or "must shortly come to pass"; he was instead told that the events were for many days. The vision was concerned with the conclusion of the prophecy and not the commencement.

There is a general consensus that the prophecies of Revelation are the prophecies of Daniel. If this be so, notice what this means for Jackson’s argument. In Daniel the prophet was informed that his prophecy of the kingdom was for the last days and extended for a long time, Daniel 2:28-44. In chapter 7 the vision of the little horn that would be judged at the coming of the one like the Son of Man, cf. Rev. 14, was to be in the days of the fourth beast — clearly not in Daniel’s day. In chapter 12 Daniel was told of the Great Tribulation, the resurrection, and the Abomination of Desolation. He was specifically told these events were not for his lifetime but were for the time of the end. Not once was Daniel told the events "must shortly come to pass" or "the time is at hand" or "this generation will not pass till all these things be fulfilled." There is not the slightest hint of imminence in Daniel’s end time prophecies. But this certainly is not the case in Revelation. Note below the partial list of time references of imminence in Revelation.

  1. 1:1 – must shortly take place
  2. 1:3 – time is at hand
  3. 2:5 – I come quickly; cf. 2:16; 3:11.
  4. 6:11 – Rest for a little while
  5. 10:6 – no more delay
  6. 11:18 – Your wrath has come
  7. 12:12 – he has but a short time
  8. 14:7 – hour of judgment has come
  9. 22:6 – must shortly come to pass
  10. 22:7 – I come quickly
  11. 22:10 – the time is at hand
  12. 22:12 – I am coming quickly

 

These are not all the time statements in Revelation that indicate imminence; but these should give one reason to strongly reject Jackson’s almost flippant dismissal of imminence.

Should we ignore the distinct difference in temporal statements in the two books? If it be admitted that John is dealing with the same prophecies as Daniel, since Daniel was clearly told the fulfillment of his prophecies was not imminent but John was told that the fulfillment was imminent, is this not prima facia evidence of the genuine imminence of the events of Revelation?

Rapidly — But Not Quickly?
In yet another attempt to explain away the imminence of "en taxei" Jackson suggests that the term "can mean ‘quickly, speedily’ (Luke 18:8; Acts 12:7). This would hint that the events, whenever they transpire — near or distant — would occur without delay, suddenly." Once again my brother has contradicted himself. He posits that "en taxei" refers to the commencement but not the conclusion of the predicted events. In this construction the things "en taxei" were truly imminent. Now he changes and says "No, this cannot be, ‘en taxei‘ simply means they will occur speedily when they do occur — near or distant." Does this mean the commencement of the prophecy may have been distant?

Notice the events that John was told were at hand. Were they the things of the beginning of the vision? No! Since John’s vision included the past and present the commencement of the vision was already past! It is now the consummation of the vision that awaits fulfillment! Jesus said "Behold, I come quickly" Rev. 22:12, 20. John was told not to seal the prophecy (singular) because "the time is at hand&
quot; 22:6. Now in Daniel the commencement of the vision was imminent but the conclusion was distant so Daniel was told to seal the prophecy, Daniel 8; 12. Jackson says this is the way it is in Revelation. But if so, why was John told not to seal the vision, Rev. 22:10. Per Jackson’s view, Revelation has extended 5 times longer than the vision of Daniel 8 which Daniel was told to seal up because it was not to be fulfilled for a long time, Daniel 8:26.

Substitute Jackson’s admitted definition of "en taxei" (without delay) in Revelation 1:1: "things which must without delay come to pass." Why, it appears Jackson believes in the imminent fulfillment of Revelation after all; this translation makes the meaning of the verse even clearer — if that were possible. What Jackson would have his readers believe however is that rapidity of action is the focus of "en taxei" rather than when the action would take place.

What this fails to account for is how this prophecy would have comforted the brethren that were being persecuted. If you were being persecuted, but received a letter promising relief at the coming of the Lord, and the prediction "must shortly come to pass," would you be thinking he was coming soon or that you had no idea when he was coming with relief but that when he finally came–near or distant–it would be with rapidity? David Miller, though not agreeing with Covenant Eschatology makes this cogent comment in regard to the promise of imminent deliverance in Revelation: "These Christians were certainly in no need of assurance that some future global holocaust would occur which Christ would bring to an end 2000 years removed from their suffering. These Christians were in dire need of assurance that Christ would come to their aid soon!" Rapid action, coming who knows when, as opposed to imminent action is scarce comfort to the oppressed.

Jackson’s appeal to Acts 12:7 and Luke 18:8 to substantiate his "speedy action" rather than "action soon" demonstrates a lack of objective thinking. In Acts, Peter was in prison. The angel loosed his bands and said "Arise up quickly." Now did they angel mean "Peter, you do not have to get up soon, but when you do get up — near or distant — make sure you do it with speed"? Really now, is that what the angel meant?

In Luke 18 we find Jesus’ promise to avenge the blood of the martyrs. In verse 8 it says "he will avenge them speedily." For the definitive answer to when God would avenge the faithful martyrs see Matthew 23:30-36. Jesus said all the blood of all the righteous all the way back to creation would be judged in his generation. And this corresponds perfectly with Revelation 6:9-17 where the martyrs were promised that vindication/judgment would be rendered "in a little while."

There is not one occurrence of "en taxei" in the New Testament where rapidity of action takes precedent over the imminence of occurrence. Brother Jackson has made a bold but unsubstantiated claim that flies in the face of the evidence.

A Solitary Expression?
Jackson attempts to give the impression that those who apply the Apocalypse to events imminent in the first century are basing their entire argument on a single expression, "en taxei"; and of course he has told them does not mean imminent. This is irresponsible. The preterist view of Revelation does not depend on this "solitary expression." It could, mind you, but it doesn’t! Jackson is well aware that the imminence of Revelation is expressed in a variety of different ways, see above. It is almost as if the Spirit anticipated that some would seek to deny the imminence of the language and expressed it in every way imaginable. He said "the time is at hand (engus)." He said the things must (stop and think about what "must" means) shortly come to pass. He said the consummation would be in a "little while (kronon mikron, Rev. 6:11). There would be no more delay in the fulfillment of the things predicted by the prophets, 10:6f. Satan knew he had only a "short time" (oligon kairon) left, 12:12. It should be observed that this "little while" dates from Satan’s failure to kill the man child. Thus, the little while is relative to the death of Jesus. The "woes" were not to be separated by long intervals; they followed quickly upon each other, 11:14. Jesus said he was coming quickly, 22:12.

Thus, the book of Revelation contains temporal statements that are expressed in a variety of ways, using different words, and that stand in relation to events of the past, i.e. they were to take place in imminent proximity to events that had already taken place. Just how many times, and in how many ways does inspiration have to express imminence before man bows the knee in humble submission to His word instead of their preconceived ideas?

This problem is compounded when one compares Jackson’s arguments against the millennialists. In his tract "Premillennialism: A System of Infidelity," Jackson notes how Jesus and John the Immerser said "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (engus). How does Jackson understand this word — the same word that is used two times in Revelation, 1:3; 22:10 — when the subject is the coming of the Kingdom? See his quote above — Jackson fully believes and insists that "engus" means imminent. In other words, Jackson believes that when the Bible said the kingdom was at hand it could not possibly mean it was a long time off; but he believes that when the Bible said the coming of the Lord was at hand it simply must mean a long time.

What if the "solitary statement" relative to the establishment of the kingdom was Mark 1:15 and Matthew 3:2, would Jackson believe this was sufficient to establish its imminence? Certainly! Just how many times does the Bible have to say something for it to be taken seriously? How many times does the Bible have to assert the essential nature of faith? The Virgin Birth of Jesus is mentioned only twice in the New Testament; some scholars have deduced from this paucity of discussion that the Virgin Birth is therefore a myth. Would Jackson agree? No! How many times does the Bible have to say Christ is the Son of God? The book of Revelation calls Jesus the Son of God only one time, does that doctrine therefore become questionable in Revelation? Jackson’s appeal to "a solitary expression" is an attempt to prejudice the mind of his readers and undermines the authority of scripture.

When one examines Jackson’s article it soon becomes apparent that it is full of self-contradiction and is riddled with error. By urging his readers to write his thoughts on "en taxei" in the margins of the Bible he is urging them to put error in the margins. It is clear that brother Jackson’s desperation to negate imminence has led him to the position that he will accept any definition of "shortly" or "at hand" or "near" or "quickly" — just as long as it does not mean …well, "at hand," "shortly" or "quickly."

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