How Long is Long?

William BellThe question is often raised concerning why there is so much emphasis on the shortness or brevity of time in relation to the Lord’s parousia or coming. Many are disturbed that those of us who teach the Lord’s return in 70 A.D. cite several passages which state nearness, a little while, at hand, this generation, quickly and shortly to come to pass regarding the parousia of Christ (Matt. 10:23; 16:26,27; 24:32-34; Lk. 21:31-32; Rom. 13:ll-12; 16:20; 1 Cor. 7:26; 10:11; Phil. 4:5; Heb. 10:37; Jas. 5:8; 1 Pet. 4:5,7,17; 1 Jno. 2:18; Rev. 1:1-3; 22:6,10,12). It seems as though the Holy Spirit in such passages is "grieving" them.

     Those who are disposed to oppose and complain feel that using all the above passages as well as others as supportive evidence of the imminent first-century return of Christ at the destruction of Jerusalem is just plain unfair and prejudiced exegesis. They assert that every time statement depicting the Lord’s coming does not indicate nearness of that event from the first-century standpoint. By way of contrast to the numerous passages cited above a grand total of one, O-N-E scripture is usually presented in defense of a long period of "milleniums" occurring between the "going away" and "coming again" of Christ. The proof-text is Matthew 25:19 which reads, "After a long time the Lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them." To all familiar with Matthew 25, this text is taken from the parable of the talents.

     As before stated, the purpose of raising this point is to discredit and nullify the arguments made from the scriptures on the first-century nearness and shortness of time of Christ’s return. This "long time" reasoning however, squarely aligns one in conflict with scripture. It is acknowledged by many that the passages teach imminence but in the same breath many will assert that this one scripture reference of "long" time negates, cancels or otherwise modifies the whole multitude of scriptures which clearly teach the imminence of Christ’s return. By what reasoning or logic such conclusions are drawn yet remains a mystery to this writer.

     It seems manifest that the answer to such an apparent contradiction lies within the context of the chapter itself. The question to which this article is addressed is simply this: In the context of Matt. 25:19, how long is "long"? First,observe the parable’s leading statement. "For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods," (Matt. 25:14). The kingdom is likened to a man traveling. Now that statement alone is ground for pause especially with respect to time. Often one overlooks this fact perhaps because of preconceived notions about the remoteness of end-time events. Jesus, however, places the teachingof this parable in the realm or time frame of his earthly creatures. Remember, the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country.

     Secondly, this man called his own servants and delivered unto them his goods. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, according to their several ability (verse 15).

     Third, two of these same servants traded and increased the profits of their master by one-hundred percent. The other, a wicked and slothful servant "digged in the earth and hid his lord’s money." It is in connection with these events that it is said, "After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them." Observe, it is the same man or lord who traveled into the far country that returned to take account of those same servants to whom he had delivered his goods. This episode therefore, was during the lifetime of a man, of him and his servants in particular.

     The parable does not teach per se, that a man is likened to the kingdom, but that the kingdom was likened to a MAN! The correct applications of the parable would therefore harmonize with what is true of a man. And one thing is absolutely certain, i.e., it is not true of a man that his lifetime extends over 2,000 years! Thus, to apply "after a long time the lord of those servants cometh…," to a period stretching two-thousand years and beyond is more "elasticity" than God has ever placed in the time of a man’s life, Methuselah included! (See Gen. 5:27). To say the least, such reasoning is wild, weak and reckless exegesis perhaps motivated by the fear of losing ground on traditional "yet future" second coming theories.

     Of a man’s lifespan it is said, "…For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away" (Jas. 4:14). Little here is from "oligos," and means short, brief or small, (Bagster, page 286, 1977 edition). Viewing the significance of this point through the magnifying glass of reason it is clear that since a man’s life is a short time or vapor, then the isolated events of his life are by contrast even shorter. Therefore, the "journey" of the man traveling into a far country and his subsequent return would be indeed short or small time-wise by comparison to the already short lifetime of the man. One must then understand "after a long time," as relative to the reckoning of time from a human standpoint or life span.

     To a man whose days are threescore years and ten, [70 years], and if by reason of strength fourscore years [80 years], (Psa. 90:10), 37-40 years of that time (the Biblical time-frame for the restoration of all things and the parousia of Christ), is a long time. Concerning this "long time," it is half a life time in the latter case and over half a life span in the former. In the case of the profitable servants, it was a long time to work and serve the master before the reward was received. In the case of the wicked servant it was long enough time for him to become lax and unconcerned about serving his lord and may have even promoted an attitude which suggested, "My lord delayeth his coming," or raised the question, "Where is the promise of his coming?" Even Abraham, the father of faith in whose steps of faith all of his children (Christians) should walk collapsed under the pressure of time that seemed long delayed in the fulfillment of the promise concerning Isaac. It was only about 25 years from the time God promised to fulfillment but Abraham weakened in just over a decade and went in to Hagar. (Gen. chapters 12,17,21).

     Surely, with our modernized high-tech society where everything is delivered to us in micro mili-seconds and "absolutely positively overnight," many of us would balk at the thought of having to wait 37-40 years to receive a promise, especially when it would mean intense suffering and severe persecution as that described in the New Testament. In this respect, such a period of a man’s life could properly be styled a long time. But in view of the brevity of a man’s life, this relative "long time" is but a little while.

     In conclusion, the scriptural answer to the question, "How long is long"?, in Matthew 25:19 is not very long at all, actually less than forty years being part of a man’s life span. It therefore harmonizes with all the other teachings and time statements of nearness and shortness regarding the Lord’s parousia. Yes, this one, 0-N-E "long" argument on the question of the
time of Christ’s return still leaves one coming up just a bit short!

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