Do Time Statements (like “at hand”) Need to be Understood Literally?

Question: Don in your debate with Kevin Hartley, in NY a few years ago, he made an argument on several O.T. passages claiming that they demonstrate that time statements do not have to be taken in a literal sense. His argument was that if he could prove that if any “at hand” time text involved hundreds of years that the entire premise of preterism is falsified. I am sure you don’t remember each of those texts now, since it has been so long since the debate, but I will list them below and would appreciate having your response to them. I think a lot of your readers would also appreciate having this information.

Isaiah 29:17-19 (verse 17) My Response, Don K.– The first thing we have to note here is the immediate context of the Assyrian invasion. That is the historical situation of the moment. God promised that if Israel would trust in Him that He would destroy the Assyrians, shortly, and He did as proven in Isaiah 37, and the destruction of the 185,000. Thus, the time statement was fulfilled “to the T.”

Haggai 2:6-9 (verse 6)– My Response, Don K.: God promised to shake the nations so that the wealth of the nations would flow into Jerusalem. This happened when Cyrus and those who followed him gave money for the rebuilding of the city and the temple, even commanding that the surrounding people support that effort. In other words, it did happen soon!

Deuteronomy 4:26-29 (verse 26) Response, Don K.– Notice that in the context God emphatically said “After you have been in the land a long time…when you sin, you will soon perish.” This is a prime example of “projected imminence, as I call it.” God projects His listeners to the time that when given events happen, then other things will happen as well. The text simply states that when Israel would apostatize, her judgment would be near. It was not near when Moses wrote the words, but would be near when Israel sinned. The book of Judges is a prime example of the outworking of Dt. 4, as Israel sinned, and God judged them, invariably within a generational period.

Ezekiel 36:6-15  (verse 8)– My Response, Don K.— I see this as another example of the projected imminence that I mentioned. The prophet sees the events of the last days. In the last days, Israel’s salvation would be “near to come.” BTW, this could also be a highly magnified prophecy of Judah’s return from Babylon, and she did return and rebuild. So, if one takes this as hyperbolic language of the physical return from Babylon, it was fulfilled within that generation. If it is a prophecy of the last days (like 38:8), then it is a case of projected imminence. I have not quite figured out which one it is. However, like Isaiah 56–which is projected imminence, one must not forget that the N.T. writers tell us that the events and times of the O.T were “types of us” (proper translation of 1 Cor. 10:11). So, if it certainly possible that Ezekiel could be speaking in hyperbolic terms of Judah’s return from Babylon, and that this should be seen as typological of the last days exodus.

Isaiah 56:1–My Response, Don K.— Notice that the prophet calls his reader’s attention to far off things “look to Abraham your father.” That was far off in the past. And, Abraham saw the fulfillment of his promises “far off” (Heb. 11:13f). So, we have the use of both “far off” and “nigh” being used. This presents a dilemma for those who say that at hand does not mean anything! If “at hand” means a long time, what does “a long time” mean. Also, I think that Isaiah 46:13 comes into direct play here. God said “I will bring my salvation near, it will be nigh.” So, we have projected imminence clearly stated in the context concerning that promised salvation.

Joel 3:14-17 (verse 14) My Response, Don K.— There could not be a clearer example of projected imminence than Joel! Notice that in chapters 1-2 we have the repeated statement that the day of the Lord was near (1:15; 2:1, 10). However, in v. 28 we are told “afterward” or “in the last days” there would be another Day of the Lord. There are two Days present! One was near, one was not. So, the writer in 2:28f-3:21 describes what would happen in the last days. In the last days (note 3:1:”in those days and at that time”), when the last days arrived, “the Day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” Very clearly, Joel did not see himself or his audience as living in the last days. However, Peter did see his generation as living in those days!!!  (Acts 2:17f—the days foretold by Joel!!) So, the projected imminence of Joel is established by both Joel and Peter, in unmistakable terms. Consider also Peter’s statement in 1 Peter 1:10f. He emphatically said that the eschatology foretold by the OT prophets, the salvation to come at the parousia, was not for their day, and that they were told it was not for their day! Now, if Kevin Hartley and others who seek to destroy the meaning of time words is right, then how in the world did God communicate that truth to those O. T. prophets? God said the last days, the judgment and resurrection were “not near,” those events were not for the prophets’ day.

But, if time statements from God do not mean anything, how could the prophets know that “not at hand” really didn’t mean, “It is near!” The fact that Joel, and the other O. T. prophets foretold the last days, and events for the last days, saying that when the last days arrived that the Day of the Lord would be near, is prima facie proof that the time statements were to be taken objectively and normally. And, the fact that the N. T. writers emphatically say that they were in the last days foretold by the O. T. prophets demands, without doubt, that the time statements of the

N.T. must be taken seriously. The O. T. prophets said that when the Last Days arrived, the Day of the Lord would be near. The Last Days foretold by the O. T. prophets had arrived in the first century (Acts 2:15f). Therefore, the Day of the Lord was near in the first century.

The importance of this cannot be over-emphasized. Remember that the O.T. prophets were told that when the last days arrived that the consummation at the day of the Lord would be near. It was not near in the days of the O.T. prophets. Thus, when the N. T. writers say, repeatedly, that they were living in the last days foretold by the O. T. prophets, there could not be a clearer demonstration of the objective nearness of the end than this. The N.T. writers no where say what the O.T. prophets did, i.e. “it it not near.” The N. T. writers were never told to seal up their visions because the time was far off. On the contrary, they were told not to seal their visions because the time was near (Rev. 22:10). This contrast in temporal standing between the O. T. and the New must be honored!

Deuteronomy 32:28-35 (verse 35) Response, Don K.— I love Deuteronomy 32!! The Song of Moses is incredible. It is also undeniably another example of “projected imminence.” Notice verses 7f. God calls on Israel to look back on “the years of many generations” when He had divided the land and given Israel her inheritance. Well, Israel had not yet entered the land, had not yet received her inheritance, and had not even existed as a nation for many generations! So, God is projecting Israel into the future, telling her what her “last end shall be” (v. 20,35). And notice that in v. 34f God reiterates the principle of Dt. 4:27f when He says that Israel would sin (cf. she would become utterly corrupt (31:29f, thus filling the measure of her sin, and on this see Matthew 23:29f). When she sinned “in due time” her judgment would hasten on her. It would be at hand.

So much more to be said about the Song, but this will suffice to show that projected imminence is undeniably present in the text and in many others. But, let me say again that we never find “projected imminence” in the New Testament books, and that is incredibly significant! When people begin to see that there is no substantive way to negate the time statements of scripture, it will become more and more necessary for them to find the answers to the “time problem.” Only Covenant Eschatology has the solution to this incredible problem that has, and continues to plague Christianity.

Only when the modern church confronts this issue and finds the correct answers will it be able to confront the Moslems, Jews and atheists who seek to deny Christ’s position because of his (perceived) failure to come back when he promised.