No one doubts that the Bible states, in a host of different ways, using different words, terms and phrases, that the end of the age, the coming of the Lord and the resurrection was near in the first century. Attempt after attempt has been made to counter this clear cut emphasis and language, because futurists know full well that if the New Testament temporal statements of the imminence of the coming of the Lord, judgment and the resurrection were objective statements – meaning the parousia truly was near in the first century – that their futurism is false.
There is no escape from this; it is undeniable. So, in order to maintain their futurist eschatology, all sorts of “explanations” have been offered to mitigate, nullify, and otherwise remove the power of an entire vocabulary of NT time words that, in any normal communication, would indicate imminence.
Of course, the irony of this is huge. Commentators that tell us we must take the Bible literally, and that “the Bible says what it means and means what it says,” then turn around and tell us that “at hand” does not mean near. They insist that quickly cannot mean soon, but when it finally happens, it will be sudden, with speed. They tell us that “this generation” could not refer to the generation to whom the promises were made, that it has to refer to our generation. We are told that God does not see (or communicate) time like man does (2 Peter 3:9). On and on it goes!
I have been asked to address some claims by Dispensationalists that they have “solved” the conundrum of the language of imminence. A viewer of my FaceBook and YouTube videos posted a private message to me asking about a series of Bible texts that some futurists had presented to him as supposed proof positive that time statements cannot be taken at face value. The claim was being made that the verses submitted constitute proof that the preterist reliance on the imminence language of the NT is wrong. (I have heard this claim many, many times!)
Before addressing the verses submitted, let me say that in my book Who Is This Babylon? I have one of the most extensive examinations, unparalleled as far as I know, of the objections to the NT imminence that can be found. In that work, I respond in-depth to every major argument that I have encountered against the objective nature of the NT time statements. I recommend that for more information on this critical issue, you get a copy of that book.
There is an additional irony in the objections that cannot be over-stated. On the one hand, we are told that when the NT writers said something was near, at hand, coming soon and shortly – 2000 years ago – that it did not mean the end was near when they wrote those words. However, what do those same objectors do? Many of them turn around and quote those very passages of imminence and say that they do mean the end is near now! Do you catch the power of that inconsistency? Those statements of imminence did not mean anything to the very people to whom they were made, but, they do mean something objective to us today! “Shortly” when the first century readers received the epistles 2000 years ago meant “suddenly but not soon” but today, when we read that same texts, it means “soon!”
A question needs to be asked at this point, before we examine some of the passages that have been offered as proof that “at hand” and quickly do not carry their normal meaning. That question is: If the Spirit wanted to express objective imminence to the Biblical writers and their original readers, what other words would they have used, that are different from the words that they did use? After all, if you say that “at hand” did not mean near, when YHVH said some events were at hand, two millennia ago, then, what words could He, or should He, have used to tell them truthfully that the events were indeed imminent? Consider the admission by Thomas Ice, when he says, “A survey of the New Testament enables one to realize that there is an expectancy regarding the return of Christ and the consummation of His plan not found in the Old Testament.” (Kenneth Gentry and Thomas Ice, The Great Tribulation Past or Future?, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1999)117).
So, the NT language suggests a sense of expectation (imminence) not found in the OT, but, on the other hand, as Ice normally does, he then turns around and totally contradicts himself by saying that the sense of imminence in the NT, means that the rapture was “imminent but not near.” For Ice and most Dispensationalists, “imminent” does not mean – at least in discussions of eschatology – near, soon, shortly, etc.. No, to the Dispensationalists, imminent means “imminent, but not near.”
Ice cites with approval the definition of Showers:
“An imminent event is one that is always ‘hanging overhead, is constantly ready to befall or overtake one; close at hand in its incidence’ (Oxford English Dictionary, 1901, v. 66.) Thus, imminence carries the sense that it could happen at any moment. Other things may happen before the imminent event, but nothing else must take place before it happens. If something else must take place before it happens then that event is not imminent. In other words, the necessity of something else taking place first destroys the concept of imminency…As I hope you can see by now, ‘imminent’ is not equal to ‘soon’.” (Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy, Prophecy Watch, (Eugene, Ore. Harvest House, 1998)105+).
To say that this is disingenuous is a huge understatement. Of course, Ice now refuses to engage in public debate where such specious claims can be carefully, lexically and exegetically examined and refuted. I have debated Ice four times, once formally in public, and Gary DeMar has likewise formally debated him. After these encounters, Ice has seemingly withdrawn from the public polemic arena, even though he has been challenged numerous times to debate me again. We would welcome his return but, that seems unlikely. DVDs of my formal debate with Ice are available from me here.
There is another irony that I want to note. Those who insist that the time statements of scripture do not objectively communicate imminence then turn around and appeal to texts, e.g. Matthew 25:14f, that speak of the absence of the master for “a long time” must refer to the so far 2000 year “absence of Jesus! So, in the convoluted world of “imminent but not near” the language of “at hand,” “shortly,” quickly,” etc. does not convey true nearness. However, when the Bible refers to events as “far off,” or “a long time,” those statements really do communicate time!!
But again, we press the question. If God wanted the readers of the prophetic statements to believe that the events were truly near, and the words that he used do not objectively, genuinely communicate that imminence, then what words should He have used? The importance of this question is magnified in light of 1 Peter 1:10-12:
“Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, 11 searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us[a] they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.”
Take note of the fact that God told the OT prophets that the parousia – to bring the salvation that Peter is discussing, v. 9 – was not for their day! Well, how did God inform them of that, if time does not mean anything to YHVH? After all, we are supposed to believe that when God says something is near, it could be a thousand years away, per the appeal to 2 Peter 3:9! But, this objection clearly flies in the face of 1 Peter, who tells us that the OT writers did understand God’s time statements that indicated that the parousia, the end of the age, and the resurrection was not for their time. And, when we turn to Daniel 12 (as just one example) we find that in Daniel’s vision of the resurrection and the end of the age, he was told it was far off, for “many days to come!” (Daniel 12:4-12).
With these few preliminary thoughts in mind, in our next article we will begin to examine the passages that futurists continue to offer as argument against the objective nature of imminent language. What we will find is that futurists are patently guilty of sloppy scholarship, “proof-texting” and in some cases even overt distortion of the texts that they offer. It truly is sad to read the claims being made, and those claims demonstrate the utter desperation of the futurists to maintain their eschatology. However, as we will show, their claims are futile, and God truly can tell time!
Be sure to get a copy of my Who Is This Babylon? You will be amazed at the evidence produced there!