What About The Imminence of the Coming of the Lord In the OT?
Opponents of Covenant Eschatology point out that several OT prophets claimed that the “Day of the Lord” was “near, at hand, etc.,” in their day (e.g., Ezekiel 30:3; Joel 1:15, 3:14; Obadiah 14), and yet the Second Coming was further away from them than for the NT apostles. Why, then, must we take NT usages of terms like “at hand, near, shortly, etc.,” at face-value, but not these OT passages?
Response: On the surface, this sounds like a solid objection to Covenant Eschatology. However, when we actually look at scripture we soon realize that the objection is based on some false assumptions. Furthermore, it overlooks the emphatic words of scripture!
The first assumption is that “the Day of the Lord” is always referent to the “Second Coming.”
Secondly, it is also assumed that the Day of the Lord must be a literal, visible, bodily coming of the Lord.
Thirdly, this objection overlooks the fact that the O.T. itself draws a distinction between Days of the Lord that were imminent, and the Day of the Lord that was not near!
The Old Covenant did predict the “Day of the Lord.” However, what is not proven by the objection is that the Day being predicted was to be a bodily, visible appearance of the Lord, or, that it is the Day of the Lord predicted in the New Testament! In fact, it is not! Let’s consider a text.
The Day of the Lord in the OT
Isaiah 34 is one of the most graphic descriptions of the Day of the Lord in the O. T.. Taken literally, it would describe the dissolution of the cosmos. However, take note of several facts:
1.) The prediction is against Edom (v. 8f), and the nations.
2.) It is the Day of the Lord.
3.) The dust of the earth, even the streams would be turned to pitch and burn day and night forever and ever (v. 9f).
4.) The wild animals would dwell there, and the weeds would take over!
One has to wonder how the earth could burn perpetually, while animals and weeds would take over! Are we to believe in asbestos animals?
When we examine Isaiah 34 in light of other prophecies concerning Edom, and the progression of history, certain things become apparent.
1.) The destruction of Edom was to occur at the same time as the destruction of the other nations (Jeremiah 25/ Ezekiel 25).
2.) The destruction of Edom was to occur at the hands of the Babylonians (Jeremiah 25:9ff)–when the Lord would roar from heaven (Jeremiah 25:30f).
3.) The Day of the Lord was not near in Isaiah, but, it was near when Obadiah wrote (Obadiah 15f).
4.) Malachi the prophet looked back on the destruction of Edom as a fulfilled reality, and even uses the language of Isaiah 34 to describe that destruction (Malachi 1:2f)!
5.) The Babylonians destroyed Edom, in B. C. 583, just as predicted! ( New International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Revised, (Grand Rapids, Eerdman, 1988) idem Edom).
So, Edom was to be destroyed in the Day of the Lord. That Day was near when Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Obadiah wrote, and Malachi says Edom had been destroyed! Prophecy fulfilled! Yet, patently, YHVH did not come out of heaven, the cosmos was not melted. Earth did not catch on fire, and is not still burning.
If we are going to be good students of the Bible, we must honor its use of different kinds of literature, including apocalyptic, metaphoric language! What right do we today have to deny the Biblical writers the right to write metaphorically? Notice now Joel 2-3.
For a great study of the prophecy of Isaiah 34 see my book, Like Father Like Son, On Clouds of Glory. This book demonstrates without doubt that the language of the coming of the Lord is standard Hebraic metaphoric language and was never intended to be taken literally.
The objection above offers Joel as proof that the O.T. writers predicted the Day of the Lord to occur imminently. What is missed in Joel is the reality that he predicted two Days of the Lord! In chapter 1 and 2, down through v. 27 Joel addresses the Day that was near. However, in V. 28, he says, “It shall come to pass afterward.” After what? After the Day that was near!
Notice also that in 3:1 he then says, “It shall come to pass in those days, and at that time…” He is addressing now the “afterward” Day, the Day that would come in the last days. This is, for lack of better terminology, “projected imminence.” (My term)
This is common in the O. T.. It is when the writer speaks of events that are far off from his perspective, but, he says that when the anticipated time arrived, the predicted events will be near. Look at Deuteronomy 4:25f for instance, “When you have dwelt in the land a long time… and you sin… then you will perish quickly.” See also Isaiah 60:22. The prophecy projects to the time of the New Jerusalem: “I the Lord will hasten it in its time.” Note the statement that in its time, the Lord would hasten it! Thus, just like Joel, when the last days arrived, the Day of the Lord would be near!
This contrast between a near Day of the Lord, along with the projection into the last days, when the Day of the Lord would be near, forces us to realize several things:
1.) The Day of the Lord language of the O.T. was being used metaphorically, since the near Days were fulfilled.
2.) The time statements of imminence, in other words, were objective.
3.) The O.T. authors were anticipating another, consummative Day, which they emphatically say was not near in their time!
Significantly the N. T. writers never project imminence! Instead, they always say that they were living in the last days foretold by the O.T. prophets (cf. Matthew 13:17, Acts 3:21-24; Hebrews 1:1f, 2 Peter 3:1-2, etc.). This is critical!
Furthermore, both the O.T. and the New teaches that the Second Coming would be of the same nature as the Day of the Lord in the OT. For a full discussion of this vital point, see my Like Father Like Son, On Clouds of Glory. (available at Amazon or this website). Jesus said he was going to come “in the glory of the Father” (Matthew 16:27), which means he was going to come as the Father had come! YHVH had never come literally, visibly, bodily!)
For brevity, let me make this argument:
The coming of Christ to establish the New Heaven and Earth was the Day foretold by Isaiah 64-66 (2 Peter 3:1-2, 13).
The coming of the Christ foretold by Isaiah 64-66 was to be a Day of the Lord like previous Days of the Lord–a non-literal, non-visible, historical Day of the Lord (Isaiah 64:1-3).
Therefore, the Coming of the Christ of 2 Peter 3– was to be a non-literal, non-visible, historical Day of the Lord.
Let me establish the minor premise: “Oh, that You would rend the heavens! That You would come down! That the mountains might shake at Your presence 2 As fire burns brushwood, As fire causes water to boil––To make Your name known to Your adversaries, That the nations may tremble at Your presence! 3 When You did awesome things for which we did not look, You came down, The mountains shook at Your presence.” (Isaiah 64:1-3)
Isaiah prayed for YHVH to come, to destroy creation! He wanted the Lord to come and manifest Himself to the nations. Take particular note: he wanted YHVH to come as He had come in the past: “When you did things for which we did not look, You came down!” Do you catch that?
Patently, YHVH had never came out of heaven literally, visibly, bodily! He had never descended and destroyed Creation before! Yet, the prophet said He had! This is undeniably metaphoric, hyperbolic language to describe God’s intervention in history. Thus, the O.T. describes and defines the Second Coming as a Day like past Days of the Lord.
But, to drive the point home, the New Testament writers tell us, emphatically, that the O.T. writers did not, as our objector claims, say that Christ’s consummative parousia was near! Read 1 Peter 1:10-12: “Of this salvation (Salvation at Christ’s parousia, v. 5-9, DKP), 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 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.”
Notice that the O.T. prophets foretold the coming of Messiah for eternal salvation. But, those O.T. prophets were told that Messiah’s salvation coming was not for their day! Please see Daniel 12:1-13 where Daniel foresaw the time of the resurrection. And, he was told that the end time events were not for his day! This is precisely Peter’s point!
The O.T. writers did say the Day of the Lord was near. And, what they predicted as near truly was near! The nearness language was objective, true, and fulfilled!
The descriptive language of the Day of the Lord was not fulfilled literally, but, metaphorically, as God Sovereignly intervened in history.
However, the O.T. prophets did not say that Christ’s consummative parousia was near.
The consummative Day of the Lord–Christ’s Second Coming– was to be of the same nature as the previous Days of the Lord.
The New Testament writers affirmed in the clearest of language that the last days parousia foretold by the O.T. prophets had now, in the first century, drawn near.
Thus, the objection has been demonstrated to be based on false assumptions, and makes false claims. When they spoke of the Day of the Lord being near, they spoke of “in-history” events that truly were near to them.