It is nearly universally accepted in Christianity that the first four chapters of the book of Revelation were addressed to their named recipients, the seven churches in Asia Minor. Most also affirm that they were fulfilled in the first century. What happens next, in many interpretations, however, is funny. Many traditions say that the book suddenly – and without warning – shifts topics and historical settings.
One popular view today is that this shift happens after the fourth chapter. A historical partial-preterist view says that the letter shifts its topic and audience after the 20th chapter. In each case, however, the shift is arbitrarily assigned based upon what the interpreter feels has not been fulfilled yet. HOWEVER, there is no indication from the text that a shift in audience or time of fulfillment is EVER to be made. It is important to realize that this is a modern call imposed upon the text, not something arising from the text itself.
But what does Revelation say? The letter itself says nothing about a shift in subject matter. It says nothing about a delay in timing or a change in intended audience. EVER. Revelation is one letter, one message, written to seven churches in Asia Minor – from beginning to end. Chopping the letter up is an arbitrary idea forced onto the text. It is the result of a misunderstanding about when or why it was written and how it was fulfilled to its original audience. Once we see WHEN and WHY Revelation was written, much of the mystery is solved.
The first point to consider about Revelation is WHEN it was written. This may sound like an academic concern, but it is actually quite relevant. This is because if Revelation was not written before 70AD, then it was likely not warning its audience about the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. And if Revelation was written before 70AD, then it likely was a letter to real people who were about to go through the terrible holocaust of 70AD.
After a comparative examination of the evidence, I think you’ll agree that the case for the early date wins. Not only will the internal and external piles of –largely unknown today- evidence surprised you, but his early date explanation puts the message of Revelation in the same vein as other messages that God gave people in similar situations.
Here is how one scholar put it.
“A pre 70 AD date would make the purpose of the Revelation the same as was Isaiah’s prophecy — that is, to see the faithful people of God through the extremely difficult times ahead as THEIR then known WORLD was going to be shaken to its very foundation by the judgment of God against Babylon. (Ovid Need Jr, Revelation: Date, Time and Purpose, 2001.)
Revelation is introduced as something that “must” – not might – but which “MUST” soon take place. The events in the letter would be fulfilled “soon”, “shortly” and they were “at hand”. A plain reading of the time statements are KEY to understanding the meaning and nature of the whole message. There is really no textual reason to discount the time statements and their relevance to the original readers of the letters. The only reason to do this is if you are trying to make the text fit your particular doctrine.
Time references in the book of Revelation:
ταχει, tachos and en tachei means “quickly, all at once, with all speed, without delay.”
Revelation 1:1 – “…things which must shortly take place”
Revelation 2:16 – “Repent, or else I will come to you quickly”
Revelation 3:11 – “Behold, I come quickly!”
Revelation 22:6 – “…things which must shortly take place.”
Revelation 22:7 – “Behold, I am coming quickly!”
Revelation 22:12 – “Behold, I am coming quickly.”
Revelation 22:20 – “Surely I am coming quickly.”
εγγυς, engus means “at hand, near”
Revelation 1:3 – “The time is near.”
Revelation 22:10 – “The time is at hand.”
μελλει, mello, mellei means “about to, on the point or verge of”
Revelation 1:19 – “Write … the things that are about to take place.”
Revelation 3:10 – “… the hour of trial … is about to come upon the whole world.”
Revelation says no less than six times at the beginning of the letter, and five times at the end of the letter, that ALL of its contents are to surely take place “SOON”. At the end of the letter, none other than Jesus Himself confirms that He is coming SOON – to THEM! This perfectly aligns with Jesus’ parallel teachings in his landmark Olivet Discourse by Matthew, Mark and Luke about how Jerusalem would be destroyed before the end of his generation.
The Gospel of John is mysteriously without an Olivet Discourse. By the time John writes his Revelation of Jesus Christ, the time frame of the Generation Promise was almost up. What you might consider is that Revelation IS John’s Olivet Discourse. And that this is why they match in content and timing.
What more could John and Jesus possibly say to communicate when this prophecy was to be fulfilled? They said it over eleven times in many different ways. It was stated at the beginning and at the very end of the letter. It might behoove us to at least consider that John & Jesus… were right. Instead, we’ve canonized the idea that they were all wrong…because we didn’t get what we were hoping for. But perhaps, just perhaps, Revelation’s fulfillment gave us what we desperately needed – and not what our material appetite wanted. Maybe it is our traditional doctrine of doubt that has made this letter more complex and enigmatic than it needs to be.
Berkof says that no one in church history has undertaken a thorough study of eschatology. It’s been a patch-job. Augustine didn’t understand it. The early church was fighting the Trinitarian wars. The Reformers were fighting the soteriology wars (Calvin and Luther wrote a commentary on every book of the Bible but Revelation. Luther didn’t even think Revelation should be in the Bible!) Eschatology is the last unexamined frontier in theology. We have seen plenty of examples of what hasn’t worked in eschatology. Maybe it is our generation that is going to finally rethink “last things”. Maybe this is our time (Yes. I just quoted the Goonies). Afterall, if you ask a Preterist, it is all about time!
But there is one Question that theology has not yet considered and carefully examined. Namely, “Is a plain reading of the imminent time statements correct?” Are the time statements the key to understanding the nature of the events spoken of? And if so, what did the letter mean to the original audience? And if the letter was fulfilled, how was it fulfilled? If Revelation has been completely fulfilled, what does that mean for us today? Stay tuned!