The Revelation: Riddles and Enigmas (“the things that must soon take place”)

lion-dove-lamb-yeshuaTwice in the Revelation, John is told that the vision’s events “must soon take place.” And yet all but the full Preterists interpret the vision as reaching far into the future.

(Rev. 1:1 ESV) The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,

(Rev. 22:6 ESV) 6 And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”

Mounce goes through some of the possibilities. I’ll modify the text a little to make a list (I’ve added the bullets at the left of the lines) —

John writes that the events that constitute the revelation must “soon take place.” That almost 2,000 years of church history have passed and the end has not yet come poses a problem for some.

  • One solution is to understand “soon” in the sense of suddenly, or without delay once the appointed time arrives.
  • Another approach is to interpret it in terms of the certainty of the events in question.
  • The suggestion that John may be employing the formula of
    2 Pet 3:8 (“With the Lord a day is like a thousand years”) involves the Seer in a verbal scam.
  • Others believe that the coming crisis was not the consummation of history but the persecution of the church. Indeed, that did take place before long.
  • Yet another approach is that for the early Christians the end of the present world-order had already begun with the resurrection of Jesus and would be consummated with his universal recognition—an event John believed to be imminent. While it is certainly true that in one sense the kingdom of God is a present reality, that still does not answer the problem of the extended delay in the final consummation.
  • The most satisfying solution is to take the expression “must soon take place” in a straightforward sense, remembering that in the prophetic outlook the end is always imminent. Time as chronological sequence is of secondary concern in prophecy. This perspective is common to the entire NT. Jesus taught that God would vindicate his elect without delay (Luke 18:8), and Paul wrote to the Romans that God would “soon” crush Satan under their feet (Rom 16:20).

Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 41.

I can’t buy a full Preterist interpretation, for reasons previously stated. Nor do I believe that the early church thought the Jesus would return (literally) in the next few decades. As N. T. Wright has pointed out, if that really had been the case, then surely the early church fathers would have expressed concerns at Jesus’ failure to arrive.

[I]t is quite clear that the expectation of a coming great reversal, with Jesus returning as judge, continued unabated in the second century and beyond, with no apparent embarrassment or signs of hasty rewriting of predictions. All sorts of charges were being rebutted by apologists, but there is no sense that Christianity had changed its character, or been put in jeopardy, by the failure of Jesus to return within a generation of Easter. A full reappraisal of the nature and place of eschatology within early Christianity seems called for.

N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1992), 343.

But I don’t so much disagree with Mounce as want a clearer rationale for his conclusion. Why should I believe him? So, as is so often the case, perhaps if we knew our OT background better …

One of the premier commentaries on the Revelation is from the New International Greek Testament Commentary series. Later commentaries frequently cite to Beale’s opus. And he wrote 2 years after Mounce —

[T]he parallels between Rev. 1:1 and Dan. 2:28–29 make a connection highly likely:

Dan. 2:28 (LXX)
ἐδήλωσε … ἃ δεῖ γενέσθαι ἐπʼ ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν (“he showed … what things must take place in the latter days”)

Rev. 1:1
δεῖξαι … ἃ δεῖ γενέσθαι ἐν τάχει (“to show … what things must take place quickly”)

But if the two verses are in fact connected, how does one explain the differences?

First, δείκνυμι [deiknymi] and δηλοῦν [deloun] are semantic equivalents, both meaning “show.” Second, and more importantly, the change from ἐπʼ ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν (“in the latter days”) to ἐν τάχει (“quickly”) is neither random nor purposeless, but provides insight into the relation John sees between Revelation and Daniel.

Some understand ἐν τάχει [quickly] as designating the speedy manner of fulfillment, while others take it as referring to the imminent time of fulfillment. The phrase appears to indicate that fulfillment has begun (that it is being fulfilled) or will begin in the near future. Simply put, John understands Daniel’s reference to a distant time as referring to [John’s] own era, and he updates the text accordingly. What Daniel expected to occur in the distant “latter days”—the defeat of cosmic evil and the ushering in of the divine kingdom—John expects to begin “quickly,” in his own generation, if it has not already begun to happen.

Therefore, if John understands the words in Rev. 1:1 in the light of the eschatological context of Daniel 2, then he may be asserting that what is to come in his book is to be seen to a significant extent within the thematic framework of Daniel 2 (and the parallel apocalyptic chapters, such as Daniel 7).

Indeed, there is much in Revelation 1 to suggest that this is the case: references to the kingdom (vv 6, 9; cf. Dan. 7:14) that is possessed by a “son of man” (1:7, 13; cf. Dan. 7:13–14), who is described in a theophanic vision [vision of God appearing] (vv 13–15; cf. Dan. 7:9–10), strongly suggest that Daniel 2 and Revelation 1 describe the same event and are linked as promise and fulfillment.

Furthermore, that the events of Rev. 1:6, 9, 13–15 are all present realities indicates that the fulfillment of Daniel 2 is not merely imminent, but is taking place in John’s very presence. 

Additional evidence that Rev. 1:1 describes the commencement of the fulfillment of what is promised in Daniel 2 is found in Rev. 1:3, in the statement ὁ γὰρ καιρὸς ἐγγύς (“for the time is near”). This may be taken as an exaggerated expression of imminence: the time is not simply coming soon, but is actually here.

If a report were given that an invading army had drawn near and were just this minute stepping onto the beaches along Boston’s North Shore, the reference to the soldiers’ “nearness” would allude both to the fact that the invasion had just commenced and to the further fact that a greater stage of the invasion was even imminent.

In support of such a notion being included in the nearness clause of Rev. 1:3, Mark 1:15 reads πεπλήρωται ὁ καιρὸς καὶ ἤγγικεν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ (“the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has drawn near”); Jesus uses this phrase to describe not merely the nearness of his ministry and of the kingdom, but the actual inauguration of them. In other words, if the kingdom had truly drawn near and had actually just begun during Christ’s earthly ministry, how much more present was it in John’s day, especially since he uses a similar fulfillment formula?

Given these strong textual and thematic parallels between Rev. 1:1, 3 and Daniel, the very least that can be said is that the wording of these texts refers to the immediate future.

It is much more likely, however, that John views the death and resurrection of Christ as inaugurating the long-awaited kingdom of the end times predicted in Daniel 2.

In summary, then, understanding Rev. 1:1 in the light of Daniel 2 makes sense for textual reasons (v 1 is an overt allusion to Daniel 2), contextual reasons (vv 1, 3b, 6, 9, 13–15 share a common view of Daniel 2 and 7), and thematic reasons (v 1 describes the beginning of the end that is predicted in Daniel 2).

G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 153–154 (JFG: paragraphing modified).

I’ve read quite a few commentaries on this question, and Beale makes by far the most sense. Rather than just asserting a theory that suits his preferences, he roots his exegesis in the OT predicates for the Revelation — especially Daniel.

The Revelation plainly duplicates the style of Daniel and may be taken as something of a sequel. And Beale’s interpretation fits the two together very nicely — as John surely meant to be understood.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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One Response to The Revelation: Riddles and Enigmas (“the things that must soon take place”)

  1. laymond says:

    Jay said; “The Revelation plainly duplicates the style of Daniel and may be taken as something of a sequel. And Beale’s interpretation fits the two together very nicely — as John surely meant to be understood.”
    Jay, if this is a book, as represented at the very beginning of it, of revelation from God to his people. Instead of a book written by John, influenced by what he had read in the Jewish bible,
    that no doubt was ingrained in John’s mind, and total being. If this is not a book dreamed up by John, then John had nothing to do with the way it was meant to be understood. But that said Revelations seems to have connection to old testament books, more than the one you mentioned. The book refers to the dimension of time, many times. I don’t recall Jesus speaking in that dimension, when preaching the gospel. Yes I remember the time where they asked the question as to when this would happen. (I never fully understood his answer there either) The specific measurements of the city, brings doubt to my mind as well.

    Rev 1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:
    Rev 1:2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
    Rev 1:3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.

    If Revelation was an easy book to read, and understand, there would not be so many opinions about it. I have a lot of questions, yes and even doubts. I am not an expert on God, and certainly not on Revelation.

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