April 5, 2008 on 3:08 pm | In REVELATION FOR BEGINNERS | Comments Off on HOW SOON IS SOON?–1:3

When can we expect to see the fulfillment of Revelation’s prophecies? Are they past? Present? Future? Revelation 1:1 includes the idea of things which must “shortly come to pass.” What does that mean? Right away in John’s day (about 95 A. D.)? Would that make it irrelevant for today? Or does it refer to our day only? Or both? That raises an important question as to how to interpret the time element in apocalyptic prophecies (primarily Daniel and Revelation). There are three major schools of thought in the theological world, with some variations. One says everything was fulfilled long ago, so there’s nothing left to happen (preterist view). Another says no, nothing has happened yet, it all lies in the future (futurist—common to the dispensationalist view, i.e. left behind philosophy). The third says the prophecies begin at the time of the prophet and continue to unfold through the centuries till the end of the world and the coming of Jesus (historicist view). So how do we decide? Flip a coin? Pick the one you like best? Go by the latest religious best seller?

Actually, the Bible helps us out here. You may recall in the introduction, it was stated we would need to look at Daniel for help in interpreting Revelation (and the Bible is its own best interpreter). This is one of those times.

Daniel 2 is considered the “granddaddy” of all apocalyptic prophecy and establishes a paradigm (a pattern) that will hold true for all the long-span prophecies to follow. I won’t go into great detail about the chapter here (I may start another category on Daniel later on), but you can read the whole story for yourself. We will look for which of the three views Daniel uses as he interprets a king’s dream.

To put the story in a nutshell, the king of Babylon (Nebuchadnezzar) had a dream which he couldn’t remember. Ever had that experience? But because it seemed so important at the time, he called in his “think tank” (those who claimed to know everything about everything, including the ability to communicate with the gods) and asked them to tell him what he had forgotten. Of course, they couldn’t do it, and were finally forced to admit that only gods “whose dwelling is not with flesh” could do such a thing. It was obvious that human wisdom was a failure when it came to the things of God. Nebuchadnezzar was furious at that their inability to fulfill their claims. He ordered their execution.

Daniel and his friends were apparently not involved in the initial audience with the king and requested time to come up with the information the king wanted. Anxious to know, he granted the request. Daniel and his friends held a prayer meeting and God gave him the same vision he had given Nebuchadnezzar. Divine wisdom proved superior to human wisdom

But the critical part for our purposes now is how Daniel interpreted the prophetic dream—it is the same method used in his later visions. Nebuchadnezzar had seen a large statue in his dream made of a diversity of metals—head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, legs of iron, feet of mixed iron and clay. Now Daniel begins to explain their symbolism in sequence. In verse 38 he tells Nebuchadnezzar plainly, “You are the head of gold.” Very clearly he is saying that this prophecy begins during the time of the prophet. But then what? In verses 39 and 40 he states that Babylon will be followed by three other empires in succession. From our study of history of the Mediterranean region, we know that Babylon was overthrown by Medo-Persia, which was overthrown by Greece, which was overthrown by Rome. Verses 41-43 state that after the Roman empire, there would be a divided state of affairs among the nations. That happened as the barbarian tribes broke up the Roman empire and brought in a divided state that continues to this day. So here we see a continuous development of the prophecy through the centuries to the last days. Finally in verses 46 and 47 we see God coming to earth and destroying all earthly kingdoms and setting up his kingdom which shall never be destroyed. So the climax of the prophecy is the coming of Jesus and His new kingdom. Now, which of the three theological views of interpretation does Daniel follow in his outline of prophetic events? It becomes obvious that it fits neither the one which sees everything in the past nor the one which sees everything in the future. The only one remaining is the one which sees apocalyptic prophecy as a continuous unfolding from the prophet’s day till the climax of human history as we know it. In passing we note that just as human wisdom fails and only God’s wisdom prevails, so human kingdoms crumble and only God’s kingdom will last forever.

To come back to our original question—how soon is soon? In these prophecies it begins right away with the prophet’s time and extends to our own day and beyond. So, while much has already taken place, there are things still future as well. We want to note also that the prophecy of Daniel 2 climaxes with a vision of Jesus. He is ultimately the central figure in all bible prophecy. If we are not part of His kingdom, it doesn’t do us much good to understand prophecy. His great desire is that we join Him in preparations for His coming eternal kingdom.

As a footnote, the most common view of end times today is the futurist model, which has been popularized by Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye (“Left Behind” series). For our purposes here, it should be noted that the Biblical model as we have seen in Daniel 2 is the historicist model. Consequently it is the one we will be using in this series. It actually encompasses both past and future, as well as the present, in its unfolding views, and provides a more balanced and accurate perspective, I believe.

Perhaps the more important question is, are we ready to meet our Lord and spend eternity with Him?

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