Q: How should time-related terms in the book of Revelation be interpreted?

How should time-related terms like shortly, the time is near, and quickly in the book of Revelation be interpreted?

These words refer to prophecies related to Christ’s Second Coming, and they often leave people perplexed. It has been 2,000 years since the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation, and these prophecies have not been fulfilled. So how should such words be interpreted?

Some critics use these words to cast aspersions on the veracity of Revelation, saying it is not from God and John wrongly predicted Christ’s soon coming.

Others believe John wrote Revelation around AD 65. So they believe shortly and the time is near (Rev. 1:1, 3) were fulfilled when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70. This position is not tenable, however, because adequate evidence proves Revelation was not written until approximately AD 95 and therefore cannot apply to the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred 25 years earlier.

Still others interpret shortly (1:1) to mean that prophecies predicting Christ’s coming will be fulfilled on an unknown day; but when Christ comes, it will be sudden or quick and without delay when the prophecy is fulfilled. That is, Christ’s coming will be according to God’s timetable, not man’s. They believe this interpretation is reinforced by the phrase the time is near (v. 3), meaning at hand or ready and could happen at any moment.

Finally, there are those who believe the day in which John was writing was considered the “last hour” (1 Jn. 2:18) because that was how he identified it. The emphasis is not on a specific day or time but, rather, on the characteristic of the “last hour” leading up to the time of the Great Tribulation.

For 2,000 years the church has been living in light of the time is near for Christ’s coming. In other words, such time-related terms do not refer to a specific day but, rather, to the return of Christ at any time.

Since no one in any generation knows the day of Christ’s coming, it will always be imminent until He comes. Jesus commanded each generation to be ready, for the end is always near. Matthew wrote, “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (Mt. 24:42). This view seems the truest to the text.

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