How Soon Is Soon?

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw — that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Revelation 1:1 & 2

When studying Revelation, it doesn’t take long before we find diverging opinions. I think Alan Johnson has some good advice for us here:

What do the imagery and visions mean? Another problem involves chronology: When do the things spoken of occur… what is symbolic and what is literal? Answers to such questions will determine the interpreter’s approach. Since few of these questions are capable of dogmatic answers, there is a need for tolerance of divergent aproaches in the hope that the Spirit may use open-minded discussion to bring us further into the meaning of the Apocalypse.

In chapter 1, verse 1, we are told that what follows must soon take place. How soon is soon and how does the answer to that question affect our approach to the rest of Revelation? This is how Robert Mounce deals with the question:

That more than 1900 years of church history have passed and the end is not yet poses a problem for some. One solution is to understand “shortly” in the sense of suddenly, or without delay once the appointed time arrives… The most satisfying solution is to take the word in a straightforward sense, remembering that in the prophetic outlook the end is always imminent. This perspective is common to the entire NT. Jesus taught that God would vindicate his elect without delay (LK 18:8), and Paul wrote to the Romans that God would soon crush Satan under their feet (Rom 16:2o).

I might add that the end is always imminent in apocalyptic, which is so prevalent in Revelation. Greg Beale, an amillennialist, takes soon or shortly in the literal sense as we would expect — that the events in Revelation would take place in the very near future. However, he has a unique take on what is taking place:

John’s substitution of en tachei implies his expectation that the final tribulation, the defeat of evil, and establishment of the kingdom, which Daniel expected to occur distantly “in the latter days,” would begin in his own generation, and indeed, that it had already begun to happen (for the idea of tribulation preceeding the divine kingdom see Daniel 7, which is a parallel prophecy to Daniel 2).

Yet, he goes on to point out:

Indeed what follows shows that the beginning of fulfillment and not final fulfillment is the focus [Daniel’s prophecy of the latter days].

I suppose this is an example of the “already” – “not yet” approach to Revelation.

One Comment

  1. pat brennan said:

    I have always been perplexed by this verse. I never thought it a satisfactory answer that it meant “imminent”, because it “seems” to mean plain and simply “soon”. But I did think this the best explanation for many years.

    I also could not find it satisfactory to say that this verse means that all of these things took place in the same time frame that they were written.

    I would now tend to agree with Greg Beale’s explantion of this. The “already” – “not yet” scenario is common to a lot of prophecy. I think we will see this later on when we look at Matthew 24 and Daniel. These things began to be fullfilled soon after John wrote Revelation and are still in process today and will be completely fullfilled in the future.

    December 4, 2005

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