(Rev. 1:1) Why does John say that these events “must soon take place”? (c.f. 1:3; 2:16; 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20)

CLAIM: John writes about “the things which must soon take place” (Rev. 1:1). He also speaks of these events being “near” (Rev. 1:3). Preterist interpreters argue that John believed that these predictions were fulfilled in AD 70 at the destruction of the Temple. Preterist Kenneth Gentry writes,

Greek lexicons and modern translations agree that these terms indicate temporal proximity. Throughout the New Testament tachos means “quickly, at once, without delay, shortly.” The term engys (“near”) also speaks of temporal nearness: of the future (Matt. 26:18), of summer (24:32), and of a festival (John 2:13). The inspired apostle John clearly informs his original audience nearly two thousand years ago that they should expect the prophecies to “take place” (Rev. 1:1) in their lifetime.[1]

Was John telling his readers that these prophecies were going to take place in their lifetimes?

RESPONSE: Before we offer our interpretation of these words, we must note that this same Greek word tachos is used at the end of the book in Revelation 22:6 (“the things which must soon take place”). Also the Greek word eggus is used at the beginning of the book (“for the time is near” Rev. 1:3) and again at the end of the book (“for the time is near” Rev. 22:10). This forms an inclusio for Revelation, making the entire vision “soon” or “near.” But this would mean that Jesus’ second coming (Rev. 19), the resurrection of the dead (Rev. 20), and the New Heavens and New Earth (Rev. 21-22) have already come to pass! Whatever we think of the term “soon,” it needs to be interpreted to fit the entire book of Revelation. With this stated, let’s consider the Preterist view:

Full Preterists bite the bullet on this and claim that the entire book is in the past tense. While we respect their consistency, we cannot at all agree with their view. Is it really possible to believe that we are currently in the New Heavens and New Earth? We think not.

Partial Preterists claim that Jesus’ “coming” occurred in AD 70 at the destruction of Jerusalem (Rev. 1:7), but his final coming will occur at the end of human history (Rev. 19). Thus Revelation 1-19 is past tense, but Revelation 20-22 is still in the future. But this is inconsistent with the term “soon” (Greek tachos) which refers to the entire vision—not just part of the book.

Therefore, in order to be consistent, we need to be either a full Preterist or a futurist. We adopt the later view, and we feel that there are two ways of answering this objection:

First, grammatically, John could be describing HOW Jesus will return. The Greek word tachos can be translated “soon” or “shortly,” or it can be rendered as “quickly” or “suddenly.” This Greek word (tachos) is where we get our modern word tachometer (a device that measures the RPM’s of car engines). It is translated elsewhere as “quickly” (Lk. 18:8; Acts 12:7). In other words, John is saying that once the first domino falls, the rest will fall quickly after them. These future events are closely stacked together. Paul Benware writes, “These words are not to be understood as chronological indicators telling the reader when the Lord is returning. Rather, they are to be taken as qualitative indicators describing how the Lord Jesus will return. He will return ‘suddenly.’”[2]

Second, John could be speaking from God’s perspective, who has a different view of time. Peter writes, “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day” (2 Pet. 3:8). Likewise, the psalmist writes, “For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night” (Ps. 90:4). Since God is outside time, he views the passage of time differently than humans. Therefore, from God’s perspective, Christ returning in 2,000 years could be considered soon, given the fact that God has existed since eternity and he’s governed over the universe for 13.6 billion years.

Additionally, John writes that we are in the “last hour” of God working on Earth (1 Jn. 2:18). Of course, the “last hour” has lasted at least 1,900 years! This passage is especially significant, because it comes from the same author: John. Therefore, the same author believed that the church age was the last hour, but it would also last for around two millennia. Other NT authors place the final working of God’s plan in the near future, building immanency for the return of Christ (Rom. 16:20; Lk. 18:8).

[1] Gentry, K. L., Jr. (1998). A Preterist View of Revelation . In S. N. Gundry & C. M. Pate (Eds.), Four Views on the Book of Revelation (S. N. Gundry & C. M. Pate, Ed.). Zondervan Counterpoints Collection (41). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Benware, Paul N. Understanding End times Prophecy: a Comprehensive Approach. Chicago: Moody, 2006. 172.