By Samuel M. Frost, Th. M.
In Part 1 we barely heard a peep from those who worship at the altar of the so called, “time texts.” The first article conclusively demonstrated that what many think are “time texts” that prove that Jesus was “coming again” in 70 AD, are simply not that at all. That they can be and have been read in another far more viable way than either the critics of Christianity want (so that they can say the Bible is false), or those who think they mean all things ended in 70 AD (both camps are simply wrong).
In this second part I want to point out a glaring problem: if we take some of these time texts the way the two camps above do (and many so called, “partial preterists”) then the NT message on this matter is deeply confused.
First off, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (enggus – Greek)“ (Matthew 3.2, and all like passages), is supposed to mean that 70 AD, the destruction of Jerusalem, was “at hand.” Now, in Matthew 3.2, Jesus said this in the budding of his ministry- 31 AD. That puts the Roman War with the Zealots (66-70AD) about 35 years off. Keep this in mind.
Now, when Jesus was actually dealing with matters that had to do with the Fall of Judea, he said this, “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near (enggus)” (Matthew 24.32); “So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates” (24.33). So, here we are told that “when you see these things know that it is near” – whereas before it was near when Jesus came on the scene preaching, “the kingdom of God is near”. Well. Wait. How could it near in 31 AD, with signs to come 30 years from then, so that then when they saw “these things”, then they could know, “it is near”?
Secondly, who uses the language of “near” for something 35 years off? I know I don’t. The Super Bowl Championship of the Cleveland Browns is near! Heck, I would cover that spread if I had to 35 years to claim it! (Well, maybe not the Cleveland Browns, but you get the point).
“He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand (enggus). I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples'” (Matthew 26.16). Now, here, we can see that Jesus is referring to his time of suffering, the cross and the resurrection. And, in the context, that was certainly near…just a day away. Now, that’s just good, proper English. If I said the Cleveland Browns Super Bowl Championship is near in January 2019 – I would be kicked out of the betting pool as a total idiot. See where I am getting at here? “Near” – in the Lexicons – has a couple of uses to it – and also in English, which is what the Lexicons of Koine Greek are using to convey possible meanings in English. A Lexicographer explained this to me. An obvious point so obvious it is easy to miss (like looking for Tide in the Laundry Aisle of a store when it is right there in front of your face – missing the forest because of the trees kind of thing).
“Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand (enggus), and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Matthew 26.45). Does this need any explanation? The verb here is in the perfect tense; “the hour has come – and is here”. Same verb we find in the verse above (Matthew 3.2). 35 years off…or right now?
Luke is apparently aware of the possible confusion over this, and consistently writes, “Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you'” (perfect, same verb – Luke 10.9). Not near in terms of time, but near in terms of proximity. In Matthew 26.45 “near” in terms of time is meant – the hour has come – when Jesus said this, he was being handed over! These are matters the attentive Bible reader must consider.
“As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near (enggus) to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was (mello) to appear immediately” (Luke 19.11). Here is another term, mello, often abused by folks in the groups mentioned above. This text in Luke states that the expectation of many was that when Jesus was “near” Jerusalem, the Kingdom would “immediately” (“about to” – mello) appear. It didn’t. They were wrong. It is certainly interesting that Luke uses enggus in this text, almost as if saying, “see, don’t confuse that with this.” Good job, Luke!
It’s not that mello does not ever have this meaning, or that enggus or enngizo does not have this meaning, sometimes. It’s that in each and every instance we must interpret the passages in context. A proof text without a context is no text. Linguistics 101.
There are literally dozens of examples that can be shown. If Jesus was saying the Kingdom was at hand, and he meant 70 AD, then he was 35 years off. If he meant “at hand” in terms of proximity (the verb used with the perfect tense), the problem is at once removed. It is not a time text. Jesus could not have been saying he is “about to” (mello) come in 70 AD (Matthew 16.27 – For the Son of Man is going to come (mello) with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done), only to have that contradicted in Luke for those who thought the Kingdom was about to come when he entered Jerusalem. Either Jesus in Matthew 16.27 is saying that he was about to come in his Father’s Kingdom in heaven – which would make sense if applied to his ascension – or he was 35 years off and mello means nothing at all). Or, it could mean, as translators have taken it, that mello here (“going to”) simply stresses the certainty of an action in the future – not its time – which is entirely legitimate, too).
If there were things to happen before the 70 AD event happened so that they could “see” these things, and then think, “it is near”, then this again begs the question of why they used “it is near” all they way back in the thirties, forties and fifties of the NT writings. They could not say, “it is near” until they saw these things first. In fact, Jesus expressly says this: “And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand (enggus) !’ Do not go after them” (Luke 21.8)! In using the Synoptics of the Gospel (Kurt Aland) and noting the parallel statements here of Luke with Matthew and Mark, Luke is the only one that mentions this statement, “the time is at hand, do not go after them.” Again, this is because Luke is explaining to his readers the difference between time and proximity. Don’t confuse them! If Jesus was saying “go, preach, the time is at hand” and saying here, “do not go after those who are saying, the time is at hand,” then we have a massive contradiction here (which many critics of the Bible have noted, falsely – for even their bias to prove the Bible wrong fails to consider the nuances of this term). If, however, in the same vein some false teachers were saying, “the Christ’s Appearance is over here. He is here! The Time of Messiah’s Coming is now! He is now coming to restore all things” – if that was being said in terms of time, don’t listen to this. Jesus is not coming in any form of any appearance, nor he is coming in any form of any shape where he could be pointed at and said, “there he is!” The judgement of Jerusalem was indeed a judgment of the son of man – who judges from heaven where he is at the right hand of God, the one who comes on the clouds of heaven before the Holy Father who is in heaven. Thus, the son of man is indeed near in terms of proximity (the Spirit reveals Him, and the Spirit is in union with the Son, who is in union with the man, the son of man in heaven), but Luke seems to be going out of way to say the fall of Jerusalem is not when the son of man will appear – don’t confuse them.
“But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim)” (Romans 10.8). “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4.5). Now, Jesus said, “if anyone says, he is at hand, do not listen to them.” Paul is saying that he is at hand. Don’t listen to Paul! If you are reading this with any scintilla of an open mind on these matters, you should be starting to get the point.
We have not dealt with all of the so called “time texts” as it regards this matter and the radical claims I formerly made years ago in haste to prove Jesus’ Second Coming was in 70 AD. I was dead wrong. The way I handled God’s word was dead wrong. The way Luke, my brother, has instructed me in his texts, is right. We have not gone through all of these matters, but these two parts in this series has already begun to unravel the claims. The cocksuredness of those who claim the “time texts” cannot be overcome is being shown that such a claim is bogus. J. Stuart Russell, in his book, The Parousia (1878), and heavily used by Milton Terry (1898), was borrowed from critics of the Bible who understood each and every instance of “near” and “mello” as asserting that Jesus believed he would return in that time. And, since this did not happen, Jesus was wrong, the Bible is not inspired, Christians are idiots. Russell took up this charge and tried to show that 70 AD was the terminus for all such “time statements” relating to the Second Coming of Christ. He was mistaken. His book hardly deals with the ideas mentioned above, or even considers them. Such an arbitrary use of these texts to force them into a straight-jacket of “they cannot mean anything else” does not reveal an exegete, but someone with an agenda. The piety of Russell and others like him who want to “rescue” Jesus from the critics is indeed noble and understood. The heart is in the right place….the texts are not. This often happens. We often blend our hearts with our heads thinking the two are the same. This can be dangerous. A Christian can be exegetically wrong, yet their heart is in the right place. It’s a matter of ignorance (which we all have, admittedly).
Two points: “Near” has two relational meanings; one with time, another with proximity (“close”); these terms are translated into English as they would be used in normal English. I feel that I need to further illustrate this last point. Let’s take the simple Strong’s Concordance. There, it says, “near (in place or time).” That is, the Greek word means in English (how it is used in English) “near (in place or time).” That’s what a Lexicon is for. What this word means in our language, today; how we use this word in our language. “My wife and I are very, very close” (in Greek, I could use the verb enngizo). “My wife and I are very, very close” (we are about 50 miles from your house). Never in English would we say, “My wife are close. We will be at your house in about 35 years.” Understand? Good. See you next time for Part 3.