“The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him
The time is near.
John, the human author of Revelation, scribbled these words on parchment in 95 A.D. It's now 2019. In the intervening years, the world has seen wars, plagues, the rise and fall of empires, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution. And with every generation there have been people in the Christian church assuring the world, "No really, the time really is near." Sometimes these people are scholars. Sometimes they are street preachers. But they are always there. They have always been there, in every generation, every time, every place. And yet, here we are 1,924 years later...
Was John wrong? Or did all these people after him just misunderstand him?
Well, the short answer is yes. John was wrong.
And no. He wasn't.
Yes, John was wrong because it's likely that he honestly believed that "the time is near" meant that Jesus was going to return during his lifetime, or at least during the lifetimes of his followers in Asia Minor. This belief is why he wrote with such urgency and its what gave the original recipients of Revelation the courage and conviction to stand up for Jesus and face the social and economic repercussions of their faith. Their belief, though it turned out to be chronologically inaccurate, led them to a faithful response to the word of God.
These original hearers of Revelation are like the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11: "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised." (Heb. 11:39, NIV)
At the same time, I think it's also accurate to say that John and his followers were not wrong at all, nor were those who proclaimed "the end is near" from the 2nd Century up until the 21st. Because the actual point of John's claim of the nearness of the end is proximity not chronology.
We're always near the end, whether it comes tomorrow or 3,000 years from now.
Jesus himself recognized this and often said, "The kingdom of heaven is near."
It's like the Doomsday Clock, the symbol used by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to "warn the public about how close we are to destroying our world with dangerous technologies of our own making" (thebulletin.org). During the Clock's existence, it has never been ore than 17 minutes to midnight. As of 2019, it is 2 minutes to midnight.
The nearness of Jesus' return is like the Doomsday clock: it is always near midnight, and we should always be prepared for it. The fact that we didn't wipe ourselves out during the Cold War doesn't mean that it didn't nearly happen. In the same way, the fact that Jesus didn't return in the last 1900 years doesn't mean that his return wasn't immanent that entire time.
So the question we're left with is the same one that John's original readers were given: what will you do with the time you have? What will you do in preparation for Jesus' immanent return?
Because the time is near.
In last Sunday's sermon, I talked about the importance of good Bible study methods, particularly when it comes to interpreting difficult passages like Titus 2:1-10. For those who expressed interest in having these principles written down, I've included them below.
Bible study methods – or hermeneutics – is the set of guidelines that help us get from the ancient text of the Bible to how it can be applied to our lives. When we faithfully follow good hermeneutical principles, it helps us to not only understand what the Bible says but also how it should impact our lives. Good hermeneutics also provides protection against the sort of grievous interpretive errors that have often lead to damaged lives and the rejection of the gospel message by those outside the church.
Many years ago, I learned a four-step method of studying the Bible that has served me well, and which I believe anyone can do, regardless of their level of Biblical knowledge.
The four steps are observation, interpretation, principlization, and application.
Observation is the place where all good Bible study should start. In this first step, we ask ourselves, "What does the text say?" Observation is all about trying to get your mind around the meaning of the words and sentence structure. You might find it helpful to do a sentence diagram of the passage or look up any words you don't know in a dictionary (theological dictionaries can also be helpful for understanding when and how certain words are used differently in Scripture). Blueletterbible.org is a free online tool that some people find helpful in this stage of study.
The second step, interpretation, is about asking the question, "What does the text mean?" In particular, the goal of interpretation is to try to understand how the original audience (the people to whom the passage was originally written) would have heard the message. A few more good interpretive questions to ask:
The third step, and the one most often overlooked, is principlization. Before jumping to application, it's important to ask, "What is the persevering principle that under-girds this text? What is the timeless and transferable truth?" Many Bible texts contain examples that are bound by the time, location, and culture to which they were written. Without the key step of drawing out the principles presented, it's easy to mistakenly apply ancient cultural norms rather than timeless Biblical truth.
Finally, once the interpretive work has been done and principles have been identified, it's time for application. Application asks the question, "How should I then live?" The earlier steps have shown how the principle was to be applied to the original audience; the final step of Bible study is determining how the principles taught by the Scriptures can be lived out my modern readers.
Theologians sometimes talk about the "perspicuity of Scripture," meaning that the Bible is clear and understandable to the average person. I believe this is true. AND I believe that the Bible is most clear and understandable when we're willing to do the work to understand it rightly using good hermeneutical principles.