mē genoito

May it never be! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.” (Ro 3:4)

How Soon is Soon : Revelation 1:1

In my previous article on When Was the Book of Revelation Written I summarized the dating issues and briefly discussed the internal evidence for an early date of Revelation. In this article I want to discuss one of the time markers that I’ve mentioned in the previous article, specifically the word “soon” in Rev 1:1. I want to look at the word “soon” from the questions, how soon is soon and does soon really mean soon?

According to Dr. Mark Hitchcock, who is a strong advocate for dispensationalism, and therefore believes the Apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation in AD 95. Because of his late date belief for Revelation he is forced to say the word soon in Revelation does not mean temporal closeness, that is, not too long into the future. Instead soon according to Hitchcock is meant to instruct Christians to have an attitude of imminency. Soon means that the events in Revelation can happen in any generation and Christians need to be ready for these things that must soon take place, even if it is five millennia from when John wrote those words. Maybe it is just me but it sound like what Dr. Hitchcock just did was to completely change the meaning of the word soon. In other words we can simply cross the word soon out of the Bible and replace it with another word or phrase by Dr. Hitchcock like “be ready, these things must take place any time in the future.” But just to be safe let’s test Hitchcock with what the Bible means by soon.

The word soon in Rev 1:1, tachos in Greek, occurs only 8 times in the NT, (Lk 18:8; Acts 12:7, 22:18, 25:4; Rom 16:20; 1 Tim 3:14; Rev 1:1, 22:6)
(Luke 18:8 NIV84) “I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
(Acts 12:7 NIV84) “Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.”
(Acts 22:18 NIV84) “and saw the Lord speaking. ‘Quick!’ he said to me. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’”
(Acts 25:4 NIV84) “Festus answered, “Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon.”
(Romans 16:20 NIV84) “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”
(1 Timothy 3:14 NIV84) “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that,”
(Revelation 1:1 NIV84) “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,”
(Revelation 22:6 NIV84) “The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.””

First, let me give the lexical definition of the word.

τάχος, ους, τό (Hom.+; inscr., pap., LXX) speed, quickness, swiftness, haste μετὰ τάχους with speed (Pla., Prot. 332B, Leg. 944C; POxy. 2107, 4 [III AD]) MPol 13:1.—ἐν τάχει (Pind., Aeschyl.+; inscr., pap., LXX; Jos., Ant. 6, 163; 17, 83) quickly, at once, without delay Ac 10:33 D; 12:7; 17:15D; 22:18; 1 Cl 48:1; 63:4; soon, in a short time Lk 18:8; Ro 16:20; 1 Ti 3:14 v.l.; Rv 1:1; 22:6; 1 Cl 65:1; shortly Ac 25:4.—τάχει (Tetrast. Iamb. 2, 6, 1 p. 287; Sib. Or. 1, 205;—in Plut., Caes. 20, 4, Lys. 11, 2 w. the addition of πολλῷ, παντί) — BAGD. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature, (p. 807). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lexically tachos is always used to indicate temporal shortness. I then expanded my search by looking at the words translated as “soon” or “quick” by ESV and I search all those Greek words.

lemma:ταχύς OR lemma:ταχέως OR lemma:τάχος OR lemma:ταχινός in LGNTI:SBL

Lemma

Count

Transliterated

 Gloss

Verse List

ταχύς

13

tachys

quickly

Matt 5:25, 28:7,8; Mk 9:39; Lk 15:22; Jn 11:29; Jas 1:19; Rev 2:16, 3:11, 11:14, 22:7,12,20

ταχέως

15

tacheōs

soon; quickly; shortly

Lk 14:21, 16:6; Jn 11:31, 13:27, 20:4; Ac 17:15; 1Co 4:19; Ga 1:6; Php 2:19,24; 2Th 2:2; 1Ti 5:22; 2Ti 4:9; Heb 13:19,23

τάχος

8

tachos

short time; quickness; soon; speed

Lk 18:8; Ac 12:7, 22:18, 25:4; Ro 16:20; 1Ti 3:14; Rev 1:1, 22:6

ταχινός

2

tachinos

swift; coming soon; imminent

2Pe 1:14, 2:1

Not a single verse using tachos and its derivatives could be understood as soon in an indeterminable temporal sense. Not a single instance could these words be taken to mean any time in the impending future from the next second to infinity. Lexically it is impossible to understand soon in any way other than to mean a very short period of time. Even Hitchcock will admit to this.

First, some maintain that “soon” in Revelation denotes the manner or qualitative nature of Christ’s coming, not its timing, and should therefore be translated “quickly” or “suddenly.”31 In other words, the events will occur “suddenly,” “quickly,” or without delay once the appointed time arrives, and they will rapidly run their course once they commence.32 However, there are two points that favor assigning a temporal or timing meaning to “soon” in Revelation 1:1. First, from the lexical standpoint, the standard reference work A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature (also known as BDAG) cites a temporal meaning (“soon, in a short time”) for en tachei in Revelation 1:1 and 22:6.33 Second, the temporal meaning is reinforced in the immediate context by the appearance of the words “for the time is near” only two verse later in Revelation 1:3.34 According to BDAG, engus in Revelation 1:3 denotes “being close in point of time, near.”35 Since engus in Revelation 1:3 carries a temporal meaning, it seems more contextually consistent to translate “soon” (en tachei) in Revelation 1:1 temporally as well.36 — Hitchcock, 101 Answers to Questions About the Book of Revelation, p. 62

Based on that one might think the debate would be over as far as Hitchcock is concerned. But not so fast, even though all the early Christian literature and the Bible understand tachos to mean a temporal nearness; there is one thing that is more important than all of that.

However, as demonstrated earlier, Revelation was written in AD 95 and not AD 65, so the prophecies in Revelation cannot be interpreted as pointing to the events of AD 70. That being the case, how should the terms “soon” and “near” be understood? There are three main views. — ibid. p. 61

The overriding reason for Hitchcock that the word soon cannot be simply understood as a short period of time is because he is convinced that Revelation was written in AD 95. My previous article on the dating of Revelation deals with his flawed reasoning for late dating and his disingenuous claim the date doesn’t matter to futurists, his own statement here clearly disputes that. So Hitchcock says there are three main views for understanding why “soon” does not mean “soon”. He dismissed the first two views based ironically on linguistic evidence and he offers a third view which he holds.

The third view, and the one I believe makes the most sense, is that the timing terms in Revelation 1:1,3 assume the prophetic viewpoint of the author and do not necessarily mean that the events had to occur within a few years of the time Revelation was written. The New Testament authors consistently describe this present age, or the time between Christ’s two comings, as the “last days” or “latter days.”39 This attitude is expressed in 1 John 2:18, where the present age is designated as the “last hour.”40 This means that the “last days” and even the “last hour” have been ongoing for over 1900 years… Every generation of believers has lived in times that strongly cry out the sense of impending and overhanging destiny,41 and that is true about today’s generation as well. Since no man knows God’s schedule for the future, the time of fulfillment is always “at hand.” These events are near in the sense that they are the next events on God’s prophetic calendar. — ibid. p. 64

In other words, instead of the plain “literal” reading of the word soon, in order to make it fit in our dispensational dogma we need to spiritualize the meaning of the word so that it actually means something else. Well, here is another hypocrisy busted. The dispensationalists likes to brag about how they are the only ones who interprets the Bible literally, implying that they are the one who hold the Bible in the highest regards. But even if one is to take Hitchcock’s argument, how does taking the viewpoint of the Apostle John, change the literal meaning of the word to some spiritualize prophetic meaning? To even offer the argument is an exercise in contradiction. If the NT authors consistently describes the “last days” and knowing the end could be in the far distant future, why introduce the word soon just to confuse the readers. There is absolutely no context for the reader to suddenly assume the word soon is no longer to be understood as a nearness of time, but to have a prophetic spiritual meaning of urgency to encourage Christian readiness. Since soon is at the very beginning of v. 1 of the book, it is not like John had time to set this up and prepares the reader, saying that the things I am going to be talking about could happen tomorrow, a year from now or 2000 years from now. Right from the get go John was told the Lord is going to show him some things and those things “must” take place “soon”. Is Hitchcock really suggesting that when John received that vision, John was thinking this is prophecy; therefore the things that must take place soon, actually are things that will take place at an indeterminate time in the future. As a matter of fact, contextually it demands a simple lexical meaning as Hitchcock himself recognizes based on v. 3, with the time marker engys meaning near, reinforcing the temporal meaning of the word soon v. 1.

So if Hitchcock can’t find the context he wants in the book of Revelation to spiritualize the meaning of soon, what can he do? Answer, look for it outside of Revelation in the other 26 books. But as I shown above all of the early Christian writings and the Bible define soon as the close temporal proximity. Nevertheless, Hitchcock was able to find a verse in Romans.

Greek scholar Robert Mounce also favors the imminency view of the timing statements in Revelation:

The most satisfying solution is to take the expression “must soon take place” in a straightforward sense, remembering that in the prophetic outlook the end is always imminent.167 Time as chronological sequence is of secondary concern in prophecy. This perspective is common to the entire NT[New Testament]. Jesus taught that God would vindicate his elect without delay (Luke 18:8), and Paul wrote to the Romans that God would “soon” crush Satan under their feet (Rom 16:20).46

First Peter 4:7, which says, “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer,” is another New Testament text that uses the language of imminence to draw the reader into a sense of expectation, motivation, and responsibility.

In the Mounce quote, Mounce gave a footnote to elaborate what he meant by “always imminent.”

In biblical prophecy temporal judgments are regularly expressed against the backdrop of the final eschatological events. This is a profoundly theological view, in which everything God does by way of judgment is to be understood in light of the final events.

If Hitchcock and Mounce wants to take imminent in the sense that all prophetic judgments have a eschatological component to them, I probably don’t have a problem with that. But then there is also the question as to which eschatology? The eschaton of the final destruction of the world, or the eschatology of an age or a covenant? Mounce’s eschatological view toward Revelation might be slightly different from Hitchcocks’s but in this he suffers the same problem. There is no contextual justification for Mounce to redefine the plain reading of the text “must soon take place” with a slight of hand by making it a prophetic outlook. Contrary to what he claims, it is not straightforward what he did, it is highly obtuse. But beyond that even he himself could not totally eliminate the temporal aspect of any prophetic judgment. While we should consider the big picture of the final eschatological significance the immediate pronouncement of impending temporal events in prophecy cannot be ignored. And most importantly, this debate is not about the things that must take place. Even Mounce recognizes that many of the prophetic things within the Revelation is symbolic. No, the debate here is over the word “soon”. When will these things take place? The question is, can you symbolize a word that was well established in antiquity of its lexical meaning? I am not convinced that you can.

I don’t want to leave Mounce’s argument without addressing the two examples that he raised, Lk 18:8 and Rom 16:20. These 2 verses really need to be understood within its own contexts, Luke 18:8 is part of a parable and Romans 16:20 is at the end of Paul’s letter where he is giving a final exhortation and encouragement against false teachers, neither of them are prophetic passages.

(Luke 18:1–8 NIV84) “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’ ” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
This passage is in a string of parables by Jesus stretching back to chapter 13 with the fruitless fig tree. What is the point of this parable? Is it about the end of the age? No. Is it about the imminent return of Christ and the Kingdom? No. Is there anything eschatological about this parable? Again, no. The point of this parable is to tell the disciples they need to always pray and with persistence. If we pray fervently with persistence for justice our just God will not ignore such prayers and give us justice for our cause. But this is not God’s revelation of some impending prophecy. Nor is some specific event that must take place soon for that justice to be carried out. Even if we meet the requirement of fervent and persistent prayers the form of that quick justice is not specified. Justice might take the form of Rom 12:20, heaping coals on their heads.

(Romans 16:20 NIV84) “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”
This verse is more significant for this debate because it is one of the eight occurrences of the word tachos and it does have an eschatological allusion with the phrase “crush Satan under your feet”. The question, is this enough to completely change the lexical straightforward meaning of Rev 1:1 to a spiritual meaning with undefined temporal framework? I think not, for three reasons:

First, irrespective of the allusion to crushing Satan, Paul’s letter to the Romans is not an apocalyptic letter couched in apocalyptic language. The reason Hitchcock and Mounce said that it was justify for them to change the meaning of soon, because the book of Revelation is a prophetic book belonging to the apocalyptic genre. Therefore this too, contextually does not allow for a change in the temporal meaning of soon.

The second reason is to consider the context of what Paul meant by soon. This is at the conclusion of a long letter to Christians in Rome that he has never met. Paul has just finished with one of the most heavy duty theological treatise in the NT. He concludes with greetings from a group of 28 co-laborers with nine of them being women. This greeting runs from v. 1 all the way to v. 16. After this long list of greetings and commendations, Paul still wants to leave them with a word of exhortation v.17, warnings against false teachers v.18, praise and encouragement v. 19. Now does it make sense to make a radical break from his current theme into an obscure comment about the end of the world in v. 20? I think not, especially in v. 21 Paul goes right back to greetings and doxology. I think the proper way to understand v. 20 is in the context of Paul’s joy over the church’s obedience, that even in the face of hardship to know that our Lord has already won over the evil one. In this immediate context and the larger context of Paul’s letter which has heavy emphasis on faith (mentioned 41 times) in this letter. It is based on this faith we become heirs v. 8:17; with hope we eagerly wait for the redemption of our bodies v. 8:23; and with a hope that is not seen v. 8:24. Paul could be in one aspect conveying to the Roman church that by faith we already have victory over Satan and he has been defeated v. 8:37. And in a real sense, the Lord has already crushed Satan and put him under our feet. (Hebrews 2:14b NIV84) “so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—”. The crushing of Satan was accomplished by Christ with His death on the cross. Therefore Paul could be speaking in this sense, that through our maturation in Christ, we would soon come to share in this knowledge (1 John 2:13 NIV84) “I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father.”

Third, I think the most likely possibility is that from an eschatological sense, Paul very well could have thought the Lord would return soon like many other Christians in his day. In his mind he could be referring to the eschaton of the end of the world. Yet contextually I don’t believe he was trying to make a foretelling prophetic statement about the end of the world. This is undoubtedly the expectation of many Christians immediately after the resurrection of the Lord 2Peter 3:8-10, but obviously that is not to be the case. The age of the gentile has yet to be fulfilled and the end of the Jewish age is looming on the horizon. The duty of foretelling of the ending of the age was given to the Apostle John whom God preserved for His Revelation.

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