At the start of every new year there are always hopeful believers who claim that this is the year that Christ will come back. Some of these believers move beyond hope and practice unhelpful distortion of Scriptures to arrive at their wild guesses. Is there are genuine Biblical basis for believing that this will be year that the Lord will come back?
“Adiaphora” is the name given to teachings and customs that are neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture. When it comes to End Times teachings there is apparently a lot of adiaphoragoing on. These End Times guesses have become so fused with Christian thinking that most believers can’t recognise them for what they are (adiaphora) and distinguish them from what the Bible actually says (exegesis). Listed below are few End Times Guesses, that despite being wong, have become almost unquestioned in the thinking of many Evangelicals.
THE REBUILT TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM IN THE LAST DAYS?
For example, a few years ago I was lecturing in a closed country on the topic of Hermeneutics (how to interpret the Bible) when one student asked me about the “Third Temple” prophesied in the Bible as a sign of the Last Days. This student had innocently adopted an End Times Guess (adiaphora) as if it was a Biblical idea. My question in response to her question was which text in the Bible was she basing her question? She looked at me stunned! She thought I was playing some game with her. Of course the Bible prophesies that the Temple will be rebuilt in the Last Days in order to usher in the return of the Lord, she responded. Again I asked her- Where? I have asked this question in lectures in several countries and have never been shown where the Bible prophesies a Last Days rebuilt (Third) Temple!
For those people who have accepted the idea that Matthew 24 prophesies a rebuilt (Third) Temple in Jerusalem, I suggest two things: firstly, consider that Jesus pointed at the stones of the existing Temple in His day and prophesied “See these stones, not one will left upon another…“; secondly, purchase and download the highly acclaimed eBook on Matthew 24 (The Most Embarrassing Verse In The Bible) which details how every prophecy which Christ made was fulfilled by 70AD- or Christ is a liar! (Refer to Matthew 24:34).
FALLING STARS, DARKENED MOON, NO SUNSHINE…
Some believers have taught that the Last Days will be characterised by strange astronomical phenomena such as falling stars and a burnt-out Sun. This type of interpretation of Scripture is often appealed to as “the simple meaning of the text is usually the correct meaning of the text“. The problem is that this type of interpretation is usually simplistic, rather than simple. I don’t speak Japanese (I barely speak English well). For those who have learnt the Japanese language they tell me that it’s incredibly simple (especially compared to English). But the process they had to go through to understand the different characters, different sounds and tones, different idioms, and different sentence constructions was anything but simplistic! And it’s the same with Scripture. The “simple” meaning of a text is only apparent when the student has done the rigour to understand Biblical metaphors, idioms (ways of speech), and Old Testament symbolism. A simple meaning of “Don’t count your chickens before your eggs are hatched!” would be not to assume that everything will always go your way; but a simplistic meaning would be that you are a chicken farmer who loves to count new chicks before they’re hatched.
In the same way, when Matthew 24 records Christ saying that stars will fall from the sky, the moon will be darkened and the Sun will no longer give forth its light, it is not an astronomical prediction but a Biblical idiom which speaks of Israel rebelling against God. This is further explained in the eBook on the Book of Revelation – The Most Embarrassing Book In The Bible.
WARS, EARTHQUAKES, DISASTERS…
Some believers have unquestionably accepted the idea that wars, earthquakes and disasters must dramatically increase in the Last Days in order for the Lord to come back. But the statement about these things in Matthew 24 doesn’t actually say that they will ‘dramatically increase’. As some believers, who have dared to think, have wondered, has there ever been a time when there was not wars, earthquakes and natural disasters? A closer look at the text in Matthew 24:7 might be in order-
For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
Matthew 24:7 ESV
Note what Jesus didn’t say? Once you’ve done that, filter that verse through the time-frame Christ gave in Matthew 24:34 and it doubly reveals that He was not prophesying that wars, earthquakes and disasters would increase as a sign of the Last Days to announce His coming back. This is explained further in the eBook on Matthew 24 (The Most Embarrassing Verse In The Bible)
THE ‘COMING’ OF THE LORD IN THE CLOUDS…
In Matthew 24 the expression “the coming of the Lord” is a Biblical idiom for the Lord bringing to account or judging. Note its established use in Isaiah 19:1; 26:21; 1Chron. 16:33.
before the LORD, for he comes,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
and the peoples in his faithfulness.
In none of these references is the implication of a physical appearing of the Lord. Its worth noting that the reference in Matthew 24:30 does not include the vital (and assumed) word back. That is, it doesn’t say “when the Lord comes back…“
The Biblical use of “clouds” is also often metaphorical. It is used to describe and speak of God’s glory. When the Bible refers to Christ “coming in the clouds” it speaks of Christ being glorified. A closer look at Matthew 24:30 also reveals that the clouds mentioned are not “earthly” clouds but “heavenly” clouds. This reinforces that what Christ is talking about is His vindication not His return.
WILL JESUS CHRIST RETURN THIS YEAR?
The earliest Creeds of the Church affirmed that Christ was now “seated at the right hand of God, from whence He shall come to judge…” This creedal statement affirmed the Biblical message that one day Christ would return to culminate time and life as we now know it, and usher in a new order where there would be a “new heaven and a new earth”. Is this going to happen this year? The danger for Biblical credibility in the minds of onlookers is that the average believer cannot distinguish between exegesis (what the Bible says) from adiaphora (what sounds Biblical, but actually is not) and will therefore hear these preachers make wild claims about how the return of the Lord must be this year – which they make sound like they are based on the Bible but actually are not! Will Christ return this year? Perhaps it might be better to expose this apparently simplequestion for what it truly is: a simplistic question. Better questions might be: does Christ have to return this year? Could the physical return of Christ be many centuries away?
And while we’re getting all inquisitive, here’s some Bible study questions for you to consider-
- Where in the New Testament does the expression “second coming” appear?
- Where in the Book of Revelation does the word “Anti-christ” appear? (For that matter, apart from John’s epistle’s, where does it occur in the New Testament?
- Where in the New Testament does the word “rapture” occur?
- Where in the New Testament does it prophesy that Israel will be returned to the land of Palestine and take it by force to prepare the way for the return of Christ?
Throughout this site, you will find an alternate view of Bible prophecy that is much older than the current ideas of an imminent rapture, a tribulation, an Antichrist, Armageddon, and 1,000 year earthly reign of Christ from Jerusalem.
Dear Dr Corbett,
I was absolutely thrilled and blessed by your interpretation of Matthew 24 as well as of the 2 witnesses in Revelation.
I had long suspected that the dispensational interpretation was “leaky” to say the least but some of their proponents come across pretty smart in defending this theory.
By the way thank you so much for the 2 ebooks (most embarrassing verse and most embarrassing book in the bile) which so far are a great and exciting read and blessing to me.
J. Kloeg, New Zealand (26/12/2006)
In the eBook, The Most Embarrassing Book In The Bible (Understanding The Book of Revelation), the case is presented for most of the Book of Revelation already being fulfilled. Therefore, there is a strong case to be made from both the witness of Scripture and history that the Dispensationalist’s claim that Revelation is mostly about the future is without credibility. Will Jesus Christ come back this year? A better question is what you are going to do this year to know Him more intimately and make Him known to those who don’t yet know Him? It is actually Christ who is our hope, not His return.
Dr. Andrew Corbett, 6th January 2007
Written by Dr Andrew Corbett, President of ICI Theological College Australia, and author of the popular commentary on the Book of Revelation- The Most Embarrassing Book In The Bible
We all approach the Bible with certain ideas that color the way we read it. This is especially the case with the Book of Revelation. While certain parts of the Bible are difficult to understand (largely because we are separated by time, distance, language, personal disconnection and cultural practices), the Book of Revelation is particularly difficult to understand. This is borne out by the plethora of interpretations that have been offered about it…
Generally there are four schools of interpretation regarding the Book of Revelation. Most people studying the diverse views on the Book of Revelation will at least overview these four views. These are dealt with by Steve Gregg in his book, Revelation: Four Views: A Parallel Commentary. Each of these views generally claim to interpret the Book of Revelation “literally”. Yet each view goes about this ‘literal interpretation’ quite differently. This is why it is more helpful to settle how we should interpret the Bible accurately rather than try to read the Bible through a particular interpretation grid. This especially applies when seeking to understand the Book of Revelation.
Having a system or grid through which we read and understand the Bible is not always a negative thing, but it should not be the starting point. Rather, we should discover the sound principles for interpreting Scripture which apply to every book of the Bible – including the Book of Revelation. This becomes problematic for those who start with a system and then adapt their method of Biblical interpretation (which Theologians call: Hermeneutics) to fit their system because it is impossible to be Biblically consistent with this approach which leads to different systems for different books of the Bible. This is why most Biblical Scholars, who have a high regard for the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, recognise that Scripture interprets Scripture. That is, they regard two immediate things about the Bible:
1. The Bible is clear in its message and can be understood
(This is called the Doctrine of Perspicuity).
2. The message of Scripture is consistently integrated
(it is coherent and without contradiction).
In their highly acclaimed book, How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth, Drs Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart give some wise advice for interpreting the Bible. They show the reader why it’s important to distinguish the literary styles of Scripture and learning how to best understand these different styles. Narrative needs to be understood differently from Poetry. Old Testament Law needs to be understood differently from New Testament Didactic passages. They also discuss why it’s important to understand the various literary devices used, such as hyperboles, metaphors, allegories, symbollism, parables, and numbers. They stress several principles for interpreting Scripture which reflect the two statements above-
(i) Scripture interprets Scripture
(ii) Context (Textual, Cultural, Literary Form, Historical) frames intention (the Biblical author uses his language in an intentional way, to convey a particular something)
(iii) No Scripture should be interpreted in a way which contradicts the overall message of Scripture.
Some Biblical Scholars place a great deal of emphasis upon the individual words in Scripture. One method of doing this is called “Word Studies”. While these word studies are of some value, they are really of very limited value and should not be our starting point for interpreting a passage of Scripture. For example, if I wrote: She was bearing, what would I mean? To bear can mean- to carry, to deliver, to turn, to put up with, or even to change into an animal! Unless you know the context in which I am using these words, you can not know precisely what I am intending to convey. Therefore, employing the three principles of sound Biblical interpretation above, we make it our aim to discover the Biblical author’s intended meaning of their text. Some might argue that this is not possible today since we are so far removed geographically, linguistically, culturally, and situationally from the time of the writing of a Biblical text. There is some merit to this exasperation, to be sure, it is at times a very difficult exercise, but it is not an impossible one.
It is made somewhat possible by –
Gathering Contextual Data – we can examine the historical context, the Biblical context, the cultural context, the other forms of contemporary literature, which all help us to appreciate the Biblical text
- Original Audience Response – how the original audience, while not always entirely helpful, understood the passage addressed to them, serves to enlighten the modern reader
- Church Fathers – again, this source is not always helpful, but it can not be lightly or too quickly dismissed since these early writers were sometimes connected with the Biblical authors and may have received and recorded helpful insights.
Based on these foundations for sound Biblical Interpretation we come armed to understand the Book of Revelation. The tools and rules we use to understand the Book of Revelation are therefore the same ones that we would use to understand Second Corinthians, or Colossians. We should be on our guard when someone boldly declares that the Book of Revelation requires radically different Hermeneutical rules than those used to understand any other Biblical Book.
The first principle, Scripture Interprets Scripture, is surely especially true for the Book of Revelation since at least half of its content is drawn from Old Testament concepts or text. When understanding what a “beast” is for example, we not only recall that Daniel established this symbolism for a National Ruler, but that Revelation 13 actually cites Daniel 7. To understand what Revelation means by “a Harlot” we recall that the Old Testament prophets repeatedly described Israel and Judah’s breach of their covenant with God as “harlotry”. The same goes for the use of numbers as symbols. Revelation cannot be understood without being familiar with the language of the Old Testament.
The second principle of Biblical Interpretation is Context. Without understanding the backdrop to the Book of Revelation we cannot possibly begin to understand its message. Too few of us understand the geo-political landscape of the first century. The Roman Empire was founded by a King (Julius Casar) who was never crowned Emperor – but his adopted son, Octavian, was (who modestly changed his name to ‘Augustus’ and took the family name of Julius as a title: Caesar). The Book of Revelation draws on this distinction by alluding to the first “emperor” (Augustus) riding a white horse (Revelation 6), and then to a different character- the first “king” in Revelation 17. Understanding this simple distinction and who these Emperors were will help us to understand the backdrop to the Book of Revelation.
The third principle of Hermeneutics, No Scripture Should Be Interpreted To Contradict The Overall Message of Scripture. This is not to force a Scripture to mean something that it was not intended to mean, rather it assumes that since the Bible has One Author (though many Pen-men) its message will be integrated, coherent, and without contradiction. Any apparent contradiction is probably an issue of poor interpretation (and therefore even poor translations) than it is an actual contradiction.
While we can and should make certain healthy assumptions about the Bible (such as the two mentioned near the opening of this article) there are other assumptions that are less than helpful such as when the Scripture does not specifically identify who it is referring to, it is a potentially problematic exercise to assume the identity of such a character. For example, when we approach the Book of Revelation it could be assumed that the Beast of Revelation of Chapter 13 is the same character referred to elsewhere in the New Testament as “the Anti-Christ”. But take a closer look at Revelation 13. There are actually two beasts mentioned. Interestingly, the beast with the number 666 is not the one marking his followers, it is the other beast on behalf of the first beast. Who is this second beast? I hope you can see why it might be beneficial not to import any assumptions into the details of a text.
Assuming something directly contrary to the plain Biblical statements within the text is also a faulty way to read Scripture. For example, should we assume that the Book of Revelation is primarily about the “end of the world” and therefore prophesying events thousands of years removed from its date of writing when it plainly says that its events were: “near”, “at hand”, “soon”, and “this hour”?
We import assumptions into Biblical words and texts that potentially deprive us of understanding what the author intended. For example, when reading of the “coming” of “the Son of Man” (Greek- parousia) should we assume that Jesus and the New Testament writers meant either- the Second Coming of Christ or even the Return of Christ? It might be a challenge to some to realise that neither expression actually occurs in the New Testament. It might also be interesting to note that the Greek word for “return” is anakampto (not parousia). How many realise that the Biblical expression the Lord is coming is used throughout the Old Testament and is usually described as occuring with “clouds”, and speaks of God judging in time (rather than at the end of time)? Notice an example of this in Isaiah 19:1 where the prophet foretells of Egypt’s impending judgment by God-
¶ An oracle concerning Egypt.
Behold, the LORDis riding on a swift cloud
and comes to Egypt;
and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence,
and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.
Isaiah 19:1 ESV
We know historically that Egypt was indeed judged and ceased to be a world-power. But did God physically leave Heaven and physically appear in Cairo to carry out this judgment? Not at all. And this is not an isolated usage of the term ‘coming in judgment‘ or ‘coming with clouds‘ to describe God’s judgment. It occurs, for example, in – 1Chronicles 16:33, Psalm 96:13, Psalm 98:9, Jeremiah 4:13, Jeremiah 43:11, and Ezekiel 21:27. It is also pictured in Daniel 7:13. In fact, it is Daniel 7:13 that Christ is citing in Matthew 24:30. (Note the direction of “the Son of Man” in the Daniel passage to which Christ is referring.)
We should read the Book of Revelation assuming that the original first century audience could have understood its contents. This assumption is partly buttressed by its plain statements indicating such. For example, in Revelation 13, John describes two beasts and then tells his audience that with wisdom they can know who he was talking about. This demands that the identity of the two beasts in Revelation 13 was known and therefore alive at the time of John writing. This is why Historicism’s claims that the Beast of Revelation 13 is the “Pope” is poor hermeneutics.
“The Papacy…this is a powerful demonstration that the pope is the real Antichrist who has raised himself over and set himself against Christ, for the pope will not permit Christians to be saved except by his own power, which amounts to nothing since it is neither established or commanded by God.”
Martin Luther, Smalcald Articles (1537), Part 2, Article 4
“There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God.”
The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), chapter 25, section 6
The Book of Revelation should be read in a way that attempts to look over the shoulder of the original audience. When they read of a rider of a white horse described in Revelation 6 it would have been difficult for them not to have identified this as the first Emperor of Rome, Caesar Augustus, who rode a white horse. When the list of ‘horsemen’ expires after the fourth horseman, the original readers would have understood that the fifth Emperor of Rome was not a military leader. They would have also understood that it was the fifth Emperor, Caesar Nero, who began martyring the Church which is why we read that when the fifth seal was broken, the martyrs cried out.
When the original audience, receiving this Epistle around 65AD, read that their trouble would last 1260 days (Revelation 11:3), they could have taken heart that since Rome’s persecution against them commenced in 64AD they didn’t have too long to endure it epecially when in Revelation 12:6 it revealed God’s promise – that even allowing for martyrs – He would preserve them. They could have taken further heart from the encouragement in Revelation 17 which lists the kings of Rome and comes to the sixth king (who was the fifth Emperor), Nero (the most butcherous martyrer of Christians ever), and declares that he shall die soon.
they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while.
This prophecy was all the more remarkable because Nero was only 27 years old at the time, and we know now that from the launch of his persecution against the Church, he only survived another 1260 days! (He died aged 30 and a half.) The original audience would have also known about Gemetria where a person’s name could be represented with a numerical value. They would have known that “Caesar Nero” was the Gemetria value of 666. They also would have been familiar with the Old Testament usage of the term “beast” to mean ‘ruler’ and that the expression “of the Land” identified a Jew and the converse expression, “from across the sea” identified a Gentile. Thus in Revelation 13 one beast is described as being from across the sea (Caesar Nero) and the other beast is described as being from the Land (or “earth”) and represented the ruler of the Jews (the High Priest). They would have known that the High Priest insisted that Temple worshipers wear their phylacteries (bound either to their foreheads or writsts) in order to participate in Temple worship. Knowing this historical backdrop to the Book of Revelation helps to avoid needless speculation about a supposed future Antichrist to come.
Understanding the Book of Revelation does not begin by choosing a school of interpretation – rather, it should begin by settling how we understand any book of the Bible. Therefore, interpreting the Book of Revelation is not so much about Eschatology (the study of ‘last things’) as it is about Hermeneutics (correctly interpreting the Bible). There is good reason for regarding that Revelation 1:1 to 20:6 has been fulfilled already and that Revelation 20:7 to 22:21 is in our future. In this light, we can look back at the Book of Revelation’s accurate predictions of its near future and draw great confidence from this that what it says about our future is just as sure.
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The Most Embarrassing Book In The Bible, eBook, by Dr. Andrew Corbett
I have written a fuller explanation of the book of Revelation in my eBook- THE MOST EMBARRASSING BOOK IN THE BIBLE (click here to read a preview). The application from the Book of Revelation is that despite what appears to be an impotent Church struggling to serve an apparently impotent Christ, the Church is in reality made up of overcomers who lay down their lives gladly to promote Christ and His Gospel. In so doing, the Kingdom of Christ is extended, prayers are offered and heard, miracles are graced, and the believer can die with infinite hope that their Lord will keep them for eternity and clothe them with a new body which can not be subject to pain, injury, sorrow, or sin. With this knowledge we can endure momentary hardship during the brevity of this life on earth. We can be assured that our greatest delights and deepest moments of fulfilment are yet to come in the life to come.
John 5:25 ¶ “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.
Dr. Andrew Corbett, Legana, Tasmania, Australia February 8th, 2011