From time to time people write and ask how we can believe some of the things we do about Bible prophecy. We simply tell them that we're Bible students just like them, committed to following the truth as we understand it. All of us should be willing to re-study our beliefs and change them if good Biblical reasons can be given. The following shares some of the "Biblical reasons" why we believe Christ's return happened in the First Century. If you can show how we have misunderstood these passages, we will be forever indebted to you.
I have always felt a burden to understand all that the Bible had to say. I believed that all of the Bible (even the book of Revelation) could be understood. I knew that the thousands of interpretations could not all be right. Most (if not all) of them had to be wrong. I committed myself to understand Revelation. In my study I came across statements in Revelation and other prophetic writings which disturbed me. I had a professor in a Synoptic Gospels course in college who stirred my anxiety about these things even more.
The verses in Revelation that I'm concerned about are Rev. 1:1-3 and 22:6-20. These verses contain numerous references to the idea that the time of fulfillment for these things (in Revelation) was near in John's day (when it was written). Here's the way he says it:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must shortly take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John; who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near. (Rev. 1:1-3).
And he said to me, These words are faithful and true; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must shortly take place. And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book (22:6,7) . . . And he said to me, Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near (22:10) . . . Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me to render to every man according to what he has done (22:12) . . . He who testifies to these things says, Yes, I am coming quickly. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (Rev.22:20, emphasis mine, ES).
I try to put myself back in the first century and think what these words would've meant to saints who were suffering in the persecution. They must have had the impression that Revelation was speaking of events about to be fulfilled in that first century. John seemed so certain that these things "must take place shortly", and that the time of their fulfillment was "near". But this is not all. In numerous statements throughout the Gospels, Jesus promised His return within that generation. And, almost every NT writer indicates that Christ's return was imminent in their generation. If they had only said "maybe", "possibly" or "might" (indefinite), it would make me feel a little easier, but all these statements use definite affirmations like "must", "am" or "is".
It is easy for me to see why some theologians reject the inspiration of the NT. They reason this way: "The NT writers predicted the return of Christ would definitely occur within their generation. Since it didn't happen, they were obviously mistaken. And mistaken writings are not inspired." Here are other passages they use to justify their rejection of the inspiration of the NT:
You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. (Jas. 5:8,9 emphasis mine, ES).
The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. (1 Pet.4:7; cf. 1 Pet.4:17 where he says it was time for the judgment to begin).
For the Son of Man is about to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. (Matt. 16:27, 28).
Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (Matt. 24:34; one of the "things" in the context is Christ's return).
I think you probably see why I'm concerned. The professor I spoke of above used these and numerous other passages to "prove" (?) that the NT writings could not be inspired since they contained false prophecies that weren't fulfilled within the time period they predicted. How could the NT writers teach so definitely that the end and Christ's return were near in their generation if those events were actually still thousands of years away?
The only reasonable explanation I have heard is the following. The writers of the NT did believe and teach that the end of the Jewish system and return of Christ was near in their generation. They were speaking about the same disastrous events as Jesus was in Matthew 24 where he spoke of the destruction of Jerusalem coming in their generation. Jesus indicated that some kind of "coming of the Son of Man" would happen in 70AD at the destruction of Jerusalem (see Matthew 24). Jesus and the NT writers never mention two different returns of Christ separated by thousands of years (one at 70 A.D. and one still future). So, it seems like we either have to place His second coming back there in the first century at the destruction of Jerusalem or admit that Jesus and the NT writers goofed in their prediction of an imminent return in their generation. The former idea makes more sense and leaves the inspiration of the NT intact.
This means that our traditional concepts of Christ's return will have to be re-examined! If Christ returned in 70AD, there are a lot of prophetic passages which need to be reinterpreted. There is a lot more symbolic and figurative language used in the prophetic books than we have ever realized. We have interpreted those things too physically and materialistically.
If you see these things differently, I hope you will love me enough to show how I've misinterpreted these things. Help me understand it the right way. I'm anxious to follow what the Bible teaches, just like you. But if you study these passages and come to the same conclusion I did, why not accept it? Isn't truth worth more than career, brotherhood prestige, popularity or materialistic security? What are you afraid of? Hasn't God promised to take care of those who follow Him? To what are you committed, TRUTH or TRADITION? We here at Kingdom Publications have books and other materials available which take this idea further and show how the whole Bible teaches it. Why not check it out?