THE TIME ISSUE IN REVELATION
RESPONDING TO SIMON KISTEMAKER’S REVEALING CHAPTER ON REVELATION #7
Don K. Preston (D. Div.)
This is article #7 in response to a chapter written by Simon Kistemaker, in a 2004 book edited and produced Keith Mathison entitled When Shall These Things Be? (The book is available on Amazon). That book was intended to be a definitive refutation of Full Preterism. The respected commentator Simon Kistemaker wrote a chapter in which he attempted to establish the late date of Revelation.
When that book was published, Edward Stevens asked me and some other authors to write chapters for a proposed book to respond to Mathison’s book. He even raised money to publish that work. Unfortunately, Stevens never published that book. Since Edwards never published the book I thought it would be good to go ahead and publish the chapter, after such a time, that I submitted to Stevens.
Anyone who has read the Apocalypse has to be impressed with the overwhelming sense of urgent expectation that the prophecy of the book was about to be fulfilled soon, very soon. And, Kistemaker concurs that Jesus’ statements, “Behold, I come quickly,” “appears three times to emphasize the imminence of Christ’s return. But two millennia have passed since Jesus’ promise, and it has not yet been fulfilled.” (When, 236) So, how does Kistemaker deal with the fact that inspiration emphasized the imminence of Christ’s coming, but that, in his view, Christ still has not come? Simply stated, he claims that God cannot tell time, or does not honestly tell time when communicating to mankind. This is a common tactic but literally has no merit.
We will not discuss every issue related to the time statements of Revelation. We do want to address a few issues raised by Kistemaker. Be sure to get a copy of my book, Who Is This Babylon? in which I have an extensive discussion of the time statements of Revelation and the “arguments” offered to mitigate them.
First, Kistemaker notes that when John said “the time is at hand” that he used the word kairos. It is claimed that kairos is “the motif of God-ordained phases relating to the end of time.” (237). For Kistemaker, kairos, “conveys the meaning of eschatological time, expressed not in chronological periods, but in terms of principle.” (238)
Second, Kistemaker says that while, “We could say that the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise, ‘I am coming soon,’ is long overdue, if it has not taken place. But consider the concept of ‘soon’ in the light of Old Testament prophecy” (247). He then claims that the Old Testament prophets spoke as if the coming of Christ and the end was near, when in fact, of course, it was hundreds of years off.
The reader will notice the inherent contradiction in Kistemaker’s argument. On the one hand, the modern reader of John’s prophecy knows the fulfillment is “long overdue,” and is prone to be disappointed in the non-fulfillment of that prophecy, due to the repeated time statements of imminence. On the other hand when we read those time statements, “we receive the distinct impression that kairos in Revelation conveys the meaning of eschatological time, expressed not in chronological periods, but in terms of principle.”
Now, if kairos, and the other expressions of temporality are not in reality statements of nearness, why would the modern reader of those words “show impatience and try to suppress a feeling that his return has been postponed indefinitely”? (When, 239). Kistemaker is saying that the modern reader needs to understand that time statements in Revelation are not time statements, even though time words, time concepts, and time warnings are used by the inspired writer. The question is, of course, had the Father wanted to express the genuine temporal nearness of the events foretold in Revelation, what words would He have used? Kistemaker seems to acknowledge that when these same words, terms and phrases are used in non-eschatological texts that they convey objective nearness. However, he believes that when used in eschatological prophecies, that theses words of nearness lose all temporality. This most assuredly begs the question of course. If near, soon, quickly, a short time, and appointed time do not express nearness, what words could the Father have used to convey the objective nearness of the consummation?
Kistemaker (and those like him) has, in effect, forced himself into creating an entirely new vocabulary for the expression of nearness. Were it not for his presuppositional view of eschatology, he would never be so “inventive” and deny the plain meaning of the words. Since, “the time is at hand,” and, “Behold I come quickly” does not, in his view, express nearness, Kistemaker must tell the reader what words would in fact express objective nearness. (On this note, in numerous discussions with those who argue as Kistemaker does, I have asked this very question. I have not had even one person offer a different set of time words that would have truthfully communicated the objective nearness of the end to the first century reader).
Kistemaker is correct about one thing, kairos is distinct from chronos, which only indicates time in general. Kairos, “can signify either a favorable time (as during the harvest) or an eschatological time (as in Revelation). (237) Kairos is a chosen or designated time. It is a specific time cut off from the whole fabric of chronos. Kistemaker is wrong however, to suggest that kairos is a principle rather than time. The reader should note that he offered no lexicographic support for his claims.
In point of fact, the New Testament writers incorporate kairos and they do so to impress on their readers that the kairos, the appointed time for the fulfillment of God’s Scheme of Redemption, had arrived. This declaration began with Jesus himself.
In Mark 1:15, Jesus said, “The time (kairos) is fulfilled, the kingdom of heaven is at hand (literally, has drawn near).” As Bruce noted, “These words express, among other things, the assurance that an ardently desired new order, long since foretold and awaited, was now on the point of realization.” He continues, “The general implication of the announcement was plain: the time had come when the God of heaven was to inaugurate the indestructible kingdom.” (Time, 20) What Bruce is pointing out is that the appointed time (kairos) for the kingdom, i.e. the fulfillment of all eschatological prophecies, had arrived.
Notice what this means. It means that the designated time that was “long since foretold,” in other words, what was once far off, was no longer far off. It had arrived. This negates Kistemaker’s contention that kairos is not time. Jesus was patently not saying that “the principle is fulfilled, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Carefully notice the three words used by Jesus: kairos, (the appointed time), fulfilled, (from pleroma, meaning filled up, brought to consummation) and near, (from the perfect tense of eggizo, meaning “has drawn near”). The joining of these three words leaves no doubt that Jesus was saying the eschatological time was upon them. It was no longer far off, as it had once been.
A study of kairos in the New Testament refutes Kistemaker’s contention that it does not mean time. In fact, a study of the lexicons will do the same, but we will only take note of the Biblical testimony.
The word kairos appears 82 times in the New Testament. It is used to say, “At that time” speaking of the particular time under consideration (Matthew 11:25; 12:1; 14:1, etc.). Jesus used kairos to speak of the appointed time of his passion (Matthew 26:18; John 7:6, 8).
The NT also uses kairos in eschatological texts in ways that completely undermines Kistemaker’s claims.
Jesus castigated the Jews because they refused to “discern the signs of the times.” (kairos, Matthew16:3). If kairos is eschatological principle (what does that even mean???) and not time, this passage makes no sense at all. If kairos is not time, how could Jesus condemn the Jews for not knowing what time it was? And, when coupled with Mark 1:15 and Jesus’ declaration that the kairos was fulfilled, it is apparent that Jesus was speaking of eschatological time: not some timeless principle.
In Matthew 13:30, the “time (kairos) of the harvest” would be at the end of Jesus’ “this age” (Matthew 13:39-40). Jesus’ “this age” the age in which he was living, was the Mosaic Age (Galatians 4:4). Furthermore, Jesus said that the time (kairos), of the harvest, the time of the resurrection, would be “when the righteous shine forth.” (Matthew 13:43). As we have seen in the chapter about the temporal statements of Revelation, this is a direct quote from Daniel 12:3. Daniel foretold the time of the end (Daniel 12:4, from kairos, LXX) and this would be “when the power of the holy people has been completely shattered” (Daniel 12:7).
So, Daniel foretold the kairos of the end, the time of the resurrection and said it would be fulfilled when Israel was completely destroyed. Jesus, quoting Daniel, said the time (kairos) of the end foretold by Daniel would be at the end of the age in which he was living. He was living in the end of the Old Covenant Age (Hebrews 1:1; 9:26; Galatians 4:4). Therefore, the designated, eschatological kairos, would be at the end of the Old Covenant Age. This means that all of the NT authors, who realized that they were living in the last days of that Old Covenant Aeon, were objectively true when they said, “The end of all things has drawn near” (1 Peter 4:7). They realized that the kairos foretold by the Old Covenant prophets, the eschatological kairos, was upon them. It was not some vague, spiritual eschatological principle, but genuinely the time of the end: “The end of the ages has come upon us” (1 Corinthians 10:11).
In Romans 13:11f Paul uses kairos in a manner that effectively refutes Kistemaker. The apostle said, “And knowing the time (kairos), that now it is high time to awake out of sleep, for now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, The Day is at hand. Therefore, let us put of the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Notice several things about this.
First, Paul was clearly writing after the sending of the Revelatory Spirit, the time in which Jesus said the Father would reveal “things to come” (John 16:7f). This means that one cannot apply the principle of Matthew 24:36 in order to refute Paul’s statement of imminence.
Second, Paul says that they knew the time (kairos, cf. also 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3)! He said the time of salvation was near. That is the salvation of the redemption of the body (Romans 8:1ff), the time of the crushing of Satan (Romans 16:20). How could they know the time, if kairos is not time? How could they know anything at all, if kairos is as vague, nebulous and ambiguous as suggested by Kistemaker? The point is, that whatever kairos is, the Romans knew what/when it was and they believed it was upon them. It was not millennia removed from them.
Third, Paul’s reference to “awake out of sleep” is a reference to resurrection (cf. Ephesians 5:14). Thus, Paul was emphatically saying that the kairos, the appointed time for the resurrection was at hand.
It is evident that for Paul, kairos was not only an eschatological statement, it was an eschatological time statement. It was a time concerning which he expected his readers to be aware. And notice, he did not say “live your lives as if the time was near.” He said they were to live in a certain way because the kairos was near.
Consider Luke 21:8. Jesus warned his disciples that false Christs would come saying “The time (kairos), has drawn near.” He told them, “Do not go after them. However, he did tell them that when they saw the predicted signs of his parousia, that they could know “it is near, even at the door” (Matthew 24:32). So, the disciples were to carefully avoid making premature declarations of the nearness of the end and reject those who said the time (kairos) was near, when it was not near. This poses severe problems for Kistemaker’s view of the time issue in Revelation.
Kistemaker admits that the language of Revelation indicated that the parousia of Christ was “imminent.” However, he says these references are “not to calendar or clock time, but to the special time in which the eschatological prophecies are in the process of being fulfilled. In other words, they point to the time of the end and thus alert the hearers and readers of Revelation to prepare themselves for the consummation.” (237) Please take note of the double-talk here. On the one hand kairos is not time, but, on the other hand, the word points to the time of fulfillment. Well, is it time, or is it not time? Does not the eschatological time not take place within calendar and clock time? And if it is time, then since the kairos, was near (engus, Revelation 1:1,3), this is unequivocal proof that the eschatological time of fulfillment was near. But back to Luke 21:8.
John undeniably, by Kistemaker’s own admission, states repeatedly that the events of the Apocalypse, including the judgment coming of Christ, was coming soon and was near. Remember that Jesus warned his disciples not to say the eschatological kairos was near, before it was truly near. Yet, here was John, in Revelation, saying the kairos was near. Was John, as Kistemaker insists, premature in his statement? If so, then John disobeyed his master and is a false prophet. Kistemaker’s insistence the John’s declarations of the imminent end were not objectively true makes John a false prophet. There is no escape from this.
Kistemaker seeks to support his contention that time does not mean time when the Bible writers used time words, by appealing to Jesus’ statement, “But of that day and hour knows no man, not the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36). Of course, this position overlooks the fact that Revelation 1:1 says: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God (the Father!, DKP), gave to him to shew to his servants the things which must shortly come to pass.” So, John is telling his audience that the Father revealed that the events of his book were near!
If the Father was revealing that the kairos was near, then since He patently knew when the events were to happen, having, “appointed a day” (Acts 17:30-31) then surely He could communicate the nearness of those events truthfully, could He not?
Continuing his argument about kairos, Kistemaker maintains: “We receive the distinct impression that kairos in Revelation conveys the meaning of eschatological time, expressed not in chronological periods, but in terms of principle. In two passages in Revelation, John writes as though Christ has returned: “We give thanks to you, O, Lord God Almighty, the One who is, and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.” (11:17). You are in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because You have judged.” (16:3). Strangely, Kistemaker then, inadvertently of course, gives the explanation for his own argument: “In these passages, John looks back upon an event that has yet to happen” (When, 238).
You see, John was being transported into the future to see things that had not yet occurred. In the vision, they took place. Not historically but in prophetic vision. Thus, when in the vision the events took place, the angelic declaration was heralded. This is not a statement that, “John writes as though Christ has returned.” Kistemaker is making an anachronistic argument. He is arguing that John wrote as if Christ had returned, when in fact, John was being projected to see future events unfold, in visionary form and in the vision the events were fulfilled. They were not historically fulfilled and John was not indicating they were. Perhaps this is just an oversight on Kistemaker’s part but it speaks of a careless use of the text.
THE PROPHET’S EXPECTATION OF THE END
Our esteemed author says: “We could say that the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise, ‘I am coming soon’ is long overdue, if it has not yet taken place.” (247) He then seeks to further mitigate the imminence statements of scripture by arguing that in the Old Testament, prophecies often indicated that events were near when in fact, they were hundreds, or even thousands of years off. His argument here is very subtle and, to be blunt, somewhat deceitful.
He cites Psalms 22, 40 and 110, saying, “consider the concept of ‘soon.’” He insists that while in these passages David spoke of Christ, they were hundreds of years from fulfillment. Well, here is the problem: David did not say, “He is coming soon!” None of the texts cited dared to predict: “In a very, very little while, the one who is coming will come, and will not tarry! (Hebrews 10:37).
Kistemaker has misused the scriptures, trying to give the impression that the Old Covenant writers used the language of imminence of the end of the age and resurrection in the same way New Testament writers did. His logic seems to be that if he can demonstrate that the Old Covenant writers said the end was near, just like the New Covenant writers did, then since the end did not come for the Old Covenant writers, this proves that the language is elastic, nebulous and meaningless.
In point of fact, the New Testament writers are clear that the Old Covenant writers did not predict the end of the age parousia of Christ! Read 1 Peter 1:10f:
“Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven–things which angels desire to look into.”
Notice that the context is the coming of Christ to bring to a reality the, “inheritance, incorruptible, that fades not away…the salvation of your soul”(v. 4-9) and this would be at the revelation of Christ (v. 5,7).
So, we have Peter telling us that the Old Testament prophets foretold the parousia of Christ to bring eternal salvation. He tells us that they longed to know when it would occur. They were told, and they understood, that it was not for their time. He tells them it was being revealed in his, Peter’s time, by those who were preaching the gospel.
The contrast in temporal standing here is undeniable. The parousia of Christ and the end of the age was not near in the Old Testament and the Old Testament prophets were told this, Peter says. Therefore, when Kistemaker says that the Old Testament prophets spoke of Christ’s coming as if it was near, he is contradicting Peter’s inspired declaration. There are other examples of this contrast (Matthew 13:17; Hebrews 11:13-16, etc.).
In addition, the Old Prophets themselves tell us that Christ’s coming was not near.
1.) Numbers 24:17f Balaam foresaw the coming of Christ, that was 1400 years away and said, “I see him, but not now, I see him but he is not near.”
2.) Daniel 10:1, 14: Daniel’s panoramic vision spanned several hundred years, and he was told “the appointed time was long”; “I have come to make you understand what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision refers to many days yet to come.”
3.) Daniel 12:4: Daniel was emphatically told to, “shut up the words, and seal the book until the time (kairos) of the end.” He was told, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed until the time (kairos) of the end.” (V. 9). Daniel was told in the clearest words possible that the fulfillment of his vision of “the time (kairos) of the end” was not for his generation. It was not near. In contrast of course, we note that John was told, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time (kairos) is at hand.” (Revelation 22:10).
If Kistemaker’s contention about kairos, is true, the contrasting nature of these two passages (Daniel 12 / Revelation 22) makes no sense. If kairos is “not calendar or clock time” as Kistemaker claims, then the angel’s allusion to the fulfillment after Daniel’s death, after many years, in the latter days, meant nothing. The angel’s reference to kairos was undeniably to “calendar and clock time” just as the angel’s command in Revelation 22. The kairos was not near in Daniel’s day; it was near in John’s day. And this means that it is specious to deny the genuine, objective nearness of the events of Revelation.
The reader needs to be aware that Mathison and other prominent contributors to When agree with our arguments regarding the nearness of the prophecy of Revelation. Gentry, commenting on the time statements of Revelation 1:1-3, the very statements that Kistemaker seeks to negate, says this:
“The remarkable nature of our preterist assertion regarding the events of Revelation is met with bewilderment by most evangelicals today. Yet the evidence is there for all to see. Unfortunately, right in the very first verse of Revelation certain commentators begin straining to reinterpret the obvious. Commentators employ various desperate maneuvers to get around the clear meaning of these two terms.”(Beast, 26+)
Gentry takes note of many of the statements elsewhere in the NT, statements that are directly echoed in Revelation: “Similar notes of temporal proximity of divinely governed crises abound in the NT: Matthew 26:64; Acts 2:16-20, 40; Romans 13:11, 12; 16:20; 1 Corinthians 7:26, 29-31; Colossians 3:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:16; Hebrews 10:25, 37; James 5:8,9, and 1 Peter 4:5, 7. How else could the New Testament express nearness more clearly?” (Beast, 26) We can only add a hearty, Amen! How indeed!
Likewise, Mathison, when offering his summary of the evidence for the early date of Revelation, says that the internal evidence “points decisively to an early date” and among that evidence he offers is: “The Nearness of the Coming: John writes a number of times in Revelation that his prophecy will be fulfilled very soon, see verses 1:1, 3, 19; 2:16; 3:10-11; 22:6-7, 10, 12, 20. Nothing in these verses indicates that the coming of Christ referred to in 1:7 is to occur thousands of years later. Everything in them points to an impending ‘coming’” (Hope, 144).
So, here is what we have. Kistemaker seeks to negate the preterist paradigm by mitigating the temporal statements of Revelation. However, as we have shown, he misuses the Biblical text, especially in regards to kairos. And, while he maintains that the Old Testament writers affirmed the nearness of the end, when it was not near, we have shown that this is patently false.
Furthermore, while Kistemaker rejects the early date of Revelation and its application to A.D. 70, the editor of When Shall These Things Be? personally believes and teaches that Kistemaker’s approach is wrong. Indeed, Gentry, for whom Mathison holds the highest regard in reference to his work on Revelation, says the evidence for the early date and application to A.D. 70, “is there for all to see,” and that those, such as Kistemaker obviously, “begin straining to reinterpret the obvious,” and, “employ desperate maneuvers to get around the clear meaning” of the time statements. We could not agree more with Mathison and Gentry. We can only wonder why Mathison does not inform the readers of When that he vehemently disagrees with essentially everything that Kistemaker writes.
A SUMMARY THOUGHT
Before proceeding to present some of the positive evidence for the early date of Revelation, we want to take note of the last several pages of Kistemaker’s comments. Simply stated, he is guilty of the worst sort of presumptive argumentation. For instance, he says, “John points to the consummation at the end of time, not A.D. 70.” (When, 249).
The problem is that Kistemaker assumes that the Bible teaches about “the end of time. This simply is not true. That term never appears in scripture. The term invariably used is “time of the end” and it is presumptive to assume that this means “end of time.” Furthermore, the Bible is emphatic that the current Christian Age has no end! (Luke 1:32f; Ephesians 3:20f; Hebrews 12:28f; Revelation 11:15f). Now, if the Bible affirms that the Christian Age has no end, and it does, then Kistemaker’s view of Revelation is falsified.
Kistemaker uses poor, circular logic throughout his presentation. He says that Revelation could not be early and apply to the events of A.D. 70 because it speaks of the coming of the Lord, the judgment and the resurrection. Those things have not yet happened. Therefore, since Revelation predicts those events, Revelation is not fulfilled. He assumes that his concept of the end is correct, without proving it: petitio principii!
Furthermore, the book of Revelation says the coming of the Lord, judgment and resurrection was near. However, those events did not happen soon, in John’s time, therefore, “near” and “quickly” cannot mean those events were truly near. This willingness to redefine words, indeed, to invent new definitions for words, based on ad hominem, presuppositional logic is distressing, not to mention improper.