In part one of my analysis of imminence I demonstrated that the imminence in Revelation stands in stark contrast with Daniel, a book demanding that the prophet for a lengthy period for this book to be unsealed. Given that Daniel was written centuries prior to the birth of Christ (whereas Revelation was the last book in the New Testament canon), this was to be expected. Further, the conception of imminence in the New Testament gospels and epistles confirms the fact that Revelation cannot be forced into a historicist mold. The entire New Testament has a distinct imminent perspective consistent with the conclusion that the seven churches of Asia Minor were taught the Advent was soon, very soon. At least those who assert that the biblical text must be understood literally, can hardly simultaneously say that when the text says something would happen in a thousand days, this really meant a thousand years. Likewise, William Miller, who insisted that Hosea 6:1-3 and Luke 13:32-33 must be interpreted with the day-equals-a-millennium principle, should not be credited with divine, prophetic insight.
Well before Revelation was written, the theme of imminence was firmly established in Christian expectation. In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus informed his followers that, although his status was very humble, he would reappear very shortly in great power–in the lifetime of some of his disciples. Mark 9:1 had circulated orally for decades prior to being put in written form. By then the surviving disciples were old men, expected to die at any moment. Thus, when Mark 9:1 was written in about 70 CE, the expectation of the imminent return of Jesus was very high. “I tell you solemnly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”
The synoptic parallel in Matthew 16:24-28 described the same dynamic. Christ said the “Son of Man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels,” and would reward each one according to his behavior. “I tell you solemnly, there are some of these standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming with his kingdom.”
The synoptic parallel of Luke 9:23-27 compellingly contrasted a meek and lowly, disreputable Jesus and a “Son of Man” who would not only come in “his own glory” but also “in the glory of the Father” and the holy angels. For the third time Jesus said, “there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”
Such a radical reversal of power, glory, and authority seemed so implausible under the circumstances that Jesus wanted to assure his hearers that it would indeed come true. He wanted to guarantee to them that, as totally mind-boggling as it seemed, he would become powerful, surrounded by the glory of God and his angels. He also insisted that this would not be some long, drawn-out process taking place over centuries. No! This would happen soon, prior to the death of some of those listening to him!
Given the fact that Revelation was written about 95 C.E., a couple of decades after the Synoptic Gospels, its readers had even more reason to expect Christ’s imminent return. John was the last of the surviving disciples present when Jesus said, “there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” So, when John’s Revelation ended with “I come quickly,” surely one could expect that Jesus would “come quickly.”
That is the plain, literal, and commonsense meaning of scripture. Likewise in John 21:22-23, “Jesus said unto him, If I will that he [John] tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?”
Jesus’ followers clearly expected his Second Advent to occur prior to the death of John. Perhaps the twelve apostles misunderstood Jesus’ words, but if so, their misunderstanding also permeated the sense of imminence in the Synoptic Gospels. But didn’t Jesus truly say “a little while” in John 16:16? “A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.” Or did the gospels misrepresent the actual words of Jesus? Did the words “a little while” mean “a millennia?” And what about the parallel in Hebrews 10:37: “For yet a little while, and he that is coming shall come, and will not tarry.”
Revelation, John, Mark, Matthew, and Luke all assured Christians that Jesus would return quickly. They did not foresee multiple, Millerite prophetic periods lasting 6,000-years, 2450-years, 2520-years, 2300-years, 2,000-years, or even a mere 1260-years. These calculations were examples of necessity being the mother of invention. When Jesus did not return as expected, millennialists used their ingenuity and imagination to make apocalyptic calculations of “prophetic periods.” LeRoy Froom explained the thousand years delay of the day-year hypothesis this way: “[Christian theologians] could not conceive of the world’s lasting long enough to cover time prophecies of such length as 1260. Joachim himself never extended the year-day principle to the 2300-day prophecy.”
“Soon” in the Epistles
The New Testament epistles also support the universal Christian expectation of extreme imminence. 1 Thessalonians was written about 52 CE. In Thessalonians 1:9-10 Paul told converts “to wait for [God’s] son from the heavens.” This indicates that the primitive Christians believed in the speedy return of Christ. They were awaiting the “coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones” (1Thess. 3:13).
Their paradigm was that there were two subsets of Christians. One group would live to see the Second Coming. The second group would die prior to the Second Coming (c.f. 1 Thess.4:13-17). “We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent [take precedence over] them which are asleep (die prior)”. First, the dead would rise; then the living would be caught up in the clouds. Paul was explaining to them that the death of some would not prevent them from full participation in the Second Coming. Paul appeared to think that he and some of his parishioners would be alive at the Second Advent. Certainly, many exegetes and historians agreed that the primitive church expected the Lord to come in that very generation.
In 2 Thessalonians, some of Paul’s converts were convinced that the Second Coming had already arrived. Therefore, they neglected earthly employment, like some of the shut-door Adventists after the Great Disappointment. Paul had to correct them with the explanation that while the Second Coming was “at hand,” Christ had not actually “come.”
1 Corinthians 1:7 addressed those looking earnestly “for the coming of our lord Jesus Christ,” which corresponded with a trial by fire, a day of judgment (1 Cor. 3:13). “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes” (1 Cor. 4:5). The Second Coming was a time of impending judicial investigation and decision. 1 Cor. 7:29-31 affirmed: “But this I say, brethren, the time henceforth is short!” It is not eighteen hundred years hence. This is in accord with 1 Peter 4:7, “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.” 1 Cor. 10:11 agrees. Paul stressed the fact that spiritual truths were “written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world [or eons] are come.”
1 Cor 15:51 also imagined the two groups mentioned above: “the dead [who] shall be raised incorruptible, and [the living who] shall be changed.” When Paul wrote, “we shall not all sleep,” he was not thinking about some hypothetical nineteenth century Christians in North America. The “we” was Paul and his Corinthian converts. “We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord” potentially included Paul and his converts. The Second Advent was never spoken of as literally distant, but always as imminent. Christianity’s motto was “Maranatha” (The Lord is coming) (1 Cor. 16:22). Many commentators have noted how remarkable it was that in a Greek epistle this Aramaic word was retained, as if to say that Christians of every language shared a universally-understood hope.
Romans 13:11-12 also stressed the imminence of the Second Advent: “Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand.”
One might say that “the night is far spent” alluded to the same event as the Midnight Cry of 1844. Romans 16:20 put it differently: “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.”
John the Revelator alluded to the same event when he described the devil being chained up in the abyss. Philippians 4:5 encouraged moral behavior with the declaration: “The Lord is at hand.” 1 John 2:18 affirmed that, “It is the last hour.”
2 Timothy 4:1-2 said, “I adjure thee before God, and Jesus Christ, who is about to judge the living and the dead.” Judgment is on the cusp of happening concurrently with the Second Advent. James 5:8-9 asserted: “The coming of the Lord draweth nigh!” “Behold, the judge standeth before the door.” 1 Peter 4:5-7 asked: “Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead . . . But the end of all things is at hand.” 1 Peter 4:17-19 asserted: “For the time is come when the judgment must begin at the house of God.” 1 Peter 5:1 stated that Christ’s Second Coming “glory [was] about to be revealed.”
Other texts spoke of the imminence of the Second Advent in less obvious terms. Rev. 11:15-19 stated that when the seventh angel sounded, voices in heaven were heard saying, “The kingdom of the world is become our Lord’s and his Christ’s and he shall reign for ever and ever.” Certainly, this was a reference to the Second Advent in present tense. See Rev. 14:14-20 also.
As mentioned above, there are other equivalent expressions like the “great day of his wrath” which occurs in Revelation 6:17: “The great day of his wrath is come.” It does not say “is coming” in the near future. It says “is come” in the present. This illustrates that the Second Coming will occur in such an immediate future that the present tense is called for.
Pinpointing a long sequence of geopolitical events as the historical fulfillment of a verse-by-verse interpretation of Revelation obliterates its literal, plain, commonsense reading. It converts “soon” to “late,” “near” to “distant,” and “short” to “long,” and vice versa. The imminence of the Second Advent is well established in the New Testament epistles and gospels decades before Revelation, and Revelation emphasizes time and again this theme. Revelation was intended to be understood by its original readers in Asia Minor’s seven churches. Any other hypothesis makes no sense. The historicist hypothesis is particularly incomprehensible.
The historicist explanation of the Apocalypse fails for several reasons. The Apocalypse has as its major theme the extreme imminence of the Second Advent. In the days of John, the Christian Church universally believed the Second Advent was immediately at hand. This was the promise of Christ, the proclamation of the apostles, and the belief of the church. If semantics and grammar are to have any meaning, only an imminent Second Advent makes sense. Imminence permeates the text of the Apocalypse and the entire New Testament. Any literal interpretation excludes the centuries and millennia required by historicism.
For the text to have had any meaning for its original recipients, it had to deal with their current events. Otherwise, its recipients were given a “revelation” that was meaningless to them. This is exactly what Ellen White meant when she said that only William Miller understood the true meaning of the Apocalypse because he was especially favored by direct angelic guidance. Since the apostolic era, for centuries, its meaning had been hidden in obscurity from all previous Christians, she said
“Angels of GOD repeatedly visited that chosen one [Miller], and guided his mind, and opened his understanding to prophecies which had ever been dark to God’s people.”
In biblical terminology, historicism assumes that the Apocalypse was “sealed up” for nearly two millennia when the text explicitly said that it was not “sealed up.” Whereas Daniel clearly depicted a sequential history of four world powers over periods of time, the Apocalypse did not. The two cannot be conflated as they are in historicist interpretations. The clay of Daniel and iron of Revelation cannot be amalgamated any more than the feet of the Babylonian king’s great statute.
The Apocalypse was intended to be intelligible to its original recipients who were informed in plain, literal language that the Second Coming was imminent. Thus, it necessarily alluded to events that were to take place in a very near future, what today we call the first centuries of the Christian Era. William Miller and his followers allowed themselves to disregard a plain “thus saith the Lord” to satisfy their longing for a dateable event. Ellen White was so attached to this date that she depicted all those who said no man could know the day as insincere scoffers. Yet, until October 6, 1844, Miller and his chief lieutenants denounced any exact date, including October 22, 1844, as preposterous, heretical, and unbiblical. In contrast, White remained so attached to October 22, 1844, that she continued to use the same erroneous, non-contextual method of interpretation to arrive at the right date/wrong event explanation for the Great Disappointment. She also mischaracterized those who repudiated the possibility of knowing “the day or hour” as insincere “scoffers.” Clearly, this is not valid because brothers Miller, Himes, Litch, Hale, Fitch, Hawley and other prominent lecturers initially repudiated setting “the day” (they were against date-setting until they were for it). Retaining “the day,” October 22, 1844, but altering the event was the first novel doctrine that her visions “established” not merely “confirmed.” It has been a millstone around the neck of its adherents ever since.
(1) Miller, despite the tradition to the contrary, did not utilize the historical-grammatical methodology to interpret the Apocalypse. It interpreted various symbols via eisegetical whims.
(2) Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts (Tellico Plains, TN: Digital Inspiration, 2020), I:140.
(3) See Case #9, published May 4, 2023. I documented there that when one Millerite preacher set April 13, 1843, as the exact date for the Second Advent, six major Millerite brothers categorically repudiated those claiming to have a biblical basis for knowing “the day.” “[Brothers] Miller, Himes, Litch, Hale, Fitch, Hawley, and other prominent lecturers must decidedly protest against the fixing the day or hour of the event. This we have done over and over again in our paper.” “With the day or the month we have NOTHING TO DO [emphasis original].” Editors, “The Time of the End,” The Signs of the Times, January 4, 1843, 121-122.