Copyright © Robert E. Cruickshank, Jr (June 4, 2023)
All Rights Reserved
In the book of Revelation, John tells his readers that the time was “near” for the prophesied events to take place (Rev. 1:3; 22:10), and Jesus Himself declares that He would be coming “quickly” (Rev. 22:12). This echoes His words in the Olivet discourse where He says, “Truly (amen), I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt. 24:34). Those who take these statements at face value believe that Jesus made good on his word, and His word finds fulfillment in the events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Many disagree with this approach, however, and there are old and new attempts to reject the reality of past fulfillment.
While previously popular approaches to New Testament prophecy tried to redefine the time texts in order to catapult the fulfillment of those prophecies into the far-distant future, a growing number of scholars in the academic community now openly concede that these passages must be taken at face value. For them, “near” really means “near,” “quickly” really means “quickly,” and “this generation” really means “this generation.” This is a breath of fresh air when compared to the earlier attempts to deny past fulfillment. Perhaps the newer approach is born out of the recognition that the older efforts are less than convincing?
The Time is Near (Rev. 1:3)
For example, one writer of the former persuasion claims that all the phrase “the time is near” (Rev. 1:3) means is simply that: “The place in time is now, or here right now to read the words, to hear the message and to keep what is in it. This does not imply ‘soon’ is the time these events are going to happen as if they are some forty years into the future.”
This approach basically has John writing to seven first-century churches, telling them to hurry up and read about things that have nothing whatsoever to do with them or their current situation. Regarding this interpretation, one wonders what the point in reading the words would have even been in the first place? Why would it have been so urgent and necessary for them to immediately know about things that aren’t even going to happen for another 2,000 years or more? And why would they even care?
Additionally, John does not say the time was “here” right “now,” as this writer states. John says the time was “near,” not “here.” This spawns another question: using this writer’s approach, why was the time to read the prophecy merely “near” when they received the letter rather than “here”? Why not just read it right away? Why wait? This makes no sense.
As an aside, who has ever said that the events were “going to happen…some forty years into the future” from the time that John wrote? Most everyone who believes in the past fulfillment of John’s prophecy argues that he wrote Revelation in the 60s, not the 30s. No one claims that the events were “forty years into the future” from the time John wrote the book of Revelation.
It’s best to just take John’s statement at face value. John wrote Revelation sometime in the 60s, and the Roman-Jewish War broke out in AD 66–leading to Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70. The time was “near.”
Behold I Am Coming Quickly (Rev. 3:11, 22:7, 22:12)
Attempts to deal with the word “quickly” fare no better than the efforts to deal with the word “near.” It’s most often argued that “quickly” is not a chronological indicator telling the reader WHEN He’ll return, but a qualitative indicator describing HOW He’ll return. In other words, the events of the Lord’s Return will happen really fast–whenever they finally do begin to take place.
Amazingly, Acts 22:18 is often used as an example to justify this approach: “And I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’” In this passage, Jesus is telling Paul: “Get out of Jerusalem and get out soon!” He’s not telling him: “Go ahead and stay in Jerusalem as long as you want, just make sure you move really fast once you do finally decide to leave.” It’s fairly obvious that the urgency of the moment is what is at stake in this passage.
Moreover, if the interpretation is correct that Jesus’ “coming quickly” only refers to the HOW of the action, and not the WHEN of the action, what possible comfort would this have been for the suffering and persecuted Christians in the first century? In essence, John would be saying, “Don’t worry, relief is coming. It’s over 2,000 years away, but when it does finally come (long after you’re dead and gone), things will move really fast.” This is what he’s telling his original audience? Rather than comforting them, this does the opposite. It would be more of a mockery of their circumstances rather than a consolation in their time of suffering.
This Generation Will Not Pass Away (Matt. 24:34)
In Matthew 24:34, Jesus utters the now-famous words: “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Jesus’ words here are not terribly difficult to understand.
As Gary DeMar writes, “Genea (generation) always means people living at the same time…Jesus always used “this generation” in reference to His contemporaries (Matt. 11:16; 12:41, 42; 23:36; 24:34; Mark 8:12; 13:30; Luke 7:31; 11:29, 30, 31, 32, 50, 51; 17:25; 21:32). The use of ‘this,’ a near demonstrative, identifies the generation as the one to whom Jesus was addressing. The use of the second person plural (you) throughout Matthew 24 beginning with verse 2 and continuing through with verse 34 identifies the audience.” In a nutshell, Jesus is telling those living at that time that their generation would not pass away until all the things spoken of in the Olivet Discourse took place.
Incredibly, R.T. France writes, “The attempt to explain ‘this generation’ as the generation alive at the time of the Parousia… goes against the natural meaning of the phrase and makes the words irrelevant both to Jesus’ listeners and Matthew’s readers.” The problem here is that Jesus is specifically answering the Disciples’ question about the timing of His Parousia (Matt. 24:3). How could His statement in verse 34 not be about “the generation alive at the time of the Parousia”? In addition, how could a statement about their own “generation” be “irrelevant” to them? Finally, wouldn’t a statement about some other “generation” (a generation 2000+ years removed from their own time) be truly and totally “irrelevant” to them? The “natural meaning of the phrase” would be the meaning it carries throughout the Gospels, and that meaning is always the generation to whom Jesus was speaking, as DeMar points out above.
The bottom line: attempts to redefine the meanings of key terms used in the New Testament time texts don’t make much sense when one takes the time to carry them to their logical conclusions. It’s best to let these passages simply mean what they say and say what they mean.
This is exactly what the most recent theory in vogue in academic circles does, and this is a welcome change in some respects. The problem is that these same scholars still maintain that Jesus’ words weren’t fulfilled in that “generation,” even though the time was “near”, and He was coming “quickly.” Why? What reason do they give for this conclusion? Because the prophecy was conditional, they argue, and the conditions weren’t met. In other words, these scholars recognize that the prior attempts to explain away prophetic imminence fail, and their new approach is simply to say that it’s the prophecies themselves that fail.
The Conditional Prophecy Approach
Perhaps one of the greatest scholarly minds of our time was the late Dr. Michael Heiser. In a 2017 blog post, Heiser wrote: “Here’s the short answer to ‘Was Jesus a failed prophet?’ Yes, if you don’t understand the idea of conditional prophecy, which occurs frequently in the Bible, and therefore read the New Testament deficiently. (Even shorter: Yes, if you’re ignorant).”
In that post, Heiser pointed the reader to the book When the Son of Man Didn’t Come: A Constructive Proposal on the Delay of the Parousia, by Christopher M. Hays, in collaboration with a number of other prominent scholarly contributors. This book brought the conditional prophecy approach, which had been percolating in academic circles for years, to front and center stage.
In the book, Hays hits the ground running. He writes, “Jesus had promised his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power’ (Mark 9:1). He assured them, ‘Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place’ (13:30)—’all these things’ apparently including reference to the ‘Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory’. In light of that promise, he adjured them again and again, ‘keep alert…keep awake’ (Mark 13:33–37), for ‘truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes’ (Matt. 10:23). But Jesus did not come back. His coming, his Parousia, was significantly delayed. As we will see, the fact that ‘this generation’ did pass away before the Son of Man returned created concerns for some early Christians.”
For Hays and his coauthors, however, the “concerns” of these “early Christians” is not a problem for them. Hays concedes: “Jesus did indeed prophesy his second coming and the consummation of the kingdom of God sometime within a generation of his preaching.” Then he asks the question: “What if Jesus was wrong? Blunt though it be,” says Hays, “this is the question we are left with…to be frank, the terminology of soon, quickly, and near seems today to be impossible to reconcile with the fact that two thousand years have elapsed.”
Apparently, this is a non-issue at the end of the day because prophetic failure supposedly is par for the course in the Bible. For Hays and the other contributors to his book, the history of Biblical prophecy is a “history of failure.” According to Hays: “…the non-appearance of Jesus’ prophesied second coming is simply part and parcel of a longstanding pattern of failure seen already in Jewish prophecy. Most historical-critical investigation of Jewish and Christian prophecy concludes that prophecies often fail.”
While Some Prophecies are Conditional, No Prophecies Fail
It should be pointed out that there is a big difference between a prophecy failing and a prophecy being conditional. If certain conditions are put in place by God Himself that would avert the negative consequences of the prophecy (like repentance), then the prophecy’s nonfulfillment would not in any sense be a failure. In fact, repentance on the part of the people to prevent the prophesied judgment is oftentimes precisely the point of the prophecy to begin with. One only needs to think of the all too familiar example of Jonah and Nineveh. In fact, Jonah knew the outcome would be their repentance which is precisely why he was a reluctant prophet! In no sense did this prophecy fail, but it was conditional.
Far from ever failing, Biblical prophecy always accomplishes God’s purpose either way. If the people repent (as in the case of Nineveh), this means they’ve turned to the Lord and God is glorified. If they don’t repent, judgment will follow, and God will be glorified through his righteous acts. This is the whole point of prophecy. Take it from a prophet himself, namely, Jeremiah: “At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot it, to tear it down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will relent of the good with which I said that I would bless it” (Jer. 18:7-10).
While failure is too strong a word, prophecy can be and oftentimes is conditional. No one who is familiar with the Bible would deny the conditional nature of prophecy, and the conditional nature of prophecy does not amount to the failure of prophecy.
Where the Failed Prophecy Advocates Fail
When it comes to the prophecies of the New Testament, those who claim the predictions failed (their words) seem to fail themselves on two counts.
First, the reason they give for the supposed failure is a lack of repentance on the part of the original audience in the first century. This is odd since the Day of the Lord is a day of judgment. Jesus Himself called it “the days of vengeance” (Lk. 21:22). Earlier, Jesus made it clear that He didn’t expect a number His first-century listeners to recognize what was coming upon them or repent of their unbelief: “For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:43-44).
Was repentance supposed to bring this judgment and lack of repentance divert it? Isn’t this the opposite of how it’s supposed to work? Isn’t this the reverse of what Jeremiah says in the passage quoted above? Those who argue that non-repentance would thwart a judgment is to have things backwards. Jesus fully expected many in His audience not to heed His warnings, and their lack of repentance would have come as no great surprise to Him.
On the other hand, a significant number of people in the first century did in fact repent and embrace Christ. Hays informs us: “Jesus prophesied his return to vindicate his faithful witnesses, to bless penitent believers, and to punish his recalcitrant enemies. But when the Jewish and gentile nations did not respond sufficiently to the witness of his messengers, God chose to defer the complete fulfillment of the prophecy.” When reading the New Testament, it seems like for as many who “did not respond sufficiently” there were that many who did.
In contrast to Hays’ claim, Paul tells the Colossians: “…because of the hope reserved for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth” (Col. 1:5-6). The idea of the Gospel being in “all the world,” “bearing fruit,” and “increasing” sounds like a successful response to the witness of God’s messengers in the first century.
The truth is that many people repented, and many didn’t. Regardless, the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy was going to happen either way. This brings us to the second reason why the advocates of the failed prophecy view fail. Jesus’ promise to come in judgment upon that generation meets the one condition that makes His prophecy unconditional no matter what–the inclusion of a divine oath.
Amen: The Divine Oath
Aside from Christopher M. Hays, Richard L. Pratt is probably the most popular promoter of the view that the New Testament prophecy of Christ’s soon coming has been delayed because certain conditions weren’t met in the first century.
With this in mind, Pratt unequivocally states what the one condition would be that would make a prophecy unconditional: “At times Yahweh took an oath to add weight to a prediction precisely because not all predictions had this solemn status.” Earlier he says: “These passages make it plain that some predicted events were inevitable. With reference to these declarations, Yahweh would not listen to prayers, turn back, relent, or violate his oath.” Elsewhere, he calls these types of prophecies “sworn predictions” and states, “Some predictions reveal in no uncertain terms that God is fully determined to carry out what he says through the prophets.” Pratt gives Amos 4:2 as an example of just such a prediction: “The Sovereign LORD has sworn by his holiness: ‘The time will surely come, when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks.’”
According to Pratt: “When God adds an oath to a prophetic prediction, it raises that prediction to the level of a covenant’s certainty…When a prophet adds a divine oath to a prediction, it indicates that God is absolutely determined to do what he says he will do.”
This being the case, Jesus’s promise to come in that generation takes on the form of a divine oath–making it unconditional. He says: “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place (Matt. 24:34).” The word for “truly” is actually “amen” (ἀμήν), and it’s “a formula of solemn expression of certainty,” according to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. He uses the same word in Matthew 16:27: “Truly (amen), I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
As David Chilton says, “The word ‘amen’ is “generally understood to mean So be it; but its actual force, in terms of the theology of the Bible, is much stronger. It is really an oath: to say ‘amen’ means to call down upon oneself the curses of the Covenant (cf. Num. 5:21-22; Deut. 27:15-26; Neh. 5:12-13).” Writing on the significance of the word “amen,” H.W. Hogg states that “the fundamental idea” behind the word “in the north and south Semitic languages alike, is ‘stability, steadfastness, reliability.’” According to Daniel Doriani: “Jesus’ use of ‘amen is a striking innovation in Hebrew that affirms His claim to deity.”
Putting all of this together: Jesus is basically staking His claim on the certainty that He would in fact come in judgment before that generation passed away. If He didn’t, then He is to be considered accursed. This is what that word “amen” means in its full theological force. The usage of the word “amen” in Matthew 16:27 and 24:34 raised Jesus’ prophecy to a whole other level. No human circumstances could make it fail, and no historical contingencies could delay it. By His usage of the word “amen,” Jesus sealed His words with a divine oath. And this is the one condition that makes His prophecy unconditional. The only question for us is: did he or didn’t He make good on His promise?
 Whitsett M.Div. Th.M., Rev. Stephen. The Cold Case Against Full Preterism: AKA Realized Eschatology (p. 55). Kindle Edition.
 See: Ken Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (Tyler, Tx: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989). https://www.garynorth.com/freebooks/docs/pdf/before_jerusalem_fell.pdf
 Q: Naked Bible Podcast Episode 402: Revelation Q&A, Part 2 p. 9. https://nakedbiblepodcast.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/NB-402-Transcript.pdf
 , pp. 2-3.
 Ibid., p. 23.
 Ibid, pp. 23, 35.
 As per the title of Chapter 2 in When the Son of Man Didn’t Come.
 When the Son of Man Didn’t Come, pp. 37-38.
 See: Hays, pp. 87-93.
 When the Son of Man Didn’t Come, p. 103.
 Historical Contingencies and Biblical Predictions: An Inaugural Address Presented to the Faculty of Reformed Theological Seminary by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. 23 November 1993 , p. 11.
 Ibid., P. 10.
 Richard L. Pratt, Jr. “Hyper-Preterism and Unfolding Biblical Eschatology” (Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 7, Number 46, November 13 to 19, 2005), p. 14.
 “Amen in the OT and Judaism. The OT uses the term in relation to both individuals and the community 1. to confirm the acceptance of tasks whose performance depends on God‘s will (1 Kgs. 1:36), 2. to confirm the application of divine threats or curses (Num. 5:22), and 3. to attest the praise of God in response to doxology (1 Chr. 16:36). In every case acknowledgment of what is valid or binding is implied. In Judaism Amen is widely used, e.g., in response to praises, to the Aaronic blessing of Num. 6:24ff., to vows, and to prayers. It denotes concurrence, or in the case of a vow commitment, or at the end of one‘s own prayer the hope for its fulfilment. The LXX mostly renders the Hebrew term by génoito, which retains the idea of validity but weakens that of commitment to a claim. B. amén in the NT and Early Christianity. The NT mostly takes over the Hebrew as it stands and uses it in three ways” (The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament [TDNT], p. 49).
 Days of Vengeance, pp. 131-132.
 , p. 2.
 Doriani, Daniel, “Jesus’ Use of Amen” (Presbyterion 17, no. 2 : 125–27), p. 126.