Are we living in the end times described in the book of Revelation?
Yes and no. Lest you think I’ve fallen into neo-orthodoxy and paradoxical theology, let me explain. In one sense, everything that takes place after the ascension of Christ takes place in the end times. The end times started in the New Testament. We’re still in the end times. Now, I presume you’re asking whether we are at the end of the end times so that we are coming close to the return of Jesus as it was set forth in the book of Revelation.
One of the big questions in understanding and interpreting the book of Revelation is tied to when it was written. The majority report is that the writing of Revelation took place in the nineties of the first century. Some significant scholarly work in recent years has persuasively argued that the book of Revelation was written before the fall of Jerusalem in the sixties, during the time of Nero, when Nero’s most famous nickname throughout the empire was “the beast.” So, if we could know for sure when the book of Revelation was written, we would have a better handle on what period of history it is describing.
In the Olivet Discourse in Matthew’s gospel, as well as in Luke and Mark, Jesus talks about the signs of the times. He talks about the destruction of the temple and the destruction of Jerusalem and says, “This generation will not pass away until all these things are fulfilled” (Matt. 24:34). That phrase has been one of the most hotly debated statements ever to come from Jesus.
I went to a liberal seminary. Though this wasn’t actually the case, it seems like I heard every day that Jesus taught that He was coming back within forty years and failed to keep His promise. That, they said, is one of the reasons why we can’t believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. In terms of higher critical assaults on the trustworthiness of Scripture and of Jesus, the point of attack is on Jesus’ predictions about the nearness of the coming fulfillment of His prophecies in the Olivet Discourse.
Notice also the timeframe references throughout the book of Revelation, where it talks about those things that are “near at hand.” The ultimate question is this: Were the things that Jesus was talking about in the Olivet Discourse and the book of Revelation principally pointing to events that were going to take place in the first century, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jews? That’s one view. Another view is that all these things refer to distant future times. Then some people say they refer to both and that there is a primary and a secondary reference. So, this becomes very complicated in terms of piecing it all together.
Regardless of how we understand when Revelation was written, what it is referring to, and the Olivet discourse, we’re still looking forward to the return of Jesus. He hasn’t come yet, but I take great hope in this: with every day that passes, He’s that much closer to returning.
When I see what’s going on around us today, I have every reason to think we’re getting closer and closer. But, of course, a lot of that is my hope. I also realize it could be another two thousand years before He comes. I’m not into making predictions of dates, but we should certainly be vigilant today, and we should be looking for the coming of Christ.
This transcript is from an Ask R.C. Live event with R.C. Sproul and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.