Thursday, February 4, 2010

Breaking the Apocalypse Code: Understating the Times

I disagree with Hank Hanegraaff, the so-called "Bible Answer Man," in several areas, and I am frustrated by an arrogance that seems to permeate his speech and writing. Nevertheless, his The Last Disciple was really the beginning of my transition from futurism to preterism. It was not terribly long after that, however, that I stopped daily listening to his show, and so I was not aware that he had written The Apocalypse Code. So I haven't read it, nor am I particularly interested in reading it, though I am interested to know what some of your takes on it are.

In any case, a friend of mine was recently handed a book by a friend of his who claimed that he was on the fence regarding preterism, but upon reading it returned firmly to the futurist position. My friend, too, is on the fence, and asked if I would read it and share my thoughts with him. The book is Breaking the Apocalypse Code by Mark Hitchcock and Thomas Ice. I have not read every page, but what I have read, suffice it to say, has only further solidified my preterist view. I emailed CRI asking if Hank had written a response, and I was told he hasn't. I figured, then, what better way to share my thoughts with my friend than to write a review myself?


I'm going to review the book chapter-by-chapter, but not starting at the beginning. I've begun with this chapter for three reasons: First, I think the so-called "time texts" provide some of the strongest support for the preterist view. Second, I've yet to find any futurist response to them remotely satisfying. And third, Hitchcock's and Ice's treatment in this chapter of the preterist case is terribly dismal, and quite frankly I want that to be remembered by my readers as we continue in other chapters later.

Here is how this chapter begins:

"One of the linchpins in Hanegraaff's interpretation of Revelation and his entire eschatological system is his insistence that the events in Revelation had to occur within a few years of the time Revelation was written. He bases this idea primarily on the occurrence of the words 'soon' (tachos) and 'near' (engus) in Revelation (1:1, 3). Hanegraaff says, 'We interpret the Bible in accordance with the basic rules of language...To say we are going to have dinner 'soon' could not possibly mean dinner in the distant future.' He continues, 'Though LaHaye spiritualizes the meaning of 'soon' in the first verse of Revelation, there is no reason for anyone else to take it any other way than in its plain meaning and natural sense.'" (p. 177)

Indeed, the letter begins, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon [ἐν τάχει] take place" (Revelation 1:1). As the authors point out, "the adverbial unit en defined as 'soon, in a short time'" (p. 178). John goes on to say, "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 [ἐγγύς]" (Revelation 1:3). Hitchcock and Ice admit that "it means...'being close in point of time'" (p. 178).

It would seem clear, then, that John is saying that the events he was shown would take place shortly after he was shown them. This is consistent with numerous other "time texts" that strongly suggest an early fulfillment of many eschatological prophecies. How do the authors of Breaking the Apocalypse Code respond to this argument?


According to Hitchcock and Ice,

"There are two fundamental problems with Hanegraaff's understanding of tachos and engus in Revelation. First, these timing statements are strategically located to frame the entire content of Revelation...With these statements serving as bookends for the entire prophetic content of Revelation, whatever meaning one gives to these timing terms must be applied to all the events in the book." (p. 178-179)

In other words, because the same Greek words rendered "soon" and "near" in the first chapter appear in the last chapter, consistency demands that if we interpret them as meaning that much of the events foretold in Revelation would be fulfilled in the first century, we must therefore believe all of Revelation was fulfilled within that timeframe:

"To maintain consistency in his view of soon and near, Hanegraaff must either adopt a view similar to futurism or shift to the extreme preterist view that understands the entire book of Revelation as past history and thus eliminates any future second coming and resurrection." (p. 180)

This is, in fact, the very argument I've witnessed hyperpreterists use in support of their destructive view. Hitchcock and Ice do acknowledge that hyperpreterism "is outside the pale of orthodoxy and is not a legitimate option" (p. 180). However, insofar as both camps marshal the same argument against orthodox preterism, dispensationalism and hyperpreterism make for a couple of strange bedfellows.

Polemic aside, what is the preterist response to this argument? Are we being inconsistent? First, let's take a closer look at the authors' claim that we're being inconsistent.


It is worth noting that throughout the exposition of this first "problem," only one verse at the end of Revelation is actually quoted in which τάχος ("soon") or ἐγγύς ("near") is used. On page 178 a table is shown, one column citing (but not quoting) verses at the "Commencement of Revelation" and the other citing verses at the "Climax of Revelation." They are vaguely called "bookends enclosing the whole prophecy of Revelation" (p. 179). The impression these authors give is that in the same way John says at the beginning of the letter that God showed him "the things which must soon take place," likewise he says at the end something like, "all these things must soon take place."

But this is a false impression given by intentionally (I think) neglecting to quote the actual verses cited. In "The Restoration of the Priesthood," an entry in a series discussing Mormonism, I point out that Mormon leaders do the same thing. They claim that "the priesthood" and "the gospel" were extended to others besides the Levites, and then cite verses--without quoting them--in which the gospel is preached to Gentiles as proof of their claim. But the verses cited say nothing of the priesthood.

Similarly, here Hitchcock and Ice claim that the repeated presence of τάχος ("soon") or ἐγγύς ("near") at both the beginning and end of Revelation is proof that however one interprets them as pertaining to some of the events prophesied, one must do likewise with all the events foretold in Revelation. But what do the verses actually say in which τάχος and ἐγγύς are used?

"God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon [ἐν τάχει] take place." (Revelation 22:6)

"behold, I am coming [ταχύ] quickly" (Revelation 22:7)

"Behold, I am coming [ταχύ] quickly" (Revelation 22:12)

"Yes, I am coming [ταχύ] quickly" (Revelation 22:20)

"for the time is near [ἐγγύς]" (Revelation 22:10)

Now granted, the first and last of those verses listed above match up with the verses in question at the beginning of Revelation, and we'll get to that in a moment. However, note first that the majority of them speak specifically of Christ's "coming," and speak nothing of the rest of the events "which must soon take place." That is why the authors of Breaking cite them without quoting them; the reader would immediately recognize that they are not germane to the point Hitchcock and Ice are making. In formulating this false impression for their readers, they are certainly "shrewd as serpents," but far from innocent.


To summarize this problem they insist preterists face, Hitchcock and Ice quote Vern Poythress as saying, "But 1:3 and 22:10 are like bookends enclosing the whole prophecy of Revelation. The fulfillment of everything, not just a part, is near" (p. 179). They then quote Hanegraaff:

"Likewise, we should never suppose that the imagery of Revelation is exhausted in a first-century historical milieu. For one day, the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, and the dwelling of God will forever be with men (Revelation 21:3); each person will be resurrected and 'judged according to what he has done' (20:13); and the problem of sin will be fully and finally resolved (21:27)." (p. 180)

Amen, I say. The authors of Breaking, however, say:

"Hanegraaff's own argument here works against him. Revelation 22:10 is a summary of the entire book and includes all of the content of Revelation when it says, 'And he said to me, "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near."' This means that everything in the entire prophecy of the book of Revelation must be 'near.' Hanegraaff can't legitimately say that the events in Revelation 1:1-20:6 were near and soon while the events in Revelation 20:7-22:21 were at least 2,000 years away." (p. 180)

Here the authors are not being shrewd, they're treating the text of Scripture sloppily. Neither τάχος ("soon") nor ἐγγύς ("near") are applied to all the events of Revelation, neither at the beginning of the letter nor at the end. By saying God has shown him "the things which must soon take place" both at the beginning of his letter and at the end, John is in no way insisting that all those things must take place within that timeframe. But he does insist that some will.

Imagine if I were to say, "God has shown me the things which will soon take place, for the time is near. You will impress your employer and be promoted greatly, and will multiply your earnings many times over. For 50 years you will live in luxury, but then you will slip on your polished marble floor, crack your skull and die. Take heed, for God has shown me the things which will soon take place, and the time is near." How would you understand what I've prophesied?

Naturally, though you wouldn't put any faith in my prediction, you would understand me as saying that what is to take place soon is the promotion and raise, and the beginning of a long life lived in the lap of luxury. But the slipping, falling and dying would obviously be excluded from that which is to take place soon. Why? Because I said it would take place 50 years later! Yet, Hitchcock and Ice would have you believe that by "enclosing" my entire prophecy within the statements, "the time is near" and "things which will soon take place," therefore I must be saying that everything I've predicted would come to pass shortly.

Of course, this begs the question: is there a legitimate reason for understanding most of Revelation as taking place in the first century, and a bit at the end as taking place two thousand years or more later? Remember, the authors say, "Hanegraaff can't legitimately say that the events in Revelation 1:1-20:6 were near and soon while the events in Revelation 20:7-22:21 were at least 2,000 years away." Strangely, this chapter in Breaking is utterly devoid of any mention of a very significant event foretold in the very location within Revelation they point to.


"In what sense did the final release of Satan (Rev. 20:7-9) and the final judgment (Rev. 20:11-15) begin soon after Revelation was composed? They did not. They are removed from AD 95 by over 1,900 years. Hanegraaff's view goes against his own warning not to be 'seduced into adding a great parenthesis of two thousand years between John's apocalyptic vision and the judgments which the vision symbolizes.'" (p. 181)

"Hanegraaff himself adds 'a great parenthesis of two thousand years.'" (p. 180)

Note first that the authors insert the claim that John wrote Revelation in AD 95, but this chapter precedes the one in which they discuss the dating of the book. It's a bit disingenuous to make this unqualified assertion before the chapter where they defend that claim. I'll address that when I review that chapter. The point here is that Hitchcock and Ice claim that it is Hank who is inserting a great "parenthesis" into the pages of Revelation:

"But how does Hanegraaff know what parts were fulfilled in AD 70 and what parts are still unfulfilled? Without any legitimate exegetical justification, he makes the 1,900-year leap in the middle of Revelation 20." (p. 185)

This is really where the dismal quality of Breaking is made evident. It's one reason I was more convinced of my position after reading this chapter than when I began. I'm left to wonder if this is the best argument futurists can muster against the "time texts" of Revelation. Why make a 1,900-year leap in the middle of Revelation 20?

"Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time. Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years. When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison" (Revelation 20:1-7, emphasis mine)

Quite honestly, I struggle with knowing what to say. I'm dumbstruck by the claim Hitchcock and Ice make, that it is Hank who inserts a gap into the middle of Revelation 20. Read the text above again. Is it really Hanegraaff who makes a leap there? Obviously not. John himself foretold a gap of a thousand years (at least) between those events which lead up to this passage and the few that follow it. Yet, in all their rhetoric, the authors never mention this event. Why? Becuase it utterly shatters their argument.

In my analogy, I hypothetically prophesied that you would soon receive a promotion and raise, and then 50 years would pass before your sudden demise. By saying "the time is near" I am clearly saying that it is your promotion and corresponding raise that "will soon take place." I am the one, not you, placing a gap in my prophecy by saying 50 years will pass before your death. Likewise, the very fact that John inserts a gap of a thousand years refutes the entirety of Hitchcock's and Ice's argument!


"Well hold on now," I can imagine the authors saying, "John inserted a gap of one thousand years. You, Hank, are making a 1,900-year leap!" Touché! Such is true! But what does "a thousand years" mean?

"For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills." (Psalm 50:10)

"A thousand may fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not approach you." (Psalm 91:7)

"One thousand will flee at the threat of one man; You will flee at the threat of five" (Isaiah 30:17)

"'May the LORD, the God of your fathers, increase you a thousand-fold more than you are and bless you" (Deuteronomy 1:11)

"One of your men puts to flight a thousand, for the LORD your God is He who fights for you" (Joshua 23:10)

As I once heard Dee Dee Warren rhetorically ask, "Who owns the cattle on the thousand-and-first hill?" These uses of "thousand" make it clear that it is often used to refer to an unspecified large number. Likewise, in no way are we required to understand John's gap of "a thousand years" in Revelation as referring to precisely 8,766,000 hours (I think my math is right, if you include 250 leap years). Rather, we're being told that there would be a very long period of time between the events leading up to Revelation 20 and those which follow.

Over 1,900 years have passed since the destruction of the temple in AD 70. That would certainly qualify as "a very long period of time." So the preterist is not in any way, shape or form being inconsistent by viewing the events foretold in Revelation chapters four through twenty as having taken place in and leading up to AD 70, followed by a gap of indeterminably long time, after which the events foretold in Revelation 20:7 onward will be fulfilled.

We can certainly debate what it means that Satan would be bound for that period of time, that the persecuted saints would come to life and reign with Christ during that time, and that afterwards Satan would be released and would gather the armies of the world against the camp of the saints. But it is simply dishonest and deplorable to claim that Hanegraaff has no "legitimate exegetical justification" for placing the gap there. "How does Hanegraaff know what parts were fulfilled in AD 70 and what parts are still unfulfilled?" Because John tells us explicitly.


Earlier I quoted the authors of Breaking as saying, "There are two fundamental problems with Hanegraaff's understanding of tachos and engus in Revelation." Though we've already seen that their first argument is an utter failure, they continue with a second one:

"Second...if Revelation was written in AD 65-66 and Rev. 1:1-20:6 was fulfilled 'soon' in the events of AD 64-70 as partial preterists maintain, then the bulk of the book was already fulfilled before most Christians ever heard or read its contents. By the time the book was written by John on Patmos in AD 65-66, copied, and carried by the messengers of the seven churches, and then re-copied and widely disseminated, the prophesied events would have already occurred. The powerful prophetic message of the Apocalypse would have been one great anti-climax." (p. 181)

Honestly I think this argument is the better one. If I were Hitchcock or Ice, I would be embarassed at my first attempt to refute Hanegraaff's case. At least this second argument lacks the dishonesty exhibited in the exposition of the first. However, like the former argument, this latter one is utterly devoid of merit. In response its claim, I would simply ask, "Says who?"

Notice that the authors merely assert that there is no way John's prophecy could have been transmitted quickly enough to fall into the hands of Christians prior to its fulfillment. They give no evidence to support their claim. It reminds me of one common futurist objection to the preterist position regarding the condition of the churches to which John is commanded to write. Futurists will sometimes point to the church of Ephesus which is said to have "left [its] first love" (Revelation 2:4), saying that not enough time had passed by 70 AD for that congregation to fall into error.

I think futurists who use this argument underestimate the condition of fallen man. A very passionate, Spirit-led congregation can surely fall quickly into error if they give into their flesh. But that's not the point. The point is, the mere assertion that the church of Ephesus could not have fallen into error so quickly is just that: an opinion asserted to be true without evidence. Likewise, Hitchcock and Ice are merely asserting their opinion that John's letters could not have made it into the hands of much of the Church by the time his revelation was fulfilled. I say, "Prove it. Then we'll talk."


So in attempting to refute the preterist understanding of Revelation's "time texts," we see that Breaking offers up two failed arguments: a dishonest, deplorable and deficient one, and an unevidenced opinion asserted as fact. They conclude, saying,

"Therefore, Hanegraaff's view of the timing terms in Revelation should be rejected. But if this interpretation of the timing texts is invalid, how should they be understood? If one adopts a futurist view of Rev. 4-22 how could events so remotely future be legitimately described as 'soon' or 'at hand'?" (p. 181-182)

Before examining their attempt at an explanation, I want to point out that here Hitchcock and Ice admit that theirs is needed only if one first rejects the natural understanding of John's words. They write that the preterist view "should be rejected," and then ask "how [, then,] should they be understood?" Well as we've seen, their arguments opposing Hanegraaff's view fall utterly flat, and thus we don't have reason to seek an alternate understanding. Nevertheless, let's take a look.

The authors of Breaking present their alternate (and unnecessary) understanding in a section entitled, "The Imminency View," saying,

"It seems best to understand the timing terms in Revelation in relation to the prophetic viewpoint of the author and not as necessarily meaning that the events had to occur within a few years of the time Revelation was written. The New Testament authors consistently describe this present age, or the time between the two comings, as the 'last days' or 'latter days.' This attitude is expressed in 1 John 2:18 where the present age is even designated as the 'last hour.' This means that the 'last days' and even the 'last hour' have been ongoing for over 1,900 years." (p. 182)

This summarizes the "imminency" view, which understands the "time texts," not just of Revelation but throughout the New Testament, not as assigning timing to the events they describe, but instead illustrating a feeling on the part of the author that the end is near:

"The phrases 'last days' and 'last hour' both carry an eschatological dimension. Every generation of believers, including the present one, have lived in times that strongly cry out the sense of impending and overhanging destiny. The last of these last days is always imminent or impending. Since no man knows God's time schedule, the time of fulfillment is always 'at hand.' These events are near, in that, they are the next events on God's prophetic calendar. There is a nearness, next-ness, or at-hand-ness of the time. As Robert Thomas notes, 'The purpose of en tachei is to teach the imminence of the events foretold, not to set a time limit in which they must occur.' The imminency of these events, emphasized in Revelation from its commencement to its close, calls each generation to an attitude of expectancy and readiness." (p. 182-183)

Again, reading this chapter left me more firmly convinced of my position than ever. Why? Because futurists, including the authors of this book, can give no positive evidence in support of the imminency view of the "time texts." It is entirely a reactionary attempt to come up with an alternative explanation to the straightforward meaning of the words of Scripture. Read it again. Nowhere are we given any positive reason, whatsoever, to view the terms "last days," "last hour" or "at hand" as meaning what we're being told they mean. In fact, here is how the chapter is concluded:

"Without any legitimate exegetical justification, [Hanegraaff] makes the 1,900-year leap in the middle of Revelation 20. If he is going to push some of the events in Revelation into the distant future, why not put all the events in Revelation 4-22 there? This is the futurist position. This is the consistent position." (p. 185, emphasis mine)

The futurist position, then, which is to "put all the events in Revelation 4-22" into the distant future, and thus to adopt the imminency view of the "time texts," is based on the demonstrably false claim that preterists are unjustified in placing a gap in chapter 20. It is a position which must interpret the texts as meaning something other than their straightforward meaning because they've rejected it without warrant. Granted, that doesn't make it wrong. However, if the imminency view were the correct one, I, personally, would expect to see Scripture which actually teaches it. But none of the passages the authors point to support their view in a positive sense. In fact, we preterists point to many of them as evidence favoring our position! The imminency view is not supported by these terms; it merely explains them away.


So as we've seen, Hitchcock and Ice, representing the futurist argument against the preterist position, fail miserably to address the "time texts" of Revelation. They make the absurd claim that we have no "legitimate exegetical justification" for placing a 1,900-year gap in Revelation 20, despite John's explicit prediction in that very chapter that at least 1,000 years would pass between the events preceding that length of time and those which would follow thereafter. They baldly assert their unevidenced opinion that there would not be time for John's letter to have circulated sufficiently within the church prior to the fulfillment of his prophecy. And they offer up an unnecessary alternative explanation without any positive evidence supporting it.

We preterists are not making a mountain out of a molehill. John, it seems, very strongly suggests that the majority of his vision would take place soon after it was given to him, but that there would follow an indeterminate length of time, only after which would the dead be resurrected and mankind finally judged. The argument given in Breaking the Apocalypse Code is characteristic of the sorts of answers we are given in response. Rather than addressing the problem seriously, false accusations are made of lacking exegetical justification, and then the problem neatly swept under the rug. Is it any wonder that I and other preterists remain so firmly convinced of our position when futurists are so often simply understating the times?

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