Thursday, October 7, 2010

Exegetical Eschatology: Do Not Seal Up

In previous articles in this series I've concentrated on many of the presumptions we read into texts dealing with the end times. I demonstrated that we are not justified in assuming that the thousand years of Revelation must refer to precisely 1,000 years and that the reign of Christ during that time would be physical on earth. I demonstrated that we are not justified in assuming that Jesus' disciples ever expected a "first going," so we need to be careful how we understand their questions concerning His future "coming." And I demonstrated that we are not justified in assuming that Jesus' use of lightning imagery in the Olivet Discourse was intended to communicate that the "coming" of which He spoke would be physically visible to the entire world population.

Having dealt with those assumptions, I'd like to start looking at biblical passages which began to make me curious, back when I was a staunch dispensational futurist. The texts we'll be looking at in the next couple of articles in this series are ones which most Christians either gloss over without realizing the weight of the words they're reading, or wave off using "sound byte" explanations without deeply considering the weakness of those explanations. These passages are the so-called "time texts" which we preterists think strongly point to a first century fulfillment of much (but not all) of biblical prophecy, and we're going to begin today by looking at a pair of texts which, considered together, are very powerful.


The book of Revelation describes an apocalyptic vision believed by many to prophetically foretell events which are to happen at some point in our future. Perhaps a majority of Christian scholars believe the book to have been written very late in the first century or very early in the second; we preterists believe the evidence supports an earlier date, that it was written prior to A.D. 70. In either case, this would mean that if many Christians are correct, the events John foretold will have taken place as many as 2,000 years after he was shown them, or even longer.

In the final chapter of his book, John wrote, "[Jesus' messenger] said to me, 'Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near'" (Revelation 22:10). Now, even a cursory reading of this verse alone should spark one's curiosity. How the time of the fulfillment of these events could in any sense be said to be "near" and yet as many as 2,000 years off is beyond me. However, this becomes additionally problematic when one compares what John was told with what another prophet was told.


The prophet Daniel was similarly given an apocalyptic vision or visions, which he recorded in the book named after him. Many of these visions, too, are believed by many to foretell events which are yet to happen. Indeed, most believe they foretell many of the same events. Daniel lived and served under Nebuchadnezzar some 600 to 700 years before John wrote his apocalypse. This means that if many Christians are correct, the events Daniel foretold will have taken place as many as 2,600 years or more after he was shown them.

In comparison with a 2,000 year or longer gap between when the events were prophesied and when they were fulfilled, an increase of only 600 years or so seems pretty insignificant. This increasingly becomes the case the more time passes before their fulfillment. But whereas John was told not to seal up the words of his prophecy because the time was near, look what Daniel was told: "'But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase...' 9 He said, 'Go your way, Daniel, for these words are concealed and sealed up until the end time'" (Daniel 12:4,9).

The one speaking to Daniel does not explicitly state that the reason Daniel should seal up his vision is because the time of its fulfillment is far off. However, this is implicit in his words. Whereas John is told not to seal up his vision because the time is near, Daniel is told to seal up his vision until the end of time, and that enough time would pass before its fulfillment for many to go back and forth, for knowledge to increase, for many to be purged and refined and for the wicked to act wickedly without understanding (v.10).


That Daniel is told to seal up his book because the time of its fulfillment is in Daniel's distant future is a fact not lost on Matthew Henry, who wrote, "Daniel must now shut up the words and seal the book because the time would be long ere these things would be accomplished." John Wesley likewise wrote, "The book was command to be sealed, because it would be long before the words would be fulfilled, whereas those that were shortly to be fulfilled, were forbidden to be sealed." Jamieson, Fausset and Brown recognize this as well, writing in their commentary on this passage,

John, on the contrary, is told (Revelation 22:10) not to seal his visions. Daniel's prophecy refers to a distant time, and is therefore obscure for the immediate future, whereas John's was to be speedily fulfilled (Revelation 1:1,3, 22:6). Israel, to whom Daniel prophesied after the captivity, with premature zeal sought after signs of the predicted period: Daniel's prophecy was designed to restrain this. The Gentile Church, on the contrary, for whom John wrote, needs to be impressed with the shortness of the period, as it is, owing to its Gentile origin, apt to conform to the world, and to forget the coming of the Lord

Now, I am no expert on Daniel, and there is certainly a ton of material to debate in both Daniel's and John's visions, not the least of which includes the number of "days" Daniel is told in verses 11 and 12 would pass between the fulfillment of certain events. Nevertheless, the difference between Daniel's being told to seal up his book because the time of its fulfillment was far off, and John's being told not to seal up his book because the time of its fulfillment was near, is noteworthy to say the very least. Think about this carefully: if 2,000 years or more would pass after John was given his vision, and if this time is sufficiently "near" to him so as to justify not sealing up his book, is a period of time a mere 600 years or so longer really sufficiently "far" from Daniel so as to justify sealing his words?

I think the answer is obvious, and yet it doesn't seem to trouble futurists in the least. Notable dispensationalist Cyrus Ingerson Scofield wrote,

1) The time of the end in Daniel begins with the violation by "the prince that shall come" (i.e. "little horn," "man of sin," "Beast") of his covenant with the Jews for the restoration of the temple and sacrifice Daniel 9:27 and his presentation of himself as God ; Daniel 9:27; 11:36-38; Matthew 24:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:4; Revelation 13:4-6 and ends with his destruction by the appearing of the Lord in glory. ; 2 Thessalonians 2:8; Revelation 19:19,20.

(2) The duration of the "time of the end" is three and one half years, coinciding with the last half of the seventieth week of Daniel. Daniel 7:25; 12:7; Revelation 13:5.

(3) This "time of the end" is the "time of Jacob's trouble." Jeremiah 30:7 "a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation" Daniel 12:1 "great tribulation such as was not from the beginning of the world. . . nor ever shall be" Matthew 24:21. The N.T., especially the Book of the Revelation, adds many details.

Here Scofield, who wrote his commentary in the early 20th century, unabashedly links the events foretold by Daniel with the events foretold by John. So from Scofield's perspective, Daniel was told to seal up his vision because the time was far off, referring to events which would take place some 2,500 years later, whereas John was told not to seal up his vision because the time was near to him--a "mere" 1,800 years or more later. Yeah, that makes sense.


I find the alternative far more compelling, which alternative is this: Daniel's vision would largely be fulfilled some 600 to 700 years after he was shown them. As this period of time was drawing to a close, in the early- to mid-60's (first century), John was given a similar vision foretelling many of the same events Daniel was shown, most of which would come to pass within a few years after John was shown them, in and leading up to A.D. 70. A period of time some 600 to 700 years long would certainly qualify as far off from Daniel, whereas a period of time only a few years long would obviously qualify as "near" to John. So near, in fact, in contrast with Daniel, that Daniel was justifiably told to seal up his book because of the many centuries before which it would be fulfilled, and John was justifiably told not to seal up his book because its fulfillment was merely a few years away.

Only the preterist understanding of biblical prophecy really makes sense of this. Dispenstional futurists and futurists of other sorts really can't do justice to the difference between Daniel's being told to seal his vision up and John being told not to seal up his. To those who hold to such futurist models, the difference is not between what was "far" from Daniel and what was "near" to John; instead, the difference is between what was "very far" from Daniel and what was "still quite far" from John. Preterists, on the other hand, correctly understand that indeed, the events which would take place 600 to 700 years after Daniel was shown them were indeed "far" from him, whereas being only a few years away from John the time was most certainly "near" to him. Keep this in mind as we continue in this series, in upcoming articles looking at other so-called "time texts" which point to the nearness of prophetic fulfillment.


  1. This comment has nothing to do with this post, I just wasn't sure where to pose these questions.

    What is the purpose for changing the description of your Blog? Are you saying that you are an overseer? I have always understood this passage to be in direct reference to Elders of the church. Is that what you are implying? just curious. Also, what translation is this passage taken from?

  2. When did I change the description of my blog? The quote from Titus was there from the very beginning of this blog.

    No, I am not implying that I am an elder. I have the quote there to demonstrate that the teaching of proper doctrine and the refutation of false doctrine are important skills in the Church. Many Christians don't think theology is all that important. I have the quote there just to show that that's wrong.

  3. What translation is that from?

  4. NASB (the "overseer" part is from verse 7)

  5. Chris,
    Where can one find a community of Christ followers who follow the same thought process as yourself? i have found it quite frustrating to sit, week after week,service after service and listen to how we are currently witnessing "end times" prophecy. I'm located in Brighton, Michigan and believe with my whole heart Matt 24:36-51 and Acts 1:7, it is not for us to know....

  6. I'm not sure you can expect to find a congregation where everybody thinks like you, unless you just go along with tradition uncritically. I think we need to find a congregation that agrees on the essentials and allows for disagreement in the non-essentials, and then try and reform it from within.