Is and Was and Is to Come

5 09 2009

We have noted how God repeats things three times to establish them and that Revelation confirms that Jesus is He “which is and which was and which is to come.” (Rev 1:8). More than affirming that Christ, the eternal one, died and rose again and will return as is stated in many other verses (eg Rev 1:17,18; 5:6,13; 22:13) the mere fact that this exact same expression is repeated three times signifies that there is something more for us to understand.

It is not coincidental that in the Revelation John was told that what he was to write encompassed three time periods; the past, the present and the future:

Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; (Rev 1:19)

While this verse has a specific application to the seven churches, it also has a broader application to the other prophecies of the Apocolypse. Another clue is that we are told four times that the things described in Revelation would occur very soon, twice using the expression “the time is at hand” and then again as “shortly come to pass” and also “shortly be done.” In the original Greek the expressions translated as “shortly come to pass” and “shortly be done” are identical. So this idea is twice repeated two times at the beginning and two times at the end of the book, with a blessing at the beginning and the end to those who keep and therefore understand. This is clearly not just a casual statement; the Lord wants us to know that the things in Revelation are about to come to pass today!

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: Rev 1:1

Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand. Rev 1:3

And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done. Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book. Rev 22:6 – 7

And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand. Rev 22:10

The question arises of how can the nearly two thousand years since John wrote the apocalypse be described as “shortly” and “at hand.” We know that God “cannot lie” (Tit 1:2) so some explain this apparently bad choice of words as being relative to the time scale of the Eternal. Be that as it may, it is difficult to read this quadruple affirmation that the apocalyse would “shortly come to pass” and not wonder if there is more to it.

The ancient prophets spoke less for their own time than for ours, so that their prophesying is in force for us: “Not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into” (1 Peter 1:12).

The prophets to whom these great scenes were revealed longed to understand their full meaning. They “inquired and searched diligently; … searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify… Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you.” (1 Peter 1:10-12) To us who are standing on the very verge of their fulfillment, of what deep, living interest, are these delineations of the things to come,–events for which the prophets have watched and waited, longed and prayed!

When John wrote these “things must shortly come to pass” it must have been for the benefit of both the saints in the first centuries as well as for those “upon whom the ends of the world are come.” Otherwise those things would certainly not “shortly come to pass” for one of the two groups and would make a liar out of God. One way to explain this is to spread the fulfilment of Revelation’s prophecies throughout all time; saying that those things began to come to pass in the first centuries, some portions being fulfilled and other parts yet remain to be fulfilled. In this way, throughout all of history there can always be some part of Revelation’s prophecies that “will shortly to come pass.”

There is no dispute that the millennium, the new heaven and earth etc are yet in the future while others are in the past. The issue is however whether this is all that is meant by the expression “shortly come to pass.” If it is, then it violates the apparent intention of the expression since only some things would shortly come to pass but not others. Would not the Lord have used a more accurate expression such as “shortly begin to come to pass”, if this is what the Lord intended? So the dilemma of why the Lord emphatically confirmed to John twice over that those things “would shortly come to pass” remains. The fact is that the truths opened to John are of the greatest importance to us, since they are a revelation of the most important events that are to take place in the last days of this earth’s history and we are living in the very last days and we shall soon enter upon their fulfilment.

We can understand how the prophecies of Revelation would “shortly come to pass” in John’s day as well as in the last days when realise that they are to have a future fulfilment that will be a repetition of past history. The same things would be repeated. The beast that rose from the ruins of ancient Rome will again arise from the ruins of our modern civilisation. Jesus revealed Himself to John not just as one who acted and will act in the past and future fulfilment of prophecy but is also acting in the present. We have seen that God’s work is confirmed three times and there are a number of prophecies in the Bible that have three distinct fulfilments such as the coming of Elijah. Is it possible that the prophecies of Revelation might have a threefold repetition to establish them as His divine Word?

If we consider Revelation on its own we see that three distinct persecuting enemies of God’s people are presented. The first is the great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns (Rev 12:3), the second is the leopard like beast with seven heads and ten horns and ten crowns (Rev 13:1) and finally the lamb like beast with two horns that speaks like a dragon, that makes (or transforms itself into) an image to the first beast. While each of these primarily pertains to a different historical period yet they share the same spirit and many other similarities. As the final one is in many ways a composite of the previous two, understanding them helps us arrive at a full understanding of the final one.

These three enemies that feature largely in Revelation encompass the history of God’s people in the past, present and future relative to John the Revelator. The great red dragon that represents the Roman Empire that attempted to destroy the “man-child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron” (Rev 12:5) was fulfilled during the Jewish era (the woman Rev 12:1). The leopard like beast that made war on the saints for forty-two months pertains to the Christian era (the woman’s seed). The final lamb-like beast and imposition of the mark of the beast pertains to the future during the era of the remnant of her seed (Rev 12:17). These three eras give us the historical context for the fulfilment of Revelation’s prophecies. In other posts I  shall show that each of the prophecies of Revelation relating to the history of the church has a repeated fulfilment during the time of the Jewish Church, the Christian Church and the Remnant church. Thus the prophecies of Revelation are confirmed three times, revealing that they are the Divinely established work of God and are sure.

Yet there are not three but three and a half fulfilments, the final half corresponds to the final generation. We note that three and one half features prominently in both Daniel and Revelation. This means that there will be a fourth and final repetition of the events of the Apocalypse.  The preceding fulfilments confirm the prophecy and help those that live in the final hour of the world’s history to better understand the events taking place around them so that we might be adequately prepared to meet those that still await us.

Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. (1Co 10:11)

Jewish Era

Christian Era

Secular Era

Final Apocalypse

Four Horsemen

Seven Trumpets

Four Horsemen

Seven Trumpets

Four Horsemen

Seven Trumpets

Four Horsemen

Seven Trumpets

605 BC 170 BC 70AD 490 1798 1914 2013? 2017?
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