There are two time markers in the preface to the book of Revelation. The first is found in verse 1, “To show his servants the things that must soon take place.” The second time marker is in verse 3, “For the time is near.” Carefully read those time markers. Verse 1 says that the revelation concerns things that must soon take place. The time is near for the events that are contained in the revelation and that is why those who read, hear, and keep the words are blessed. The point cannot be ignored. The things in the book are happening soon.
What is soon to you? If someone told you that these things are going to happen soon, how long do you think it will be? Would you think that it would be 2000 years later? Do you think it would be 300 years later? 100 years later? No, these things do not fit. Scholars are beginning to rightly reject the popular futurist view that the book of Revelation has not occurred yet because of these time markers.
“Therefore, John’s book is a prophetic work which concerns the imminent and inaugurated fulfillment of OT prophecies about the kingdom in Jesus Christ.” (Beale, New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC), 183).
Those who want the book of Revelation to be about things that have not been fulfilled yet try a number of ways to get around these clear time markers. Tim LaHaye, who is one of the most well known futurist advocates for the book of Revelation (popular as co-author of the Left Behind novels), makes no comment in his commentary, Revelation Unveiled, about these time markers. One method to keep a futurist view is to ignore these verses and just keep moving on.
Robert L. Thomas, defends a futurist view by arguing, “God is not limited by considerations of time in the same way man is” (Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary (WEC), 56). This point is absolutely correct. God is not bound by time in the same way that people are. However, this does not solve the problem. Remember, Revelation is supposed to be the unveiling, not the concealing. Revelation is not supposed to add to the confusion, but explain the concealed. Further, God is bound by time when he speaks to humans and reveals to them that something must soon take place and the time is near. God is not bound by time, but he is bound by his word when he speaks to humanity. If he tells humans that something must happen soon and the time is near, then it must be soon to us and near to us, otherwise God is false and is unable to communicate with his creation.
Beale states the point even stronger. Beale states, “Things must soon take place,” “…connotes neither the speedy manner in which the Daniel prophecy is to be fulfilled nor the mere possibility that it could be fulfilled at any time, but the definite, imminent time of fulfillment, which likely has already begun in the present.” (Beale, NIGTC, 181-2).
The argument of those who take the book of Revelation as still in the future is that, “Things must soon take place” can also mean “things must suddenly take place.” That is, the preface is not saying that the things contained in Revelation will happen soon, but whenever these things do happen, they will happen suddenly. There are many problems with this position. This does not deal with verse 3, “The time is near.” Even if verse 1 does mean, “Things must suddenly take place,” there is no way to get around that God said the time is near.
Robert L. Thomas, a futurist, states well the problem with taking verse 1 to mean “suddenly.” “A major thrust of Revelation is its emphasis upon the shortness of time before the fulfillment. In the midst of persecution God’s people do not have long to wait for relief to come. To say that the relief will come ‘suddenly’ offers no encouragement, but to say that it will come “soon” does.” (WEC, 55). One of the themes of Revelation is relief from suffering the Christians are experiencing will come soon. If not, the book of Revelation becomes an untrue and hopeless book since the martyrs will told a little while longer till they were vindicated. Hundreds or thousands of years will not work. Not only will the futurist position not work in light of these words, but I submit to you that seeing only the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD will also not work. If the book of Revelation is only about the demise of the Roman Empire, the problem is that would not happen for nearly 400 years after the book of Revelation was written. Four hundred years is not soon and is not near. If I were to tell you that Christ would come in judgment and relieve you of your suffering more than 400 years from now, would you have relief? No, not at all. The time marker is not only a problem for the futurist position but it is also a problem for those who see only the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD as the message of the book of Revelation.
Therefore, the book of Revelation is not about the rise of the Roman Catholic church. The book of Revelation is not about Iraq and Saddam Hussein. The book of Revelation is not about the European Union. The book of Revelation is not a book about current events. We must not read the newspapers and try to plug what is happening today as the fulfillment of the book of Revelation. The book of Revelation was relevant to the first century Christians who heard its message. Notice in verse 3 that those Christians in the first century who read, heard, and kept what is written in it would be blessed. If chapters 4-22 are yet to come still, then there is no blessing for those Christians who received this letter. This does not mean that there is nothing for us to learn. We learn from every book in the Bible even though there was an original audience to whom the book was written. We do not read the book of Romans and discard its value because it was written to the Christians in the city of Rome in the first century. There is still great value, lessons, and applications for us. The book of Revelation is the same. Though written to the seven churches of Asia, there is still great value, lessons, and applications for us.