In the Old Testament passages we viewed in the previous article, it is clear the prophets were talking about judgment that took place during the course of normal human history. Isaiah spoke about judgment upon Babylon at the hand of the Medes and Persians. Jeremiah was speaking of the overthrow of Judah and Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Ezekiel prophesied about the Babylonian overthrow of Judah and Egypt (elsewhere he prophecies about Edom, and Ammon as well, again using “end time” language). Obadiah spoke of Edom falling at the hand of Babylon and Zephaniah of Judah suffering the same fate.
Each prophet is speaking about events that took place within decades of the original pronouncement. Isaiah is the only one who prophesied about an event that took place more than a generation after he spoke (concerning the overthrow of Babylon by the Medes and Persians about 150 years later). Ezekiel prophesied about an end that came to pass within 10 years of his announcement. Obadiah spoke of an event that may have taken place 80 years later, but the other prophecies are about “last days” that were accomplished within a generation of the original audience.1
Clearly, when the prophets said the end was near, they did not mean the end of human history. They meant God was bringing an end to the (then) current state of affairs through temporal judgment. Moreover, the judgment came in the form of conquering armies. So then, in the Old Testament end time passages we have examined, God said He was bringing judgment quickly and in each case that is exactly what He did. Thus there are two points we must keep in mind as we apply what we have learned to the New Testament: one, “the end” and similar language in the Bible does not always mean the end of human history, and two, when God says the end is “near,” He means exactly that!
Since a physical second coming of Jesus did not take place in the first century and since it is not normal biblical language to say that an event that will take place thousands of years in the future is near, we are best served to allow the Bible to speak for itself. The language used in the Old Testament passages listed above is like the language used in the New Testament passages we examined in the first article in this series. The Old Testament passages we examined refer to an end, of sorts, that took place within a generation of the actual utterance of the prophecies. Jesus said an end, of sorts, would take place within a generation of His Olivet Discourse. The Old Testament prophets used no special language to “tag” their predictions as being near at hand as they plainly said they were. Conversely, the New Testament writers we looked at used no special language to “tag” their words as having a meaning much different than what would be expected. And using Scripture to interpret Scripture, we see no reason not to understand the New Testament “near end” passages in the same way that we understand similar Old Testament passages. In other words, the New Testament writers said an end of some sort was soon to take place and that is exactly what they meant.
1. Joseph A. Alexander, Commentary On Isaiah, (1867; Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1992), 268-269 and etc. Douglas Stuart, The Communicator’s Commentary: Ezekiel, (Dallas: Word Books, 1989), 74ff. William Sanford LaSor et al, Old Testament Survey, (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.,1982). Leon J. Wood, The Prophets Of Israel, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979).