The following is from Jerry Jenkins, the co-author of the Left Behind prophecy series:
God has a different economy of time than we do. He wrote in the Bible 2,000 years ago that the end was soon or imminent, and that we should watch and wait. We’ve been doing that all these years. The Bible also says that to God, 1,000 years is as a day and a day is as 1,000 years [2 Peter 3:8]. So if He waits one more day, in His mercy, that would be 1,000 of our years. Yet I don’t think there’s any more prophecy that needs to be fulfilled before the end, so it could be today as well. (Christian Post)
For a biblical analysis of the Left Behind eschatology, see my book Left Behind: Separating Fact from Fiction.
Jenkins is not the only person to claim that 2 Peter 3:8 can be used to reinterpret very clear time terms. The following is from Steve Wohlberg:
“At hand,” “quickly,” “near,” “a little while”: These words reflect God’s eternal perspective, not man’s. In the context of the timing of the return of our Lord, Peter said, “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). Thus, to God, time is relative. To Him, a one thousand year period is like one short day. Peter said we should “not forget this one thing.”
When time terms and phrases like “near,” “shortly,” “quickly,” “at hand,” “about to” (Gr. mello), and “this generation” are used to make the case that certain prophetic events were to take place “soon” (another time word), in their generation (Mt. 24:34), futurists like Jenkins, Wohlberg, and many others often appeal to 2 Peter 3:8 as a way to dilute their literal meaning:
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.
The thing of it is, “near,” “quickly,” and “shortly” are used in a literal sense in every New Testament passage where they occur. Yet when these words appear in texts related to Bible prophecy, we’re often told they should be interpreted figuratively based on 2 Peter 3:8. This line of argument is most often put forth by those who insist on a literal interpretation of Scripture. This means that “in defiance of all grammatical laws, [they] proceed to invent a non-natural method of interpretation, according to which ‘near’ becomes ‘distant,’ and ‘quickly’ means ‘ages hence,’ and ‘at hand’ signifies ‘afar off.’”
It’s humorous to find Wohlberg argue that the “passing away of heaven and earth” should be interpreted literally but more than a hundred terms and phrases related to time should not. For a study of the passing away of heaven and earth, see “What Does Peter Mean by the Passing Away of Heaven and Earth in 2 Peter 3:10?” Wohlberg stated the following in his critique of preterism: “Christ’s return will be global, not localized in Judea: Preterists believe the ‘coming’ of Jesus took place in 70 A.D. when the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, yet this doesn’t square with the facts.”
This claim is contrary to what we find in Matthew 24:15–20. The promised judgment could be escaped on foot by fleeing to the mountains outside of Judea (Matt. 24:16). Jesus describes first-century living conditions: flat roofs, cloaks, and sabbath regulations (24:17–20). These are not descriptions of a global event. See my books Is Jesus Coming Soon?, Wars and Rumors of Wars, Last Days Madness, and John Bray’s Matthew 24.
Wohlberg then appeals to an Old Testament passage from the prophet Haggai. “Haggai 2:6,7 is biblical proof that ‘a little while’ does not literally only a few days or years. Even if one were to take this literally, how long is a ‘little while’? Ten minutes? Two days? Five years? Again, the only way ‘a little while’ makes sense is to interpret the phrase from God’s perspective, not man’s.” And what is God’s perspective? Using 2 Peter 3:8 to nullify one hundred time terms and phrases in the New Testament? Here’s the kicker. “The expression ‘In a little while … once more’ is difficult in Hebrew. Word by word it reads ‘one time it.’ The translators of the LXX [the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT] either skipped the last two words or paraphrased all four so that the Greek reads simply ‘once more,’ with no reference to the ‘little while.’”
T.V. Moore captures the meaning quite well:
[The prophet] refers not to one act, as compared with previous acts, but to one brief period, as compared with many periods, or a protracted period of time. It, therefore, predicts not a single act that was soon to be done, but a series of acts that was soon to begin, viz.: the shakings of the nations…. [T]he usual meaning of this symbolical act is that of a visitation of vengeance on the enemies of God, and not an unfolding of his di[s]pensations of mercy (see Isa. 13:13; Ps. 60:4, &c., &c.)… This event was a speedy shaking of the social and political systems that were around and above them, before and beneath which they were in such dread as to hesitate about going forward in their work. That this fact would be an encouragement to them is obvious. They trembled before the consolidated power of Persia, and the craft of Samaria that might bring that power upon them again in restraint, if not in vengeance. The prophet assures them that they need not tremble, for in a little time, this stupendous fabric would totter, and others be thrown up in its place.
This is the meaning of Heb. 12:26. The writer had been exhorting them to listen to the voice of Christ. This he enforces by comparing the fate of those who refused to obey under the Old Testament with that of the disobedient under the New.
Moore’s comments, and many more like them, nullify Wohlberg’s out-of-context interpretation that does severe injustice to Scripture. The writer of Hebrews was not describing some distant event. He had the prophesied event of Jerusalem’s destruction in view (cf. 2 Pet. 3:3). The temple, animal sacrifices, sinful priesthood, and other rituals were those things “which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain” (Heb. 12:27). Earlier we read, “He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is coming obsolete and growing old is near [ἐγγὺς/engus] to disappear” (8:13). The kingdom of heaven, that John the Baptist said was “near” (Matt. 3:2), “cannot be shaken” (Heb. 12:28) since it does not consist of physical things. The things of Christ cannot be shaken.
Milton Terry, the author of Biblical Hermeneutics and Biblical Apocalyptics, had this to say on those who attempt to reinterpret time terms using 2 Peter 3:8:
When a writer says that an event will shortly and speedily come to pass, or is about to take place, it is contrary to all propriety to declare that his statements allow us to believe the event is in the far future. It is a reprehensible abuse of language to say that the words immediately, or near at hand, mean ages hence, or after a long time. Such a treatment of the language of Scripture is even worse than the theory of a double sense.
And yet interpreters have appealed to 2 Peter iii, 8 as furnishing inspired authority to disregard designations of time in prophecy. “Let not this one thing be hid from you, beloved, that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” This statement, it is urged, is made with direct reference to the time of the Lord’s coming, and illustrates the arithmetic of God, in which soon, quickly, and similar terms may denote ages. A careful attention to this passage, however, will show that it teaches no such strange doctrine as this.
There is no indication in what Peter has written that terms like “at hand” and “shortly” are to be stretched into timeless meaninglessness otherwise when Peter wrote that “the end of all things was at hand” (1 Peter 4:7), he wasn’t saying anything of any relevance but actually contradicting himself.
Consider these comments from Charles L. Feinberg in his commentary on the book of Revelation. He argues the phrase “things which must shortly come to pass” in Revelation 1:1 “gives no basis for the historical interpretation of the book. Events are seen here from the perspective of the Lord and not from the human viewpoint (cf. II Pet 3:8). The same Greek words appear in Luke 18:7–8 (Gr en tachei), where the delay is clearly a prolonged one.” He continues with this line of argument in his comments on “The time is at hand” (Rev. 1:3): “These words (Gr ho kairos engus) appear only twice in the Revelation. Neither reference indicates the possible length involved. Again, all is seen from the perspective of God.”
John Walvoord writes of “must shortly come to pass” in Revelation 1:1: “The idea is not that the event may occur soon, but when it does, it will be sudden (cf. Luke 18:8; Acts 12:7; 22:18; 25:4; Rom. 16:20).” A similar interpretation is given to “for the time is near [at hand]” (Rev. 1:3): “The expression ‘at hand’ indicates nearness from the standpoint of prophetic revelation, not necessarily that the event will immediately occur.”
- Jesus said, “My time is at hand [Lit., near]” (Matt. 26:18). Does Walvoord’s method apply here? Was Jesus’ time chronologically near? (cf. Matt. 3:15; Mark 1:15).
- “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near” (Matt. 24:32). How far away is summer? The analogy makes it evident that “near” means chronological proximity: appearance of leaves = nearness of summer.
- “Even so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door” (24:33). Here we find a brief commentary on what “near” means — “Right at the door”: Signs = nearness of Jesus’ return.
Walvoord’s comments on Revelation 11:14, where the word “quickly” is used to describe the timing of Jesus’ coming, demonstrate how exegetical gerrymandering takes place: “The third woe contained in the seventh trumpet is announced as coming quickly. The end of the age is rapidly approaching.”
How is it possible that the word “quickly” in Revelation 11:14 can mean “the end of the age is rapidly approaching” during a seven-year tribulation period known as Daniel’s seventieth week (Dan. 9:24–27), but Jesus’ use of coming “quickly” cannot mean “rapidly approaching” in 1:1, 2:16, 3:11, 22:7, 12, and 20? Walvoord’s comments on Revelation 22:7 demonstrate how shaky his position is: “The thought seems to be that when the action comes, it will be sudden.” For a dispensationalist, it may seem to be that way, but the Bible doesn’t say it that way. Nowhere does Jesus say, “When I come it will be fast.” He says, “I am coming quickly.” Robert Thomas, also a dispensational premillennial futurist, argues similarly: “A major thrust of Revelation is its emphasis upon the shortness of time before fulfillment.” The book of Revelation was written nearly 2000 years ago. For Thomas, “shortness” can mean two millennia.
Consider this troubling solution from premillennialist George Eldon Ladd:
These events are “soon to take place” (cf. 11:18; 22:10). These words have troubled commentators. The simplest solution is to take the preterist view and to say that John, like the entire Christian community, thought that the coming of the Lord was near, when in fact they were wrong. Our Lord himself seems to share this error in perspective in the saying: “This generation will not pass away before all these things take place” (Mark 13:30)…. However, the simple meaning cannot be avoided. The problem is raised by the fact that the prophets were little interested in chronology, and the future was always viewed as imminent.
If the prophets were “little interested in chronology,” why did they use so many terms indicating timing so many times to give the impression that Jesus would return sometime before their generation passed away? Kurt Aland exposes the nonsense:
In the original text, the Greek word used is taxu, and this does not mean “soon,” in the sense of “sometime,” but rather “now,” “immediately.” Therefore, we must understand Rev. 22:12 in this way: “I am coming now, bringing my recompense.” The concluding word of Rev. 22:20 is: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘surely I am coming soon.’” Here we again find the word taxu, so this means: I am coming quickly, immediately. This is followed by the prayer: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”… The Apocalypse expresses the fervent waiting for the end within the circles in which the writer lived — not an expectation that will happen at some unknown point X in time (just to repeat this), but one in the immediate present.
The book of Revelation is introduced by time words (1:1, 3), and it concludes with the same time words. Jesus says, “And behold, I am coming quickly [ταχὺ]. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book” (22:7, 12, 20). Then John is told by the angel in 22:10, “‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near [ἐγγὺς].’” Notice the use of “quickly” in the middle portions of Revelation (2:16; 3:11; 11:14]. In what way would a soon return be a threat to Pergamum and Philadelphia if quickly meant “it will be fast when I come”?
If these time terms and phrases do not mean that Jesus’ return in judgment was not chronologically near to Revelation’s first readers, then what words could He have used if He had wanted His first readers to know that these events were chronologically near for them? How would Jesus have said it?
Left Behind: Separating Fact from Fiction
In Left Behind: Separating Fact From Fiction, Gary DeMar takes a critical look at the theology behind this popular fiction series and challenges readers to consider a different interpretation. With confidence based on years of biblical study, DeMar carefully examines eleven major components of the pre-tribulation rapture theology and offers clear, convincing alternatives to the interpretations of Bible prophecy presented in Left Behind.