Timing Is Everything
Gary DeMar writes that "One of the first things a Christian must learn in interpreting the Bible is to pay attention to the time texts". He says that futurists "ignore the time texts that speak of a near coming of Jesus in judgment upon an apostate Judaism that rejected its Messiah in the first century" (DeMar, Last Days Madness, 37).
Gary DeMar overlooks the fact that on more than one occasion the promises of God were delayed or postponed. For instance, from the beginning of the Lord Jesus' ministry He proclaimed that the kingdom was "at hand":
" From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt.4:17).
In The Scofield Reference Bible we read that "the Biblical term 'at hand' or 'near' is never a positive affirmation that the person or thing said to be at hand will immediately appear, but only that person or thing has the quality of imminency" (Note at Matthew 4:17).
After the leaders of the nation of Israel plotted His death the Lord Jesus told His disciples not to make Him known:
"Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him. But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all; And charged them that they should not make him known" (Mt.12:14-16).
Due to the actions of the leaders of Israel the coming of the kingdom was delayed. Later the Lord Jesus said that the kingdom would only be "nigh at hand" when He returned to earth:
"And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand" (Lk.21:27-31).
The Long Delay of the Return of Christ
Sir Robert Anderson uses the unfaithfulness of Israel to explain the delay of the blessing hope, the time when christians will be caught up to meet the Lord Jesus in the air:
"Israel's story may teach us something here. When the people were encamped at Sinai, Canaan lay but a few days' march across the desert. And in the second year from the Exodus, they were led to the borders of the land, and bidden to enter and take possession of it. 'But they entered not in because of unbelief'...Does not this throw light on the seeming failure of 'the hope of the Church'? Putting from us the profane thought that the Lord has been unmindful of His promise, are we not led to the conclusion that this long delay has been due to the unfaithfulness of His people upon earth?" (Anderson, Forgotten Truths [Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1980], 83-84).
Anderson also says: "Though the purposes of God cannot be thwarted by the sins of men, the fulfilment of them may be thus postponed. And just as the wilderness apostasy of Israel prolonged their wanderings for forty years, although Canaan was but a few days' march from Sinai, so the far more gross apostasy of Christendom has prolonged for nigh two thousand years an era which the Lord and His Apostles taught the early saints to look upon as brief" (Anderson, Misunderstood Texts of the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1991], 16-17).
Gary DeMar quotes the following verse: "And when the Chief Shepherd...appears, you will receive...the unfading crown of glory" (1 Peter 5:4).
In his comment on this verse he says,"If Peter had a distant generation in mind, he would have written,'they will receive' " (Ibid., 40,42).
Of course Peter was taught that the Lord Jesus' appearance was "imminent" so he would certainly think that the generation then living would see the Lord Jesus' appearance and that explains Paul's words here:
"Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thess.4:17).
Henry Alford, whom Gary DeMar quotes eight times to support his teachings in his book Last Days Madness, has the following to say about Paul's words at 1 Thessalonians 4:17 :
"Then, beyond question, he himself expected to be alive, together with the majority of those to whom he was writing, at the Lord's coming. For we cannot for a moment accept the evasion of Theodoret and the majority of ancient commentators (viz. that the apostle does not speak of himself personally, but of those who should be living at the period), but we must take the words in their only plain grammatical meaning, that 'we which are alive and remain' are a class distinguished from 'they that sleep' by being yet in the flesh when Christ comes, in which class by prefixing 'we' he includes his readers and himself. That this was his expectation we know from other passages, especially from 2 Cor. 5." (Alford's Greek Testament, Vol.III, in loc).
When we look at the following passage we can know that the early Christians understood that the coming of the Lord Jesus to catch up the saints was "imminent:
"You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming at hand (eggizo). Don't grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!" (James 5:8-9).
The Greek word translated "at hand" at James 5:8 is eggizo and in this verse that word means "to be imminent" (A Greek English Lexicon, Liddell & Scott [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940], 467).
Dr. Mal Couch, the founder and president of the Tyndale Theological Seminary, explains the etymology of the Greek word (eggizo) translated "at hand" we can see that it is means "imminent":
"IS AT HAND. ('egizo') This is actually two words put together, en= in and hand. This is a verb here used with the Perfect Active Indicative. It should read: 'The coming of the Lord has come right up to the present, and 'is in the hand,' thus certain and sure to take place.' (As the figure of speech: 'A bird in hand'). It is getting closer but it has not arrived, it is absolutely certain to take place. It is 'in the vicinity, close by.' Liddell & Scott translate this "to be imminent, to bring near, bring up to, to be at the point of, approximate …" (Couch, Greek Exegesis of the Rapture Passages, James 5:7-8; 9b).
When we combine James 5:9 with the one which precedes it we see a twofold revelation of imminency in regard to the coming of the Lord. What cannot be missed is the fact that the phrase "The Judge is standing at the door" (referring to the "judgment seat of Christ") reinforces the idea that the coming of the Lord is "near" in time and both verses speak of an imminent coming of the Lord Jesus.
So at James 5:8-9 we see a double revelation of imminency in regard to the coming of the Lord. In these two verses the Apostle James employs a literary device, specifically a figure of speech called Pleonasm, which is defined in the following way:
"When what is said is, immediately after, put in another or opposite way to make it impossible for the sense to be missed" (The Companion Bible, Appendix 6: "Figures of Speech," [Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1990] 12).
An examination of other "timing" passages reveal that the Apostle Paul used a Greek word in regard to the Lord's appearing that can only mean that His appearing could "occur at any moment":
"For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation (apokaradokia) of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God...And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, that is, the redemption of our body" (Ro.8:18,19,23).
Here Paul is speaking of "the redemption of our body", an event that will happen when the Lord Jesus appears. The Greek word translated "earnest expectation" is "apokaradokia", and this word means "to watch with head erect or outstretched...to wait for in suspense" (Thayer's Greek English Lexicon).
Vine says that the word means "primarily 'a watching with outstretched head' (apo, 'from,' kara, 'the head,' and dokeo, 'to look, to watch'), signifies "strained expectancy, eager longing," the stretching forth of the head indicating an 'expectation' of something from a certain place, Rom. 8:19; Phil. 1:20" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).
The same Greek word "was used in Greek writings to describe the alert watchman who peered into the darkness, eagerly looking for the first gleam of the distant beacon which would announce the capture of Troy." (Precept Austin).
So according to the Greek experts the word that Paul used in regard to the "redemption of our body" is a word that indicates that this event can take place at any time.
Was Paul wrong in his belief? Of course not. The Lord had evidently told him that His appearing could occur at any moment.
Rewards According to Works
"And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be" (Rev.22:12).
The preterists insist that the Lord's words in this verse were fulfilled in 70 AD. However, the Lord says that when this happens "every man" will receive "rewards" according to his works. Do not His words in regard to "rewards" and "works" refer to the following?:
"Every man's work shall be made manifest...If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward" (1 Cor.3:13,14).
"Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (2Tim.4:8).
"And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown" (1 Cor.9:25).
If the coming "quickly" of the Lord has already happened then perhaps the preterists will tell us what "rewards" the Christians received in A.D.70.
"Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (1 Jn.3:2).
The "appearing" spoken of at 1 John 3:2 is an appearing when the Christian will "be like Him". And as demonstrated previously, Paul uses a word that means that tells the Christians that they should be looking with an outstretched head for that appearance. That could not be in regard to His "coming" mentioned at Matthew 24:30:
"And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Mt.24:30).
Before this can happen there are many things which must precede His coming in the clouds of heaven. The "abomination of desolation" must first stand in the holy place (Mt.24:15) and the "great tribulation" must take place (Mt.24:21).
Paul would not be telling anyone to be looking with their heads outstretched in eager anticipation of His appearing if it was not possible for the Lord to appear until certain events took place, events which had not yet occurred when he wrote his epistles. Paul would not say that the "Lord is at hand", or His appearing is imminent, if it would not be possible for the Lord to appear until "after" the "great tribulation".
So the "appearing" spoken of by Paul and John in their epistles must refer to a separate and distinct "appearing" than the one spoken of at Matthew 24:30.
"The Last Days"
Gary DeMar writes,"The last days were in operation in the first century when God was manifest in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ!"
Of course the Jewish Christians believed that they were living in the "last days". They knew that after they would be caught up in the air that the remaining prophetic events would begin to take place. First there would be the "great tribulation" and then the general resurrection:
"...and there shall be a time of trouble,such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Dan.12:1-2).
After the event when Christians will be "caught up" there will be the "great tribulation": "For then shall be great tribulation,such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Mt.24:21).
And then on the very "last day" of the last days will be the resurrection:
"No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day" (Jn.6:44).
"Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day" (Jn.11:24).
That is exactly what Job was speaking of here:
"For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God" (Job 19:25-26).
Despite the fact that this resurrection has not yet occurred Gary DeMar insists that the "last days" ended in A.D.70 with the destruction of Jerusalem:
"In A.D.70 the 'last days' ended with the dissolution of the temple and the sacrificial system" (Ibid., 38).