The Day Drawing Near
By Jim Hopkins
Hebrews 10:25 speaks of a day that may be seen to be drawing near. The writer further identifies that day by using the definite article “the” with the word “day”. He is very confident that his readers know of the day he has in mind. They were to “exhort one another and so much the more as you see the day drawing near.” He writes as though he expected his readers to see that day in their lifetime.
Many interpret this day as the first day of the week. To think of it in this manner would require us to exhort one another on Tuesday more than Monday and increasingly so as the week progresses. It also fails to consider the previous exhortation.
The verse in its setting shows that it is related to having confidence about entering the holy place by the blood of Christ (vs 19); to drawing near with a sincere heart in a full assurance of faith (vs 22); to holding fast the confession and believing him that has promised (vs 23); and stimulating one another unto to love and good works (vs 24); and not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together (vs 25).
The chapter continues with a warning of shrinking back from the knowledge of the truth. Those who do so stand in jeopardy of a coming judgment, one that calls forth an Old Testament prophecy from Habakkuk 2:3 whose words “the vision is yet for the appointed time” have been changed to indicate the nearness of the Coming One in a “very little while” (vs 37).
It is to this day, the day of the Coming One, the Day of the Lord that I am persuaded that they are exhorting each other about and so much the more as the day draws near.
Most commentaries readily admit that the day in view is most likely looking to the fall of Jerusalem in the first century and not to the Lord’s Day. Some commentaries also acknowledge that the early church had an expectation of living to see that day. They believed and taught that “the day of the Lord” was at hand but this day was never realized. This problem is usually answered in one of three ways:
1. The Lord did not teach nor did the disciples believe in such an expectation.
2. The Lord expected to return in their lifetime, but had to postpone his coming because of his rejection by the Jews.
3. The Lord purposefully gave this expectation to the church so that every generation would live so as to expect his coming.
I believe that these answers show little understanding of the word of God and do not hold to the concept that “the word of God cannot be broken”. All of these miss the truth of the matter. The Day of the Lord in view in the New Testament was the day that judgment came upon the Jews in 70 AD.
Please consider these verses: “You shall not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.” (Mt 10:23 NASB).
With this verse Jesus concludes his teaching to his apostles concerning events for which he wanted to prepare them. Prior to the giving of the Holy Spirit on the Pentecost after his resurrection, the apostles were forbidden to go “in the way of the Gentiles” (Mt 10:5). Now he prepares them to go even to the Gentiles. But when they go, they are not to concern themselves about what they are to say; the Spirit of their Father will speak in them. They would also be delivered up before governors and kings and scourged in their synagogues. He comforts them with these concluding words that their work would not be completed before the Son of Man comes. The correct understanding of these verses would place these events after the departure of Jesus and the giving of the Holy Spirit, but within the lifetime of the apostles.
Mt 16:27-28 also parallels this teaching:
“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Mt 16:27-28 NASB).
Some would live to see the Lord coming in his kingdom and it would be a time of judgment of every man. Those who hold to the agelong expectation theory see this verse fulfilled at Pentecost, 30 AD, or even earlier at the transfiguration. People who hold the postponement theory would see this verse as unfulfilled. Some, even after acknowledging these verses, would say that Jesus did not teach this expectation at all!
So let us examine these concepts. You may find reasons, pro or con, other than the ones that I list:
1. Some would declare that Jesus did not teach nor did his disciples believe in an expectation of the near return of Christ.
a. However, Mt 10:23 and Mt 16:28 indicate that Christ taught his disciples to expect his return in their lifetime. b. And Heb 10:25 coupled with Heb 10:37 indicate that the disciples taught that “the day” was near and that in “yet a very little while, he who is coming will come.”
2. Some would declare that Jesus expected to return in his disciples’ lifetime, but had to postpone his coming because of his rejection by the Jews. This is a basic tenant of Premillennial doctrine.
a. But this rejection of Jesus was shown beforehand by the Old Testament prophets and clearly rejects the postponement theory. It was planned to be this way before the foundation of the world. Isaiah 53 is most obvious in declaring his rejection, but in no way declares a postponement of the Kingdom by this rejection. God was fully aware of the rejection of Christ by the Jews and had amply spoken of it. Given below are a few of the Old Testament types and shadows which show this prophetic rejection:
1) The bruising of the heel of the woman’s seed and showing Satan’s temporary victory over Christ.
2) The death of Able by his brother showing the Christ being delivered to death by his brethren.
3) The sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham declaring how the Father would deliver his own son as a sacrifice.
4) The rejection of Joseph by his brethren telling again that the Christ would be rejected by his brethren.
5) The Passover, the death of the firstborn speaking about the death of the Father’s firstborn, Jesus.
6) Moses smiting the rock in the wilderness. It was a figure of the Christ who was to be smitten only once. Moses was rebuked for smiting the rock a second time. It was not according to the pattern that God was revealing.
7) The scapegoat provided insight into the forgiveness of sins.
8) The ashes of the heifer announces the forgiveness of sins.
9) Psalm 22 proclaimed the suffering of Christ on the cross.
10) Jonah in the belly of the fish heralded the resurrection.
11) They shall look on him whom they have pierced of Zech 12 foretold the suffering of Christ on the cross.
b. The postponement theory is received in various configurations by the Premillennial community. Prominent among their beliefs are:
1) That Jesus came teaching the Kingdom of God was at hand, but in the middle of his ministry changed and began teaching concerning his death.
2) That the church was given as an interim measure until the Kingdom of God could be established.
3) That the OT prophecies which spoke of the Kingdom were placed on “hold” until Jesus comes to rapture the saints. This is also called the “gap theory”.
4) That the OT prophecies will then be fulfilled beginning with seven years of tribulation and the reign of the Antichrist.
5) That Jesus will then return with his saints and establish his reign over the earth for 1000 years.
6) That when the 1000 years are over Satan will be destroyed and the Kingdom restored to the Father.
7) This doctrine essentially says that the time elements of prophecy may be altered or changed; that prophetic statements really cannot be trusted.
8) This doctrine acknowledges that Jesus taught his disciples that he would return during their lifetime, but that he had to postpone it.
3. Some would teach that the Lord gave this agelong expectation to the church so that every generation would live so as to expect his coming.
a. This teaching acknowledges that Jesus taught that he would return in the lifetime of the disciples.
b. This return is seen either in the transfiguration or in the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Neither of these fit easily into the events that Jesus spoke about as happening to the apostles before he returned.
c. They believe that the time element of the apostles’ teaching concerning the “at hand” nature of Jesus’ coming is to be taken figuratively.
d. Since the time elements of prophecy have the same meaning to each generation, the coming of Jesus will be in our own lifetime.
As noted in the beginning I believe there is a fourth way to view these statements of Jesus:
4. That the expectation of the return of Jesus was realized in the first century during the lifetime of some of those who stood by and before the apostles finished their ministry to Israel.
a. This expectation is shown by a few representative verses in the writings of the apostles:
1) Paul: “The Lord is at hand”. (Phil 4:5).
2) James: “for the coming of the Lord is at hand”. (Jas 5:7).
3) Peter: “The end of all things is at hand”. (I Pet 4:7).
4) John: “It is the last hour”. (I Jn 2:18).
5) John: “for the time is at hand”. (Rev 1:3).
b. This expectation may be seen to have its fulfillment in the judgment of God on Israel in 70 AD.
1) Jesus: “I will send unto them prophets and apostles; and some of them they shall kill and persecute; that the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; from the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary: yea, I say unto you it shall be required of this generation.” (Lk 11:49-51).
2) Jesus: “For these are days of vengeance, that all things that are written may be fulfilled.” (Lk 21:22).
3) Jesus: “Then shall they see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” (Lk 21:27).
4) Jesus: “Even so ye also, when ye see these things coming to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh.” (Lk 21:31).
5) Jesus: “This generation shall not pass away, till all things be accomplished.” (Lk 21:32).
c. The gospel not only had the effect of saving people from their sins, but had the additional benefit of saving them from the calamity that was falling upon Israel.
1) John the Baptist: “Ye offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? …And even now the ax also lieth at the root of the trees: every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” (Lk 3:7, 9).
2) Jesus: “What therefore will the lord of the vineyard do unto them? He will come and destroy these husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others.” (Lk 20:15,16).
3) Jesus: “Then let them that are in Judea flee unto the mountains.” (Lk 21:21).
4) Peter: “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” (Acts 2:40).
5) Paul: “That ye may become blameless and harmless, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom ye are seen as lights in the world.” (Phil 2:15).
These verses illustrate that the message of the gospel carried with it an appeal to escape the wrath of God that was to come on Israel. Daniel had also declared that it would be during the time of the division of the fourth kingdom. In the days of those kings the God of Heaven would establish a kingdom that would never be destroyed. It would put an end to all those kingdoms. He shows that this would be after ten kings had reigned. It would be during the time of the little horn that God’s judgment would come against the nations. The then that the saints possess the kingdom. These events are best seen during Israel’s judgment in 70 AD. Neither the prophets, Jesus nor his apostles speak of a postponement of the Kingdom. There is no truth in the gap theory!
Some would say that the word “generation” means “race” and conclude that the Jewish race will not pass away until all these things are fulfilled. In this way they try to avoid the immediacy of the text by perverting the words. Another method is to say that the verse refers to the “generation that sees these things.” But Jesus defines the word in Mt. 23:29-36 by comparing his generation with that of their fathers and thereby showing that he was speaking of those who were his contemporaries. The judgment required of “this generation” excluded their fathers although they were of the same race. His generation would prove their exceeding wickedness by their persecution of the apostles and prophets. And His generation saw all these things!
So “the day drawing near” has considerable significance in the prophetic teaching of Jesus and his apostles. They taught that there were events which could be seen and which would precede the judgment on that generation. Why else should they “Watch” unless there is something to be seen. Specifically, they would see antichrists, wars, earthquakes, famines, persecutions, false prophets, apostasy, and the gospel of the kingdom preached in all the world (inhabited earth). The abomination of desolation of Daniel’s prophecy would be the sign to flee Judea. It is interpreted by Luke as the surrounding of Jerusalem by armies. The great tribulation that follows is primarily from Dan 12:1 but may be seen in Joel 2:2 and Jer 30:7. Immediately following that is the sign of the Son of Man in the heavens. ” Then shall all the tribes (Jewish people) of the earth (land) mourn and they shall see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory”. Jesus was returning to judge that generation. His servant would be the Roman armies. Then Rome would be judged and the kingdom given to the saints.
Now consider the Old Testament prophets. They also speak of this day. And their prophecies do not stop at the cross. They speak until the last prophecy is accomplished and they speak of this day! Have you noticed how the Day of Jehovah in the Old Testament becomes the Day of the Lord in the New Testament? Joel 2:31 and Acts 2:20 are a case in point. Also the Great and Terrible Day that comes after he sends Elijah (Malachi 4:5), has its fulfillment on this day. Zech 14:5 says that “Jehovah my God shall come, and all his holy ones with thee.” When, if not in the judgment on Israel? Is Daniel’s prophecy of 70 weeks concluded at the cross or in this judgment? He saw vision and prophecy sealed up but vision and prophecy are accelerated during the time of the apostles. Paul stated that “when that which was perfect comes, that which is in part will be done away.” That which was in part was prophecy, tongues and knowledge (vision?). Daniel also saw the abomination of desolation concluding the 70 weeks, which Jesus says takes place at Jerusalem’s destruction. Sort of locks that in for us, doesn’t it?
Jesus also tells us that “these are days of vengeance that all things which are written may be fulfilled. ” (Lk 21:22). Peter says that Jesus must remain in heaven “until the restitution of all things whereof God spake by the mouth of his holy prophets.” (Acts 3:21). James suggests that the prophets agree with the event of God visiting the Gentiles to take from them a people for his name. And he quotes Amos 9:11-12 “After these things I will return, and I will build again the tabernacle of David which is fallen.” (Acts 15:16). Paul says that “a hardening in part hath befallen Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in; and so all Israel shall be saved: even as it is written, ‘There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer;'” (Rom 11:25,26). In all of these verses there is a reference to an Old Testament prophecy in which I am suggesting that they have their fulfillment in God’s judgment on Israel in 70 AD.
It has been my purpose to show that Christ taught, and the disciples of the first century believed, that there would be some who would live to see Christ coming in his kingdom. I hope to have shown that both the Old and New Testament scriptures teach that this may be seen to be fulfilled during God’s judgment on Israel in the first century. Not seen in this paper is the meaning of all of this for our generation, but out of this, one should see that the Mosaic Law, the period of types and shadows, extends through the period of the judgment on Israel and did not pass away at the cross. Out of this typical arrangement we should see that the saints now partake of the spiritual arrangement, the Kingdom of God.
Because Jesus did keep his promise to return in judgment on his generation, we can with confidence and hope look for his return for us and know with surety that he rules and judges the world now. To place the end of the Jewish age at the cross, rather than at Israel’s judgment, leads one into conclusions which tend to make void the prophecies of the Old and New Testaments and promote a false expectation and hope. They were given prophecies and signs by which they could know of coming events. We live in a time of no prophets and no signs. All Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled (Mt 5:17). Vision and prophecy have been sealed up (Daniel 9:24); the day that a fountain is opened for sin and uncleanness of Jerusalem is the day that the prophet and unclean spirits are cast out of the land (Zech 13:1-4); and Paul foreseeing this day spoke of a time when prophecy would be done away and tongues would cease in the day when that which is perfect comes (I Cor 13:8-10). The time of that event had been given in the Old Testament.
May the Lord bless you in your study of God’s Word.
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