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Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Is the End "At Hand" or Not?

 The phrase "at hand" is used 16 times in the New King James Version of the New Testament. Let's take a quick look at its uses in regard to time:

  • [John the Baptist] “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2)
  • From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)
  • And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ (Matthew 10:7)
  • And He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.” (Matthew 26:18)
  • Then He came to His disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. (Matthew 26:45)
  • Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.” (Matthew 26:46)
  • “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
  • Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.” (Mark 14:42)
  • Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. (John 2:13)
  • Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. (John 7:2)
  • The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:12)
  • You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. (James 5:8)
  • But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. (1 Peter 4:7)
  • And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand. (Rev 22:10)

The 14 verses above clearly have the meaning "very close by" in regard to time. The Greek word used is "engízō" and essentially means "near." It is used some 42 times in the Greek Received Text. It is not always translated "at hand." This Greek word is used 17 times in Luke and is translated "near" or "nigh" [KJV] 16 times and "approacheth" once. 

Our word is used 6 times in the Acts and is translated "near" or "nigh" all 6 times. Likewise, all the uses in James (3) and Hebrews (2) are translated as "near" or "nigh" or "approaching" [KJV]. Let us just quote Hebrews 10 for now:

not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

-Hebrews 10:25

There is one difference I need to note with the English and Greek. In 2 Tim 4:6, Paul's tells us his departure is "at hand." That will become relevant as we progress, but I should note that Greek word used is "ephístēmi" and means "at present." Different word, similar connotation.

Now let's compare the above verses with Paul's only use of  the idea in his Post Acts epistles.

  • Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. (Phil 4:5)
  • For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. (2 Tim 4:6)

We must stop and notice that Paul expecting his death to come "presently" is hardly an anticipation of the coming of the Lord or of the Kingdom. He is also not expecting the events of the Tribulation. In Philippians, "the Lord" is said to be nigh, not His coming. We have studied elsewhere the difference between the Lord's "Parousia" and his "Epiphenea." That is, there is a different expectation between the Lord coming back to live among men in the Kingdom (his physical presence) and his sudden appearing.

Paul never speaks to us in this age of the Lord's "Parousia" (physical presence). That is, the idea is abset from is seven Post Acts epistles. In previous ages and in the age to come, they looked and will look for his physical return in the clouds, to the land. We look for his appearing. These are different things. This is not the "rapture" spoken of in Thessalonians as they were also looking for his "Parousia." The coming in the clouds there to meet believers is his coming in the clouds back to the earth to set up the Kingdom in Israel. 

This is an earthly hope. The hope of this age is in the "far above the heavens." 

We cannot say "at hand" or "near" or "approaching" or "at present" can mean "any time in the future." It means what it says. The subject or event is close by. It has not yet come, but to those to who the words are spoken, these things are close at hand.

The verses quoted above state: 

  • The Kingdom was close at hand.
  • The Lord's betrayal was close at hand.
  • The return of the Lord was close at hand. 

But the Lord's return was conditional. Peter said Israel had to repent nationally first (Acts 3). None of those can mean "any time over the next two thousand years." 

Literalism is the only way to interpret scripture. But we must take the words in their contexts. The Kingdom was literally "at hand," but that condition and promise is not a generic or symbolic truth for all men of all ages. Again, if that's how we want to read "at hand" or "approaching" or "near," then the idea becomes meaningless. Not everything in scripture is directed TO us while all is FOR us.

If people think every word in scripture is to them, they are free to read it that way. But, inevitably, they'll end up spiritualizing and explaining away almost everything, and disobeying most of it, but that's their right. "At hand" will lose its meaning. Events will become symbolic. And the very Word they claimed all for themselves will no longer mean what it says. Ironic.

Related Posts:

The Church is Not Israel, and Israel is Not the Church