James said “the Lord’s coming is near.”
Was he wrong or just misguided by the Holy Spirit? He wrote a short letter to the Jewish Christians who had been dispersed because of persecution. In his opening salutation he said, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.”
The majority of his teaching had to do with daily Christian living. He encouraged them to be humble, not to show favoritism, to live their faith in actions, to watch their tongue, to seek the wisdom that is from above, to resist the Devil and the ways of the world, to not trust in earthly wealth, and to pray. The underlying theme of his message, which is seen in his opening and closing remarks, is patience in the face of suffering. While the principle of growth and maturity through adversity is true in any age, James had a special reason to write these words at that particular time.
Being Jews, his readers would have been very familiar with the prophecies in the Old Testament concerning “terrible times in the last days” of their nation. That they were also Christians meant they would have been keenly aware of Jesus’ teachings about those times coming during their generation. With that background James said in chapter 1:2-7, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” He went on to explain how that would ultimately lead to their becoming more mature in Christ, then in verse 12 he said, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
James returned to this same subject in his final chapter. “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:7-9).
He then gave examples of patience in suffering. “Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:10-11).
Be patient until the Lord’s coming.
The Lord’s coming is near.
The judge is standing at the door.
Such language was very familiar to those Jewish Christians concerning the coming judgment of God on a nation. Remember what Isaiah said about the approaching judgment of God against Babylon. “See, the day of the Lord is coming—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless” (Isaiah 13:9-11). They had read dozens of similar passages of Scripture their entire lives.
James’ point was for those first century Christians to be patient because “the Lord’s coming was near.” The message was not to be patient because we have no idea when the Lord will come, rather just the opposite, to be patient because the Lord’s coming was SOON…at hand. That is exactly what the text says. Compare the words James used to those of Jesus in Matthew 24:33-34, “Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”
The context, as seen in James 5, was the persecution the saints were facing in “the last days” of Israel. They were living in those “last days.” The Lord was not going to let them remain in their pain and suffering. He was going to return just as he had promised and fulfill all prophecies and bring the kingdom to fruition. The point of the farmer analogy was to look at the signs. They knew to wait patiently for the fall and spring rains and the harvest would come just as sure as the sun rises and sets. In the same way, the first century disciples were told to “watch for the signs” of the Lord’s coming. Yes, they were facing many trials and temptations at that time, but the Lord was faithful. He had not abandoned his promises. Just as surely as the farmer knows the rains will produce a crop, they could depend upon Jesus to come as he had promised to put an end to their suffering. And just a few short years later the very last words Jesus said to anyone on earth were, “Yes, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20).
There has been considerable effort by many religious teachers to ascribe various meanings to some words in the Scriptural texts to support a future, universe-ending interpretation. For instance, some versions of the Bible translate Revelation 22:20 to say, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” They explain that “quickly” means his coming will be swift, but does not necessarily have an associated historical date. Once again, let’s examine the Scriptures to see what the Bible teaches.
There are three different Greek terms often associated with the Lord’s coming. These same words are also used in many other passages of Scripture. It is sometimes helpful to look at the words and the ways in which they are used in context to get a better understanding of the intended meaning: Engus – translated “near” or “at hand,” Tachu – translated “quickly” or “soon” and Aiphnidios (adjective) or exaiphnes (adverb) – translated “suddenly.”
Below is a sampling of Bible passages that use the word “engus.”
Matthew 3:2, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
John 6:4, “The Jewish Passover Feast was near.”
Matthew 26:18, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, `The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’ ”
Matthew 24:32, “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.”
Matthew 24:33-34, “Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”
Luke 21:20, “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.”
1 Peter 4:7, “The end of all things is near.”
James 5:8, “The Lord’s coming is near.”
Revelation 1:3, “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.”
Revelation 22:10, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near.”
The word “near” carries the same meaning in each of these verses. The event under discussion was close at hand, not in the distant future. Revelation 22:10 is particularly apparent when compared with Daniel 8:26 where the prophet was told, “The vision of the evenings and mornings that has been given you is true, but seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future.” Daniel’s prophecy would not be fulfilled for 490 years. That was not near. John was specifically told not to seal his vision because the time was near. It makes absolutely no sense that God would tell Daniel something almost 500 years away was the distant future and tell John something thousands of years off was near. Whatever God was revealing to John had to be coming soon…in that generation.
The second term “tachu” is found in the following verses:
Matthew 5:25, “Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.”
John 11:31, “When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there.”
Matthew 28:7, “Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
Revelation 22:20, “Yes, I am coming quickly.”
While this term indicates something to be done rapidly, it does not mean it will be done in the distant future. It carries with it a sense of urgency. One can hardly say the “coming” to which John refers in Revelation might be thousands of years in the future and be true to the original meaning.
The Greek adverb “aphno” or “exaiphnes” or the adjective form “aiphnidios, occurs in the following passages.
Luke 2:13, “And suddenly (exaiphnes) there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying…”
Acts 2:2, “And suddenly (aiphnidios) a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.”
Acts 9:3, “Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly (exaiphnes) a light from heaven flashed about him.”
Luke 21:34, “But pay attention to yourselves that your hearts never become weighed down with overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life, and suddenly (aiphnidios) that day be instantly upon you.”
1 Thessalonians 5:3, “While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly (aiphnidios), as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”
This term does refer to something that happens unexpectedly. It does not mean there are no signs that it is coming. The analogy of labor pains is the given example. A woman who is pregnant certainly knows the pains are coming, and she knows approximately when by counting the months. She does not know the exact day and hour they will begin. That is precisely what Jesus said about his coming and the destruction of the temple. He gave them the signs for which to watch. He told them it would be in that generation. But he also said they would not know the day or hour it would actually happen.
It is interesting to note all of these terms are used in connection with the “last days” coming of the Lord and the consummation of the ages. That day would come suddenly, so the disciples and early Christians were told to watch and wait. It would also come quickly, rapidly. But it was also near at the time of their writings. No possible Biblical definition of these terms allows any interpretation of the coming of the great day of the Lord beyond the generation in which the apostles lived.
Not only James, but all the New Testament writers believed the Lord’s coming was going to happen “soon.” Jesus Christ said, “This generation will not end until all these things have happened.” One of “these things” was the Son of Man coming in the clouds. The language cannot be mistaken. Since they were divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit, the belief in an imminent coming must have also been “Holy Spirit inspired.” Yet, according to many modern theologians, Jesus has still not come. Were the early Christians mistaken in their belief? Did the Holy Spirit misguide the writers of Scripture?
Atheists are quick to point out the inconsistency in our theology and denounce Christianity as a false religion and Jesus as a fake. Even many Christian writers publically say the apostles misunderstood Jesus and were mistaken in their belief about the timing of his coming. In his essay, The World’s Last Night, the renowned Christian writer C. S. Lewis wrote the following in 1960:
“Say what you like, the apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have been proven to be false. It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. And, worse still, they had a reason, and one you will find very embarrassing. Their Master had told them so. He shared, and indeed created, their delusion. He said in so many words, ‘this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.’ And he was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else. It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.”
Lewis is correct in his assessment of what Jesus said and what his disciples believed. The imminent return of Jesus is a consistent, recurring theme throughout the entire New Testament. The doctrine of a “delayed coming” that is so prevalent today has done more damage to the believability of the Christian message than perhaps any other false doctrine. Those who espouse this view of Jesus’ future return are completely helpless to explain the inconsistencies between their teaching and what the Scriptures actually say. Many Christians, in utter confusion, have completely abandoned any study of these end time events.
The confusion does not lie with the Scriptures. The Lord’s coming, about which James and the others wrote, is not difficult to understand if we will simply believe what the Bible says. James was not mistaken about the timing of the Lord’s coming. Jesus did know what he was talking about. James said the Lord’s coming was near when he wrote his letter. It was. He came!