Some of Jesus’ disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
“Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them.
In six previous posts (here, here, here, here, here, and here) we examined the Olivet Discourse, recorded in Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Jesus elsewhere warned His disciples that false prophets would claim to be Him (e.g. Matthew 24:5, 23, 26; Mark 13:6, 21; Luke 17:22-23). It’s only in Luke 21:8, though, that Jesus warns His followers not to pay attention to those who would proclaim that “the time is near” (or “at hand” in some translations). In fact, they were to regard such a proclamation as a characteristic of false prophets…at least for a while. We should give this some extra thought.
If we look ahead to Luke 21:28, we see that Jesus later says, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Jesus thus gives permission at that point for His people to realize the very thing that earlier they were not to believe, that is, that the time was near. First they had to see “these things begin to take place,” and then they could know and proclaim that the end was near. The expression “these things” refers to what Jesus describes in verses 9-27 (see Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of our series for an explanation on how all these things were indeed fulfilled in Jesus’ own generation).
Did any of the writers of the New Testament proclaim that the time was near? Consider these statements:
“…For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand…” (Romans 13:11-12).
“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4:5).
“Yet a little while, and the coming One will come and will not delay” (Hebrews 10:37).
“You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand…behold, the Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:8).
“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (I Peter 4:7).
“Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour” (I John 2:18).
From these statements we see that Paul, James, Peter, and John all proclaimed that the time was near. They stated that “the day” was at hand, “the Lord” was at hand, “the coming of the Lord” was at hand, “the end of all things” was at hand, and that it was “the last hour.”
Did they become the very false prophets Jesus had warned about in Luke 21:8, since they uttered the very statement that Jesus warned His followers not to believe? If the signs of the Olivet Discourse are still future and unfulfilled, as futurists insist, then they certainly did become those false prophets.
We know, however, that this is not the case. This is actually one more indication that the events predicted by Jesus came to pass within His own generation. The apostles witnessed the predicted signs coming to pass, and on this authority they announced that the end was near. Notice how closely the language they used mirrors what Jesus said, as recorded by Mark: “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that He is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Mark 13:29-30).
Soon after Paul, James, Peter, and John made these declarations, that end did come, i.e. the end of the Old Covenant world and age. The apostles were not false prophets. Jesus also did not lie to, or tease, His disciples. Nor did He speak in terms, or with time markers, that they couldn’t understand. Nor did He ascend to His Father, only to find out that His overall rejection by the Jewish people would set in motion an unforeseen 2000 year postponement of His promises. Instead He kept His word, and fulfilled all that He said He would do within the time frame that He boldly market out. (He said these things would happen before the downfall of the temple, and before His own generation passed away). We can trust that everything else He said outside of the area of eschatology is also true.