Does the Bible Teach That The Return of Jesus Would Be Soon After His Ascension, or Much Later? + Sea Dragons and Leviathans in the Bible?!
Hello friends and happy Thursday! Another day in quarantine, another dollar, I guess. One interesting thing for us today is that our family went to Carmel Beach and had a good time, even though it was chilly. My son and I did some metal-detecting and actually found a Morgan dime (1916-1945) in the sands at Carmel – about 12-13 inches deep. Very cool!
Today’s episode is another Second-coming, End times episode, because our focus passage in 2nd Peter 3 is focused on the return of Jesus. Before we get to that, however, I should mention Psalms 74:
You divided the sea with your strength;
you smashed the heads of the sea monsters in the water;
14 you crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you fed him to the creatures of the desert.
So – does the Bible actually teach that there are sea-monsters? And the interesting answer is: It depends on what you mean by sea-monsters! In a modern and scientific age, we know that the ocean is full of large and fascinating sea creatures like Blue whales, giant oarfish (up to 36 feet long!), sunfish, various sharks, colossal squid, and possibly other strange and extremely large creatures that could be categorized as a ‘monster’ in some ways. The Hebrew word used in vs 13 is, ‘tannîyn, tan-neen’ and it has a wide semantic range in the Hebrew Bible – meaning that this one word can refer to several different creatures, including the ‘serpent that Aaron’s rod became when he cast it down in front of Pharoah. Perhaps Ezekiel 29:3 gives us a pretty good clue as to the identity of this creature:
3 Speak to him and say, ‘This is what the Lord God says:Look, I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt,the great monster lying in the middle of his Nile,who says, “My Nile is my own;I made it for myself.”
Could a Nile Crocodile be at least one of the translations for tanniyn? I certainly think it is possible, and fits the context the Psalms passage pretty well. The second word used, translated as ‘Leviathan’ here, is a bit more tricky. The Hebrew is ‘livyâthân, liv-yaw-thawn” and we discussed that word in depth on episode 42, what is Leviathan? This was our conclusion then:
The root of the word comes from a word meaning wreathed, or joined together, and can perhaps give the impression of a long creature, possibly with segments or ridges. Some speculate that the leviathan was a sea dragon, or perhaps a now extinct species of water-dinosaur, or perhaps an extinct or undiscovered sea-monster of some sort. Apparently its mouth is very dangerous, and its skin is very hard. Given the description in Isaiah 27:1 of a ‘twisting’ serpent, I think a saltwater crocodile is a good possibility. These creatures can reach astounding lengths and sizes, even today, and could possibly have been larger in antiquity. Salties today can grow to 20 feet long, and weigh over 2300 pounds. Nile crocodiles used to kill around 1000 people per year, and still kill hundreds of people per year, so they match the ferocity that is attributed to leviathan in this passage. Possible the leviathan was a, now extinct forebear of modern Nile and Saltwater crocodiles, or perhaps it was a now extinct sea creature that is not really included in the fossil record as of yet. Perhaps as well it was some sort of large and fierce shark – another modern animal that could fit most of the biblical description of the leviathan. I wish I could give a more definitive answer – I’m pretty strongly team hippo on the behemoth, but way more open on the leviathan.
Of more spiritual interest to us is our 2nd Peter 3 passage. Many skeptics have criticized the Bible in the past for the length of time that it has taken Jesus to return. They argue that Jesus and the apostles seem to expect the second coming at any moment, and indeed – there is some truth to that in one sense: It is quite clear that Jesus expected us to live in the expectation that His return could be imminent. However, does the Bible seem to indicate that the return of Jesus would be near or far, from the perspective of the early church? And the answer is that it does NOT indicate this at all. Jesus and the apostles were quite clear that humans would NOT know the day or the hour, and that Jesus Himself did not know the date or the hour – only the Father knew at that time…so looking for hints of the timing of the end of times and the Second Coming in Scripture is fruitless, as we have mentioned earlier, because it’s not in there, because the writers of Scripture and Jesus Himself DID NOT KNOW. Theologian Wayne Grudem has a good take on this question:
Were Jesus and the New Testament authors wrong in their expectation that he would return soon? Did they not think and even teach that the second coming of Christ would be in just a few years? In fact, a very prominent view among liberal New Testament scholars has been that Jesus mistakenly taught that he would return soon.
But none of the texts just quoted require this interpretation. The texts that say to be ready do not say how long we will have to wait, nor do the texts that say that Jesus is coming at a time we do not expect. As for the texts that say Jesus is coming “soon,” we must realize that biblical prophets often speak in terms of “prophetic foreshortening,” which sees future events but does not see the intervening time before those events occur.
George Ladd says:
The prophets were little interested in chronology, and the future was always viewed as imminent … the Old Testament prophets blended the near and the distant perspectives so as to form a single canvas. Biblical prophecy is not primarily three-dimensional but two; it has height and breadth but is little concerned about depth, i.e., the chronology of future events … the distant is viewed through the transparency of the immediate. It is true that the early church lived in expectancy of the return of the Lord, and it is the nature of biblical prophecy to make it possible for every generation to live in expectancy of the end.8
Peter also reminds us that the Lord has a different perspective on time than we do, so that “soon” with him may not be what we expect: “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness”
Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 1096–1097.