In this article we will endeavour to demonstrate from Scripture that the ‘continuous historic’ interpretation of prophecy is correct. Firstly, we should explain what we mean by the continuous historic interpretation of prophecy. This expression is most commonly applied to a way of interpret­ing the prophecies in the book of Revelation, or Apocalypse.

In a nutshell, the continuous historic interpreta­tion assumes that the fulfilment of prophecies in the Apocalypse occur fairly evenly throughout time rather than concentrated in either the past or future with a large gap in between. Perhaps the two best reasons for accepting the continuous historic interpretation as correct are clear. Firstly, it works so well—as explained in such works as Eureka, The Apocalypse and History etc—and secondly, it is a demonstrable method used frequently in the Scripture.

Scripture and History

We find that Moses outlined the continuing history of Israel from his time right through to the Roman conquest and captivity in Deuteronomy 28. There are enough specific predictions in this prophecy to startle the hardest sceptic. And if this wasn’t enough, Moses speaks about Israel’s final conver­sion yet to come in Deuteronomy 30. Similarly, Daniel was given far reaching prophecies, many commencing in his day, which could be seen out­working themselves through successive empires until they touched our day.

Jesus used this approach in speaking of judg­ment upon Judea and then upon our days. Paul spoke of a continual development of apostasy starting in his day and ending with total confla­gration in our day. All these descriptions follow a wonderful pattern of advance warning to successive generations. Imagine the despondency that would be generated if the faithful down through the ages were unable to find their position in the plan of God? But God did not leave Himself without witness.

Interpreting the Apocalypse

As far as the Apocalypse is concerned we are going to prove that the continuous historic interpretation of that book is correct by exploring just one verse of scripture—“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and sig­nified it by his angel unto his servant John” (Rev 1:1).

The Greek word translated as “shortly” in Reve­lation 1:1 is tachu. This word has been incorporated into the English language in words related to speed, for example tachometer, which is the technical term for a speedometer. Another example is tachycardia, which is a condition in which the heart beats faster than it should do. So the word is clearly associated with speed. However, the question is what kind of speed? Speed in the sense of moving quickly, or speed in the sense of a short time before the occur­rence of an event?

Throughout the New Testament, tachu is always used in relation to a short time delay rather than a fast speed of travel. For example, in 1 Corinthians 4:19 Paul says, “But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will…” Paul obviously means that he will endeavour to come to visit the saints at Corinth as soon as possible. He certainly doesn’t mean that he will get the quickest chariot possible in order to get there quickly! From this it would appear that the Apocalypse describes events that were about to start happening shortly after the time of writing (probably AD 96).

Multiple Applications

Just suppose for a moment that we were living in 1066 AD—the time of William the Conqueror. If most of the events were concentrated in the first century AD, or at some unknown time in the future then it would not be true for us that there was some­thing about to happen within our lifetime. In either case, we would be about 1 000 years distant from the closest event. However, with the continuous historic interpretation there is always something happening and about to happen within the lifespan of a believer; which, incidentally, is entirely consist­ent with Amos 3:7: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets”. This verse would tend to indicate that prophecy is for the benefit of saints of all eras. From the prophecies in Daniel and elsewhere it is apparent that we have complete ‘prophetic cover­age’ from about 600 BC right up to the end of the Kingdom Age.

The Apocalypse has been structured in such a remarkable way that it always appears that the return of Jesus Christ is close. This is in large part due to the telescopic structure of the Apocalypse in which the Seventh Seal contains the seven trumpets, vials and thunders. From the perspective of the Sixth Seal, for example, it looked like the kingdom was about to be established—and in type it was—paganism was replaced by something else (apostate Christianity). If we were living in the time of Constantine in 312 AD, it would have appeared that the Kingdom was just about to be established. The expectation would have been that the events symbolised by the Seventh Seal would occur in quick succession and the kingdom would be established.

A lively expectation of the return of Jesus Christ has always been the hallmark of our community down through the ages. The disciples set the tone just before Jesus ascended into heaven when the disciples asked him: “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Just a few weeks prior, Jesus sat with his disciples over­looking the temple mount from the vantage point of the Mount of Olives and Jesus gave his disciples a potted history of the next 2 000 years of Judah and Jerusalem. However, it is clear from the disciples’ question just prior to Jesus’ ascension that they did not get the impression from the Olivet Prophecy that the establishment of the kingdom was in the distant future. Why was this the case? It could well be because of the continuous historic structure of the Olivet Prophecy.

A fascinating aspect of the Olivet Prophecy is that there seems to be a seamless transition from AD 70 to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is especially seen in Luke 21:24: “And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: | and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled”. The words before the line (|) clearly relate to the end of the Jewish nation in AD 70 and subsequent Diaspora, whereas the second part of the verse relates to Jerusalem being under the domination of the Gentiles for a certain period of time. This period came to an end in 1967 when Israel gained control of all of Jerusalem.

Why is there a quick transition from AD 70 to 1967? The reason is that Israel was dead as a nation during the intervening period. As we know, there is no consciousness in the grave. The Roman eagles came against the body of the Jewish nation and plucked the flesh leaving a pile of bones, which are coming back together as symbolised in Ezekiel 37. From the disciples’ perspective, it would have appeared that the demise of the Jewish common­wealth would lead immediately to the establish­ment of the Kingdom. In The Last days of Judah’s Commonwealth Brother John Thomas makes use of an interesting analogy—he says that the events surrounding AD 70 and the return of Christ are like two posts. From the disciples’ perspective the AD 70 ‘post’ was merged with the return ‘post’. How­ever, as the AD 70 ‘post’ was passed, the second ‘post’ came into view.

Consolation in Christ

It would seem that the main purpose of the continu­ous historic structure of prophecy is to encourage the saints. Wherever we are in history the return of Christ always seems close. In a very real sense his return is always close—it’s never further away than our lifetime. This is why Jesus says: “Behold, I come quickly” (tachu). As before tachu has the meaning of shortly rather than a fast rate of descent. It is quite possible that at the resurrection many saints will not know that they have died—they will just assume that the Lord has arrived in their own lifetime!

With the benefit of hindsight, it would seem that today we really are close to his return. Virtually all major events that are to occur before he comes to the household appear to have been ticked off the prophetic calender. Israel is back in the land and struggling with balancing peace with security; Rus­sia is re-establishing itself as a major power whilst wooing Germany to its side; Europe is amalgamating into a kind of federation; the Papacy is spreading out its tentacles at an alarming rate; and the Arab world remains divisive on most issues except one—its animosity against Israel. The vital question is: are we ready? If we are honest, most of us would admit that we could be more ready than we are. We have to constantly battle against the pressures of this modern world. How can we become more ready? The answer is of course the assimilation and application of the Word in our lives and prayer.

The Apostle Paul distils the issue down to just one thing—all those who enter the kingdom will in some way have “loved” the Lord’s return. “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his ap­pearing” (2 Tim 4:7,8) There may well be different reasons for us loving the return of the Lord. For example, we may look forward to the end of this perpetual battle against the flesh, the end of difficult personal circumstances, the opportunity of being involved in the work of establishing the kingdom, etc. May it be that we all love his appearing and receive that incorruptible crown of righteousness. Even so, Come, Lord Jesus!