Revelation (Part 22)


Listen or read the following transcript as D. A. Carson speaks on the topic of the End Times from Revelation

The second problem I have with this scheme.… There are a few passages … not many but a few … in the Bible that seem to speak of a time of restoration, blessing, that is superlative but that is still shy of the new heaven and the new earth. For example, in Isaiah 65 we read of a time when a young man will die at the age of 100. Anybody who dies at the age of 100 will be thought prematurely deceased. The onset of the new heaven and the new earth. It’s coming.

Here is a picture, then, that looks like a time of wonderful crops, wonderful splendor and growth, but it still speaks of people dying. People will die; they’re just going to live a lot longer. If you read a non-millennialist commentary on Isaiah, like that of E.J. Young, what he will say is this is merely an old covenant way of signaling eternal longevity. In other words, nobody is really going to die at all.

Well, maybe, but when I read Isaiah 26, I can find that Isaiah can speak about eternal longevity quite clearly, thank you very much. He doesn’t need people being bumped off at the age of 100 as young men to do it. In other words, the description on the face of it sounds like a time of fantastically restored blessings that is still shy of a new heaven and a new earth and the perfections there where there’s no death anymore.

There’s no place for that kind of stopgap in an amillennial scheme. In my view, that second problem to amillennialism is not as serious as the first. It is the first that I find very difficult. Any interpretation that makes the entire millennium, with Satan bound and not deceiving the nations anymore, refer to this age I find just unbelievable in the light of the rest of the book.

Now let me say something about this one. In that sense, it solves the problem of amillennialism. It doesn’t pretend that this whole age is already millennial splendor, and it can conceive of a time of fantastic blessings from God that can properly be called millennial, short of the new heaven and the new earth, but that period is brought in by the faithful proclamation of the gospel over centuries, millennia if necessary, until finally that is introduced.

That view, though it is held by very small numbers today (it is not popular; it is still held in some Presbyterian and other circles), it was the dominant view in, for example, Puritan England and Puritan America. I know in the popular press Puritans get bad names. You know, “Puritanical” is sort of bound up with high-bound, legalistic, and right-wing, but that’s not the way the Puritans were. The later Puritans got pretty legalistic.

The early Puritans were characterized by their joy, industry, godliness, family devotions, learning, piety, and joy. They loved to drink. They weren’t teetotalers. They were happy. “Make the Sabbath a delight” was their cry. They have produced some of the best theologians the English-speaking world has ever had: Thomas Goodwin, John Owen, William Perkins, one of the great mediators between the continental Reformation and the English Reformation.

Almost to a man, with only two major exceptions that I know of, these chaps were postmillennialists. That’s enough to make you stop and think. Interestingly enough, historically speaking, postmillennialism has often flourished when the church seems to be doing very well. Some form of premillennialism often flourishes when the church is doing rather badly.

“Oh, it’s just getting worse and worse and worse. What we need is the church to get out of the way, avoid all this persecution and stuff. Then there’s going to be terrible tribulation, but we’ll win in the end with the millennium.” You get a certain kind of defeatist mentality, and you don’t think you’re winning, and you’re talking about the bad guys all the time, then postmillennialism is not in very good favor.

It’s one of the reasons why postmillennialism has not been in good favor in this century, because in this century there has been a fair bit of evangelical retrenchment until the last 20 or 30 years. In some circles in the Western world it has begun to resurface again, and because of that, postmillennialism is coming back too. One has to say that these things are bound up with our larger worldviews, whether we like it or not, unless people are extraordinarily self-critical.

Now what does one do with this interpretation? What are the problems with it? Well, amongst the problems with it, it seems to me, is that in order to make it work out, it has to drop many, many, many texts into AD 70, and I don’t think the events of AD 70 can support them. In particular, it leaves no space whatsoever for any notion of an imminent return.

Yes, Christ is coming back. Yes, we should live in the light of the end, but there is nothing here about Christ could come back soon, because he can’t come back until the gospel has been pronounced, proclaimed in such a way that it has brought in an age of millennial splendor. Of course, Christ could come back for you individually soon. You could have a heart attack before you leave tonight. You might walk out and get hit by a bus or whatever is passing.

In that sense, Christ could come for you, and he comes in judgment for his people again and again, but to come and introduce the millennium or to come and introduce the final state, you can’t believe that in postmillennialism until you’ve seen the gospel triumph so forcefully that you live for a good long time in the period of millennial splendor. Then the question is.… Will that square with enough texts?

Now let me mention historic premillennialism. Conceptually, although this view is called premillennialism because Christ does come before the millennium and, thus, this view is in some ways linked with this view.… They’re both premillennial. This one is premillennial, pretribulational, and dispensational; this one is only premillennial, but at least they’re both premillennial.

Nevertheless, conceptually, this view is closest to this view. There are a lot of little differences between the two, but the only substantial difference is that in historic premillennialism there is a time of reign here with millennial blessings short of the final blessings in the new heaven and the new earth, a time of millennial reign with a final bust-up before here.

Apart from that, in terms of general structure of thought, interestingly enough, historic premillennialism and amillennialism are remarkably close. There can be some notion of imminency here, but it’s troubled. I’ll come to that one in a moment. At least in this view one solves the problems of trying to dump all of Revelation 4–19 into one period that is still future to us. It doesn’t do that.

It can read all of the texts in Revelation quite happily, as we read them in this course, as most of them could be read with this one or this one. Postmillennialism would read them differently. This one would read them differently. Both of these two would read them very much as I read them, give or take the odd bit. But this view is messy. Let me explain why.

It’s messy when you start asking, “All right, supposing Christ comes back here, and you have an onset of a millennium.” Let us even acknowledge that the millennium need not be 1,000 years exactly. We’ve seen how often in apocalyptic literature numbers are symbolic for a long period of time or something or other.

Nevertheless, it is a period of time, surely, so let us suppose that Christ comes back and there is a time of blessing here when Satan is remarkably restrained and when there is all kinds of glory here. Let us grant that. How does it work out in real life? Do you have saints with resurrection bodies comingling with people who don’t? Messy. Do they get married? Are the resurrection saints, who are neither married nor given in marriage, then all sterile so they don’t want to?

This is a very strange setup. Or do you say on this view of the millennium the first resurrection is merely still part of the fullness of what it means to be a Christian, and everybody just gets a resurrection body at the end, so at least they can comingle and cohabit here? But does first-resurrection language in Revelation 20 sound as if it’s something other than resurrection?

Historic premillennialism, in my view, handles many, many, many texts well. It handles the schema of Scripture, in my view, well. It answers many of the problems (one or two of them, like the imminency question, I’ll deal with in a moment), but it is messy when it comes to the millennium itself. Let me pause for questions before we press on to try to deal with some specific areas.

Female: [Inaudible]

Don Carson: Okay, we have another line here. This is called the agnostic line or the ignorant line. “I don’t know.” Actually, there are many people who take your view. Let me fill it out defending it for a moment.

Did everybody hear what the lady said? Let me expound your thought, and if I misrepresent you, you tell me. This lady is suggesting that in the light of the end of Daniel, where some things are sealed up, not to be understood until the end, and in the light of the fact that clearly Christians have understood these things from very different perspectives across the history of the church, should not one conclude that God does not intend that we should all form a decisive view on these matters, that at the end of the day, there isn’t enough information given?

God is not out to trick us. So the proper reverent approach to Scripture in this regard is to say, “Hey, there’s not enough information. We can’t possibly know.” From this perspective, we will know when we get into the events. What shall we say about this? Let me tell you a story in this connection.

The seminary I went to in Toronto when I was there had as its academic dean a chap by the name of W. Gordon Brown. When W. Gordon Brown was ordained 35 years earlier (he was getting to be an old man by the time I was there), my parents, in fact, attended his ordination. This was still in the heyday when there were a lot of these eschatological conflicts going around.

At an ordination, the candidate normally has to give a statement of faith. So he delivered his whole statement of faith, and in it he said nothing about things eschatological. He had given a brilliant statement on Christology and a brilliant statement on the church and the attributes of God and what he believed about justification. He didn’t say anything … nada, nothing … about eschatology. So inevitably, the tension was mounting.

In the question period, somebody got up and said, “Mr. Brown …” It was “Mr. Brown” in those days, not “Dr. Brown.” “Mr. Brown, what do you believe about our blessed hope?” Brown got up and said, “I’m afraid I don’t know too much about that,” and he sat down. Well, that was going to bring out the piranhas. They started coming up to the microphones one after the other, one after the other.

“Mr. Brown, what do you understand by the expression the great tribulation?” “Oh, I haven’t made up my mind about that.” So it went on. He just wouldn’t commit himself anywhere. Finally, people were getting angry. One person got up really angry and said, “Mr. Brown, don’t you even believe that Jesus is coming back?” There were gasps all over the whole congregation.

Brown got up. He was as skinny as a bean pole, about six-foot-four. He got up straight and tall and skinny, and he said, “My dear brother, I believe that with all my heart. Jesus is coming again, but the Bible says we’re not to know the day nor the time nor the hour nor the season, so it’s none of my business and it’s none of yours,” and he went and sat down again. Well, there are some councils where that would have cost him his ordination right there, but that one was chaired by a chap called T.T. Shields, who was sometimes called Canada’s Spurgeon.

Shields got up at that point and said, “Brothers and sisters in Christ, I believe we have here the case of a young man who wishes to embrace all of Scripture and fears to go one step beyond. Would someone like to move his ordination?” It went through. That’s the kind of position you’re espousing. There is a great deal to be said for it. Certainly it is to be preferred to the endless hairsplitting that divides churches over it.

Female: [Inaudible]

Don: The question still is, however, inevitably, in studying passage after passage, you try to make sense of it. Let us say we all agree that Jesus is coming back. Sooner or later, you’ll ask the question, “Is he coming back only once or is he coming back twice? Are there things that must take place before he comes back?”

In the area of Christology, for example, if you read a passage that insists that Jesus is human and another passage that insists that he’s God, isn’t it part of the work of the church to think through how he can be both? So you have sophisticated Christology. If you have one passage that argues that Jesus is coming back and he could come back at any time, and another passage that seems to suggest that some things must take place before he comes back, don’t you have to think through how you put that stuff together?

As soon as you start thinking through what the texts say, you are forced into some kind of structure somewhere. You may hold it with a great deal of tenuousness, a great deal of humility that says, “Well, I’m not sure, but I think at the moment such-and-such,” but somewhere along the line you have to nail down what you hold is perfectly clear and absolutely true and given and things that all Christians must believe, like the return of Christ, like the new heaven and the new earth, like the onset of hell. You must, surely.

There are other things about which you might be prepared to be more flexible. Then Christians will disagree on what areas you can afford to be flexible in. You come back to the same sorts of squabbles at different points of time. I commend the attitude of openness when we don’t know. I think that’s right and godly.

But at the end of the day, it’s not a position you can sort of advocate and say, “This is where we’re sure, and everywhere else we’re not sure, so let’s not squabble,” because people are going to disagree even on where they think they’re sure and where they think they don’t know. Even dispensationalists, who have the most defined (some would say rigid, but certainly the most defined) of the systems, when it gets down to here, there are all kinds of squabbles about here.

Some people see a mid-trib rapture, and some people think this three and a half years runs over the whole seven, and this three and a half is part of it. Some people see it entirely separate, and on and on and on. There are all kinds of squabbles there. Every group has its lines drawn as to where they think they can afford to be flexible and where they can’t. Have we done enough of this survey? That’s a very good question. That’s something I purposely jumped over just to save time, but probably I really shouldn’t have.

In this scheme.… It’s why I’ve called this view, the church age, the parenthesis view. In this view, God’s law, God’s prophets, so much of the Old Testament.… They’re dealing with Israel. Israel is the elect community, and through Israel all of the blessings come to the earth. Once the church is taken out of the way, God is primarily dealing with Israel and others who get converted during this period, and in this period Christ reigns from Jerusalem, and Israel as a nation is running the whole show, basically.

In this sense, the church is a parenthesis in the plans of God. Now many dispensationalists today downplay this parenthetical view for reasons I’ll mention in a moment, but that is classic dispensationalism, Scofield Bible dispensationalism. Now in this view, this view, and this view, one of two positions are taken so far as Israel is concerned. Some argue that there is no more place for Israel qua nation, but there may still be place for Israel qua race to enter in large numbers either before the end or during the millennium, depending on the view.

That is largely based on a reading of Romans 11, where you have the olive tree metaphor. The olive tree is Israel. A lot of branches are broken off because they don’t accept Christ. Then a lot of wild branches are grafted on, the Gentiles, but it’s still the same tree. It’s still the same continuity of the people of God. At the end, some of the broken-off Jewish branches are grafted back on again.

“If their rejection has meant the salvation of the many,” Paul says, both in verse 12 and verse 15, “how much more will their acceptance be?” In this view, then, there will be a time at the end when Israel will see many, many conversions again, but it’s conversions to Christ entering the church, not, in this view, a restoration of the Israeli state. So there’s a future in this view for Israel qua race in terms of great numbers becoming believers but not for Israel qua nation.

Now there’s a small wrinkle. Some premillennialists of the historic type still see that there is some sort of center for Israel here and others don’t. These two places have no place for it. The other way that is sometimes taken is this. Clearly, in some passages in the New Testament, Israel in the old covenant is a type of the church. It points to the church.

Thus, for example, in 1 Peter. The Christians are the royal priesthood and the kingdom unto our God, and the church is now the temple, and the true Israel, we find again and again, is Jesus. He is the true vine, not the old covenant one. He’s the true vine, and everybody who’s in him is part of the true Israel. Clearly, that is a major theme in the New Testament. This does not mean that the church is discontinuous from the old, but it means that Israel functions as a type, a pattern, that looks forward to its fulfillment in the church.

Under this line of interpretation, all of the promises of the old covenant or any passage in the New Testament that deals with Israel qua race.… Everything gets fulfilled only in the church. So in this view, there is nothing left for Israel qua nation, nothing left for Israel qua race, except that which is left for all men and women everywhere from every tongue and tribe and people and nation; namely, repent and believe the gospel, but there is nothing left for them as a distinct people. That is the view that is bound up here and here and occasionally here.

Now let me say a bit more about the parenthesis. First, an older line of dispensationalists would go so far as to argue that people were saved under law by keeping the law. When you move to this period, people are saved by grace. This is a whole different basis of salvation. That has been rigorously attacked by many people, and in consequence, there are very few dispensationalists who hold that view today, but it was early Scofield.

In this view too, then, the seven years and all of the things that take place in Rome in the seven hills all has to do with a revived Roman Empire that people think is going to happen. Some people have seen its adumbration in the European common market. I remember 10 or 12 years ago, when there were 8 or 9 members of the common market, and according to this there were going to be 10 horns. We needed 10. I remember a fellow in Winnipeg telling me, “I can hardly wait until 10 nations are in the common market.” I said, “I can hardly wait until we have 11.” Of course, now we have 12 or 13. I was being perverse, even more so than usual.

Within this view, then, I’m very uncomfortable with anything that calls the church a parenthesis, because it does not deal adequately with the many, many passages in the New Testament that refer to the gospel as fulfilling things foreseen and prophesied in the old, typologically and in other ways. In fact, if anything is a parenthesis in Paul’s view in Galatians 3, it’s the period of law.

Do you remember how Paul argues in chapter 3 of Galatians? He says, “Listen, get things in sequence.” What he’s arguing against are conservative Jews for whom the giving of the law was the test point. For many Jews, the law was the fundamental way in which you pleased God. How does a good Jew please God? By keeping the law. How then does Abraham please God? Well, by keeping the law.

“Ah,” you say, “how could that be? Abraham lived before the coming of the law. Abraham was before Moses.” Well, many conservative Jews in Paul’s day would say, “Then he must have had a special revelation from God as to the content of the law.” How did Adam after he repented? How did Enoch please God? He must have had a private revelation of the law. Otherwise he couldn’t have pleased God, because you please God by keeping the law.

Thus, the law becomes the control of everything. Over against that, Paul says, “No, no, no. Read the accounts. Look at Abraham. Abraham believed God, and that was credited to him for righteousness.” Then more than four centuries later, the law was given, and the law cannot annul the promise. The promise was given to Abraham when he believed by faith, that through his seed the nations of the earth would be blessed.

Not just Jews but the nations of the earth. That was already there at the time of Abraham before the giving of the law. Then four centuries later, you have the law. “Why then was the law given?” Paul asks. In Galatians he goes so far as to say the law was basically given to multiply our sin and thus to lead us to Christ.

In that view, it was given temporarily as a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ. The real promise, the real principle of faith, is laid down with Abraham, and then its fulfillment is in the coming of Christ. In this sense, it’s the law that’s parenthetical. Now I don’t like the term parenthetical applied to anything God does, but if I have to apply it anywhere, from a biblical point of view I think you’re on far safer grounds to apply it to Moses and the law than you are to Christ and the church.

Now then, this is another chart which tries to lay out one of the problems in the systems. Ideally, it would be nice to believe all three of these propositions. In the light of what Scripture seems to say, surely it would be nice to believe that Jesus Christ could come at any time. Hence, all the warnings to be ready: for you know not what hour the Master comes. All the parables that speak of the threat of his coming when you think not, and all this kind of thing.

In the light of these many passages that seem to speak of Christ’s coming, it would be nice to hold that to be true. It is surely simplest from any systemic point of view to believe that Christ is only coming back once. It does add a lot of complications in your system if you think he’s coming back twice or three times or once, then once part two, and then a second. It does add to the complications if you do that.

The New Testament speaks of Christ coming back. Let us all agree. It would be wonderful if we could all agree that he’s only coming back once. Moreover, there are these passages that do hold that there seem to be certain things that must take place before Christ comes again. For example, in the eschatological discourse, Matthew 24–25, Mark 13, and Luke 21, sometimes called the Olivet Discourse.

In the eschatological discourse, Jesus says that this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world, and then the end will come. Surely that means the end won’t come until the gospel is preached in the whole world. In 2 Thessalonians, chapter 2, Paul clearly seems to be saying that before Christ can come back, the Man of Sin must be revealed. “Don’t panic, people. The Man of Sin isn’t yet revealed.”

Or take even Jesus’ clear predictions that Jerusalem will be destroyed. If Jerusalem had to be destroyed before Christ comes back, then presumably Christ couldn’t have come back between when he went away, roughly AD 30, and AD 70. So for 40 years, you couldn’t have believed in the imminent return of Christ. The trouble is most of the New Testament was written during that period, precisely in the years that are advocating the imminent return of Christ. What do you do with this?

So it would be very nice to hold that there are events that take place before Christ’s coming, but how do you handle all of this? Now what we’ve really seen is that there are some people who sort it out this way. They believe these two and drop this one. They believe there’s an imminent return of Christ and there are futuristic interpretations of prolonged events before Christ’s coming, but, they say, we solve this by having two comings. They drop this. They no longer believe there’s only one coming.

So on this line, you’re holding to dispensational premillennial pretribulationism. But there are others who say, “Oh no, the way to solve it is this way. You believe these two and drop this one.” Now you believe Christ is only coming once and there are futuristic interpretations of prolonged events before Christ’s coming, but in that case you can’t possibly believe he could come at any second. You have to wait for certain events to take place.

Then, inevitably, there are some people who follow this line. What they do is nicely connect this one and this one, but they drop this one. They say, “Yes, we have a hope of the imminent return of Christ. He could come at any time. Yes, there’s only one coming of Christ, but that means there are no events to be fulfilled before Christ comes. They’ve already been fulfilled.” Do you see what the issue is here?

I didn’t think of it until someone asked me during a break what literature I would recommend to introduce the whole area. If you want it introduced as neutrally as possible, there’s a book edited by Robert Clouse called The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views. Some of these “four views” books I don’t like because they deal with these fundamental issues where, in my view, there’s only one view that is even orthodox, but on a topic like this, this is a very good way of getting into it.

What you have in each case is a proponent of one of these four views giving his two cents’ worth and the other three briefly replying. As a result, you have a dialogue going on in the book. Obviously, you don’t get the whole thing put together in a book that’s short that has four views with responses, but at least it’s a way of getting into it to find out how people have reasoned about these things at various times.

Now I want to say something a little bit more about one particular topic before I press on with the Scripture. That is, I want to say something about the nature of this term imminency, what it may mean, what it may not mean. The way the term imminent is often used (not always but often) in this discussion it refers to the notion that Christ could come at any second.

That’s not how we use the term in ordinary English. Let that be quite clear. When we say, “Yes, my mother-in-law is coming; we expect her imminently” or “Yes, her coming is imminent,” what it means is it’s impending. That is to say, it could come at any time. She said she’d be here about now, and we expect the doorbell to ring.

That’s not what is meant when the term is used in theological contexts. In theological contexts, it never means that the coming is impending. It means Christ could come at any time. The wrinkle is that since about 1830, with the rise of pretribulational dispensational premillennialism, that Christ could come at any time has regularly been interpreted to be even more defined as he could come at any second.

If Christ could come at any second and if the onset of the time from which he could come at any second began with his exaltation.… In other words, if from the time of his resurrection, ascension, and exaltation to the right hand of the majesty on high.… If from that point on he could have come at any second, then you’re forced to that three-blurb chart I mentioned. You can no longer hold that something must take place before Christ could come back. You just can’t do it. The logic is against you.

Those in the dispensational camp will say Christ’s coming is imminent in this “any second” sense, and the logic is, therefore, against those who say something else is coming and, therefore, he’s delayed. The only solution is that he’s coming back more than once. One of the things that drives many people toward premillennial pretribulational dispensationalism is the sense of expectancy in the New Testament, which is regularly interpreted to be, “He could come at any second,” plus these other passages that seem to speak of the fact that there’s something else.

I have to tell you that where I am on the chart is the second line. I was born into a family that believed the third line. I’ve never been tempted by either the first or the fourth, although I’ve tried to work through them sympathetically to find out what they have to say, and I’ve gradually shifted reluctantly to the second. The reason it has been a reluctant shift is because I will still acknowledge that there are some messy bits to it, but I think it handles more texts well.

However, that means I have to do something with the notion of imminence. So I thought I would choose one particular problem, in this case imminence, and show you in sort of outline form how I would deal with it, how I would handle it. How I, from my point of view, do not think that Christ is coming back two times or three times, that he’s only coming back once. How I handle these sorts of texts, these sorts of problems. Let me outline that for you before we go back to the text and follow the argument of Revelation.

First, one looks at the terminology. Does the terminology of waiting suggest any second waiting? That’s the first question to ask. When it speaks of waiting for the Lord or looking forward to or expecting the Lord, does the language itself mean, suggest, or require any second waiting? Well, let me mention some of the verbs that are used in the New Testament in this regard.

This verb prosdechomai is used 14 times in the New Testament. It means something like looking forward to or expecting. In three of its usages it refers to the second coming. Namely, Luke 12:36, Titus 2:13, and perhaps Jude 21. You can look up the passages on your own. The question is.… When you expect or look forward to the Lord’s coming with this verb, does it mean in an “any second” sense?

Well, let me mention some other instances where the verb is used. In Acts 24:15, Paul looks forward to or expects the resurrection of the just and the unjust, which in any premillennial scheme includes stuff that takes place before and after the millennium, which certainly doesn’t mean any second, therefore. It could be looking forward to without it being in the next second.

Or it’s used in the Greek of Ruth 1:13, referring to the many years for as yet unborn sons of Naomi to grow up and become mates for Orpah and Ruth. “Will you expect them to come from me?” Clearly, it’s not “any second” expectation. Naomi would have to get married, then she’d have to conceive, and then they’d have to grow up before they could marry. You’re looking at years, but still this verb is being used.

Let’s take another one. I won’t go over all of the verbs that are used but just a few of them. Same word as this, only it’s apo instead of pros: apekdechomai. This means something like eagerly await or the like. It’s used eight times in the New Testament, and it certainly refers to the second coming or to coincidentally thence in the following passages: Romans 8:23 and 25, 1 Corinthians 1:7, Galatians 5:5, Philippians 3:20, and one or two others.

However, it’s used in other passages that show you that there’s not an “any second” notion involved. For example, it’s used in 1 Peter 3:20 regarding God’s waiting with longsuffering in Noah’s day, despite his own prescribed interval of 120 years (Genesis 6:3). It’s not that God is waiting for an “any second” deluge. There’s a 120-year hiatus.

Let me just give you one more. There’s a verb eggizo. This means to be near or something like that. It is used 42 times in the New Testament. It can be used in all kinds of contexts. Somebody is near somebody else, somebody is near a town or whatever, but it is used with respect to the second coming or Christ’s coming being near in a number of passages, such as Romans 13:12, Hebrews 10:25, and James 5:8.

However, the term can also be used, for example, for the nearness of the seasons of the year because they come around regularly. Again, the seasons don’t come any second. I mean, you might wish spring were going to happen any second, but it’s not going to. It’s going to wait for the proper rotation of the earth in its movement on its track around the sun. You go through the vernal equinox at its own time and not before.

So when one says near, it does not necessarily mean near in an “any second” sense. There may be prescribed things that have to take place first. The verb itself does not necessarily prove anything.