I AM COMING QUICKLY! MAKE IT SO!
The resplendent colors of the New Jerusalem fade from view after Revelation 22:5. The radiant hues of its jewels and gold, its streams of water and lush foliage are engulfed by the brilliant light of God that washes over the city. As the city’s contours vanish in the light, the majestic harmonies of worship that rose from the assembly of the redeemed may linger in the reader’s mind, but they too fade along with the vision. What remains of the book of Revelation takes readers from the incomparable grandeur of the eternal city back to the world of ordinary life.
John saw the coming persecution of the Church as a sign of the imminent return of Christ. His letter to the seven churches was written in a spirit of urgency that we find very difficult to understand. After nearly two thousand years, it is hard to feel the force of an approaching judgment. Of course, we can affirm that no one knows the day or the hour. It could come tomorrow. But there have been a lot of tomorrows since John wrote.
This difficulty was felt even during the New Testament period.
Scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:3-9).
We have to accept that it is nowadays impossible to feel the same emotional urgency as many of the first Christians did, and which we find reflected in the New Testament. One answer is to try to whip up such a sense of expectation by interpreting Revelation as a prediction of our own times. Unfortunately, this is not what Revelation is about, and throughout history those who have taken such an approach have been disappointed.
A better answer is to realize that what really counts, in Revelation and the rest of the New Testament, is not when these things will happen, but how Christians are to live, worship, and witness before they come about. John’s message, for all that it is written in the light of the imminent return of Christ, is concerned mainly with how the Church is to behave before then. Blessed (now) is the one who keeps (now) the words of the prophecy in this book. That should be our concern as well.
Most apocalypses were written in the name of a famous person of long ago, and were presented as though they were prophecies by that person. John writes under his own name, for his contemporaries, and the book is to remain unsealed, its contents open to all.
It is not a book of secret wisdom for the chosen few, nor a book for a distant time, but a book of encouragement and challenge for the churches of the present, a book for the Church in all ages. It is a book for good and bad, pure and impure, at all times as they go about their daily lives. To the righteous it is a book of promise and hope, to the evildoer it is a warning of judgment and a call to repentance. To both it is a call to be prepared.
But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be (Matthew 24:37-39).
John’s visions reached their climax in verse 5. Then, as it were, he was left standing with the angel, who assured him of the truth of the visions and their message. Into this broke the voice of Jesus, promising his coming. Now Jesus speaks again. He is coming to bring his reward to those who have done the work of God.
Once again we need to stress that the language of reward and works goes together with the language of faith. These are the works that stem from faith in God. For the Church, they are the work of faithful witness, in all its far-reaching meaning. Those who have stood firm against the beast, who have spoken the words of the gospel boldly, who have lived out the values of new Jerusalem in the midst of Babylon, will receive their reward. Christ is coming to pronounce to his faithful servants that they have done well.
Two reasons why Revelation can and should speak to people today can be summed up around the poles of Christ and culture.
First, readers often find that their cultural situations are analogous to those of the seven churches. Although Christians in the West may not be preoccupied with questions about eating meat offered to idols, many are aware of contemporary pressures to relinquish one’s faith commitments because of the appeal of assimilating into the wider culture, the complacency that arises from prosperity, or the threat of violence. As modern readers confront such issues, Revelation continues to challenge and encourage them.
Second, Revelation speaks not only of relationships to culture, but of relationships to the God “who was and is and is to come” (4:8). Because God and the Lamb are not confined to one period of time, Revelation’s call to fear and hope in God and the Lamb are not confined to one period either. Whether readers live in the first century or the twenty-first century, God and the risen Christ are there.
A voice calls out, “See, I am coming soon!” (22:7). The speaker stands offstage and his identity is not given, but the voice is persistent in calling out the message. Each time the voice is heard, readers do “see” the speaker’s identity more clearly. When the voice declares a second time, “See, I am coming soon!” the readers learn that the speaker is “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:12-13). Finally, the speaker’s face comes into focus when the voice says, “It is I, Jesus” (22:16).
Jesus is the one promised by scripture, the king of David’s line (Isaiah 11:1), the glorious ruler from Israel (Numbers 24:17). He is the one whom the Church desires as a bride looks forward to her wedding. He is the one to whom the Holy Spirit, inspirer of worship and prayer, points his Church. His coming is the consummation of human hopes and desires, a release from longing and spiritual thirst, the realization of eternal life.
That eternal life is not just a future event. It is a present experience for those who come to him. Eternal life is not just a quantity, an endless existence. It is a quality, a richness of life, an exuberant overflowing of life that comes from knowing God and being joined to him through Christ (John 17:3; 10:10). So the call of the Church for Christ’s future coming is coupled with his invitation to the thirsty to come now for satisfaction.
Make It So
The final word is Christ’s and it is a word of encouragement. He is coming. There is hope for a beleaguered Church, and for weary witnesses. In the darkest moments of life and faith, there is light on the horizon that shines from the city of God. It is the destination of the saints and the goal of all true human aspirations. He will triumph, and all things will be well, and all manner of things will be well.
Until then, we are borne by the grace of God. He has come to the world in Jesus Christ to give himself freely, for that is the meaning of grace. May it be with all his people, and through them flow into the world.
What can we say to that? Only amen. Let it be. Make it so.