Rev. 22:6 – Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent His angel to show His slaves what must quickly take place.” 7 “Look, I am coming quickly! The one who keeps the prophetic words of this book is blessed.” (HCSB)
The time is near
John notes in verse 6, “Then he [the angel] said to me, ‘These words are faithful and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent His angel to show His slaves what must quickly take place.’” This is followed immediately by the words of Jesus, who declares, “Look, I am coming quickly” (v. 7). Again, in verse 12, the Lamb says, “Look! I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me to repay each person according to what he has done.” Once again in verse 20 Jesus says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” The angel adds to this sense of urgency the following command in verse 10: “Don’t seal the prophetic words of this book, because the time is near.”
Both Jesus and the angel assure John that what he has seen should be shared immediately because the fulfillment of these visions is imminent and the coming of Jesus is soon.
“To what degree the New Testament writers regarded the End as imminent is debatable,” writes David H. Stern in the Jewish New Testament Commentary (p. 785).
- In his instructions to the unmarried, the apostle Paul advises, “And I say this, brothers: The time is limited, so from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none, those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use the world as though they did not make full use of it. For this world in its current form is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:29-31).
- Peter writes with equal certainty, if somewhat less urgency, “First, be aware of this: Scoffers will come in the last days to scoff, living according to their own desires, saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? Ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they have been since the beginning of creation.’ They willingly ignore this: Long ago the heavens and the earth were brought about from water and through water by the word of God. Through these waters the world of that time perished when it was flooded. But by the same word, the present heavens and earth are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:3-7). He urges the followers of Jesus to live in expectation of the Lord’s return, using God’s gracious delay as an opportunity for salvation.
- Jesus warns His disciples to be ever vigilant in light of His return. “Therefore be alert, since you don’t know what day your Lord is coming…. This is why you also must be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:42, 44). After the parable of the 10 virgins, he repeats the warning, “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour” (Matt. 25:13). Anticipation and preparedness are two dominant themes of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24-25 (see also Mark 13). Complicating this, however, is the fact that much of the discourse deals with the destruction of the temple and the dispersion of the Jews. Scholars vigorously debate how much of this message is intended for pre-70 A.D. Christians and how much applies to us in the latter days.
- Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to be alert regarding the end times: “For you yourselves know very well that the Day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. When they say, ‘Peace and security,’ then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains come on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in the dark, for this day to overtake you like a thief. For you are all sons of light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or the darkness” (1 Thess. 5:2-4).
Other passages could be cited, but concerning the return of the Lord several key truths emerge from the New Testament documents: (1) Jesus is returning one day – physically, visibly, in power and great glory; (2) we do not know the day or the hour of His return; (3) we should live in view of His imminent return; (4) when He comes, all people will know it; (5) Jesus will judge all people personally, rewarding believers according to their faithfulness and punishing unbelievers in varying degrees in hell; (6) He will create new heavens and a new earth, setting everything right; and (7) the glory of eternity with Christ will cause the “former things” of this world to fade away.
Even so, why do we see such an emphasis on the word “quickly” in Revelation 22? Is God being coy, vague, or even disingenuous? The Greek word translated “quickly” is tachu and may mean shortly, without delay, soon, suddenly, by surprise, or readily.
Paige Patterson points out that in Revelation “the emphasis is not on the fact that all of these things recorded in the book would take place within a few months or years but rather that they will happen certainly and quickly when the eschaton begins. Several times tachu in v. 7 is translated ‘quickly’ (cp. Luke 14:21; 16:6; Acts 12:7; 22:18). Tachu of v. 7 is used in the sense of ‘quick’ in Matt 5:25; 28:7; and 28:8. The emphasis of vv. 6 and 7, taken together, point to the certainty of the events described in the Apocalypse and the rapidity of their development when the events begin” (New American Commentary: Revelation, p. 378).
Still, didn’t many of Christ’s followers in the first century anticipate His return in their lifetimes? It appears so. And it appears that in every subsequent generation His disciples have looked longingly for the day He will split the skies and return to earth in the same manner that He ascended (Acts 1:11).
But His delay – at least a delay from our perspective – is purposeful. It shows that God, not humans or angelic beings, is in sovereign command of human history. It shows that He reckons time differently than we do (2 Peter 3:8) and that His delay is a merciful opportunity for sinners to receive Him before it is too late (2 Peter 3:9). And it’s an act of grace that enables us to live in the tension between God’s present and future kingdom. How would we behave if we knew the exact day of Christ’s return?
Because we are not omniscient – nor omnipresent or omnipotent – it is highly unlikely we could handle the stress of knowing the future, especially a future not under our control.
Steve Gregg, in Revelation: Four Views, writes that of the four dominant approaches to Revelation – preterist, historicist, futurist, and spiritualist – the early-date preterist is “the most comfortable with such statements about near fulfillment, taken at their face value. This approach views the book as written shortly before A.D. 70 and predicting the fall of Jerusalem, which occurred in that year. Later-day preterists would apply the fall of Rome centuries after John’s time or, possibly, to the downfall of Domitian” (p. 53).
Gregg adds that historicists see the fulfillment as beginning shortly after John’s time, but extending long beyond, through the entire age of the church. For spiritual interpreters, the time is always near since the visions transcend any particular period of time. Futurists suggest either that the words “shortly,” “quickly,” and “suddenly” mean the events will unfold quickly once they begin, or that these terms must be understood from God’s reckoning of time, since to Him one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (2 Peter 3:8).
L. Richards writes: “Three times in these closing paragraphs the promise is made, ‘Behold, I am coming soon.’ Eternity may seem far off. Yet for each of us the return of Jesus and the events foretold in Revelation have an immediacy. ‘Soon’ may be tomorrow! There is nothing that must happen before the events we have read of in Revelation may begin. These paragraphs also make it clear that we are to learn to live with this sense of immediacy” (The Teacher’s Commentary, p. 1089).
Joseph A. Seiss shares this insight: “The impending Advent is the theme which pervades [Revelation] from its commencement to its close. And just in proportion as he who is awake to the great truth of the Saviour’s speedy coming, and is engaged in waiting and preparing himself accordingly, is a better man, and in a safer condition, and really more happy, than the half-christian and the lukewarm; in that same proportion is he who reads, hears and keeps the words of this prophecy blessed beyond all other people. This book, at least it subject-matter, thus becomes to him an instrument of security and attainment to save him from surprise when his Lord cometh, and from the tribulations which shall try the indifferent; as well as a passport to admit him to the marriage supper of the Lamb, and to the highest awards of eternity” (The Apocalypse: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation, p. 23).
Next: Don’t do that! – Revelation 22:8-9