In the visions the apostle John receives while exiled on the Isle of Patmos, he often records the words of Jesus foretelling his return. John may have recorded these visions as early as the AD 60s or as late as the AD 90s. In any case, Jesus assures his followers – and warns his opponents – that his return is certain.
Revelation 1:8 – “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the one who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
God the Father most likely makes this statement, although some English translations cast these words in red and ascribe them to Jesus. It seems best to understand this verse as the Father putting his divine signature on the prophecy of the second coming in verse 7: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn over him.”
Jesus repeats the Father’s self-description as “the Alpha and the Omega” and applies it to himself in Revelation 22:13. Further, Jesus refers to himself as “Lord” in the Gospels (e.g., Matt. 12:8; John 13:13-14), and eyewitnesses of Jesus ascribe to him the same title (e.g., John 20:28; Acts 2:36). Jesus and the New Testament writers also affirm the deity of Christ, which includes his transcendence and omnipotence. Thus, both the Father and the Son may rightly lay claim to being “the one who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
While this verse is not an explicit promise of Jesus’ return, it places the Father’s stamp of approval on Old Testament prophecies of the second coming. And it ties together the redemptive work of the triune Godhead to be completed when Jesus returns.
Revelation 2:16 – “So repent! Otherwise, I will come to you quickly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”
While a majority of believers at Pergamum are faithful followers of Jesus, some have embraced false teachings. Specifically, these involve two heresies. The first relates to Balaam, a corrupt Old-Testament prophet for hire who plotted to use Moabite women to seduce the Israelites into idolatry and immorality. The second involves the first-century Nicolaitans, who abuse the biblical teaching on Christian liberty and teach that Christians may engage in pagan orgies.
Jesus calls the entire church to repent – not only those who have fallen into idolatry and immorality, but those faithful members who neglect to conduct church discipline. Jesus’ statement, “I will come to you quickly,” is not an explicit prophecy of his second coming. However, his coming in judgment on the church foreshadows his coming in judgment on the whole world (cf. 1 Pet. 4:17; Rev. 19:11-21).
Revelation 3:11 – “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one takes your crown.”
Jesus commends the faithful church at Philadelphia. Further, he promises to deal harshly with those from “the synagogue of Satan” – ethnic Jews persecuting the poor and outnumbered followers of Jesus in that city.
Christ’s promise to come soon (or quickly) seems to point more to his second coming than to temporal judgment on the enemies of the church. His charge to “hold on … so that no one takes your crown” looks toward the judgment seat of Christ, when Jesus rewards his faithful servants (Rom. 14:10; 1 Cor. 3:11-15; 4:5; 2 Cor. 5:10).
The word “crown” is stephanos in the Greek. It depicts a laurel wreath presented to victorious athletes and soldiers. Believers may not lose their salvation, for we are eternally secure in Christ. But we may lose rewards God has prepared for us, and we may find ourselves ashamed at his coming (1 Cor. 3:15; 1 John 2:28).
Revelation 16:15 – Look, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who is alert and remains clothed so that he may not go around naked and people see his shame.”
The imagery of Jesus coming like a thief appears several times in the New Testament. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus warns his followers to be alert, like a homeowner on guard against a thief, because they do not know the day of Christ’s return (Matt. 24:42-44). The apostle Paul reminds the Thessalonians that “the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2), a truth Peter affirms (2 Pet. 3:10). And Jesus warns the church at Sardis, “If you are not alert, I will come like a thief, and you have no idea at what hour I will come upon you” (Rev. 3:3).
Regarding the events of the last days, Jesus’ command to stay faithful assures us of the certainty of his return, even though the timing has not been revealed to us. Kendell Easley writes, “I come like a thief notes the imminency of the day of the Lord: nothing keeps this from happening, just as nothing keeps a thief from breaking into a house at night. Thieves come unexpectedly, on a schedule they determine.” [Revelation, Vol. 12, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 289–290.]
However, we should bear in mind that Jesus’ return as a thief is not to steal but to take what is rightfully his. The admonition to be alert and remain clothed may be a reference to guards or homeowners who are tempted to sleep naked in the summer heat. But when a home’s perimeter is breached, the persons responsible for protecting the property may find themselves ashamed chasing a thief in their birthday suits. Similarly, followers of Jesus should conduct ourselves in a manner that brings praise rather than rebuke whenever our Lord returns.
Next: John’s testimony from Patmos – Part 2
Copyright 2021 by Rob Phillips