I am Coming...Come! (Revelation 22:6-21)
Topic: Revelation Passage: Revelation 22:6–22:21
Happy Ever After
I Am Coming...Come!
(One Mission: Until I Come)
November 15, 2015
I. The End of the End
When most people think of this book, the book of Revelation, the book of THE revelation of Jesus Christ, they think about the end. Well, even though the end in Revelation is actually a new beginning, this morning we could say we've come to the end of the end. Verses 6-21 of Revelation 22 are the final verses of this book, and as you will see, this section is really like a patchwork of final thoughts, warnings, and encouragements. But as we will discover, out of this patchwork we can discern a clear and stunning emphasis. So turn there if you have not done so already: Revelation 22:6-21.
II. The Passage: “What Must Soon Take Place” (22:6-21)
Listen as I read through these verses and see if you can hear some of the common themes woven into the fabric of this section. Having just been led, by one of the seven angels who poured out the bowl judgments of chapter 16, [having just been led] through a vision of the New Jerusalem, John writes...
And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”  “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”  I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me,  but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”  And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.  Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”  “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”  Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.  Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.  “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”  The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book,  and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.  He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!  The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.
Now the first thing I want you to see here is that the last section of Revelation is undoubtedly connected to the first section of the book. Not surprisingly, I found seven points of connections between this final part and verses 1-9 of chapter 1. Here they are: Both sections:
1. Contain “to show his servants [the things/what] must soon take place” (1:1; 22:6)
2. John is identified by name as the witness who “heard and saw these things” (1:9; 22:8)
3. Contain the phrase, “the time is near” (1:3; 22:10)
4. Contain the phrase “Behold [he is/I am”] coming [soon]” (1:7; 22:12)
5. Contain the phrase “I am the Alpha and Omega” (1:8; 22:13)
6. The sending of an angel (from God (1:1; 22:6); from Jesus (22:16))
7. “Blessed [are those/is the one”] who keep[s] [what is written/the words of the prophecy of this book]” (1:3; 22:7)
So clearly whoever God used to put this prophecy in its final form, that is, the book we have today, that compiler has created something like bookends for Revelation.
But there's so much here, isn't there? After reading this passage, the question must be, “What ties all of this together?” Well, I'd like to point out to you four key themes that have been woven together to create the passage we have before us. First of all, we find here...
1. A Great God (22:6, 8b-9, 13, 16b)
Who is speaking here? He is (v. 6) , the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets. What does that mean? It means that what has been revealed through the prophets, including through John, has been revealed by God himself.
Who is this God? He is (v. 13), “..the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” This is a mixture of titles, some applied to God in 1:8 and 21:6, and others to Jesus earlier in the book. But even the title “the first and the last”, applied to Jesus in 1:17 and 2:8, is applied to God three times in the book of Isaiah. And as verse 12 makes clear, it is Jesus who is speaking here in verse 13, claiming all these titles are His as well.
Speaking of Jesus, we also see in verse 13 that Jesus identifies himself as “...the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise to David and to Israel, and only He can herald the bright new morning of God's salvation.
Even the episode in verses 8 and 9 points us back to the greatness of God. You may remember that once before, in 19:10, John fell down to worship before the angel. Whether this is a second instance or just a slightly different retelling of the same mistake, the point is the same: John gives two warnings to those who exalt the messenger over the Author of the message. The warning is clear: worship God and God alone. Pastor and author Eugene Peterson expands on this warning for today's listeners:
It is difficult to worship God instead of his messengers. And so people get interested in everything in this book except God, losing themselves in symbol hunting, intrigued with numbers, speculating with frenzied imaginations on times and seasons, despite Jesus' severe stricture against it (Acts 1:7). The number of intelligent and devout people prostrate before the angel, deaf to his rebuke, is depressing and inexcusable. For nothing is more explicit in this book then that it is about God. It is the revelation of Jesus Christ, not the end of the world, not the identity of Antichrist, not the timetable of history. (Eugene Peterson)
But if our great God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, if he is the God of the spirits of the prophets, then it leads to the second theme we find here. We are reminded that this is...
2. A True Testimony (22:6, 8a, 16a, 20)
Three times in this section we find the Greek verb martureo. It's related to the word from which we get our English word martyr. What is a martyr? One who witnesses or testifies to the lordship of Jesus Christ with his or her life. So in verses 16, 18, and 20 we find this word “testify” (although in verse 18 the ESV translates it as “warn”).
This theme of true testimony is seen in John's personal testimony in verse 8, and explicitly by the opening words of this section. Look again at the angel's words in verse 6: And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true.” As we come to the end of this stunning book, as we come to the end of the cycle of visions that began in chapter 4, and also keeping in mind the words of Christ to the seven churches in chapter 2 and 3, we must be assured that everything revealed here is “trustworthy and true”;
And since it is, we are compelled to both believe, to trust, AND to act on what we've heard. And that is precisely what the next theme emphasizes. We also hear in this section...
3. A Critical Call (22:7, 10-12, 15, 18-19, 21)
We find in verse 7 the sixth of the seven benedictions or blessings scattered throughout the book. But as we saw before in the comparison of this chapter with the first, blessing #6 is simply a restatement of part of blessing #1: “Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
As this book draws to a close, there is here, in many forms, a critical call to a right response. The reader is called to “keep” the book, that is, to uncompromising endurance in light of this revelation. Why? Because this book is (v. 10) not to be sealed up. It is to be heard and heeded now! Nothing can change what God has planned for the righteous and the unrighteous. I think that's the point of verse 11. For those who doubt, let things go on as they have. Everyone will find out soon enough that there ARE eternal consequences for our decisions here and now. Christ is coming “to repay”, as we read in verse 12.
And lest we think we can take some part of what God has revealed here and either add to it with a proud, legalistic spirit or take away from it with a permissive disdain for what God has commanded, John issues a severe warning concerning these very things in verses 18 and 19. For those who claim Jesus with their mouths, but deny Him with their lives, those tangled up with the world and not set free by grace, there is a reminder of their final destiny...(v. 15):
Outside (the New Jerusalem / new earth)) are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
Even the final phrase of the book in verse 21, a familiar closing statement found in so many of the New Testament letters, even here there is an encouragement to action. John prays for God's grace to “be with” his hearers. Why? So that by grace, they will stand firm.
And it is that very idea of grace that surfaces here as a fourth theme. As a great God, through a true testimony, issues a critical call, there is at the same time, as we see in this passage...
4. An Incomparable Invitation (22: 14, 17)
The invitation is first alluded to in verse 14, where we find Revelation's seventh and final blessing: Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. This is a reminder of what was stated back in chapter 7 of Revelation. As John beheld that vision of a great multitude, the elder with him reveals their identity: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (7:14)
What does it mean for us to “wash [our] robes”? It means we respond in faith to God's invitation. And this incomparable invitation is made explicit in verse 17: The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
Some see the first two instances of the word “come” in this verse as an appeal to Jesus. But I think the flow of the passage makes more sense when we see the Spirit, and the Church universal, and the individual, faithful believer declaring the gospel of grace (“without price”) to “the one who is thirsty”. Through the “blood of the Lamb”, through the cross of Jesus, anyone and everyone can be satisfied with real life, now and forever. Are you spiritually thirsty this morning? If you are, the final verses of Revelation point to the best news ever.
III. Sobered by “Soon”
But in spite of the importance of these four themes, there appears to be an idea that is even more emphasized in these closing verses of the Revelation. It's not hard to spot. It's repeated almost verbatim in verses 7, 12, and 20. Do you see it? “And behold, I am coming soon...“Behold, I am coming soon...“Surely I am coming soon.” These are the words of Jesus Christ, and at first glance, they appear to create an extremely serious dilemma for the alleged trustworthiness and truthfulness of the Christian faith.
Why? Because for the seven churches to whom this letter is addressed, Jesus did not come “soon”. In fact, as you well know, He hasn't come back at all. Well, some might say 2,000 years IS “soon” on God's clock. But if that's the case, the word “soon” really becomes unrecognizable to us. That's certainly not how we use the word “soon”. So what is Jesus saying here? What did he want them, what does He want us, to understand?
Well, clearly Jesus is not telling the seven churches that His second coming is seven days or seven weeks in the future. Having just heard this entire vision, they would have understood that many, many things must take place in terms of God's plan for ultimate justice. Wars. Famine. Persecution. Kings rising and cities falling. Successive and deepening judgments.
Maybe Jesus meant something like seven years. That would be enough time, right? And some would say that's still relatively “soon”. But again, I believe this kind of reasoning misses the point of what Jesus is saying.
What I'd like to do is use Revelation and the rest of the NT to sketch out, in very basic terms, four principles that stand behind this thrice-repeated “I am coming soon” saying of Jesus. And to be clear, the very four themes we talked about earlier, if all of them are like arrows, this saying of Jesus is the bow. So what are these four principles? Here they are:
1. The End is Now!
If you didn't already know this, it is critical we understand this concept. The New Testament teaches that the “end times” began 2000 years ago. Don't take my word for it. Just listen to the NT writers who describe their days as “the end of the ages” (I Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 9:26) and “the last hour” (I John 2:18). They declare “the end of all things is at hand” (I Peter 4:7), “the day is at hand” (Romans 13:12), and “the hour has come” (Romans 13:11). This is true because (I Corinthians 7:29), “the appointed time has grown very short”. Therefore, Paul and James both announce “the Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4:5; James 5:8). In fact, as James adds, “the Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:9).
In light of this, it's not surprising that the angel talks to John in 22:6 about “what must soon take place” and reminds him in verse 10 that “the time is near”. In terms of God's plan for the world, we are most definitely in the ninth inning...with no possibility of extra innings. This is it. The word “soon” must be understood in light of this. But there's more...
2. Think Quickly or Suddenly
The word translated “soon” in the ESV is the Greek word tachu. Unlike our English words, this Greek word can refer to an action or something taking place either “soon” or “quickly/suddenly”. In English there is a difference if I tell you, “Leave the house soon!” and “Leave the house quickly!” In our language, the second is definitely more urgent. But in Greek, the context helps translators know which English word is best.
So what about here in Revelation 22? Well, we have to remember that Jesus told his disciples: “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12:40) On this same theme of readiness, in Mark 13:36 He told them a parable about a traveling master who came back to his estate suddenly and found his servants asleep. As many English versions already render it, the translation “quickly” (“behold, I am coming quickly”) ties very nicely into this biblical theme of suddenness. In addition to this, we also need to think about...
3. His Coming is Both Now and Then (2:5, 16, 25 3:3, 11)
One feature in Revelation chapters 2, 3 that is often overlooked is directly related to this issue. Did you know that in six out of the seven short letters addressed to the individual churches, Jesus, using this same language, talks explicitly about coming to their church?
If they did not repent, Jesus warned Ephesus, “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (2:5) If the faithless disciples in Pergamum did not repent, He declared “I will come to you soon and war against [you] with the sword of my mouth.” (2:16) Similarly, to the church in Sardis Jesus issued this warning, “If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” (3:3) But to those in Thyatira, He encouraged them to “hold fast what you have until [when? Until...] I come.” (2:25) And His standing invitation to the church in Laodicea was, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (3:20)
Finally, with the believers in Philadelphia, Jesus spoke just as he does here in chapter 22: “I am coming soon”. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” (3:11)
Now, given what Jesus could have said, and what He did say, it doesn't sound like he is talking about His second coming. But surprisingly, the language is similar: “I will come like a thief”; “I will come and war against you with the sword of my mouth” (just like His coming in chapter 19!) So what does this mean? It means when Jesus says He is coming “soon”, we must include in that statement, not only His final appearing, but all of the spiritual manifestations that precede, but are tied to that coming; for all of them are pointing to and leading up to the end.
But there's one more thing we should say about the word “soon”. Think about His coming as...
4. A Coming Without Delay
"Soon" can be translated, and has been translated by use of the negative expression “without delay”. And that translation should remind us of the parable that Jesus told about his coming:
“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.  It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake.  Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.  And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” (Mark 13:32-37)
But in Luke's version of this parable, he focuses in on one servant and adds this possible scenario:
“But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk,  the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.” (Luke 12:45, 46)
Do you see how the parable in Mark, where Jesus talks about the master possibly coming “in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning”, do you see how that creates the very real possibility that some will be tempted to use the word “delayed”? And do you see when we're tempted to think in terms of a “delay”, do you see where that leads us because of our own corruption; because of the deception of sin?
So taking all of these biblical factors into consideration, what picture is God painting for us in terms of the declaration of Jesus in Revelation 22:7, 12, and 20? I think we could say this:
While we are tempted to hear the “soon” of Jesus with the ears of signs and schedules, He speaks this promise to sober us and spur us to action.
We ask, “When will this happen?” But Jesus asks, “What is happening in you and through you right now?” We ask, “Are the signs in line with the prophetic word?” But Jesus asks, “Is your heart in line with the prophetic word?” We ask, “Is it almost done?” But Jesus asks, “What have you done?” We ask, “How far away is His coming?” But Jesus asks, “How near do you believe me to be?”
You see, because of our weakness, because of our sinfulness, because of our selfishness and short-sightedness, Jesus speaks to us in the only way He could speak to us about the urgency of the now. If you are honest with yourself, I think you will agree with what I am about to say: when it comes to time and timing, we fail miserably. We procrastinate, we live in denial, we waste our time, and then we seem surprised, when at the end of a season or the end of our lives, we can't help but say, “Wow! It all went by so fast” or “Where did the time go?”
And so we hear the words of Jesus, “Behold, I am coming soon”, and we think about OUR timelines, when God wants us to think about MY today.
Jesus told us plainly, He will come at a time when we do not expect him. Given what we just said about how we do with time and timing, that sounds about right, doesn't it? Even when we're told it's the 'ninth inning', even when we're told the timing will defy our expectations, even when we're told about the present work of Christ with his churches, part of us is still tempted to find a delay. Why? Because we are comfortable. Because we don't want to be accountable. Because we want to enjoy earthly pleasures in Babylon, rather than eternal pleasures, in the New Jerusalem.
But in the final words of the book, John reminds us where our hearts should be. Verse 20: “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! That is far more than a wish for the world to end. It is a prayer of submission. It is a pledge of allegiance. It is a plea for God's will to be done on earth today, just as it is in heaven.
It was John's cry. But is it the cry of your heart? Let's pray and ask Him to make it so, for all of us; that we would live with a sense of urgency here in the 'ninth inning'.
More in Happy Ever After (Revelation)
November 22, 2015Keep What is Written (Revelation 1:1-22:21)(overview)
November 1, 2015A Tour of Our Future Glory (Revelation 21:9-22:5)
October 25, 2015The God of New Beginnings (Revelation 21:1-8)