Behold, He Comes!
Rev. 22:12-21: Act 6
Introduction: Anticipation is powerful inspiration.
Some of you may have been to “In-N-Out Burger” in California. It is a pretty good hamburger, but I have to tell you it is perhaps the most over-hyped food chain in history. When people from California return to their state they will speak about going to “In-N-Out,” as if they were returning to the fountain of youth. You would think they were adding some kind of hypnotic drug to the burger! Proof of this was never more on display than last week when they opened a brand new “In-N-Out” in Frisco. People camped outside overnight! They lined up outside and didn’t care about waiting in line. As they readied to open the door people were singing a jingle about burgers! The first customers came in and started jumping with joy and high fiving the employees. One woman they interviewed eating her burger began to cry, nostalgic over her California upbringing. I mean, “Wow!” People can really get excited about the coming of a burger joint!
What does that tell you about human nature? Well, a lot of you are probably thinking that some people need to get a life! But it does tell you something about the power of anticipation. When you are waiting for something you really want to come, it affects your behavior, your way of thinking, and as that coming gets closer it becomes consuming, even if it is over burgers.
Do we as Christians have anything to anticipate that might alter our behavior in significant ways? I surely hope so. The Bible tells us Jesus is coming soon! If people can get fired up about a burger chain, shouldn’t the coming of Jesus to usher in the final glory of his kingdom be a controlling reality in our lives? But let’s be honest, it often is not. We often live as if he isn’t really coming. Maybe because it has been over 1900 hundred years since the last recorded words of the N.T. from Jesus exclaim, “Behold, I am coming soon!” So, the excitement wears off. We ask, “Where is this coming anyway?”
Jesus promises that he is coming again. It is the final act of the story; the act those living in act five must anticipate with great expectancy, but without knowing its precise timing. So, fittingly, today we go to the end of the entire Bible and hopefully come away with insights that will help us wait in a manner that is pleasing to our Lord. Read Rev. 22:12-21.
Trouble in the Text: Jesus’ coming was not as imminent as the early church anticipated.
V. 12, Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon!” He makes the same statement back in v.7 and affirms it again in v. 20. It is the unmistakable theme to the closing of the book of Revelation and to the entire Bible. And much is at stake.
The late first century Christians were enduring an escalating climate of persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire. Christians do not belong to a militaristic kingdom. They are not instructed on how to take up arms and fight for their freedom. In this book of prophecy, they are told simply to wait. Even those that were already martyred cried out for God to act and were told to wait. Read Rev. 6:10-11.
In many ways, the entire practical application of Revelation can be summed up by the word, “Wait.” And what were they to wait for? They are to wait for the consummating victory of the Lamb over his enemies and the final vindication of the saints. And for waiting they are promised this: Read Rev. 21:1-4. Doesn’t that sound like something worth waiting for? But the new heaven and the new earth cannot become a reality until Jesus returns, which is why the promise of his coming is even more urgent than the promise of the new heaven and new earth. Jesus promises the return would be soon.
There are clear indications that even early Christians were disappointed that Jesus had not yet returned (like in our scripture reading). They were eager for the conclusion of the story, because in the interim there is much suffering. You can suffer, if you believe glory is near, but when the glory seems delayed, it becomes a very difficult wait, one in which some simply give up. The book of Revelation is in part addressed to those who would choose an easier life by compromising their faith instead of waiting on Jesus to return. Revelation makes it clear that doing so is a most tragic decision. If waiting was hard for them, how much more so for us living over 1900 years later?
Trouble in Our World: Jesus still hasn’t come!
This seemingly long interlude between a promise and its fulfillment leaves the door open for all kinds of folly followed by large heapings of ridicule. Many have tried to calculate the end of the world and they have always been wrong. The latest wrong guy is Harold Camping, a television evangelist from California. He claimed the rapture was going to be May 21st. If you lost track of your calendars, that was yesterday. The rapture was to be followed by five months of torment and the real end happens on Oct. 21st. So, the fact that I’m standing here talking about one day after the supposed rapture, means either he was wrong or we got left behind!
This kind of foolishness only provokes the likes of Richard Dawkins, a biological evolutionists, who believes you are more than silly for believing in God at all, not to mention the idea of his Son coming back to usher into existence an entire new realm of unending joy. In response to Camping’s claims, Dawkins ranted for a while and then added this when asked what his scientific tradition taught about the end of the world: “What my ‘tradition’ (or your ‘tradition’ or the Dalai Lama’s ‘tradition’ or Osama bin Laden’s ‘tradition’ or the bad-trip ‘tradition’ of whoever wrote Revelation) says about anything in the real world (including its end) is no more likely to be true than any urban legend, idle rumor, superstition, or science fiction novel.”
Now I get Dawkins’ frustration with preachers like Camping. And when Christians follow people like that it validates the accusations that some Christians are very gullible. But what Dawkins’ comments illustrate is that we are caught in a waiting game between those who mock us for waiting for Jesus to return and those who keep claiming they know when he will return. We are hard pressed to answer how to squeeze over 1900 years into Jesus’ promise of quick return.
What is at stake? Nothing less than the entirety of our hope. If Jesus never returns, then he is a liar and most likely still in some unknown grave. If Jesus returns, everything we’ve ever hoped for, ever longed for, ever struggled in faith for will be validated in a single moment of time. And you can’t make your choice then. If Dawkins is wrong, it will be too late for him. Revelation is giving us the opportunity to make sure it isn’t too late for us. Essentially, deciding to believe in the end of the story is the decision of whether to embrace to story at all. Dawkins doesn’t believe there is a story. The people of God do, and they believe it is God who will decide when and how to end it. But we need some help in understanding what it means for Jesus to be coming soon.
Grace in the Text: The assurance of Jesus’ coming is confirmed in his identity as the Alpha and Omega. Read text again (Rev. 22:12-21).
The book of Revelation relies upon the themes of Daniel heavily. Much of Daniel’s visions included events that were underway, but had not completely been fulfilled or consummated. John in Revelation seems to be using a similar concept. Read Dan. 2:28. In our translation it says “in the days to come,” but in the Greek translation of the OT, it is the same phrase used in Rev. 1:1, “what soon must take place.” Neither in Daniel nor Revelation does the author mean that everything contained in the book was to immediately take place.
In fact, Daniel was told to seal up his prophecy, but now John is told not seal his book of prophecy (22:10). This indicates that what Daniel prophesied about has now been inaugurated in our age because of the events surrounding Jesus. Now most of what was in the book of Revelation (particularly that which pertained to the Roman Empire) has already taken place. It is the confirmation that indeed Jesus is coming soon! His coming, in a very real sense, has already begun! We live in the last generation of history in God’s salvation story! The next big event that will transpire is the return of Jesus and whatever living generation is here will most definitely say that he came soon! The words are not simply, “I will come,” but “I am coming.” We might paraphrase, “Jesus is on his way!”
When I started my Master’s degree, sometime it felt it was near. I might have said, “Soon, I will have a Master’s degree,” even though it was still some time before it was finished. Yet, the events were underway. My path to a Master’s degree had been inaugurated. When Jesus died on the cross, rose from the grave, and ascended back to heaven, the last days were inaugurated; we live in those days, caught between the church age and the new heaven and the new earth. The Bible is clear that we don’t know exactly when he’s coming back. Revelation is not telling us differently, but the immediacy of Jesus’ return is its suddenness, not in how many years it takes to get there.
Even in our primary text, we are told not to add or take away from this book of prophecy, a warning completely unnecessary, if there was not the possibility his return could be delayed. But the real key is in what we believe about Jesus. Do we really believe he is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End? Because if we do, then we know he is Lord not only of history, but of eternity, and we will therefore wait with patience and great expectation for his return. He also tells us he’s the bright morning Star. He is the dawning of the new age. His coming has started and so we can rightly proclaim, “Behold, he comes!”
Grace in Our World: We live in the light of bright morning star, as the day of his coming draws nearer.
I’ve heard several of you say that we are closer every day to our next rain. That’s undeniably true. Granting that the Lord allows this world to continue, it will one day rain again. So, it is us with the coming of our Lord. We are always a little closer to his full coming than we were before.
We talked about how anticipating the coming of something you long for can you change your behavior greatly. So, how is our behavior impacted by the realization that Jesus is on his way? The Bible is not unambiguous about this. We are not called to street corner with a sign warning people the end is near. We are called to holiness and that is how people will know the end is near. That is why even in our text today there are those that are described as receiving entrance into the heavenly city and those that are denied. Those that are granted entrance have “wash[ed] their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life.”
That tree is what we lost in the Garden. God gives it back to those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. Washed people live holy lives, and though not perfect, we are being perfected. We need neither be those who frantically follow the next preacher who claims to know the day of Jesus’ return, nor those who live as if that day will never come. It will come; it is coming. HE is coming! May we live our lives by the light of the bright Morning Star! We live in a new day, a day that when fully realized will reveal not only a redeemed humanity, but a redeemed creation in the new heaven and the new earth. So, Jesus still speaks to his church today, “Behold, I am coming soon!” And the church says, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
I knew this girl who traveled to Japan with us who determined whether or not she wanted to read a book by reading the last chapter first. She just thought there was no sense reading the book, if she knew she wouldn’t like the ending. That may not be a very good strategy for reading novels, but it is a real good strategy for living life.
We know the end of the story. We have read the last chapter. And now we must choose what story we are going to invest ourselves in. Which story are we going to live? Are we going to live the stories of folks like Richard Dawkins? Or will we live the story of the Alpha and the Omega? Because one day there will be reckoning for our choice. It is not a story to read and put back on a shelf; it is a story that requires not only a decision, but an allegiance. Do you accept the love of God through Jesus on your behalf or not? If you do, then I know you will not want to waste one more moment delaying your decision to follow Jesus, because after all, he is coming soon!
Invitation: Rev. 22:17
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.