Summary: We cannot interpret the book of Revelation or any apocalyptic literature for that matter literally.
Sermon for 7th Sunday of Easter, Year C
Based on Rev. 22:12a, 13, 20
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
“Jesus is coming soon?”
The end times, Jesus Christ’s second coming, the kingdom of God in all of its fullness—that is the focus of our passage from Revelation today. Right from the beginning, Christianity believed that Jesus would come again, very soon. Jesus himself says on one occasion (Mark 13:3-37), when he spoke of the end times that: “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” Furthermore, when Jesus began his ministry, his basic message was: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15) In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians (4:13-5:11); the apostle also expects Christ to come again in his lifetime. The writer of Revelation also stresses the nearness of Christ’s coming again. In our passage today, Jesus speaks the reassuring words in verse 12: “See, I am coming soon;” and again in verse 20: “Surely I am coming soon.” Thus it seems clear that the first generation Christians literally believed and expected Jesus Christ to come in their lifetime.
As Christianity spread to other parts of the world—and as time moved on, there were always groups of Christians here and there who continued to believe and expect Christ’s coming in their lifetime. Down through the ages, some Christians have even been so bold as to predict the exact day, hour and circumstances of Christ’s second coming. God’s word has been twisted, perverted and misinterpreted so that some people believe and expect Christ’s second coming whenever: a comet appears, or an earthquake strikes, or a volcano erupts, or a war begins, or the stock market falls. All of these things have happened and continue to happen; yet Jesus Christ still has not come again.
So then, what are we to make of Christ’s words in our passage today: “I am coming soon”? It has been over 2000 years now since Jesus spoke those words—that hardly qualifies as soon! One thing people often forget about the book of Revelation is that it was written as a secret-code language when Christians were being persecuted in the Roman Empire. Therefore, the literal, surface meaning of a passage may not be the “true” or the “only” meaning.
When Jesus said: “I am coming soon,” he may very well have been speaking in a symbolic way. If that is the case, then we are able to say: “Yes, Jesus has and continues to come soon. Jesus comes soon whenever two or more gather together for worship in his name. Jesus comes soon when we call upon him to be near us and communicate with him by means of prayer. Jesus comes soon through the preached word every Sunday and throughout the week, whenever the word bears fruit in our lives and the lives of others. Jesus comes soon when we celebrate the sacrament of baptism to give new life and purpose to the newly baptized. Jesus comes soon when we celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion where, in our liturgy, we like the early church, longingly pray: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” He is present in the bread and wine to forgive, renew and strengthen us in our faith-journey. Jesus comes soon whenever and wherever we are able to be salt, yeast, light and little Christs in this troubled world. In all of these ways we can say that Jesus Christ has and continues to come soon.
If we understand and interpret Christ’s coming soon in this symbolic way, we need not live in fear or dread. It is not given to us to know the day or hour or exact circumstances of the end times. We do not have to live in fear and trembling whenever earthquakes strike or wars start or the stock market falls. We believe and trust that we shall be with God and God with us when these things happen.
That is why Jesus speaks of himself in this way: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” The Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Occasionally someone might say: “That person knows everything from A to Z.” What they really mean is that person knows their subject matter through and through. As the Alpha and Omega, Jesus Christ knows each one of us through and through. Because he is God, he knows the whole creation—its beginning, ending and everything in-between.
As Alpha and Omega, first and last, beginning and end—Jesus Christ is all in all, he is complete. There is a sense of completeness for everyone and everything in him. As William Barclay put it: “Here is the symbol that Jesus Christ has everything within himself and needs nothing from any other source.” 1 The Greek word for beginning also means that he is the highest ruler; that his power holds primacy over all powers; that he is the highest authority.