He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. — Revelation 22:20
It is lamentable that the book of Revelation is rarely appealed to for doctrine and exhortation. Although its pages abound with Scriptural allusion, despite its containing direct imperatives (blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book), and notwithstanding the brilliant imagery of Christ’s might, splendor, and dominion John’s Apocalypse remains a sealed book to many readers of the Bible. Confusion regarding its nature and message effectively serves to ward off the average lay-reader as well as ensure its being passed over in the vast majority of doctrinal preaching.
While it is outside the scope of the present article to remedy this dilemma it is hoped that some light can be shed on just one of the numerous important doctrines and themes which appear in the pages of this final book of the Bible. The particular topic which will here draw our attention is that of Christ’s coming as it is invoked in John’s closing prayer of chapter 22.
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The words of John in the close of Revelation, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus,” have in our day come to be interpreted in the standard-fare “rapture ready” mindset. In accordance with this reading John’s final prayer is that Christ remove him from this earthly scene of doom and destruction. Much to the contrary, we will find that far from petitioning God for his own removal from earthly service, John’s prayer is a display in the confidence he has that Christ will presently comfort His afflicted people and that it will be Christ’s enemies (not the Church) who are removed.
Although frequently ignored or overlooked today the usage of the term “coming” is, throughout Scripture, very pregnant with a meaning that is of the utmost importance for the reader to understand. This is readily on display in the question which the Apostles put to Christ in Matthew 24:3 when they ask Him, “what shall be the sign of thy coming?” The context of this question is Jesus' bold proclamation that the temple in Jerusalem would soon be destroyed. In response to this statement the Apostles press Jesus with a series of questions regarding the timing of this destruction, the sign of Christ’s coming, and of the end of the age.
For the Apostles the answers to these three questions would be bound up together. They could not imagine a world without their beloved Jerusalem and it was unthinkable to them that their could ever come a day in which the glorious temple would come to ruin. It was their expectation that Jesus had come to deliver, establish, and rule from Jerusalem and its temple, not prophecy their destruction. The second of their questions, and the focus of our study, has to do with this expectation of kingdom and deliverance.
When the Apostles ask “what shall be the sign of thy coming?” they do not have in mind Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension, and physical return at the end of history. This would be most unnatural. It is made abundantly clear in the gospels as well as the opening chapter of Acts that the Apostles had little, if any, notion of how Jesus’ earthly ministry would play out and of the work which He must perform. The idea that He should leave them was not clear in their minds. On top of that, Jesus was immediately present with them at the time of their inquiry. Why would the Apostles be asking Jesus about the signs of His “coming” when he was presently with them and they only poorly, if at all, possessed any knowledge of His eventual ascension, session, and final return in triumph? The Apostles were rather asking Jesus a much different kind of question. They were asking Him when He would begin to establish His kingdom.
By the first century AD the Jewish expectation of a coming Messiah had largely come to be a carnal, as well as fanatical, thing. Centuries of oppression from the Greeks and the Romans had left the people of Israel greatly desiring a physical deliverer who would slay their enemies and establish a distinctively Jewish kingdom. This time of deliverance for the suffering people would be a time of coming. It would be the fulfillment of that great hope of Israel which the prophets had long kept alive. Zechariah 9:9 is just one example in the hope of a “coming” of the foretold deliverer: _“_Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee.”
In their zeal for earthly prosperity, it had been largely lost on the Jewish nation (laudable exceptions such as Simeon and Anna notwithstanding) that the coming Messiah would establish a spiritual kingdom and that His deliverance would be one, not from earthly struggle, but from the dominion of sin and Satan.
With this expectation in mind, the disciples who followed Jesus throughout His ministry were waiting, more or less patiently, for Him to move beyond mere religious instruction and get into the real work of driving out the Roman government and establishing Jerusalem as the seat of His Messianic empire. This desire on the part of the people is readily on display in John 6:15 where the multitude would have Him be king over them. It is also on display in the thinking of the Apostles and those closest to them in passages such as Matthew 20:21 where the mother of James and John asks if her two sons may sit by Jesus’ side once He established the kingdom. It is not this woman’s perception that Jesus would rule over a spiritual dominion, sitting at the right hand of the father. She is rather asking that her two sons be earthly rulers in the Messiah’s physical dominion.
Peter also is constantly prepared for the fighting to start. All the way up to using his sword to cut off an ear from one of the Jewish soldiers who came to arrest Jesus in Gethsemane he can be seen misunderstanding the true nature of the kingdom which Christ was to establish.
So with this bit of background in mind it is not surprising that in the context of Matthew 24:3 the Apostles are curious about when Jesus will begin to reign with power. They are expectant of a carnal display of glory that will shatter their earthly foes and forever establish Jerusalem as the seat of the Messianic dominion. Unbeknownst to them Jesus had another sort of coming in mind.
But this brings us back to the language of “coming.” Why did the Apostles phrase the question the way they did? Why employ the term “coming” instead of just bluntly asking when it was that He would begin to avenge Himself of His enemies and deliver His people. The answer is to be found in the Biblical usage of that term.
About the author: Robert Hoyle resides on the family farm in Dinwiddie Virginia. He and his wife Rachel currently have four sons and a daughter.
The attentive reader will recognize the similarity between this interpretation of John’s words in Revelation 22:20 and the prayer of Christ which John records in the seventeenth chapter of His Gospel. In John 17:15 Christ prays for His church saying “I am not asking You to take them out of the world, but to keep them away from evil [or the evil one].” There is an essential harmony between Jesus’ priestly prayer in Gethsemane and John’s closing petition in the Apocalypse.
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