Behold, the name of the LORD comes from a remote place; Burning is His anger and dense is His smoke; His lips are filled with indignation. And His tongue is like a consuming fire (Isaiah 30:27).
The thirtieth chapter of the book of Isaiah is a caution against making an alliance with the Egyptians and a promise that God will personally preserve Judah from the Assyrians. As the passage transitions from the promise of divine protection to a description of God’s wrath poured out upon Jerusalem’s enemies Isaiah employs the language of visitation or “coming.” That the Lord is pictured as “coming” from a remote place is giving voice to the idea that God has been absent, allowing the Assyrians to run amuck in and around Judah, but now He has been aroused and He will come bringing fury and judgment with Him.
In this line of expression the “comings” or visitations of the Lord are seen as being truly awful things. When the Lord comes He comes to bring strength and deliverance for His own people and heap woe and destruction upon His enemies. This apocalyptic employment of the term of “coming” is grounded in the Scriptures from the beginning.
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Genesis 49 records the benediction of Jacob upon his sons and of Judah he says,
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes,
And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
This visitation or coming on the part of Shiloh is seen as being a very significant event; a transition in the seat of power and authority amongst the sons of Jacob. In Moses' benediction upon Israel, he uses the same language to describe the Lord’s protection over the people in the past. In Deuteronomy 33:2 we read,
The LORD came from Sinai,
And dawned on them from Seir;
He shone forth from Mount Paran,
And He came from the midst of ten thousand holy ones;
At His right hand there was flashing lightning for them.
For the Lord to “come” from Sinai is significant. Moses’ day was frequently one of polytheism. All of the various tribes which the Israelites came into contact with had their own gods. These pagan peoples were happy to acknowledge the God of Israel as a god but they had no interest in accepting Him as the only God. The Hebrews had very famously been in direct contact with their God at Sinai. But perhaps this God was only the God of the wilderness? Or maybe He only ruled in the mountains? Could it be that His rule was restricted to Mount Sinai alone? For Jehovah to be depicted as “coming” from Sinai to defend His people, regardless of their geographic locale, is a striking testimony to the limitless scope of His rule and dominion. For Moses it does not matter where on this earth men are, they are likely to be visited by Jehovah. Moses expresses this apocalyptic element of God’s universal presence with the language of “coming.”
Turning to the Psalms the language of coming is enshrined in the worship of Israel. In Psalm 50:3 the psalmist evinces the hope of Israel saying,
May our God come and not keep silence; Fire devours before Him, And it is very tempestuous around Him.
Drawing back upon our particular text of study, Revelation 22:20, the apocalyptic petition of John begins to come into clear view when compared with the words of the 50th Psalm. We read “May our God come and not keep silence.” The Psalmist’s hope and petition is that God will make Himself known in deliverance for His people and judgment upon His enemies.
In Psalm 96 this hope of Divine visitation is universalized. The concluding section of this Psalm reads,
Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the LORD, for He is coming,
For He is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
And the peoples in His faithfulness.
This Psalm exhorts all men and even the inanimate elements of creation to prepare themselves for the Lord’s visitation. He surely comes to judge the world and righteousness and justice are His.
With all of this Old Testament background in mind we may return to the New Testament with a better grasp of what is intended in the expression “come quickly Lord Jesus” but before we do one more point is of the utmost importance.
This apocalyptic hope of the Hebrew people, this confidence in the visitation of the Lord to restore order and justice is not a patient waiting for the end of history. The warning and promise of Isaiah 30 is an imperative command delivered to the people telling them what they could expect from God in their own lifetimes. Moses’ benediction of Deuteronomy 33 was speaking about events which had already transpired at the time of his own writing. Psalm 50 is a song of invocation that the Lord will avenge as He has done in the past and while the language of Psalm 96 certainly allows it to be inclusive of a final and ultimate cataclysm of divine apocalypse it is in no way exclusive of the idea expressed in these other passages.
The simple fact is that we cannot, in good conscience of what the original authors intended, claim that all of these references to the coming of the Lord are referring to a hope in judgment deferred until the last day. Rather they are the hopes and prayers of a people who believed that their God, the one true God, visited mankind every day.
For the Hebrews of the Old Testament, and for Christian folk ever since the time of Christ’s first advent, Jehovah was a God of constant interaction with His handiwork. The God of the Bible is no clockmaker who set events in motion and then promises to check back in at the last day. On the contrary He is a God who upholds all things by the Word of His power and who visits men constantly; avenging those humble and afflicted in spirit and bringing the haughty to ruin. He it is who “comes with clouds” pouring out vials of wrath upon those who disobey His law and speaking kind words to those who keep His ways.
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The petition of “come quickly Lord Jesus” is not a plea that the petitioner may be removed from history; it is a militant expression of the hope that God will avenge even today. For John the final and visible return of Christ in power and judgment is far from an unprecedented event but rather it is the final, ultimate, and physical climax to a series of divine comings that are a trademark of Christ’s kingdom of power. For an often afflicted and persecuted people these “visitations” on the part of Christ’s kingdom of power are a great comfort and hope.
Robert Hoyle resides on the family farm in Dinwiddie Virginia. He and his wife Rachel currently have four sons and a daughter.