By Thomas Schreiner–
One of the problems with preachers who are obsessed with prophecy is that virtually read every current event as a sign that Jesus is coming back. Most of us see the mistake in that view. But we could fall into the opposite extreme so that we don’t think much about Jesus’ second coming. For instance, the Abstract of Principles, the statement of faith at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where I teach, says nothing about Jesus coming back. Surely it was assumed when the statement was written. Still, such a cardinal doctrine should be stated outright. As Christians we should think much about his return. We don’t want to throw the baby (Jesus’ coming) out with the bathwater (strange views of prophecy).
If you are a Christian, Jesus’ return will be the happiest day of your life. And if you are an unbeliever, it will be the worst day of your life, a day of judgment and destruction. So what should we do?
Be Prepared, for Jesus is Coming Soon!
Revelation 22:6 reads, “And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.” Notice the emphasis on when these things will take place. The rest of the passage emphasizes the nearness of the Lord’s return as well:
“And behold, I am coming soon.” (22:7)
“Do not seal up the words of the prophecy ( in contrast to Daniel) of this book, for the time is near.” (22:10)
“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me.” (22:12)
“He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (22:22)
After 2000 years it may seem like Jesus didn’t and won’t come soon. But remember, one day with the Lord is as a thousand years as 2 Peter 3 tells us. Peter also tells us that the Lord extends the time before Jesus comes so more will repent and believe.
Every generation has rightly said that Jesus may come back soon. Every generation has rightly said that the end is near. Surely our generation of all generations should believe this. We have nuclear weapons by which we can destroy one another. North Korea is belligerently threatening to use such weapons. As more nations get such weapons, the possibility increases that a world-wide war will start with the launching of such weapons by some rogue nation or crazy dictator. Iran, for example, is threatening to blow Israel off the map. The tensions between Islamic nations and the West run high. Surely the world is on the precipice. There is no evidence that human beings have become wiser or more peaceful or more loving as history has progressed. Surely, the time is ripe for Jesus to come again.
So, we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!” We pray, “Your kingdom, come.” Did you notice that the words “Come, Lord Jesus” are a prayer to Jesus? Sometimes people say we should only pray to the Father, but here is a good example of a prayer made directly to Jesus, showing Jesus is fully God.
Do you pray, “Come, Lord Jesus”? Or, have we become so wrapped up in the world that we think only of our own life and our own interests? Do we think this is our best life now? It isn’t. How right it is to pray: “Lord Jesus, please come now! Please wrap up history. May your glory shine over the whole earth by coming again.” And remember what Revelation says, “Jesus is coming soon.” So let’s pray that he will come soon! Many will be surprised. Many will not be ready. You be ready by doing his will.
Hear and Obey God’s Word
The admonition to hear and obey God’s Word is given in the context of the second coming. Did you notice how central God’s Word is in these verses? Hear v. 6: “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.”
Do doubts creep in your mind whether Jesus is coming again? John reminds us that these words are true. And by implication all the words of Scripture are true. Remember what Jesus said right after predicting his second coming in Matthew 24? He said “Heaven and earth may pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Brothers and sisters, we can trust God’s word. He is always faithful to what he says in it. And it is not just a matter of truth for our heads.
We read in v. 10: “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book.” In Revelation the command not to seal up the book is given for the time is near. And by implication this command is true for all of God’s word. We must teach and proclaim this word and announce it to unbelievers. One thing we can say to unbelievers is this: “Jesus is coming again. Are you ready to meet him?” Maybe you can start a conversation with an unbeliever by saying, “Did you know the Bible says Jesus is coming again?” And then just respond to what they say next.
We see the importance of God’s word in v. 16 as well: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches.” What I want to emphasize here is that God has given his Word for the life of the church, for our life together. We gather corporately to hear God’s word. We don’t gather to watch movies or videos or to be entertained with stories but to hear the word of God. This is why one of our core values at Clifton Baptist Church, where I preach and pastor, is expositional preaching. We must hear God’s ideas not ours.
But it is not enough just to hear the Word. We must also obey and keep God’s Word. Consider verses 7 and 9:
“Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” (22:7)
“I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book.” (22:9)
Allow me to give you a biblical example. The Bible says we are to pray for those who are your enemies. Pray for those you don’t like. Do you do that? Can you think of anyone you don’t like right now? Are you praying for that person? Are you doing good to them? Are you asking God to bless them?
Finally, let’s look at vv. 18-19:
“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.”
This passage refers to Revelation directly but by extension to all the Bible. It is Satanic to deny God’s word. The devil sows doubts in our hearts about God’s word. “Has God said?” The devil denies God’s word, “You shall not surely die.” So often those in the past who have rejected God’s Word think of themselves as suave, educated, sophisticated, and intelligent. But in reality they have abandoned what God has said about himself. This only highlights the importance of reading and studying the Word of God. Do you spend time in the word of God? Are you feeding your mind with truth or are you spending too much doing other things, maybe even good things, and not being nurtured in the word?
Come and Wash
We read in v. 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.” What do we have to do to be saved? Many think you have to work hard at being really good. You must show how moral you are, and be a good person. But the Bible says we need to come: come to a person.
Have you thought of God as a person whom you are to love and to obey? If you are an unbeliever, he is inviting you to come, and to take. And what are the qualifications? You must be thirsty and needy, recognizing that you are a sinner in need of forgiveness.
Verse 14 uses the imagery of washing ourselves: “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.” If you want life, if you want to be in the heavenly city, then you have to come in by the gates. And that means you have to come by washing away your sin in the blood of the lamb. He provided a cleansing for sins at the cross and we need to come and wash. We are not called to do a great thing but a simple thing!
But there is a warning here as well: Be careful that you don’t linger too long so it is too late. As verses 11-12 explain, “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” This verse means that one must come before it is too late. For when the day of judgment comes there will be no more time. Hence verse 12: “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done.” (22:12)
Not only are we cleansed, but we worship the one who cleansed us. But notice that we are only to worship God. “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.’” (vv.8-9)
It is very clear that Jesus is fully God. We read in verse 13: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Here we see the echoes of Isaiah 44:6, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.” The parallel with Isaiah 44:6 makes this very clear. And then add to this verse 16: “I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” Here we also see that Jesus is fully human and fulfills the covenant made with David. So in this passage we see that Jesus is fully man and yet fully God, deserving our worship and praise.
Rely on Grace
Last, the passage closes in v. 21 by instructing us to rely on the grace of God. “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” Notice, the final word of Revelation is grace. And it is the final word of our lives too. As Paul said, by the grace of God I am what I am. The final word for us is grace. The final signature over our lives is grace. And the final word in the final book of the Bible is grace. May God’s grace strengthen us until the last day, until the day Jesus returns. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Thomas Schreiner is James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Among his many books are Romans, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ, Magnifying God in Christ: A Summary of New Testament Theology, and Galatians.