Define “Soon” – Revelation 22:6-21 07/25/21
This week we have an interpretive problem that requires some careful thought. In our text Jesus tells us He is “coming quickly;” Revelation 22:7. In fact, this is reiterated four times, once by an angel and three times by Jesus Himself. As I look at that statement, honestly, I cannot think of any standard by which 2,000 years could, in any reasonable way, be considered to be “quickly.”
Revelation repeatedly emphasizes the nearness of events, particularly the return of Jesus Christ. So here we are, 2000 years later wondering, “What happened?” let’s look at it carefully. Clearly, the emphasis of this passage is the phrase, “I am coming quickly!” The word “quickly” (ταχύς) is an adverb, and as such is telling us something about the verb it modifies which, in this case, is “coming” (ἔρχομαι). Now, (ἔρχομαι) means to come, as in to come from one place to another. It is also sometimes translated as “to appear,” or to make one’s appearance.
So, now that we know that Jesus is “coming” (ἔρχομαι). Let’s consider how He’s coming. He coming “quickly” (ταχύς), let’s think about what that means. The word “quickly” (ταχύς) is commonly translated into English as quickly or speedily and suggests that the event will happen without delay. The idea, then, naturally extends to “suddenly.” That strikes me as an interpretational problem. How should we understand this?
First, we need to come to grips with an inconvenient fact, the prophets of God had little interest in chronology, and the future was ALWAYS seen to be immanent. We’ve certainly observed this often enough as we’ve struggled to understand looping prophesies, skips forward in time, skips backward in time, event recorded outside of time... At times it was bewildering.
So, there’s the first way we can understand how Jesus could say He is coming quickly even while we wait for thousands of years. This is a perfectly reasonable explanation, although granted, not very satisfying. It is consistent with the genre of Revelation.
However, there is a grammatical detail with the use of the word, “quickly” (ταχύς) that deserves consideration. We’ve already noted that a secondary meaning for (ταχύς) is that the event, Jesus’ coming, could be understood to take place “suddenly” rather than “quickly”. If this is what was intended, then it means that Jesus’ return will happen in an instant. That is a legitimate interpretation, although I have to confess it does not seem to fit the context of the passage.
But… there is still another way that this may be understood. Does Jesus’ ταχύς ἔρχομαι really have to refer to a second return of Jesus at the end of the Great Tribulation? I did a quick search and found no literal reference to a “second” coming. As far as I can tell this is an extra-biblical expression. All Jesus said is that He would come again. The fact is, a really good case can be made for Jesus “coming” many times, both throughout the Old Testament and throughout Church history.
Let’s think this through. In the Old Testament it can be argued that Jesus appeared to Abram in Genesis 17:1-2, to Moses in Exodus 3:2-15, to Gideon in Judges 6:11-26, to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:12, and to Daniel in Daniel 3:24-27. These are in addition to the many times that He came in judgment. But… the New Testament records several “comings” as well. Certainly, Jesus appeared multiple times prior to His ascension into heaven. He appeared to Peter, then to the twelve, then to more than 500; 1 Corinthians 15:5-8. But… for the sake of argument, let’s set those aside since He had not, technically, left since He had not yet ascended to the Father.
Still, Jesus came to Stephen as he was being stoned in Acts 7:55, He came to Paul at Paul’s remarkable conversion in Acts 9:4-5. He came to Peter in a vision Acts 10:13-15, and He appeared to Ananias in Acts 9:10-16. Because of time, I stopped looking at this point, but I expect that there are other examples that could be cited.
Given this, are there other times that we can understand Jesus to have “come” (ἔρχομαι) ? Well, yes. Many biblical scholars see the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem as one of the prophesied comings of Jesus Christ. This was a return of Jesus in judgment against the Jewish nation. In fact, a strong case can be made that this event largely fulfilled the prophesies of the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24:3 – 25:46.
It seems that a good case can be made for Jesus’ coming to actually be a series of comings. In fact, if you’re a Christian, then Christ is in you, and it’s hard to see how this could not be seen as a “coming” too.
This is more than an academic consideration. Here’s why this is so important: the reliability of Scripture is at stake. With that, the message of salvation by faith is at stake. Either Jesus knew what He was talking about, or He didn’t. If He didn’t, then He cannot be the Son of God. If Jesus is not the Son of God then He cannot stand as our Savior before the Father.
As we wrap up our study of this difficult book, if we’re going to be honest, we need to ask a question… “Can we trust the Scriptures?” The answer to that question is, “it depends.” It depends on how you read them. Are you reading them as they were intended to be read? When the material is prophetic are you taking note of what’s literal and of what’s symbolic? Are you reading in context, both the immediate context and the greater context of the entire Bible? Are you willing to suspend judgment on what isn’t clear?
This means you look at the cross references. John uses an astounding number of allusions to the Old Testament. If you’re going to understand what’s being communicated, you have to be familiar with the Old Testament allusions. By reading those references in context you get a much better feel for what’s literal and what’s symbolic. You also gain insight into what the symbolism means.
It also means you cannot read the Revelation, or even the rest of the Bible, like a novel. Scripture speaks with power and you’re called upon to submit yourself to the Holy Spirit… and to the unshakable authority of Scripture. Whether you understand all the details or not, it will always, always, speak with authority. The vast majority of the time it will require you to make changes in your life. Any attempt to dodge those changes will come between you and your relationship with your King.
Can you trust the Scriptures? Only if you’re willing to submit to their instruction and their discipline. That requires that you have a working knowledge of them. If the Bible really is God’s word made available for your benefit, is there anything more important that you could be familiar with?
 R.C. Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus: When Did Jesus Say He Would Return? (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1998), 133.  David E. Aune, Revelation 17–22, vol. 52C, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 1184. Kurt Aland et al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Interlinear with Morphology) (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993), Re 22:7.  Michael S. Heiser and Vincent M. Setterholm, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology (Lexham Press, 2013; 2013). Kurt Aland et al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Interlinear with Morphology) (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993), Re 22:7.  James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1995).  James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1995). Kurt Aland et al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Interlinear with Morphology) (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993), Re 22:7. Kurt Aland et al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Interlinear with Morphology) (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993), Re 22:7. Kurt Aland et al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Interlinear with Morphology) (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993), Re 22:7.  James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1995).