Let’s turn to Revelation 22. We are very excited to be able to gather here at Taylors in the auditorium, in the Community Room, at Northwest, in our living rooms, around the world through livestream. And it is a privilege to hear what Christ has to say and cry out with what Heather was just singing, “Come, Lord Jesus. Revelation 22 we’ll be in this morning.
Have you noticed that our understanding and response to major events is greatly affected by the lens through which we look? I have a friend who compares two different ways to look at things between a microscope and a telescope. For example, if you look at the coronavirus pandemic through a microscope — I’m not talking biologically, I’m thinking more like immediately — if you look at it through, “How is this affecting me?” You might you might see job loss, you might see isolation, fear, you might just see no real change or frustration, or a feeling like this is an overreaction, or whatever. But you’re looking at the situation through your immediate experience. Or you could look at it with a telescope, which would extend your vision beyond, and you might look at it politically and see governors who are leading well, others who seem to be overreaching with their authority. You might see regions that are barely affected and others like Italy, for example, that were devastated. You might lock in on specific communities like Promised Land Covenant Church in the Bronx. They have had 13 of their members die of COVID-19, 13. The pastors talk about what it was like to every day get phone call after phone call after phone call. Another member sick. Trying to console family members who lost loved ones and do funerals on Zoom. Seminary can’t prepare you for that. So, if you’re looking through that lens, and you’re locking in on their situation, it’s going to be very different than if you’re looking through a different lens. The lens through which you look at affects the way you respond and what you experience.
In a far greater way, the Book of Revelation provides us with lenses through which we look at the world. What’s interesting about the Book of Revelation, it provides us with multiple lenses. Kind of like (and I know kids aren’t going to connect with this) but adults, us older folk we’re like, yeah, bifocals, trifocals, you know, the ability to see something that is near or intermediate or far just by tilting your head up and down. Revelation in some ways is like that. It reveals things that were immediate, things that were soon to come, and things that seemed far off. And depending on which lens you look at, you see these different things. So, we’re going to focus in on that specifically in relation to one promise. So, we have come to the last section of Revelation, verses 6-21 is the conclusion. We’re going to move very slowly through this conclusion over the next few weeks. And the reason for that, as I mentioned, is that this section concludes Revelation, but it also gives us a tremendous opportunity to go back and review some of the big ideas that God has communicated to us throughout our study. But for today, we’re going to focus in on just one phrase, one promise repeated three times. You’ll see it in verse 7 Jesus said, “Behold [look], I am coming soon.” Verse 12, “Behold, I am coming soon.” Verse 20, “Surely [yes], I am coming soon.” And we all respond, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” These promises raise huge questions. Like Jesus, what exactly did you mean by coming? And even more often. What do you mean by soon? Weren’t these words written almost two thousand years ago? What do you mean “Coming soon”? Christians all through church history have believed that coming soon means Jesus is coming in our lifetime. You can read early Christians in the 300s, for example. One church leader said, “Let us look for Christ’s coming for Antichrist is already in power.” 300s. Now, some say these promises were fulfilled in A.D. 70 in the destruction of Jerusalem. They certainly don’t fully explain the kind of promises Jesus makes. Some say John was just wrong. Jesus isn’t coming.
So, how does the New Testament provide us with lenses through which we look at the promises of his soon coming? Let’s look at this from a couple different angles, and then we’re going to lock in on one at the end. Five different lenses. First of all, what we could call progressive lenses, progressive, [not progressive versus conservative, but progressive in the sense of multi focal, bifocal, trifocal] As we’ve talked about in the past, prophetic promises often have near and far fulfillments like mountain ranges where you can see a peak, but beyond that peak, there’s another peak, and ultimately climaxing in a larger peak or fulfillment. Revelation enables us to see the coming of Christ in this way. Let me show you an example. Revelation 2:5. Church at Ephesus had lost their first love. Jesus called them to do two things, remember and repent. And then he warned them. If not, I will what? I will come to you. “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place unless you repent.”
Revelation 2:16 to the church at Pergamum, Jesus called them to repent for allowing false teachers to thrive in their midst. And he warned them, if you won’t repent,
“If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.”
It seems like there he’s talking the “them,” the “soon” there seems like a very immediate, “I’m going to deal with this situation if you won’t deal with it.” So, it sounds like he’s talking about coming immediately to a church that existed almost two thousand years ago. So, we see in the Book of Revelation, those are just a couple examples, of what appear to be immediate comings. But then we don’t want to confuse those comings, because while the Bible clearly communicates the fact that Christ is repeatedly, continually coming among his people. In a few minutes, when we cry out in singing in worship, Jesus promises in Hebrews 2 to sing among his brothers and sisters. So, he will come among us as we sing. In Matthew 18 when a church practices hard things like church discipline, Jesus promises, “I will come,” I’m going to be with you. He’s going to be… He’s going to come to his people, he will never leave us. He will never forsake us. So, in that sense, the Bible talks about immediate comings. But never confuse those with what Revelation 22 is talking about, which is a climactic, physical, singular coming. Jesus, when he talked about this in Matthew 24:37 said he was coming. He didn’t talk about it in the plural. There is a single, climactic, physical coming. So, while there are these progressive lenses through which we could look at the coming of Christ, Christ is repeatedly coming, there is a mountain range in the future of his climactic coming.
Second lens we could look through is what we could call transcendent. Sorry, kids. Transcendent just simply means above what we normally experience. You could say divine, supernatural, a supernatural lens. My daughter reminded me this week of a scene from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. When Aslan the Lion was leaving, he said to Lucy,
“Do not look so sad. We shall meet soon again.”
I love Lucy’s response.
“Please, Aslan. What do you call soon?”
Isn’t that a great question? I know you just said “soon,” but I need to know what you mean by “soon.” Because I know you. Your “soon” may be different from my “soon.” Such a good question. And Aslan responded,
“I call all times soon.”
The Bible does some of that to us, doesn’t it? Because very early on, within 35 years of Jesus ascending, the skeptics were already questioning the coming of Christ. They were saying, “Where’s the promise of his coming?” 2 Peter 3. Nothing’s changing. The world’s continuing as it as it did. And you say he’s coming. And Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:8,
“Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord [Don’t miss that. He’s giving us a different lens to look through. If you look at this from the Lord’s perspective], one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day, the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness. [If you look at it from a human perspective, you’re going to say he is slow. But he is, if you look at from his perspective…] “patient toward you not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
Since God created time. He is not in it. He relates to us in time, but he does not exist within its successive moments. We do. And therefore, to God, 2000 years can be like 2 days, and 2 days like 2000 years. Therefore, his delay is not a sign of incompetence or negligence but is a sign of patience, giving us an opportunity to repent. Transcendent lenses.
The New Testament gives us a third lens to look at the coming of Christ, and what we could call redemptive lenses. And by that, I mean redemption history, historical redemption. People often ask me, do you think we’re in the last days, and the answer is what? Yes, from the resurrection of Christ to the return of Christ, these are the last days. 1 John 2 describes them as the last hour, “hour.” Wow. Hebrews 1:2 describes them as last days. Why is that? They seem so long. Well, it’s the same answer that we would give. Why does Jesus say, “Behold, I’m coming soon” and then wait so long? The word “soon” from this perspective means something similar to the word “near.” If you think about it from a geographical perspective, if you ask someone who lives in Sumter, South Carolina, “Do you live near North Carolina?” They would most likely say, “No, we live near the middle of the state of South Carolina, in the middle of South Carolina, not near North. But if you ask anybody else on the planet, they would say, “Oh, yeah, South Carolina’s near North Carolina. That’s why they’re there next to each other — one’s north, one south. But they’re near one another. Why? Because we’re thinking of them as states, areas that are near. And so, from a redemption history perspective, when you think of this age and the age to come and all the previous ages before that, when Jesus says I’m coming soon, he’s talking about “this age” has nothing else between “this future age” where Christ comes and establishes his kingdom visibly and physically. There’s no other event but the coming of Christ to inaugurate this age fully, to manifest the age to come. And in that sense, it is soon. It is near.
Fourth lens. Again, I’m sorry about the word, couldn’t think of a better word — convergent lens, convergent meaning things come together. Come together.
My wife and I are having an ongoing conflict. It’s been going on for years. Her legal team is not moving. My legal team is not moving. And it’s over whether it’s okay to cut all your meat at the beginning of the meal or whether you have to cut your meat as you eat it. No. So, she rightly takes the position, her legal team argues from a perspective of etiquette. If you’re eating in a nice… because I always say we were just eating here at home. But if I ever take you out to a nice place. She doesn’t want to look over and see the woodchipper going to town, chopping up his food. The etiquette is just not, it’s not good. And the other thing her team argues from a perspective of, well it just looks kind of like childish, like a little kid with his plate of little food all chopped up. Okay, I understand. I’ll consider that.
But then my legal team argues from the perspective of work ethic. You work hard, and then you enjoy the fruit of your labors. Cut first and then eat. Enjoy it. But secondly, and most importantly, we argue from the perspective of — and I know poor Ryan Ferguson, he’s going to have a panic attack — but I like to cut up my meat and then blend it. Sorry! Okay. I’m not quite old enough to go to what is it, K&W Cafeteria, where they have the little separate trays and a little … I’m getting there. I’ll be eating there soon, you know, at 4:00 in the afternoon, where you keep all your food separate. But I like, imagine a good steak. Can you imagine that? And this is probably a bad illustration right now. But you cut it up, and then you mix it in with the gravy and potatoes and veggies all chopped. Oh, it’s so good! Because what happens — and I’m losing some of you — what happens is, it’s not just the one flavor of the one item you’re eating, but the flavors are interacting with each other. It’s kind of like a good smoothie. Yeah. The smoothie becomes better when you get the right flavors blended together.
And so, the coming of Christ, pardon the illustration, because there are other words we could add here. But just to take a few examples. The New Testament describes the coming of Christ as “soon.” It also describes it as “delayed.” It also describes it as “unknown.” Let me show you these quick examples. First of all, “soon” we see in Revelation 22, “Behold, I am coming soon,” three times. “Delayed,” when Jesus was teaching on his second coming, he told stories of a master who was “delayed,” Matthew 24:48. Of a bridegroom who was delayed, Matthew, 25:5. Of a master who was gone for a long time, Matthew, 25:19. So, whatever “soon” means, it has to converge with whatever a certain amount of “delay” means. And then the third is, his coming is unknown in its timing. Or we could say unexpected. For example, in Matthew 24:36, Jesus said, “That day and hour no one knows.” Therefore, we’re supposed to stay alert, stay awake because you do not know what day your Lord is coming, Matthew 24:42. Matthew 24:44, “The Son of man is coming in an hour you do not expect.” As a matter of fact, Jesus in Revelation 16:15 said, “Look, I am coming like a thief.” That doesn’t mean Jesus is coming to steal your stuff. But Jesus is coming at a time when you would least expect it.
Many through the ages, through church history, have taken one of these concepts and tried to lock in on them — “Is coming soon”; therefore, he’s coming at this date, and it’s going to be now, and it’s going to be in my lifetime, and I can promise it. And they don’t converge all these New Testament promises, elements of his coming, because there’s something about this convergent lens that empowers us, as we’ve talked about previously, to be ready to go and ready to stay. There’s a readiness and a watchfulness and alertness and a busyness, an appropriate busyness.
Let’s look at this final one, because I think this is the most important, and that is the New Testament gives us a personal lens through which to look at the coming of Christ. And be careful. What I mean by personal is not individual as much as intensely personal. When John began Revelation, he greeted the seven churches. Revelation 1:4, John to the seven churches that are in Asia. He blessed them.
“Grace to you and peace from him, who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne.”
Notice he cries out on behalf of the Father, “who is and who was and who is to come,” on behalf of the Spirit, described as the seven spirits who are before the throne. We talked about this at the beginning of Revelation that that’s an allusion to Isaiah 11. The Spirit has these characteristics, seven characteristics of perfection. And then verse 5, “And from Jesus Christ [And then he tells us something. Don’t miss this. Who he is and what he does] … Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead. The ruler of the kings of the earth. And some commentators believe that this is describing the flow of Jesus’ ministry, meaning he was a faithful witness on earth, when he lived on earth. He was the firstborn from the dead, which is not talking about him being birthed as much as it is his status, that he is the one who inherits all things as firstborn. And his resurrection is the catalyst for all our resurrections. So, through his life, through his death and resurrection, and when he returns as the ruler of kings on earth, this is who he is. Keep going …
“To him who loves us” [This is what he’s done. He loves us.], he’s “freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom” [a bunch of rebels and riffraff, the undesirable is now made a kingdom. Notice he’s not just saying he’s brought us into a kingdom, but we are a kingdom as we reign with him.] “priests to his God and Father, [priest, highlighting both our access to the Father and our service of him, to him], “to him be glory and dominion forever. Amen. Look [verse 7], Behold, He. He is coming with the clouds. He. The one who is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of the kings on earth, the one who loves us and has freed us and made us a kingdom, priests to our God and Father. He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him. Even those who pierced him [we’re going to see for the first time what their sin did to him] and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.”
So, what is the point of this? He is coming. If you and I lack an interest and anticipation in his coming, perhaps it is because we do not know who is coming. Now, don’t confuse our emotional state — emotional states rise and fall — with the fact that if we know him, we will want him to come. When our eyes are open to him as the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of all kings, King of kings and Lord of lords. When we get a glimpse of who he is and what he’s done — He loves us. He has set us free from our bondage to sin by his sacrifice, his blood. And he didn’t just leave us free and broke. He made us a kingdom, priests to our God and Father. And if I am not anticipating his coming, perhaps the lens through which I need to look at his coming is a more personal lens in the sense that, “Lord, open my eyes to who you are, Jesus and what you’ve done.” What am I missing?
Last night at prayer meeting, we were praying over these services. I asked our per team, “What do you do to help stir yourself up? To prepare and be ready for his coming?” And I was so blessed with just quickly they all threw out different things they’ve done ranging from everything from stay busy in what he’s called me to do until he interrupts that with his coming. He’s given me a task to not be distracted with believing that lesser things can satisfy, as wonderful as family, friends, marriage, calling — all these things are so amazing. None of them will ultimately compare to his coming. Reminding myself often of that. Even pain. One person mentioned seeing the pain that others are experiencing and the pain that I experience, not as an end in itself, but as a fulfillment of God’s promise. Jesus said, “You will have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” His coming is actually pointed to by even the hard things we go through. So, they’re rattling off these ways in which they prepare and maintain a readiness for his coming. What are you doing? What if Jesus is speaking to you today saying, “Stir yourself up to be ready.” That’s what that word “behold” means. Look. Pay attention. I’m coming. Soon.
This past week, I made the mistake in thinking of Memorial Day, praying for families whose loved ones never came home. I made the mistake of watching videos of families greeting their loved ones who did come home. Now, I’m not going to show you one of those videos. These are just pictures of soldiers coming home. But, I’m not a crier, but I was bawling. When you watch some of these family members who have longed for the loved one to come home, feared that they would not come home, and then finally they come home. And sometimes the fun ones are when they surprise their family.
So, look at this last one, this kid. Now focus in on that first kid running towards his dad. Arms wide open. Imagine. What is that boy feeling right there? How many times has that boy asked his dad on the phone or Skyping or Zooming or something when his dad’s overseas? “When are you coming home?” “Soon, son. Soon.” And all the “soons” that seemed forever at this moment are finally forgotten. And all the longings are fulfilled. Can we ask the Lord to give us, to teach us through a child some of that for the coming of Christ? I say this lens is personal in the sense that we can wrestle with the big questions. Transcendent vision, redemptive history, all that. But ultimately — those are important — but ultimately it does come down to, if I don’t believe he loves me, has freed me, has made me a kingdom, us a kingdom, priests to our God. If I don’t believe that, I’m not going to really be excited about his coming. It just seems like an interruption. But if I do believe that, there’s nothing more I long for.
Let’s pray. Father, you know where we are. Some of us your Spirit is calling us to yourself to repent and believe. We have trusted in things that will not last and will not save. And I pray that today is a day of salvation for many. May we respond, “Yes” to you right now. Lord, for others of us, we know you’ve forgiven us. We know you’ve taken our sin upon you. We know you love us. But for whatever reason, we’re not feeling it right now, we’re not excited about it right now. We feel very distracted or going in multiple directions. So, we pray that as we cry out to you in song and prayer now that you would focus our thoughts, that we could repent of anything else we’re putting our trust in and unite our hearts to long for your coming. Stir us as a people. Lord, we pray this not so that we can abandon our responsibilities in the meantime, but so that you would pour out grace so that we could be faithful doing what you’ve called us to do until you come. May we be a people who long for your return? We praise you in Jesus’ name, amen.