How can we understand Christ’s promise to come “soon” that he makes not once but twice in just this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s seven verses? After all, few of our definitions of “soon” would include the two thousand years that have elapsed since he made first it.
In Revelation 22 John’s dazzling visions of that coming Christ finally end. The dazed apostle responds by falling flat on his face in worship in front of the angel who has shown him those visions. The angel, however, scolds him for misplacing his worship, just as much of Revelation scolds readers for our misdirected worship.
Yet this is the second time John has tried to worship the revealing angel instead of the revealed God. So why does he seem to have such a hard time getting it right? Why, in fact, do God’s adopted children find it hard to worship the living God instead of sampling from a buffet of little gods?
The book of Revelation at least suggests misplaced worship stems from a failure of both memory and awareness. People haven’t just naturally forgotten what God has done. We also fail to pay attention to what God is graciously doing in our world right now.
By the power of the Holy Spirit Revelation is a great antidote to misplaced worship. In it, after all, God shows the world what God and the evil one are up to in God’s world. Revelation, in fact, reminds God’s adopted children that God isn’t just constantly doing good things for everything God creates. God is also somehow actively bending even the bad things that happen for God’s glory and God’s people’s good.
Revelation also insists that God is persistently working to save God’s whole creation. So it reminds its readers that no person whom God’s adopted sons and daughters meet is a completely finished product. God longs to make each and every one of us more like Jesus. Yet, of course, God is doing that work in a creation that we seem determined to ruin and in people who stubbornly make themselves God’s enemies. So God’s work isn’t always clear.
Of course, at one time in history God’s creating and saving work was more obvious to those whom God gifted with faith. For about 32 years God’s creating and saving work in Jesus Christ was plain to those whom God graciously gave the eyes and hearts of faith.
Then, however, as Peterson notes, we blurred that focus. So what’s the best way to restore that focus on God’s creating and saving work in Christ? John at least suggests that it’s through worship.
In worship, after all, the Spirit corrects God’s adopted children’s vision that we’ve allowed Satan and sin to blur. In worship, after all, God reminds us that God created all things good, that we scarred created things through our sin and that God graciously responded.
So God’s people gather for weekly worship to praise God and confess that we’ve fallen far short of what God created us to be. In worship God’s children hear God speak to us about grace and obedience. In worship we basically retell God’s story. And in worship we remember that Jesus is “coming soon.”
Of course, it’s still tempting, even in worship, to lose our focus on the Lord. God’s people’s attention drifts like a sailboat on a calm afternoon. Yet properly directed worship is urgent business because it reminds us of, among other things, what Revelation 1:1 and 22:6 says, “must soon take place.”
Peterson, however, calls our English word “soon” a bland translation of the Greek’s tachy. He compares the original language’s tone to that of our shouts of “Taxi! Taxi!” We generally, after all, hail a driver to help us meet our immediate need of getting somewhere. We don’t usually make appointments with taxi drivers for later in the week.
In a similar way, nearly everything we read in the book of Revelation is immediately relevant. John, says Peterson, holds very little back for future application. Jesus Christ is, after all, both at work right now and returning very soon.
In Mark 13:26 Jesus promised that the Son of Man would come in the clouds with great power. In Mark 13:33 he begged people to “Be on guard! Be alert!” In Revelation 1:7 John seems to remember that when he says Christ “is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him.” He even repeats that message, first to Sardis’ Christians and second as Revelation’s vision of judgment nears its climax.
Yet neither Jesus nor John wants to scare God’s dearly beloved people with such warnings. Nor do they want to prompt us to guess wildly about Christ’s coming’s dates. No, they primarily want us to stay “awake” so that we always stay aware of who we are and what Christ is doing.
Through the book of Revelation the Holy Spirit invites God’s people to a kind of quiet attentiveness to Christ’s coming among us not just at the end of measured time, but also every day. John challenges his readers of all times and place to be as aware as we can be of God’s presence here and now. John isn’t, after all, just talking about the future; he’s also talking about the present time that God infuses with the future God has planned for us.
Yet God’s beloved children are used to thinking about time spatially, of the past, present and future as dates on a calendar. As Peterson notes, however, John uses two words that we translate as “time,” chronos and kairos. Chronos is time as we usually think of it, as duration. Kairos, by contrast, is time as opportunity. We measure chronos with our clocks, watches and calendars. You and I measure kairos as opportunities to do things like plant a garden or leap to faith.
Of course, chronos is important. Most of us need to make schedules and keep appointments to live our daily lives. Yet, says Peterson, only by seeing time as also kairos, as an opportunity, can we fully participate in Christ’s coming, both now and in the future.
After all, Revelation won’t let us limit Christ’s coming to some date in the past and future. It invites God’s beloved children to also meet him here and now, even as we anticipate fully meeting him at the end of measured time.
If time as chronos dominates our thinking, the future becomes a source of worry. It either draws our attention away from the present or leaves us complaining about everything we need right now. If, however, we focus on time as kairos, the future is a source of expectation that galvanizes our present. It leaves us eager to see and join what God is doing already here and now.
People who worry about the future, writes Peterson, sometimes seem reluctant to prepare for it by doing things like sharing the gospel, feeding the hungry and caring for creation. We’re so worried about the future that we’re too busy to get involved in the present.
So John helps us to let God’s future shape our present. In both Revelation 1:4 and 8 he refers to God as the one who “IS and WAS and IS TO COME.” When Moses asked God to identify himself, in Exodus 3 God answered in a similar way “I am who I am.” God’s Jewish people understood that God’s being includes all of the tenses of the word to “be”: present, past and future. God’s name, “I am who I am” embraces the past, present and the future.
In both Revelation 21:12 Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon.” What he seems to mean is that just as he has come in our past and continues to come to us, someday he’ll fully come to us in his return.
In response, the Spirit, the Church-Bride and all of Revelation’s listeners say, in verse 17, “Come!” In fact, God invites, in verse 17, the world’s spiritually thirsty people to come to the One who comes to us. What’s more, Jesus speaks his final word in verse 20, “Yes, I am coming soon.” John responds with the plea, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
That final prayer for Jesus to “Come” is what Peterson calls a basic Christian prayer. Yet when Christ says “yes” to that prayer by coming to us with healing or forgiveness, he sometimes surprises us at least a bit. At those times we can then hardly help but respond, “So that’s what he meant!”
Jesus’ sometimes-unexpected coming to us puts a kind of what Peterson calls an “earnest edge” on our expectations of Jesus’ coming. We don’t have to face the future with all sorts of worries about chronological time. Instead God’s adopted sons and daughters can look into it with the welcoming, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus – both now and at the end of measured time!”
My Indonesian brothers and sisters in Christ like to talk about what they call “rubber time.” It’s a reference to the different way eastern and western people sometimes think of time. While at least some westerners take pride in their punctuality, in our strict adherence to measured time, some of our eastern neighbors stress punctuality less than being fully present in and to whatever time and place they appear.
So my Indonesian friends may show up 30-45 minutes later than when they’d promised to appear. But when they do finally appear they often seem readier to engage than westerners who sometimes need time to “warm up” to and for our full presence.
It makes me wonder how we might think of Jesus’ coming “soon” as a kind of “rubber time.”
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Sermon Commentary for Sunday, June 2, 2019
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21 Commentary