Come, Lord Jesus: Jesus’ Divine Mission in Revelation
Why the God-Man?
Anselm of Canterbury is known for a famous question: cur Deus homo? Why the God-man? The question is important, because the answer strikes at the heart of who Jesus is and what God has done in Jesus to save us.
We needed a Savior who was man. The human race stands guilty and cursed with death, because the first man, Adam, disobeyed God. We too have sinned in our flesh and are accountable to God’s punishment as humans. In order to save us, God had to provide a Savior who was truly man—a new Adam to obey where the first one failed; a true man who’s tempted in every way yet without sin; a human substitute to die for human sinners since the blood of bulls and goats doesn’t forgive.
But we also needed a Savior who was God. Our sin offends the God of infinite worth. God’s justice demands that we pay a penalty fitting to that crime against his infinite worth. To satisfy the demands of God’s justice against sinners, a payment of infinite value was necessary. But only God is of infinite value. Only God satisfies God. In order to save us, God had to provide a Savior who was also truly God.
In the person of Jesus, we find this very Savior. Jesus is not merely man; he is the God-man. Hopefully, our Advent series has strengthened your confession that Jesus is true God from true God. This makes Jesus way more unique than people usually accept.
Jesus' Transcendent Uniqueness
Many don’t have a problem saying Jesus is unique. But when they say he’s unique, all they mean is that he’s about as unique as every other religious leader is unique. But if we take John’s Gospel and Revelation seriously, nobody can really describe Jesus’ uniqueness like that. Not only does John come out and say that Jesus is God—the Word was God (John 1:1). He uses the Old Testament’s categories reserved for God and then applies them directly to Jesus.
In the Old Testament, Yahweh isn’t but one god among many other possible gods to choose from. Yahweh has what some have called transcendent uniqueness. He’s in a class all by himself. He’s the only God, and all other so-called gods are just posers created by man. Yahweh alone is Creator, Ruler, Judge, Savior. Yet John doesn’t hesitate to apply the same functions Jesus. Meaning, John places Jesus in that category of transcendent uniqueness. He’s in a class all by himself. He’s distinct in person from God the Father, Yes. But he shares in the one divine being. He is truly God.
Last time we looked at four ways Revelation unveils Jesus’ Godhood. Jesus’ words are God’s very words. Various metaphors and motifs reserved for God alone in the Old Testament get applied to Jesus. Jesus, the Lamb, receives worship reserved for God alone. One further way Revelation unveils Jesus’ divine glory is by equating Jesus’ mission with God’s mission. God’s coming to establish his kingdom on earth transpires in Jesus’ coming. I want to look at five ways John says this in Revelation…
1. God’s Coming Frames Jesus’ Coming in the Salutation (Rev 1:4-8).
First, God’s coming frames Jesus’ coming in the salutation. Revelation is a prophecy. But its format is a letter, a letter to be circulated and read among all the churches.[i] Common to any letter is a salutation, where you address the person(s) you’re writing to. In verse 4, John addresses the seven churches in Asia like so…
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, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Notice how the salutation begins and ends with the same title: the one “who is and who was and who is to come.” This is a reflection on God’s covenant name in Exodus 3:14. At the burning bush Moses asks God, “If the people say, ‘What’s his name?’ what shall I tell them?” God replies, “I am who I am,” or “I am the one who is.” Some have suggested the name speaks to God’s eternal existence—God simply is. But in the context of Exodus 3:12, God reassures Moses, “Surely I will be with you.” In other words, God’s covenant name means more than his existence; it expresses that he is and will be with his people.[ii]
That becomes even clearer in John’s reflection on the divine name. He combines three verbal forms to emphasize God’s immediate, past, and future presence working for his people. He’s the one “who is,” meaning, “I am the God who is with you now.” He then moves to the one “who was” to emphasize his presence with his people throughout history. Then finally we get the one “who is coming” to emphasize how this same God is in the process of coming to save them.[iii]
But there’s something further to note about that last piece in his divine name—“the one who is coming.” Throughout the Old Testament God is known as the one who is coming. Whether it’s to save or to judge at the end of time—God is coming. Psalm 96:13, “…all the trees of the forest [shall] sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth.” Isaiah 35:4, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you” (also Isa 40:10; 66:15).
Hosea 6:3, “Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” Habakkuk 2:3, which is pretty significant since it also gets applied to Jesus in Hebrews 10:37. But it goes like this, “For still the vision [is] for a time; and it shall spring forth for the end and not for vain; if he should delay, wait for him; for the coming one will come, and will not delay.” Malachi 3:1, “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come into his temple…” Zechariah 14:5, “…Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.” God is coming to judge and to save. He’s known throughout the Old Testament as the one who is to come. That’s who he is.
However, within the framework of God’s coming here, John inserts a litany of clauses celebrating Jesus. We find Jesus’ past redeeming work—he is “the faithful witness;” he washed us “by his blood;” he is “the firstborn from the dead” (Rev 1:5). We also find Jesus’ present reign—he is “ruler of kings on earth” (Rev 1:5). Then finally we find Jesus’ future return—verse 7, “he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.”
The main element to observe is this: sandwiched between the God “who is coming” in verse 4 and verse 8 is John saying, “Behold, [Jesus] is coming…”[iv] By framing Jesus’ coming between God’s name as the coming one, John urges us to see God’s coming in Jesus’ coming. God comes for his people and for his kingdom in the coming of Jesus. Even better, in verse 7 John pulls from Zechariah 12:10 and Daniel 7:13 to describe this coming; and both passages present a divine, messianic figure who achieves God’s end-time salvation and judgment. Both passages get applied to Jesus here; meaning, Jesus is the divine, messianic figure saving and judging.
2. God Is the Coming Lord & Jesus Is the Coming Lord (Rev 1:8; 22:20).
Next, we see that God is the coming Lord and yet so is Jesus. I draw that conclusion from re-reading verse 8 in light of its counterpart in 22:20. Read verse 8 again: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” So the Almighty speaks as “the Lord God” and then he identifies himself as he “…who is to come.” But watch this in 22:20. Jesus says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Then the encouraged prayer is, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
So “Lord” is used for both God the Father and Jesus Christ.[v] Even more, God is the Lord who is coming; and Jesus is the Lord who is coming. How do those two fit together? It’s not that we have two separate Lords with separate comings. Rather, the Lord God’s coming is revealed in the Lord Jesus’ coming. Jesus is one with the Father in lordship such that Jesus’ coming unveils the coming of God.
3. God’s Coming Reign Manifests Itself in Jesus’ Coming Reign (Rev 11:15).
Look next at Revelation 11:15. This is the seventh trumpet judgment. It follows the seven seals; it anticipates the seven bowls. The way these sets of seven work is they run you all the way to the end, and then step back and run you to the end again but with more detail than before. Since it’s the seventh trumpet, we’re at the end of time once again. Here John sees God’s final victory over the Beast’s kingdom.
He says, “Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” Verse 17 is then a praise to the “Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.” So the words “he shall reign forever and ever” in verse 15 most likely align with the Lord God Almighty reigning in verse 17.
But how remarkable is it that the kingdom of the Lord God Almighty equally belongs to “his Christ.” In other words, the reign of God becomes manifest in the reign of his Christ. That’s even clearer when you consider what we saw last time with Jesus bearing God’s title, “Lord of lords,” or Jesus and God sharing the one throne of glory. God’s reign becomes manifest in Jesus’ reign.
4. Yahweh’s Coming in Isaiah Becomes Jesus’ Coming in Revelation.
Next, I want to look at the way John pulls from Isaiah 40:10 in Revelation 22:12. I’ll read Isaiah 40:10 first. Basically, Isaiah anticipates a final coming of Yahweh to judge the world, and he says this: “Behold the Lord! The Lord is coming with strength, and his arm is with power. Behold, his reward is with him, and the work before him.” But in Revelation 22:12, Jesus[vi] uses the vocabulary from Isaiah’s prophecy to depict his own coming in terms of Yahweh’s coming. Look at the similarities: “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for the work he has done.” Jesus describes his own coming in terms once reserved for Yahweh’s coming.[vii]
5. Yahweh’s Coming in Zechariah Becomes Jesus’ Coming in Revelation.
One more observation brings us to our five: John clarifies the coming of God in Zechariah as the coming of Christ in Revelation. One of Zechariah’s main themes is the end-time return of Yahweh to save his people and judge his enemies. That return is even expressed as Yahweh’s “coming” in Zechariah 2:10. He says, “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst.”
But within the larger prophecy, Yahweh’s coming included several end-time events. Yahweh will somehow accept a piercing—Zechariah 12:10. That piercing will then lead to the cleansing of his people—Zechariah 13:1. Many nations will join themselves to the Lord in that day—Zechariah 2:11. God will also deliver his people in a final battle—Zechariah 12:2-9 and 14:3-5. God will subject the rebellious nations to judgment—Zechariah 14:3, 12-15, 17-19. Then finally, God will transform the earth into a cosmic sanctuary with his ruling presence—Zechariah 14:6-11, 16, 20-22.
All these events are bound up with God’s promise, “I am coming.” We know from John’s Gospel that Jesus fulfilled some of these very prophecies already. As God in the flesh, he suffered the soldier piercing his side while hanging from the cross—John 19:37. His death is one that takes away the sin of the world—John 1:29. Right now many nations are joining themselves to the Lord because of his sacrifice—John 12:32. In that sense, God’s final coming has already begun in Jesus’ first coming. Jesus’ first coming is but episode one in God’s final arrival to save his people and judge the earth.
What Revelation clarifies is that Jesus’ second coming will complete God’s end-time coming. Remember God’s promise from Zechariah 2:10, “I am coming.” Of no little significance is that Jesus echoes those very words throughout Revelation. “I am coming”—Jesus says it seven times in Revelation (Rev 2:5, 16; 3:11; 16:15; 22:7, 12, 20). In Revelation the number seven indicates completeness.[viii] Jesus’ seven-fold repetition of “I am coming” establishes that his own coming is the very completion of God’s coming. It’s the season finale, so to speak.
In fact, whereas Zechariah anticipated Yahweh, it’s now Jesus who comes to deliver God’s people in battle—Revelation 19:11-16. It’s Jesus who subjects the rebellious nations to judgment—Revelation 6:12-17 and 19:17-20:3. It’s Jesus who transforms the earth into a cosmic sanctuary much like the one described in Zechariah—Revelation 21:1-22:5.[ix] The point couldn’t be clearer: God’s final coming to save and to judge becomes Jesus’ coming. Jesus’ coming fulfills the very mission of God.
Recognize Jesus’ transcendent uniqueness; he fulfills the mission of God/Yahweh.
So, this is yet another way Scripture identifies Jesus not simply with God but as God. His mission, his coming, is God’s mission and coming. These patterns help us see that the Bible reveals Jesus’ deity in more ways than just the direct assertion, “Jesus is God.” A handful of verses come close to saying that: John 1:1, “the Word was God.” Romans 9:5, “the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever.” Titus 2:13, “the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,” and so on.
But most of the time, the New Testament reveals Jesus in a manner where his divine identity becomes unmistakably and exclusively clear. See, the title “God” is rather ambiguous on its own. Christopher Wright notes, “Many ancient Greeks or Romans, like many contemporary Hindus, wouldn’t balk at such a sentence [like “Jesus is God”], provided the word god is left undefined…”[x] I mean, people believe in all kinds of gods, gods that even appear human on occasion. What difference does it make to say “Jesus is God” among the pantheon of other gods?
But the New Testament writers don’t stop there, do they? No, they forge link after link after link between Jesus and Yahweh. Not only does Jesus share Yahweh’s identity as Lord. Jesus also performs the functions of Yahweh—Jesus too is the sole Creator, Ruler, Savior, and Judge. That’s what we’ve seen the last few weeks. And then today, Jesus fulfills the very mission of Yahweh.
What that does is place Jesus in that category of transcendent uniqueness. Jesus isn’t but one religious leader to follow among others; one godly man to imitate among others; one prophet to hear among others—“Just take your pick. If he suits you best, then fine.” No, Jesus is no mere man; he is the one true God who deserves all our allegiance.
When that’s your confession, the world will hate you. The world will hate you, because Jesus’ way is no longer a religious suggestion or therapeutic pick-me-up. If Jesus is God, then Jesus’ way is the only way to live, period. If you’re out of sync with Jesus, you’re out of sync with God. Jesus’ way is God’s way. His words are God’s words. You can’t pick and choose what you like and dislike about Yahweh—the covenant Creator and Lord. Everybody owes him everything.
Read the Old Testament with the conviction that Jesus is God.
Something else that we’re learning over the past few weeks is how to read the Old Testament with John. By forging link after link between Jesus and Yahweh, John teaches us to read the Old Testament with the conviction that Jesus is God. The New Testament also teaches us to read the Old Testament with the conviction that Jesus is the New Adam, or Jesus is the True Israel, or Jesus is the ultimate Son, Sage, Servant, Sacrifice, and so on. But one further conviction is that Jesus is God the Son.
It’s through this lens that we can then make sense of God’s saving purpose, and how it plays out in history. It’s how we understand a text like Psalm 110:1, “The Lord says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand…’” “If David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” Jesus asks. Because David’s son is greater than David; he’s Lord. It’s how we understand Psalm 45:6-7, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever…” and how Hebrews 1:8 says God said that concerning Jesus. It’s how Jude 5 can say, “Jesus saved a people out of the land of Egypt and afterward destroyed those who didn’t believe.”
What?! Where?! How are they making these connections? They make them, because they’ve witnessed God’s glory in Jesus, “glory as of the only Son from the Father.” To read the Old Testament as a follower of Jesus is to read it with the conviction that Jesus is Lord and God. Jesus’ Godhood isn’t the invention of the church in the third and fourth centuries. Rather, the church sought to describe the way Scripture itself already spoke about Jesus. He is God, and as God he fulfills the mission of God.
Rejoice in God’s coming in Jesus & let it compel you to live for his kingdom.
That mission is unfolding as you listen right now. God’s end-time mission has already entered its last days. God has come to us in the person of Jesus once already. We celebrate his first advent, and how God became man to save us. But soon will come the season finale. The return of the King is almost here; he’s in the process of coming to establish God’s kingdom on earth. And that coming of God ought to affect us.
All seven times that Jesus says, “I am coming,” in Revelation, it’s to move God’s people to action. In 2:5 and 2:16 Jesus says “I am coming” to compel the church to repent—to renounce sin and return to Christ. His coming should move us to return to our first love and to forsake the world’s idols. In 3:11 Jesus says “I am coming” to encourage ongoing faithfulness, boldness to stand for Jesus’ name in the face of persecution.
In 16:15 Jesus says “I am coming” to rouse the church from lethargy and keep us watchful for his return, while giving ourselves wholly to his work (cf. Matt 24:45-25:46). In 22:7 and 12 Jesus says “I am coming” to motivate our obedience to the words of his prophecy, also noting how our works will be rewarded. In 22:20 Jesus says “I am coming soon,” and his words stir the church to pray, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”
Is that your prayer? Does Jesus’ coming affect your life in this way? We can’t say we know the God of Scripture and not be moved to live for his kingdom. We can’t say Jesus is Lord and not prepare for his coming. How are you preparing? What steps of repentance need to happen today to align your life with the coming reign of God?
Are there idols to renounce? Fears keeping you from obedience? Ways you’ve been needing to give yourself more wholly to Jesus’ work? People you’ve been needing to serve? What does your commitment to the maturity of Jesus’ church look like? How are you using your gifts to edify the saints? Perhaps a good start is to ask the Lord for a heart that cries, “Amen! Come Lord Jesus!” and not because we just want to escape the mess, but most of all because we want to see Jesus in all his glory.
Beloved, God is on an unstoppable mission. He plans to flood the earth with a knowledge of his glory. Habakkuk 2:14, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Jesus Christ has given himself to that mission; and because he is God, the mission will not fail and cannot fail.
Yet because he also became man for our sake, we find ourselves welcomed through his blood to enjoy the mission with him. It’s not that the church got together one day and said, “Hey, I know what we can do, let’s start a mission for God…” No! It’s that God came to us, became incarnate for us, lived for us, died for us, rose for us, and then welcomed us into his presence; and now the church can’t help but give herself wholly to this gracious God in mission. Rejoice in God’s coming in Jesus. Rejoice that he came in a state of humility to reconcile us to God. Rejoice that he’s coming again in a state of glory to make all things new. Until then, let’s live for his kingdom. “I am coming,” he says.
[i]Rev 1:4; 22:21.
[ii]Cf. Bauckham, Theology of Revelation, 28-30.
[iii]Hoskins, Revelation, 52.
[iv]The primary context here is Daniel 7:13-14 in reference to the “son of man” figure. But the same cloud imagery regularly describes Yahweh’s theophanic presence (e.g., Exod 13:21-22; 40:34-38; Lev 16:2; 2 Sam 22:12; 1 Kgs 8:10-11; Ps 97:2 [LXX 96:2]; LXX Zech 2:17; Isa 19:1; Ezek 1:4; cf. Deut 33:26; Ps 18:9 [LXX 17:10; MT 18:10]).
[v]John uses “Lord” for both God the Father and Jesus Christ (God the Father: Rev 1:8; 4:8, 11; 11:4 [cf. Zech 4:14], 15, 17; 15:3, 4; 16:7; 18:8; 19:6; 21:22; 22:5, 6; Jesus Christ: Rev 11:8; 14:13; 17:14; 19:16; 22:20, 21). In doing so, John aligns himself with the confessions of the early church (e.g., Acts 2:36; Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 8:5-6; 16:22; Phil 2:9-11; 1 Pet 3:15).
[vi]Cf. “I, Jesus…” in Rev 22:16.
[vii]You can find a similar parallel in 2 Peter. 2 Peter 1:16 refers to the “power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” But then 2 Peter 3:12 refers to “the coming of the Day of God.” In other words, when taken together, God comes to judge the world in the coming of Jesus.
[viii]On the significance on the number seven in the book of Revelation, see Bauckham, Climax, 28-37; Beale, Revelation, 59-59.
[ix]E.g., Rev 21:23-25 // Zech 14:6-7; Rev 22:1 // Zech 14:8; Rev 22:3, 11 // Zech 14:11.
[x]Wright, Mission of God, 105.
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