Behold, I Am Coming Soon
Topic: Judgment Passage: Revelation 22:6–15
6 And he said to me, “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.” 7 “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” 8 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, 9 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.” 10 And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” 12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” 14 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. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
Many comings in life demand a response. The coming of guests to stay for the weekend. Based on their word to show up, we prepare the home. The coming of final exams. Based on the teacher’s word, we study to perform well. There’s also the coming of good or bad weather. Depending on the word of Weather Channel, we plan our outings or cancel them. Countries have experienced the coming of war. Based on the word of pending threats, citizens had to respond. There’s also the coming of children. Based on mother’s word of “It’s time to go!” we stop everything to care for the coming baby.
Many comings in life demand a response. In many cases, necessity is laid upon us to respond. How much more when it’s the coming of God, a coming that will call the world to account, a coming that will establish his kingdom on earth.
We’ve come to John’s closing remarks in Revelation. Some have called it John’s epilogue. It has a lot in common with the way Revelation opens. Verses 6-20 form the opposite bookend to chapter 1. But as it closes, John leaves no room for neutrality. Here’s the main idea: the reliability of John’s testimony and the return of Jesus demand a response. Reliability, return, response—that’s where we’re going.
The Reliability of John’s Testimony
Let’s start with the reliability of John’s testimony. The same angel who showed John the New Jerusalem now emphasizes the reliability of God’s message to John. Verse 6, “These words are trustworthy and true.” He emphasized this before after describing the new creation. In 21:5 he said, “these words are trustworthy and true.” But in our passage, the angel includes language that started the book in 1:1-3—there too God sends his angel to show his servants what must soon take place. Then here in verse 7 he also mentions “the words of the prophecy of this book.” Meaning, the angel now has the whole book in view when he describes its reliability. All the Revelation is trustworthy and true.
How do we know? For starters, these words originate with God who is trustworthy and true. In Revelation, we meet all kinds of deceivers. In 12:9, the Dragon is “the deceiver of the whole world.” In 13:14, the false prophet deceives those who dwell on the earth. In 18:23, all nations are deceived by Babylon’s sorcery. In 2:2, some were calling themselves apostles, but really they were false. In 3:9, some claimed to be Jews, but their opposition to Jesus exposes them as liars. So, John paints a world where deception is the norm among the nations. We experience that. How many lies and half-truths litter the social media world? How many products are sold by twisting the truth or exaggerating a product’s ability to satisfy? We swim in a world of deception.
But these words originate with God in heaven. In 6:10, those in heaven know that God is “holy and true.” In 15:3, they witness how God’s ways are just and true. When God sends his Son into the world, Jesus is called “the faithful and true witness”—3:14. But even more, God’s revelation has forged link after link with the Scriptures of old; and those Scriptures reveal God’s track record. Think of Joshua 21:45, “Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.” Later David would say, “This God his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true” (2 Sam 22:31). The whole congregation sings in Psalm 111:7, “The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.” The words given to John are consistent with God’s character. He is trustworthy.
They are also consistent with Jesus’ sovereignty over history. In verse 13, Jesus says of himself, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” These are variations of a title in Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, and 48:12. God uses this title to distinguish himself from the nations and their idols. The nations and their idols lack any power to determine the future.[i] But God who is “the first and the last” not only knows the future before it takes place; he creates the future by his sovereign word.[ii] Amazingly, though, Jesus takes this title to himself. Meaning that God’s plans for history transpire through the person of Jesus. He will make them happen. These words are trustworthy and true because nobody can stop the risen, sovereign Jesus.
But there’s another reason these words are trustworthy: God is fulfilling them in history. For example, take the last few words of verse 6. God sent his angel to show his servants “what must soon take place.” That’s from Daniel 2. Daniel sees four kingdoms eventually replaced by the kingdom of God’s Messiah—like a mountain covering the earth. Those four kingdoms include Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome—all rising and falling in that order. John writes under Roman rule, and sometimes he draws connections to how Rome is one manifestation of the Beast. But John also sees Jesus reigning from a great mountain. In other words, the message John receives aligns with Daniel’s prophecy, most of which had already seen it’s fulfillment in history and is being fulfilled in John’s day as part of Jesus’ resurrection victory.
Here’s another reason to trust John’s testimony: the goal of his prophecy is the worship of God. In Scripture, a true prophet was measured (in part) by whether they directed people to worship and obey God. Deuteronomy 13:1, “If a prophet…gives you a sign or a wonder, and…[then] says, ‘Let us go after other gods…and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet.” Matthew 7:15, Jesus says that you will recognize a false prophet by their fruits. If John gave us these visions to distract us from the true worship of God, then we’d know that his message is false.
But that’s not what he does. No, notice the integrity of John’s witness in verses 8-9. “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.”
Why does John include this? Twice now! It happened in 19:10 as well. The angel has to tell him, “Stop…Worship God!” The point is to show the focus of proper worship. John openly acknowledges how easy it is for even him to get the focus of worship wrong—which also shows the integrity of John’s message. John is a true prophet. His message is one that stresses the need for our worship to center upon God alone, and he’s willing to tell you when even he needs correction. Considering all these things together, then, Revelation is a reliable testimony.
The Return of Jesus
Included in that testimony is also the return of Jesus. That’s the second part of our main idea. Look again at the end of verse 6. God shows his servants “what must soon take place.” Same words appeared in 1:1. They allude to Daniel 2.
King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream. His magicians can’t figure it out. But Daniel seeks mercy from the God of heaven. God reveals to Daniel “deep and hidden things” (Dan 2:22). So, Daniel goes to the king. The king asks whether Daniel has the interpretation. And verses 28-29 record Daniel saying this: “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days…” That’s our allusion. The Greek translation of Daniel has “what must take place in the latter days.”
Glancing back at Revelation, you probably notice the shift. Daniel says, “what must take place in the latter days.” John says, “what must take place soon.” That’s because the “latter days” were far away for Daniel. But for John they were taking place “soon.” They were taking place “soon,” not in the sense that he thought they’d all happen tomorrow. But in the sense that Jesus’ first coming had set in motion those latter days.
What is it, though, that must soon take place? Keep reading Daniel 2 and we learn both the dream and its interpretation. Verse 32, there was a great image: “The head of this image was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.”
That was the dream. It’s shrouded in mystery. But God reveals the meaning. The different parts of this image represent various kingdoms, one of them being Nebuchadnezzar’s own kingdom. One kingdom ends up conquering another…until God sets up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed. In the latter days, God’s kingdom will shatter all these rebel kingdoms and bring them to an end, until only the Lord’s kingdom stands forever. God’s kingdom will rise like a great mountain and cover the earth.
By alluding to Daniel 2, John is telling us that in the person and work of Jesus, God’s mountain is rising. That’s what must soon take place. Jesus Christ will replace all rebel kingdoms with his own kingdom that will cover the earth and last forever.
How sobering it is, then, to hear Jesus say in verse 7, “Behold, I am coming soon.” Then again in verse 12, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done.” Jesus is coming not only to replace all rebel kingdoms with his own kingdom. He’s also coming to repay, to reward.
We saw this in 20:12 as well but with respect to the wicked. Final judgment is according to works. The works stand as the external evidence to what’s true within. The quality of the works points to the true state of the heart. For some, their works will prove that their allegiance was not to the Lamb. Their works will prove that their heart didn’t belong to Christ but to idols. And God will sentence them to the lake of fire.
But for those who belong to Christ, the quality of their works will show that Christ was everything to them; and Christ will reward them accordingly. Christ will not come to condemn believers where they have failed—he has already taken away their condemnation at the cross. He comes to reward the faithful for what they’ve done.
Now, it’s true that other places in Scripture indicate degrees of reward based on one’s faithfulness.[iii] But the point here is to stress that all the rewards Jesus promised his conquerors in chapters 2-3—he will not fail to bring them at his coming. The tree of life, the crown of life, your new name, the morning star, white garments, citizenship in New Jerusalem, sitting with Jesus on his throne. Jesus will not overlook your faithfulness. He’s bringing your reward.
Of course, a question that sometimes rises is related to the word “soon”—“I am coming soon.” How soon? Over 1,900 years have passed from when John first wrote this. That doesn’t feel soon-ish. But it helps to see the bigger picture. Prophets often spoke about the future as one collage of events without indicating how far apart the fulfillment of those events would be. Some illustrate this with “the mountain peaks of prophecy.” There are occasions when, from one perspective, a whole mountain range can look like a single mountain (screen). It’s not until driving a bit further that you can discern how far apart the ridges really are (screen).
The first image illustrates a prophet’s perspective. He sees the mountain peaks of future events—he sees a collage of events called “the latter days.” But he can’t tell how far apart each fulfillment will be. The New Testament writers see more. In the work of Jesus, they’ve seen “the latter days” begin to unfold.
In fact, notice how the angel puts it in verse 10: “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.” That alludes to Daniel 12:4 and 9, where God tells Daniel to seal up the words of his prophecy. It wasn’t yet time for the mystery to be revealed. For John, however, he must not seal it up. He must reveal the mystery of God’s purpose. Why? Because the time is near. What time? The age of prophetic fulfillment. The time when God completes his purpose in the Messiah. The first coming of Jesus set those days in motion. In the whole scheme of God’s plan, the latter days are upon us. They are here. The future has broken into the present. From the broader perspective of redemptive history, Jesus’ return is just around the corner.
The Response of the Hearers
So, we’ve seen that God’s message to John in Revelation is reliable. And Jesus’ return is just around the corner. If those things are true, then necessity is laid upon us to respond. Revelation does not present a message that allows somebody to say, “I’m glad Jesus is true for you, he’s just not true for me.” That’s like saying, “I’m glad the need for oxygen and water is true for you, it’s just not true for me.” To say things like that shows people don’t understand the historical, universal claims that Christianity is making. Neutrality is not an option here. That’s the third part of our main idea, and it’s also your application. The words of this book demand a response from us.
Some are going to hear the message of Revelation and remain indifferent, unmoved from their current state of rebellion. We witnessed this callous state of heart earlier in the book. God’s severe judgments fall on those who worship the Beast, and yet John says, “they did not repent and give God glory.”[iv] It’s a sobering thing to consider how the human heart can become so hardened over time that, despite all the evidence set before them, despite every reason to repent, they still refuse.
I think that’s part of the backdrop to the angel’s words in verse 11: “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” People’s response to this word of prophecy will further confirm them in their sinful ways or further commit them to the righteous ways of Jesus. These words are like the prophets’ words to Israel. Like when God tells Isaiah, “Say to this people, ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand. Keep on seeing, but do not perceive…” Or when Ezekiel must tell Israel, “He who will hear, let him hear; and he who will refuse to hear, let him refuse…” (Ezek 3:27).
It’d be like a tour guide taking you to the side of a cliff in the Grand Canyon and he says to the crowd, “Please, take your pictures from here. But nobody come past this point, and the one who does, let him do so to his own peril.” It’s meant to shock you. It’s meant to wake you up: “Pay attention or your evil will lead you to a point of no return!” You will go on doing evil. Don’t treat John’s testimony that way. Don’t ignore the coming of Jesus that way. Rather, we must prepare to meet him.
One way we prepare to meet Jesus is by keeping the words of this prophecy. Verse 7, “Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” In 1:3 it said, Blessed is the who reads and blessed are those who hear and keep. But here it’s simply blessed are those who keep—assumption being that you’ve now read and heard the prophecy. What’s left is keeping it.
But how do we “keep” the words of this prophecy? In Revelation, keeping has to do with persisting in obedience. But that plays out in a variety of ways, doesn’t it? At times, it’s persisting in obedience to an explicit command. Jesus will say, “Repent and do the works [of love] you did at first” (Rev 2:5). Or, “Be faithful unto death” (Rev 2:10). Or, “Hold fast what you have until I come” (Rev 2:25). Or, “Fear God and give him glory” (Rev 14:7). These commands give clear ethical instruction, and the Lord expects our follow through in obedience to his ways.
We also keep the prophecy by imitating Christ and what he commends. For example, Jesus is called the “faithful witness” in 1:5. But then Jesus turns around in 2:13 and commends the church saying, “You hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you.” Antipas is held up as one who followed in the footsteps of Jesus. Then throughout the rest of the book, that’s what the church does. In chapters 11-12, the church conquers by faithful witness unto death like Jesus. So, keeping this prophecy also includes imitating the faithful Christian life that Jesus commends.
We also keep this prophecy by heeding the implicit warnings. Sometimes the warning is explicit: “Come out of [Babylon]…lest you share in her plagues.” But other times, the warning is implied by a dramatic scene. Like with the horde of demon-like locusts in 9:1-11. They come to torment only those who do not have the seal of God, those who were worshiping idols. But what’s the implied warning? If you give yourself to idols, you open yourself to a dark and demonic misery. He doesn’t just come out and say, “Stay away from idols.” He sees a vision that grabs you and shakes you from your idols. You see horrors that should drive anybody away. You keep the prophecy by heeding the warnings implicit in John’s visions.
You also keep the prophecy by seeing the world the way God does. Revelation belongs to a particular genre that’s designed to captivate your imagination. Our minds are often blunted by the redundant experiences of day-to-day. But Revelation pulls back the curtain so that we see the heavenly realities behind your day-to-day. Suddenly there’s a Dragon standing behind world powers, a Beast seeking to overwhelm you, Babylon seeking to lure you away from Christ. But there’s also glories like the Lamb enthroned in heaven, the Lamb conquering the Dragon, the Lamb walking in our midst and nourishing the church in tribulation. We keep this prophecy when we let its view of the world shape our view of the world and respond accordingly.
One more—though I doubt I’ve covered them all—we keep this prophecy by living consistently with our identity in Christ. Throughout Revelation, Jesus calls us a kingdom of priests. We are sealed to belong to the Lamb and follow him wherever he goes. That’s who we are. He’s already done the work to make us this kind of people. In chapters 2-3, the problem comes when churches make compromises that aren’t consistent with being a kingdom of priests. So, remember who you are. Remember the name you bear is that of the Lamb. He put his seal on you. He wrote his name on your forehead. He opened the way to serve in God’s presence. Now square your life to that identity.
Listen, Revelation isn’t written to tickle your curiosity about the future. It’s not written for you to determine the precise timing of end-time events. Revelation exists to help a suffering church remain faithful to Jesus in a very deceptive, worldwide assault by the Dragon and his Beast-like minions. The real mark of those who understand this book is that they keep the words written it. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes, and in his footsteps, they bear public witness to his name in the face of suffering and death. These are the blessed ones. These will experience true life in Christ.
These are also the ones who have washed their robes. Verse 14: “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.” We’ve seen this language of washing once before. 7:14, the angel says it of those coming out of the great tribulation: “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” How does blood make something white? In Revelation, white sometimes symbolizes purity, holiness. Combine that with blood, and we’ve got ourselves a connection to the priesthood in Exodus 29:21 and Leviticus 8:30. It’s there we learn that priests could not enter God’s presence unless their robes were first made holy by a sacrifice. Only then could they enter.
John sees the church that way. God has welcomed them into his presence based on Jesus’ sacrifice. Jesus’ blood has cleansed them. Jesus’ blood takes away their sins—the things making them unclean, unholy.
Those who choose not to wash their robes remain unclean. That’s why he also says in verse 15, “Outside are the dogs…” Not the literal animal, of course. Dogs were a metaphor for those unclean. A male prostitute is called a “dog” in Deuteronomy 23:18. But dogs can also encompass the fool in Proverbs 26:11, those hostile to the gospel in Matthew 7:6, or false teachers in Philippians 3:2. That’s the idea here as well—it means people unclean because of their opposition to Jesus. They’re outside with the “and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”
Outside the city doesn’t mean right outside the gates. We know from elsewhere that it means the lake of fire. Those who reject the cleansing blood of Jesus remain unclean in their sins. With no sacrifice to make them holy, these people cannot enter God’s presence. But if you wash your robes in Jesus’ blood, you may enter God’s city. If you believe that Jesus died to wash away your sins, you will gain life in God’s presence. What wrongs have you done this week? Are there ways you partnered with the rebel kingdoms? What good things should you have done but chose not to? Before God’s commands, what guilt ways upon your conscience?
How will you respond to these reliable words? How will you prepare for the coming of Jesus? Brothers and sisters, let the words of this prophecy persuade you to “wash your robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Jesus the Lamb is full of mercy, ready to wash away your sins. Don’t wait any longer. Come to him today and wash your robes. Let John’s testimony persuade you to keep the words of this prophecy, that you might find yourself blessed in the New Heaven and the New Earth.
[i] Isa 41:4; 44:6-28; 46:10; 48:11-16.
[ii] Isa 44:7-9, 18-19; 48:3, 6-8, 11-16; cf. 41:22-24; 42:9; 43:9b; 45:21; 46:10.
[iii] E.g., Matt 25:20-23; Luke 19:12-17; 1 Cor 3:10-15; 15:47; 1 Tim 6:17-19.
[iv] Rev 9:20-21; 16:9, 11, 21.