Four times in the final chapter of The Revelation Jesus indicates that he’s coming soon. The book was written nearly two millennia before now, so I am prone to wonder if I have a different concept of soonishness than Christ. Or Paul, for that matter, since Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4 that he anticipated Christ to return within his lifetime. Matthew and Mark seem to have also gotten this confused, according to chapters 24 & 13 respectively.
Time is a slippery subject in The Revelation, teasing us with the knowledge that Christ will come but not guaranteeing when or how.
Still, some speculate about his coming and others predict when it will occur, while still many others live in spiritual anxiety and dis-ease. Ironically, it seems that the people most concerned with the future are least concerned with preparing for it—doing the little things of long significance like loving others, caring for the poor, or working quietly in prayer and at play. We would do well to remember that even Christ never claimed to know the day or the hour of his return (Matthew 24.36), simply that one day the father would tell him to go and he would.
Maybe he, too, hoped it would happen sooner than it has.
I’ve written about this in many other places, but it never seems inappropriate to remind ourselves how wrong everyone was about the first coming of the Messiah. The Jews expected a conquering king, a vehement prophet, and a priest of unsurpassed holiness. Jesus was, in fact, all of those but he didn’t conquer with violence, nor was he acclaimed as a true prophet, nor did the religious authorities consider his holiness of any real worth. If they were that wrong, how can we expect to be any more right? They studied the Scriptures with a devotion and a zeal that far surpasses ours, and yet were unable to predict the foxy ways of God. If the future was unavailable to them, how can we be so brash as to think we can “prophecy” about the future on a website or on satellite TV?
We know next-to-nothing about Christ’s final coming, and never will until it happens and we look at one another exclaiming, ‘oh…like that!”
I think this is why NT Wright refers to the many ‘comings’ of Christ—he came in the incarnation as a man; he rose from the dead, coming into new life in the resurrection; he will come once more to judge evil with finality. The bigger issue, for us now as well as for John and his audience then, is to determine how Christ comes to us in each moment and how we’ll recognize him when he does.
Now that would be a Revelation.
AND ANOTHER THING…
Here’s my last lingering thought, for what it’s worth.
In the final chapter of The Revelation John refers to the New Jerusalem as the bride of Christ. But elsewhere, Christ’s bride is unambiguously defined as us—his people. NT Wright helps make this connection: we are the New Jerusalem. It’s not a place, it’s a people. Which means that God makes his dwelling as much on us as in us. He lives in us like I like in Michigan. And the features of the New Jerusalem correspond to the features of the Christian life. The golden streets are lit paths of righteousness and providence. The gates that represent the apostles and the tribes also represent the boundaries of faith, defined by those who have come before us. The leaves of the Tree of Life, meant for healing the nations, are meant to indicate that the fruit of our lives—the fruit of the Spirit—is designed to heal the world around us. The river of life flows from God, through us, to the world.
I’m captured by this vision.
But that’s not to say that the New Jerusalem is simply a metaphor, or that John’s vision of a future, final, cleanup and recreation of the world is somehow just a poetic description of spirituality. No—I think it’s both. And heaven, at least in part, means being able to have your cake and eat it too.