Awaiting Advent / Advent; Second Coming / Revelation 22:18–21
I confess the thought of Christ returning soon was something I did not always look forward to. When I was younger I had so many things I still wanted to enjoy. I felt like all the descriptions of heaven that I had heard lacked any of my toys and earthly interests. Heaven seemed a bit boring. Floating on clouds with chubby cherubs was not very appealing.
When children are not bored with details of a joyless heaven, they are excessively warned to be ready. Instead of hope, they have nightmares that Christ will return when their hand is stuck in the cookie jar.
We know we are supposed to anticipate Christ’s return, but many of us—for a number of reasons—aren’t quite ready for that to occur.
The tension that accompanies this life strains our anticipation for the life to come.
John brings Revelation to a close with an epilogue that places the focus upon the return of Jesus. We said this was related to Advent, because the term means “appearing” and can be used in reference to Christ first and second coming.
Advent is about reflecting upon Christ’s first coming and anticipating his soon return. The more we grasp of the purpose for Christ’s first coming as well as the circumstances surrounding his second coming, the more we are filled with anticipation for his return.
Read Revelation 22:18-21.
The Prophet’s Admonition (18-19)
John closes with strong warnings to “everyone who hears” the words of Revelation. If anyone adds to the words, God will add these plagues to him (18). If anyone takes away from the words, God will take away his covenant promises (19).
Maybe after reading this you can sympathize a bit with the pastor who wants to do justice to the text and ends up painting a very foreboding picture of Christ’s return. We need to takes some time to think about the purpose of this admonition.
We find a similar warning in…
Deuteronomy 4:2 ESV
You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.
Meredith Kline makes a convincing case that ancient Near Eastern treaty documents, of which Deuteronomy has many parallel features, typically included pronouncements of curses upon anyone who would altar the documents. We see several similarities between the warnings in Deuteronomy and Revelation. They occur in several different places associating the warning with idolatry (Rev 21:8, 27; 22:15), promising a reward to those who heed the warning, and punishment for those who ignore it.
John is not primarily concerned about simple scribal errors or even misinterpretations of the book. This isn’t a warning to everyone who holds to a different interpretation than you about the Millennial Reign of Christ. John is warning those who would deliberately distort the message the angel delivered. It is a warning against the rebellious person who seeks to promote himself by stirring up conflict.
Revelation A Warning for Hearers
These two groups find their analogies today in legalists who add man-made works to salvation and liberals who deny plainly taught biblical doctrines.
Notice how easily Scripture flows between warning, command, and promise. We cannot proclaim the whole counsel of God’s word by eliminating categories that build tension in the hearers. The warnings remain valid and the commandments remain relevant. The Holy Spirit works through both means together with the promise to provide the grace we need to walk in obedience.
This admonition addresses those who fail to take every part of God’s word seriously. How would your walk with God be impacted if all of the warning passages in Hebrews were removed from your Bible? What if you ignored James altogether? Does the tension of certain passages and books cause you to pay less attention to them? Do you assume they don’t apply to you?
Revelation Its Triple Warning
The Puritan Thomas Goodwin once went to Dedham to hear a famous preacher named John Rogers. As Rogers preached, he spoke earnestly about people’s failure to take in the Word of God. Speaking on behalf of God, Rogers said, “You shall have my Bible no longer.” He closed the big Bible on the pulpit, tucked it under his arm, and made as if he was going to take it out of the church. Then he turned and began to play the part of the people, saying, “Lord, whatsoever thou dost to us, take not thy Bible from us.”
Then Rogers, again speaking on God’s behalf said, “Well, I will try you a while longer; and here is my Bible for you, I will see how you will use it, whether you will love it more.” Goodwin was overwhelmed. At the end of the service, he went out to his horse to go back to Cambridge, and hung on the neck of his horse and for fifteen minutes he wept and wept, that he might be such a man to be fed on the whole counsel of God.
Where do we turn when the tension increases?
We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to study God’s Revelation so that we are not tossed about by false teachers who delight to draw attention to themselves (away from Christ). Because we know these words provide life and hope, we may have to confront and correct false teachers who infiltrate the Church. Public rebuke is necessary at times. Timid Christian leadership may be all too common in the Church today, but it was foreign to the Old and New Testaments.
However, the danger is that we become all head and no heart. We puff ourselves up with doctrinal precision, but it never travels the twelve inches from our head to our heart. This warning is not for outsiders, but those who are in the congregation—right here, even now. They have heard the warning, but their heart has not been changed by it. If that describes you I pray that the Lord would convict you of your false conversion that you might be grieved to repentance.
As those who have heard the words of the prophecy of this book, it is our job to accept them as they have been delivered to us—without alteration. While in exile on the island of Patmos, isolated from the body of Christ, John was given a vision that has encouraged the church throughout this present age. We must protect it from false teachers who seek to add to or taking away anything that is written in it.
Some tension is necessary to protect the integrity of Revelation. This warning is not meant to be taken lightly, but neither is is meant to condemn those trusting in Christ.
› Rather, these words are meant to increase…
The Bride’s Anticipation (20)
Jesus declares that he is coming soon and John replies with “Amen.” He agrees with the Lord’s promise desiring its fulfillment. In fact, his prayerful response is a call for the Lord to come.
Revelation A Promise to Come Soon
The Didache, a church manual dated to the late first century, connects this prayer to the early church liturgy of the Lord’s Supper. We can see the fervor of the original disciples in that the same prayer for Christ’s spiritual presence in the sacrament also expressed their longing for his physical return in the second coming.
We all feel the tug of war between our flesh and spirit. We know what it is like to want earthly joys more than Christ.
Revelation A Promise to Come Soon
Craig Keener tells a story from early in his Christian life that should challenge us all. As a young adult, he greatly longed for a marriage partner, and this desire dominated his daily prayer life. One day, however, he walked in on a worship service where Christians were fervently singing about Jesus’ return. He was struck that while he longed for a wife and prayed constantly for this earthly companionship, which God had not necessarily promised him, he was thinking nothing about and praying little for the greatest companionship that God has promised. Keener exhorts us: “Any other longing we have will be but a shadow of our desire for the greatest and truest love available, the love to which the Lamb’s shed blood stands as an eternal testimony.” Jesus says, “Surely I am coming soon.” May our hearts respond in the spirit of John and the first Christians, saying, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).
God requires that the Church anticipate Christ’s return. We feel tension between our desire to reach the pinnacle of earthly joys and our hope of experiencing heavenly joys.
Some of us read these words, “Surely I am coming soon” with a twinge of guilt. We know that, deep down, we’re looking forward to having a few more experiences before that day arrives. Those who are really young want the trendy toys. As we get older we want to enjoy college years, the start of our careers, and meeting a spouse. Some of you know who that is and you’re awaiting that marriage bliss. You’re praying that Jesus would hold off just a few more years…
Let me clarify, there is nothing wrong with anticipating earthly blessing. Marriage is a wonderful benefit. Work is rewarding. College life is great and toys fill our childhood with a lot of fun. But none of these blessings come close to comparing to the joy that awaits in the New Heaven and New Earth.
When John wrote “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” he wrote on behalf of a Church that was waiting to walk down the aisle to see her bridegroom. The groom is patiently waiting for the culmination of everything that he lived and died to secure. There is literally nothing in this life that can compare to the glories that await us in eternity.
Those mourning the death of loved ones or anxious about their health might feel this anticipation a little more fervently. You know how much sorrow and pain will disappear in a moment. Your plea of “Come, Lord Jesus!” might even be characterized as a desperate cry for relief from the heartache of this world. 2020 will be remembered for contributing a healthy dose of suffering, discouragement, and sadness into our lives.
You don’t have to be in the midst of a traumatic trial to anticipate Christ’s return with joy. Relief and help are on the way, but even better is the fulfillment of every promise reaching its culmination. Heaven will be more satisfying than a room full of every LEGO set you have ever wanted. Heaven will be filled with more fun and fellowship than any college student could ever pack into a lifetime. Heaven is an endless honeymoon. The bride of Christ is united to her groom forever.
We will have zero regret that we missed out on some earthly joy. The shadows of ecstasy we experience in this life will only magnify and multiply when Jesus ushers us into the celestial city. On that day, when we finally meet our Savior face to face, we will fully understand that nothing in this world compares.
Anticipation is worth fighting for because it directs our heart toward rewards that last. When we anticipate what is true we will not be disappointed when our earthly joys fade.
As we study God’s Revelation the Spirit stirs up our hope so that we desire Christ above all else. Paul said, “to live is Christ and to die is gain,” (Phil 1:20). We appreciate God’s word and boldly proclaim the gospel to our lost neighbors.
› The Bride’s declaration of anticipation is followed by…
The Lord’s Benediction (21)
The benediction that follows the anticipation becomes the anchor of our perseverance. Like other New Testament epistles, this book ends with a benediction. They are so frequent in the New Testament that we treat it as an element of worship. Many denominations conclude with one, but I had not seen one until I began attending Sierra View PCA.
The benediction is a prayerful appeal and declaration of blessing rolled into one. “Grace” is a common word in the benediction, and it was Paul’s favorite concept to conclude his letters. “Grace” implies that God’s favor comes to us free of charge. We cannot earn God’s favor, but Jesus has earned it on our behalf.
Benedictions are an appropriate way to end the worship service because they remind us of God’s promise while prayerfully sending us off with a unanimous “Amen”. In our response to the benediction we declare our corporate anticipation of experiencing the Lord’s promised blessing.
Although this book contains several warnings and terrifying images of judgment, it concludes with a word of encouragement.
It is our privilege to receive the grace freely provided through Jesus. Receiving grace is about allowing God’s Spirit to give you rest. Striving after God’s favor is replaced with trusting what Christ has done to earn that favor for you.
Christians often chase after a happiness that is entirely inferior to the offer of grace we already possess. The Christian life is about relieving the tension of this life by remembering the covenant promises that Christ has secured.
We long for the full experience of the grace of our Savior. It is that grace which sustains us. It is that grace which fills us with a proper hope in the face of earthly tragedy. Do you feel your need for Christ’s grace? If so, that is precisely where you need to be in order to receive it.
In “Come Ye Sinners” Joseph Hart encourages us with the following words:
Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requires
Is to feel your need of Him.
This He gives you, this He gives you,
‘Tis the Spirit’s rising beam.
Don’t settle for the temporary and fleeting pleasures of this world when the Lord has promised to give you his all-satisfying grace.