The promise “coming soon” in Revelation is an imminent event for the end-time church
Rabach Symon Odek
The understanding of the promise “coming soon” in Revelation revolves around the interpretation of the adverb tachy, translated as “soon.” There are several views on the interpretation of the adverb:
1. A focus on the temporal aspect of the adverb, in which it is taken to indicate only a literal, temporal proximity. According to this interpretation, the promise “coming soon” is viewed to mean near only to John’s time in which the original audience expected the prophecies to be fulfilled in their lifetime. One option in this view is that Jesus would come to His followers during their crisis, the persecution of the church in the first century. The other is that the promise was intended for John’s time, but failed.
2. An emphasis on the adverbial aspect of manner, the rapid rate of an activity or event. The Second Coming in this view will rapidly and suddenly unfold whenever it will be. Nearness is not held as the emphasis of the promise.
3. A qualified temporal use of the adverb, which views it as temporal not chronologically, but from an apocalyptic and eschatological perspective. The promise “coming soon” is understood as temporal, but from the context of the near-end motif of the Bible, an ever-present promise to God’s people. Another understanding of a qualified temporal view is from the salvation history perspective. According to this view, after Pentecost, the next major event in the salvation history is the Second Coming, therefore it is near. Still some view it as temporal, but from God’s perspective of time.
4. The meaning of the adverb translated as “soon” is also held as mainly didactic with no historical fulfillment either in the near or distant future, but now. The emphasis is on the glorious manifestation of Jesus now in the present.
The Usage of This Word and Cognates in the Bible
The first three interpretations of the adverb translated as “soon” are based on the possible lexical and contextual meaning of the word. In the fourth interpretation, however, the usage is mainly symbolic. Therefore, the basic meaning of the adverb lies with the first three interpretations, which are basically two. It is whether as used in the promise the adverb is temporal or focuses on the manner of the action.
The basis of understanding soon or quick(ly) as emphasizing speed is both lexical and contextual. Lexically, soon and its cognates in Revelation are primarily viewed as emphasizing speed. Contextually, works such as the Septuagint (the Hebrew Bible) and the New Testament allow the term to be understood as indicating the rapid nature of an action. Some New Testament examples seem to support this point (Luke 18:8; Acts 12:7; 22:18; 25:4; Rom. 16:20).1 Some references from the Septuagint have been used to support the adverbial aspect of manner in the use of the term. This understanding of the adverbial meaning ofsoon leads to the view that swiftness and suddenness of the Second Coming is the intended meaning of the promise “coming soon.”
The argument for the temporal adverbial emphasis of soon in Revelation is based on the usage of its cognates. The Greek cognates such as eggus, mellow (“near,” “to be about to”), and the phrase en tachei(“soon”), are viewed as temporal. Lexically, there is a possibility of such an understanding. The connection between eggus (“near”) and en tachei(“soon”) in Revelation 1:3 and 22:6 is an indication that the temporal meaning could be in view.
Nevertheless, the temporal interpretation of the adverb becomes problematic when viewed chronologically. Many prophecies in Revelation lay in the future, beyond the period of John. A literal, temporal view of the word translated as “soon” has led some to either discount the promise of the Second Coming or to limit its fulfillment to the time of John.
The usage of the adverb and its cognates depends mainly on the context. The employment of the term and its cognates in the context of God’s visitation in the Old Testament, the Apocrypha and Pseudopigrapha indicate that temporal focus is in view. The temporal nuance of the adverb is found in instances where it could be translated as “so soon,” describing the brevity of the time to restoration (Isa. 58:8) and in describing the Day of the Lord. The word also carries the meaning of swiftness and suddenness when describing God’s judgment upon the wicked. The word translated as “soon” modifies the verb coming twice in the Septuagint (Isa. 51:5; 56:1, NLT).
In the New Testament, the usage of soon and its cognates also depends largely on the context. There are instances in which the focus is on the speed of the action, or is temporal, or where the distinction is difficult to make. The adverb soon with coming is used only in the Book of Revelation. However, the usage of its cognate in the rest of the New Testament with “I am coming” has a temporal focus. The adverb and its cognates also convey a temporal meaning when used with the verbs with futuristic meaning or in future tense.
A certain pattern emerges from the use of soon and its cognates in the Bible. In the cases of God’s visitation, and with verbs in future tense, imminence is the focus. The usage of the cognates with the verb coming in the New Testament is also consistently temporal. It can be concluded that with the verb coming, and in prophetic passages near time is the main emphasis of the adverb soon. Speed may be implied in the usage, but speed alone is never the meaning. Therefore, the usage of the adverb soon in the promise “coming soon” points mainly to imminence.
With the understanding that the promise “coming soon” means the imminence of the Lord’s return, how then could imminence be understood in the light of lapse of time since the promise was made? This study attempts to explore the contexts of the promise “coming soon” in Revelation for answers to this question. The promise appears only in the letter frame of the book. Twice it occurs in the messages to the seven churches (Rev. 2:16; 3:11) and thrice in the epilogue (22:7, 12, 20). The implication of the usage of the promise in these two contexts is valuable in understanding its meaning.
The Promise “Coming Soon” in Revelation 2 and 3
A study of the context of the promise “coming soon” in Revelation 2 and 3 reveals that there are anticipated responses to the promise in this section. The promise occurs in Revelation 2:16 and 3:11, nevertheless, the verb coming and its cognate are used without the adverb soon in all other letters to the churches except to the church of Symrna.
The responses anticipated from the proclamation of the promise “coming soon” in Revelation 2 and 3 are expressed in the imperative verbsmetanoēson (“repent”) in Revelation 2:16 and kratei (“hold on”) in Revelation 3:11. The consistent use of the imperatives in connection with the promise conveys urgency. The present imperative translated “hold on” in Revelation 3:11 denotes a continuous “holding on.” The centrality of the motif of perseverance is expressed in a concentric structure.
Expected Responses to the Promise of the Second Coming in Revelation 2 and 3
A Ephesus (Rev. 2:5) Consider . . . . Repent . . . do
B Smyrna (vs. 10) Be faithful
C Pergamum (vs. 16) Repent
D Thyatira (vs. 25) Hold on
C1 Sardis (3:3) Remember . . . . repent, Watch
B1 Philadelphia (vs. 11) Hold on to what you have
A1| Laodicea (vs. 19) Be earnest and repent
The concentric structure is framed with the imperative “repent” (AA1|). The second section (BB1|) highlights the need for perseverance in the light of Christ’s return. The third section (CC1|) deals with repentance. This section elaborates further the actions that accompany repentance. In Revelation 3:2, 3 (C1|), the words “be watchful” and “hold fast” are used (NKJV). The motif of watchfulness in the light of the second coming of Jesus is highlighted in this section.
At the center of the structure is the imperative “‘hold on,’” the focal point of the anticipated responses. This is expressed in the verb translated as “hold on” (Rev. 2:25). The structure indicates a movement from repentance (AA1), perseverance (BB1), to watchfulness (CC1|) and on to an emphasis on “holding on,” at the center (D). The anticipated responses reveal urgency, and an ongoing fixation of the church on the promise of the Lord’s return. The life of the church revolves around the promise. The church in Revelation 2 to 3 is particularly eschatological.
The Promise “Coming Soon” in Epilogue
The promise “‘coming soon’” appears three times in the epilogue (Rev. 22:7, 12, 20). The epilogue could be structured as indicated below: The motifs stated in the first unit (Rev. 22:6–11) are amplified in the second (vss. 12–19). The emphasis is on the promise. The promise has links with the beatitudes. Jesus Himself proclaims it, and John responds to it at the end. The promise could therefore be appreciated from the context of the beatitudes, as proclamations of the coming Jesus, and in the light of John’s response.
Literary Structure of Revelation 22:6–21
1. vs. 7 “‘Look, I am coming soon!’” (Proclamation)
1. vs. 12 “‘Look, I am coming soon!’”
2. vs. 7b “‘Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy’”
2. vs. 14 “‘Blessed are those who wash their robes’”
A basis of entry and exclusion to the city
3. vs. 8 “I, John . . .”
“Fell down to worship at the feet of the angel”
“Saw these things”
3. vs. 16 “‘I, Jesus . . .’”
“‘Sent my angel’”
“Testify . . . these things” (NKJV)
4. vs. 9b John and the angel
4. vs. 17 “The Spirit and the bride”
5. vss.10, 11 The Book
“‘Do not seal . . . time is near’”
The “‘filthy. . . [the] righteous’” (NKJV)
5. vss. 18, 19 The Scroll
“Anyone [who] adds”
“Anyone [who] takes . . . away”
Revelation 22:20 “‘Yes, I am coming soon’” (Proclamation)
“Amen, Come, Lord Jesus” (Response)
The Beatitudes and the Promise in Revelation
Twice in Revelation the promise “coming soon” is directly linked to the beatitudes (Rev. 22:7, 12–14), twice there are verbal parallels (1:3, 16:15), and thrice there are thematic links (14:13; 19:9; 20:6). The use of the beatitudes indicates that the Apocalypse is a practical and pastoral book. Revelation is not “merely to impart information about the future but to help God’s people in the present.”2 They show the link between eschatology and ethics. The imminence of the return of Jesus impacts the lives of the believers.
The relationship between the promise of the Second Coming and the beatitudes reveals the attitude of anticipating the Second Coming as the next most immediate event for the believers. This is emphasized in the parallels in the beatitudes. The beatitudes in Revelation could be structured as indicated below:3
A “Blessed are those who . . . take to heart” (First Beatitude, Rev. 1:3)
B “‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord’” (Second Beatitude, 14:13)
C “‘Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed’” (Third Beatitude, 16:15)
C1 “‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb’” (Fourth Beatitude, 19:9)
B1 “‘Blessed . . . are those who share in the first resurrection’” (Fifth Beatitude, 20:6)
A1 “‘Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy’” (Sixth Beatitude, 22:7)
An Emphasis: “Blessed are those who wash their robes” (Seventh Beatitude, 22:14)
The first beatitude has similarities with the sixth. Both call for perseverance and obedience to keep the words of the prophecy. These two beatitudes encourage the Christian to hold on to faithfulness in the light of the soon return of Jesus. The second and the fifth deal with the hope of the Second Coming in reference to death. The second beatitude indicates that in the eventuality of death, hope of reward at the Second Coming is the focus of the believer. The fifth beatitude pronounces blessings on those who share in the first resurrection. The link between Revelation 14:13 and 6:11 and further with Hebrews 11:40 shows that the believer lives and dies in the hope of the promise. It is what is constantly in view whether living or at the point of death.
The third and the fourth beatitudes are emphasized by the seventh beatitude. (The seventh beatitude corresponds with none, but functions as an emphasis on the central idea of the beatitudes, which is preparedness.) The third beatitude emphasizes watchfulness. The idea of preparedness is also highlighted in the fourth beatitude. The Second Coming is the focus of the believer like the watchman at night in the line of duty or the bride in anticipation of the wedding. In the mental outlook of the believer, it is the next most urgent and immediate event in life. The relationship between the beatitudes and the Second Coming in Revelation reveal that the second coming of Jesus is the focus of believers. They are eager for it.
The Promise and Jesus in Revelation
Three instances of the promise “coming soon” in epilogue are proclamations from Jesus (Rev. 22:7, 12, 20). The title of Jesus, “I am Alpha and Omega,” is related to the promise “coming soon” in Revelation 22:12. The promise “coming soon” in Revelation is uniquely linked to the risen Lord; He Himself proclaims it. The risen Lord is portrayed in the visions in Revelation as: “the Son of man” (1:13; 14:14), the lamb (5:6; 19:7–9), and the victorious figure in 19:11–16. All of these portray Jesus in a Second Coming mode. The visions and appellations of Jesus in Revelation indicate His anticipation of the Second Coming.
The phrase “Son of man” in Revelation has its antecedents in the Daniellic and Johannine “Son of man.” The “Son of man” in Daniel is an end-times Being, referred to by the New Testament writers and Jesus Himself in the context of the Second Coming. The Johannine “Son of man”is often used in the passion-ascent-judgment contexts. The usage in the ascent contexts has links with the going and coming back of Jesus, especially in John 14:1 to 3. The Son of man therefore departs to descend in His second coming.
The last supper forms the background to John 14:1 to 3. Christ’s eagerness for His return is expressed in the use of the Lord’s Supper as a reminder of His passion and the anticipation of His coming. Twice in Revelation, Jesus is depicted as a son of man (Rev. 1:13, 14:14). There is a connection between the vision of a “son of man” in Revelation 1:13 with the promise “coming soon.” The phrase is used in Revelation 14:14 in the context of the Second Coming. It can be concluded that the portrayal of Jesus as the “Son of man” in Revelation indicates the desire of Jesus to come again.
The motif of the lamb in Revelation is used in eschatological contexts. The seals culminate with judgment expressed as “the wrath of the Lamb” (6:16). In Revelation 7 the motif of the lamb is central to the eschatological habitation of the redeemed (7:9, 10, 14, 15). The use of the word Lamb in Revelation 19:7 to 9 also points to culmination. It is a favorite title for Jesus in Revelation in eschatological contexts, pointing to the one eager to return to vindicate and be with His people. The vision of the heavenly warrior in Revelation 19:11 to 21 depicts Jesus coming in the final judgment. Jesus is portrayed as a victorious warrior eager to fulfill His promise to the church.
This eagerness is also expressed in the appellation “the Alpha and the Omega.” It is consistently used in the contexts of consummation. Because the title “the Alpha and the Omega” is used only in Revelation, therefore, the two appositional titles “the First and the Last” and “the Beginning and the End” may shed light on its usage and meaning. The title “the First and the Last” can be read as “the first and even more the last” in the light of the usage in Isaiah. The title “the Beginning and the End” is used in the context of the statement “it is finished” and is attached to the promise of providing the water of life freely and the victors receiving their inheritance (21:6). The setting of the usage is the end times. These two cognates of the title “the Alpha and the Omega,” therefore, indicate that the title has a focus on “the end.” It could be read, “I am the Alpha, even more the Omega.” This unique title (the Alpha and the Omega) of Jesus in Revelation reveals an emphasis on the culmination of history. He desires to bring everything to an end.
The presentations of Jesus in the visions and titles in Revelation denote a focus on the Second Coming. The three visions of Jesus in Revelation; the “Son of man,” the Lamb, and the victorious warrior portray Jesus in a Second Coming mode. His title “the Alpha and the Omega” depicts interest in bringing everything to an end. The portrayal of Jesus in the Book of Revelation depicts His eagerness to come back. The One who proclaims the promise “coming soon” is consistently presented as coming. It can be concluded that the promise “coming soon” denotes the eagerness of the ascended Lord to descend back in His second coming.
The Book of Revelation closes with a “maranatha”-like response to the proclamation of the promise “coming soon.” “Maranatha” was a watchword in the early church for the desire of the Lord’s return. The statement reflects what is found in the Didache, a Eucharistic prayer.
Eucharistic celebration in the early church was not an end in itself, but an anticipation of the return of Jesus (1 Cor. 11:26). The use oferchou (“come”) and the affirmation amēn in Revelation 22:20 indicates an entreaty whose fulfillment is eagerly anticipated. The use of kyrie(“Lord”) points to an emotional and emphatic address. The response of John at the end of the Book of Revelation shows an all-consuming desire for the fulfilment of the promise.
The anticipation of the closing event in history overrides the chronological considerations. Confronted with the proclamation “‘I am coming soon,’” John’s response is not “When?” but a plea: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” This indicates eagerness for the event that surpasses the quest for “When?” The tendency to ask the question “When?” in response to the promise “coming soon” is itself not an issue for John. In light of the urgency, imminence, and certainty of the promise that will bring an end to the present order of things, the question “when” recedes. It is the event that is foremost in the mind, thus the response, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
The promise “‘coming soon’” in Revelation denotes the imminence of the second coming of Jesus. It has been an ever-near promise to the church throughout the ages and an imminent event for the end-time church. The believers are portrayed in Revelation as having a mental outlook of the Second Coming as the most awaited event in their lives. The proclamation of the promise by the risen Lord in the context of His portrayals in Revelation conveys His eagerness to come back. The response to the promise at the end of the book likewise indicates eagerness for the fulfilment of the promise. The event evokes intense anticipation that surpasses chronological considerations. The promise “coming soon” suggests a reading of the Book of Revelation until we are aroused to an intense anticipation of the fulfilment of the promise. Because that is how the book ends. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Rabach Symon Odek, Ph.D., is Chair of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Eastern Africa, Baraton, Kenya.