Anticipating Christ’s Return
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Identify the main purpose of the book of Revelation.
2. Summarize how Revelation 22 describes Christ’s return.
3. Suggest one specific area of life in which he or she will focus to keep “the sayings of the prophecy” of Revelation.
How to Say It
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, May 21—Pain Becomes Joy (John 16:17–24)
Tuesday, May 22—Jesus Overcomes (John 16:25–33)
Wednesday, May 23—One Body, One Spirit (Ephesians 4:1–6)
Thursday, May 24—May Christ Rule Your Hearts (Colossians 3:12–17)
Friday, May 25—Worship God (Revelation 22:6–11)
Saturday, May 26—The Reward for Faithfulness (Revelation 22:12–16)
Sunday, May 27—The Invitation (Revelation 22:17–21)
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Why Teach this Lesson?
Most all Christians are aware that the Bible teaches of Christ’s return. Somehow we’re supposed to live with that fact in mind. But most of the things we do on a daily basis seem so mundane, don’t they? Studying for exams, changing the oil in the car, shopping for new socks—we don’t usually meditate on Christ’s return while doing any of these!
Yet the certainty of Christ’s return is to influence the entirety of our lives. As a result, we don’t cheat on exams, we don’t throw out our used motor oil in a way that pollutes God’s creation, and we demonstrate Christian patience (and maybe even evangelism) while in a long checkout line to pay for our new socks. Living life in view of Christ’s return is a lifelong discipline. It starts with being convinced of the certainty of that great event. That’s where today’s lesson comes in. May we each allow the Holy Spirit to use today’s text to convict us in this regard.
A. The Bigger Picture
Everything seemed normal early on September 11, 2001, when a certain passenger jet took off. But soon a group of terrorists seized control of the plane and directed it toward Washington, D.C. The plan apparently was to ram the jet into the White House, the symbol of U.S. freedom and power. This was to be the last of four planes scheduled to wreak destruction on U.S. values that day.
When passengers began receiving cell phone calls from concerned family members, those aboard the plane soon realized that this hijacking was not motivated by the desire to extort money. This was an attack against the U.S. itself. A group of ordinary citizens began to see their present situation in light of the bigger picture. They decided to ignore their self-preservation instincts and attack the attackers. The result was a jet that crashed into a field in Pennsylvania rather than into a building in Washington, D.C.
We often get so busy with our lives that we let our busyness drown out the bigger picture of life. Yet every now and then something makes us look up and see that picture. Once the passengers aboard that jet became aware of the bigger picture, they made right decisions because they understood what was at stake.
Today’s lesson focuses on the end of the book of Revelation. It calls Christians everywhere to “look up.” It is a call to get out of the smallness of our individual circumstances and start acting with reference to the magnitude of eternity.
B. Lesson Background
The point at the end of the book of Revelation is the same point that John has made all the way through: the Lord’s victory is certain. His future return is the hope that enables us to remain faithful in the face of trial. It is important, though, that we understand the meaning of hope. In modern English this word often means something like “wishful thinking,” as in “I hope I win a new car.” But hope in biblical contexts means something more like “expectation.” Christian hope is not wishful thinking but rather is confident expectation. As the writer of Hebrews notes, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).
Thus, Christian hope is our certainty that the Lord will indeed return. If we know friends are coming for dinner, we are expecting them and that means action is required. An important aspect of expectation is the way that our awareness of what is to happen affects how we prepare for that event. Christian hope reveals its true colors in how we live our lives in the here and now.
The book of Revelation helps the reader develop this true Christian hope. As John comes to the end of the book, all his points will support this major thrust.
I. Trust This Message (Revelation 22:6–10)
A. Nature of the Message (vv. 6–9)
6. The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.”
The point John now makes is one he has made before: the Word of the Lord is reliable. It is trustworthy and true (compare Revelation 3:14; 19:11; 21:5). Christians of all eras can stake their lives on the truth of this prophecy!
While all of Revelation is faithful and true, the context requires us to observe what the angel has in mind specifically at this point. The angel is about to show John the things that must soon take place. The idea of soon (mentioned four times in Revelation 22) normally can refer either to a brief interval of time (as in “shortly” or “without much delay”) or to speed (as in “quickly” or “swiftly”). Here, however, it is likely that John is simply suggesting that these things will certainly occur. Thus he communicates to his readers a sense of urgency. It’s another way of saying that something must indeed take place.
We recall that “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8). This cautions us against imposing our view of time on God. Rather than computing time lines, we will do well to focus on how faithful and true the Lord’s words are.
7. “Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book.”
What Do You Think?
How will you live your life with the fact of the Lord’s soon return in mind? What mistakes will you be careful to avoid?
[You may find Matthew 24:36–51; Mark 13:35–37; and Acts 1:11 useful in your answer.]
Again, the overall point is that Jesus will certainly return. We should note carefully the implicit warning in this verse. The person for whom Jesus’ return will be a blessed occasion is the person who is prepared. Such a person pays attentions to and keeps the message of the book of Revelation. For anyone not prepared, Jesus’ return undoubtedly will be “too soon” (compare Matthew 25:1–13).
8, 9. I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, “Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!”
John is overcome by the experience and makes the mistake of attempting to worship … the angel. Even given all that the apostle John has seen and experienced, he still makes big mistakes! Even when we try our best, we too will make mistakes.
John undoubtedly knows of the occasions when Cornelius bowed down to Peter (Acts 10:25-26) and when villagers tried to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:11–18). Thus it is interesting that John makes his mistake not once but twice (see Revelation 19:10). John’s mistakes come from the overwhelming nature of his experience. Even when we have the best of intentions, even when our heart is just right, we can still make significant mistakes that contradict the nature of our faith. A person may be sincere while being sincerely wrong. Just because we mean well does not mean that our actions are correct.
What Do You Think?
The angel was quick to tell John not to worship him. In what ways have other messengers of God failed to follow the example of this messenger, this angel? How do you recognize and steer clear of this kind of problem? When does praise and admiration for people cross the line?
B. Urgency of the Message (v. 10)
10. Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near.
Interestingly, this is the exact opposite of the instructions given to the prophet Daniel (see Daniel 12:4). The directions that John receives speak to the very heart of the book of Revelation: it is a revelation from God for us. We bear a responsibility to study this message and gain from it what the Lord wants to give to us.
That John refers to the time being near should not mislead us into thinking in terms of “right away.” As previously, the word time has a qualitative value. Hebrews 1:2 refers to “these last days.” The apostle John speaks of his day as “the last hour” (1 John 2:18). If we don’t sort through this issue carefully, we may end up asking arrogantly, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” (2 Peter 3:4).
A mistake of some readers of the Bible is to think that they can predict when the Lord will return. Every one of them has failed (see Matthew 24:36; Acts 1:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2). The point is that it will happen. Thus our appropriate response is not to guess when but to be ready for it. We are to expect it!
Coming Sooner, or Later?
In one sense, time is static: it moves forward second by second for everyone. But in another sense, time seems to be relative: the pace of life has not always moved as rapidly as it seems to do for most of us today.
Think about automobile speeds. In the early twentieth century when the automobile was a new invention, people were amazed at how fast they could go. The fact that this was not very fast was demonstrated in 2003 by a cross-country parade of Model T Fords in celebration of the Ford Motor Company’s one-hundredth anniversary. Fifty of the antique cars traveled from southern California to Dearborn, Michigan, taking 19 days to do so. Their top speed was 45 miles per hour.
Today we routinely travel much faster when we are able to break free from the gridlock of large cities. Yet in the early 1900s, some speculated that people would die, perhaps from a heart attack or asphyxiation, if they were to exceed 60 miles per hour. We chuckle at such quaint ideas.
The insistence of some that Christ will return soon—meaning “by such-and-such a date”—is an example of how rapidly we expect things to move. The fact that 2,000 years have elapsed since Christ’s first coming makes some folks impatient. That seems like a long time, relatively speaking. Yet church history has proven the folly of trying to solve our impatience with date-setting. Christ may not be coming tomorrow, but he is coming certainly! —C. R. B.
II. Choose Your Destination (Revelation 22:11, 12)
A. Beyond the Point of No Return (v. 11)
11. “Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.”
If we’re not paying attention, we can easily misread this verse to mean that God has no interest in allowing people to be transferred out of “the dominion of darkness” and “into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:13). John is seeing the final outcome of all things; there will be at a certain, particular point in the history of salvation no opportunity for second thoughts. It will all be finished.
The end result of those who are not faithful, who prefer to do wrong, is that they will continue to do wrong. The end result of the faithful, who are made righteous, is that they also remain in that state. This verse thus views eternal destinies from a perspective that is past the point of no return.
If in this life we obstinately chose to be spiritually vile, then we will forever be condemned as vile. If, however, we deny ourselves and prefer to serve Christ and his purposes in this world, then we will forever be justified.
B. Before the Point of No Return (v. 12)
12. “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.
John starts by repeating the “I am coming soon!” (or “certainly”) theme, and then he moves to the subject of Jesus’ reward. The point is that the certainty of Jesus’ return will be accompanied by the certainty that he will repay each according to what he has done. This is not “works salvation” but is a recognition that our works demonstrate our faith—or lack thereof (James 2:14–26).
The idea of reward or recompense occurs frequently in the Bible (Psalm 28:4; 62:12; Isaiah 40:10; 59:18; 62:11; Ephesians 6:8; etc.). And before we assume that all is well for us in this area personally, let’s give close attention to Matthew 25:31–46. There Jesus offers a clear warning to those who think that they are serving God when in reality they are not.
III. Expect Christ (Revelation 22:13–15)
A. Identity of He Who Comes (v. 13)
13. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
For the last few verses, John has described the final outcome of the decisions we make in this life. Now John puts the spotlight on the God of history; this is the God who makes known “the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10; compare 44:6; 48:12). He knows our past, present, and future. This imagery reaffirms the power of God to do exactly what he says he will do: repay all people according to the choices made in this life. (We discussed the Alpha and the Omega in Lesson 11.)
B. Identity of the Blessed (v. 14)
14. “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.
While John’s vision is in the Spirit and of the future, everything he writes is for the benefit of his readers in this world. We’ve now read that the Lord will certainly come. By the time the end comes there will be no chance of changing our minds. He will certainly repay us according to our choices in this life.
What Do You Think?
What are some ways that keeping the commandments of Christ has enriched your life?
Thus we understand the significance of the verse before us: we will be blessed if we choose the Lord now while we have a choice. For those who remain faithful, their reward from Jesus will be the blessing of the tree of life and entrance into the holy city. This means eternity with our creator, never to be separated again.
C. Identity of the Cursed (v. 15)
15. “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”
Here we have the flip side of the situation. Those who persist in making unholy choices in this life will not enter the eternal city. They will not experience abundance and security. They will not experience the eternal presence of God. If you choose God in this life, then your identity will be blessed. But if you choose yourself and your own desires in this life, then you will be identified for all eternity as having made that choice.
IV. Listen to the Final Words (Revelation 22:16–21)
A. Testimony (v. 16)
16. “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
Most of the announcements in Revelation come from divine messengers sent from God. But this is one of the occasions in which the Lord himself speaks. It is further confirmation for the reader that this is a reliable message. This brings Revelation full circle, since it is a repetition of how the book began (Revelation 1:1-2).
During Christ’s earthly ministry, people generally expected that if he were the Messiah, then he would mount some kind of political or military campaign (compare Acts 1:6). That he did not do so probably was a disappointment to many. However, when Jesus now announces that he is the Root and the Offspring of David, his kingship is beyond doubt. We have to appreciate that the culture of the ancient Jews understands this phrase to be a reference to a warrior Messiah.
Visual for Lesson 13
Use this visual to introduce the second discussion question on page 338. Ask, “Do we really want Jesus to ‘come quickly’?”
The reference begins in Isaiah 11:1–10, where the prophet refers to a new growth springing up from Jesse, the father of King David. The image there is of a felled tree, most likely referring to the apparent end of David’s line of kings. But there is still life in these roots and they allow for the growth of a successor: the Messiah. “The root of David has triumphed” (Revelation 5:5). Jesus is indeed a victorious warrior, but not in the way many in the first century expect.
The title bright Morning Star has been rather difficult for many commentators to explain. It seems best to understand this title as being based on Numbers 24:17. That verse was understood by Jews to be a reference to a coming Messiah who would destroy God’s enemies. Thus, both of these titles refer to Jesus as a victorious, conquering Messiah. This divine warrior-king blesses those who accept him, but he also punishes those who don’t.
B. Plea (v. 17)
17. The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.
Much has already been said to the reader of Revelation, and much has been repeated for emphasis. Throughout the book we’ve heard the warnings of eternal death that come with rejecting the truth of Christ. We’ve heard of eternal blessings that are available for all who embrace that truth. What is our obvious response? Here in the final verses of the book we are told that we respond correctly when we come.
The book of Revelation is a message of hope. Hope enables us to remain faithful, and our faithfulness ensures our hope. Our hope is in Christ’s ability to secure us for eternity. Our hope is in Christ and his victory over sin and death. This is what impels us to come and to say, Come to others who are thirsty. Who can turn away from such a plea?
C. Warning (vv. 18, 19)
18, 19. I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
What Do You Think?
How do you make sure that you are not adding to or subtracting from the Bible? Was there ever a time when you slipped up in this regard? How did you get back on track?
To ignore the words of the book of Revelation is bad enough. How much worse will it be for the one who hears the words of Revelation then obscures or abuses that message! Such a person will be cursed.
D. Affirmations (vv. 20, 21)
20, 21. He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.
We come to the last words of the Bible. The final point is that the one who is behind the revelation of this message will certainly come again. (Note our earlier discussion concerning the word soon.) The importance of this fact is embedded deeply within the fabric of this book. The Lord really will return, and all that we have read really will come about. We do well to expect his return and prepare for it through our faithfulness.
What Do You Think?
Can you honestly say, “Come, Lord Jesus” as if you wanted him to return today? Why, or why not?
On September 24, 1919, Babe Ruth hit home run number 28 of the season. That feat broke a record that had stood for 35 years. In 1920 and 1921 he raised that single-season record to 54 and 59, respectively. Ruth’s final record came in 1927, when he hit 60 homers. His record held until 1961, when Roger Maris hit 61. However, Maris’s feat was brought into question by the fact that 8 games were added to the schedule.
Mark McGwire broke Maris’s record in 1998, hitting 70 homers. Barry Bonds passed McGwire in 2001 with 73. But these records are tainted by scandals relating to the alleged use of drugs to enhance performance. So the argument among baseball fans has been, “Does scheduling additional games or ignoring rules against drug use disqualify later records? Shouldn’t we add an asterisk to those later records, with a note of explanation at the bottom, to say ‘maybe, maybe not’?”
In the eternal scheme of things, arguments about baseball records mean little. However, John writes a warning that is of eternal significance: the revelation he received is God’s message and its provisions do not change. We are either with Christ or against him. As a result of this choice, a person’s name is either written in the book of life or it is not. There is no asterisk, either there or after the last Amen in the Bible, to say “maybe, maybe not.” —C. R. B.
The last word in the Bible is Amen. With that word the aged apostle John finished his earthly writing ministry before the Lord called him home. Yet the challenges offered by what John wrote are ever new. We worship and serve the Lamb because the Lamb is worthy. We tell others about the Lamb for the same reason.
There comes a time when the eternal destiny of a person is “locked in,” never to change. That day comes either when a person dies or, for those still living, when Jesus returns. Eternity beckons. What is your choice?
Thought to Remember
Christ’s return is certain.
Lord, help us to prepare the world for the hope that you have for us. In our own lives help us to use the message of Revelation to overcome all that stands between us and serving you and your people. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Underwood, Jonathan ; Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing