What Must Happen Soon–According to Revelation
When Rev. 1:1 begins with Jesus Christ (king) about to show his servants what must soon come to pass, many later readers thought of the “end time,” climaxed by Jesus’ second coming in power and glory. Rev. 1:7 does describe this final coming–“he is coming with the clouds . . . and all the tribes of the earth will mourn;” Jesus uses similar words in Mt. 24:30. This description alludes to Dan. 7:13, where Daniel sees a vision of one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. And in Rev. 1:13 John sees a vision of one like a son of man, who tells John to write (to the seven churches) about what he sees, what they are, and what will come to pass after these things (1:19).
What John sees in 1:12-16 is the power and glory of the one like a son of man, who is in the midst of seven lampstands; then he is told what (and who) they are: he has seen the living one, who died (the risen Jesus); and the seven lampstands he saw are the seven churches (1:18,20). In Rev. 2-3 John then writes messages (prophetic oracles) to the churches (from Christ) about what will happen soon. Because the words of this prophecy will warn of coming judgments against most of these churches, if they refuse to repent, Rev. 1:3 says, “blessed is the one who (courageously) reads aloud (to disobedient churches) the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who (have ears to) hear, and who keep (repent, due to) what is written (and read to them); for the time is near.
What is near is a new coming of Christ–similar to his coming now to John and speaking words of warning to most of the churches. Thus to the church in Ephesus, Jesus says if they do not repent (return to their first love, Jesus and his apostles, like Paul who helped plant the Ephesus church), “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (2:4-5). Jesus comes now through this prophetic oracle, and he could come again soon through another oracle of even worse judgment. A church that is not continuing the witness and works of Jesus and his apostles is not a true church (lampstand). Removing a lampstand would mean a judgment like that of Mk. 6:11, where Jesus’ witnesses leave those places that do not receive them.
The next mention of his coming to a church soon is in 2:16. If the church in Pergamum does not repent (turn away from false prophets similar to Balaam), Jesus will come to them soon and fight against them with the sword of his mouth. This coming, as in 2:5, would be another more decisive word of judgment from Jesus, who comes (as here) and speaks through his true prophet. The “sword of his mouth” portrays not a literal sword but the sword of the Spirit speaking the word of God through Jesus; this “fight” will be a war of words, coming from heaven against this wayward church; and it will come soon; the time is near; this is what must happen soon, if they refuse to repent.
Then to the church in Sardis, Jesus again warns that if they do not repent, “I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come” (3:3). While Rev. 16:15, along with Jesus in Mat. 24:42-44 and Paul in 1 Thes. 5:2-4 all use this image of Jesus coming like a thief for Jesus’ final (second) coming, the context here is similar to that of Jesus’ coming in 2:5 and 2:16; it is targeted at this particular church, and depends on whether they repent or not.
When Jesus tells the church in Philadelphia he is coming soon in 3:11, this is different from the previous warnings. For this church, like the one in Smyrna, has patiently endured persecution from “a synagogue of Satan” (3:9; 2:9). Because they have been faithful through this tribulation, Jesus will keep them from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world (3:10). This hour of judgment coming on the whole world is, as in 14:6-7, the final judgment. Before that, Jesus is coming soon, and will give them their crown, and they will become “pillars” in God’s “temple” in the heavenly new Jerusalem (3:11-12). As Jesus told the church in Smyrna, if they are faithful unto death, he will give them the crown of life (2:10); until then they will suffer for a brief time (brief, compared to their future in heaven). In 3:7-8 Jesus says he has the key of David, and opens what no one can shut, and sets before them (in the near future) an open door. Because most of this oracle is about their future reward in heaven, this open door is the door to heaven (like the open door of 4:1). As Jesus’ keys of death and Hades in 1:18 reveal his power to raise his faithful dead out of Hades, so Jesus’ key of David reveals his royal power to raise them all the way up into heaven’s open door. So his coming soon to them would be to welcome them into heaven, as an encouragement to them to hold fast what they have until this coming.
So what must happen soon is Jesus coming to unfaithful churches and warning them of stronger judgment through prophets like John–or Jesus coming soon to those who remain faithful unto death, coming to welcome them into heaven. For those churches whose doors are closed to Jesus, he knocks at their door; whoever hears and opens the door will find Jesus coming in to him and eating with him (3:20). Churches that repent will discover the risen Jesus coming back into their midst once again.