16. Waking and Dreaming
The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.”
“Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll.”
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, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!”
Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near. Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.”
“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
“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. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
“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.”
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.
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.
The end of Revelation feels like the end of a dream. We’ve all experienced it before. We’re mid-dream but suddenly the world starts scrambling. We’re swimming with dolphins and then a sudden jump. Now we’re driving. We hear honking. But that honking sounds so strange, so familiar—far more rhythmic and irritating than the average car horn. Why won’t it stop? Ruining a perfectly good drive to… wait… where were we going?… ugh… it’s the morning alarm. And the dream was just getting good…
As it’s ending, it’s hard to discern the dream from the real. It’s initially difficult to recognize our morning alarm. The same phenomenon presents itself at the end of Revelation. We were just gazing at the New Creation represented in New Jerusalem, when suddenly we’re jerked back into conversation with our angelic tour guide (22v6). But his words (“these words are trustworthy and true”) are not his own… they’re words from the throne (21v5). Then someone else is urging us to obey this letter (22v7).
The words float strangely before us.
We, like John, try to wake from this vision. Everything seems scrambled. Our waking, however, does not return us to the island of Patmos. Instead, a we begin recognizing the voice of Jesus echoing as rhythmically as the morning’s alarm:
“Look, I am coming soon” (22v7).
“Look, I am coming soon” (22v12).
“Yes, I am coming soon” (22v20).
Jesus promises he’s coming.1 And when we least expect. He’s always a jolly thief, breaking in to steal our death. His promise overwhelms us as Revelation ends.
After all the bizarre visions, strange symbols, and puzzling pictures, we’re hearing this promise. After twenty-one chapters revealing that life will overwhelm death, love will burn away evil, and resurrection will flood the world through the reign of Crucified Love, we’re finally waking from the dream.
The waking world is better
than we sleepwalkers dare to dream.
For the waking world—the real world—is not the prison island where we sit in exile. The real world is the mysterious, electric, forever alive world uncovered by Revelation 4-5: the world of our benevolent Father (4v2), his triumphing Son (5v5-6), and their blazing Spirit of Love (4v5). The real world unfolds from Jesus. Revelation ends with Jesus calling us awake with the promise of his coming.
The promise of his coming; not the threat of his coming.
The entirety of Revelation has been framed as challenge and encouragement to the Church (22v16). This book does not aim to threaten an unbelieving world… and certainly not threaten the world with the decisive arrival of Love Incarnate. The coming of Jesus is the best good news the world will ever know. May we never talk about it otherwise.
The promise of Jesus coming, of course, challenges us to open our lives to Jesus’s thievery: “Won’t you allow Jesus to rob you blind of everything robbing you? Allow Jesus to steal in and give you his Life.” And the challenge of this promise has consistently been aimed at the Church.
We see this play out one last time through John. John makes the mistake of worshipping his angelic tour guide (22v8-9).2 Revelation has spent significant energy challenging the people of God not to worship counterfeit gods or bow down to counterfeit kings. John leads from vulnerability by sharing his own experience. In so many words, he’s saying:
“It’s really easy to do—to throw our lives down in worship to things that are not God. If it can happen to me, it can happen to you… worshipping the wrong things will destroy you.”
Through his confession, John finds himself robbed of pride and idolatry. The arrival of Jesus’s thievery is like that. Subtle. Quick. Unexpected.
A moment later John is told not to seal up this apocalyptic letter he’s writing (22v10). When other ancient apocalypses were written, the scroll would frequently be sealed up for some future time—like putting a letter in a time capsule.3 This is one more clue that Revelation truly was meant to be read (and understood!) by its original hearers.
People are struggling right now need the promise of Jesus’s coming. Those under the rule of Rome need to hear this. They need to hear the encouragement and the hope that this letter brings. This letter is less about trying to change the world’s heart than it is reassuring those who ache for Jesus that he’s coming soon (22v11).
This letter won’t change the world’s heart…
…the love of Jesus through the Church will do that.4
A few key images of the dream flash before our eyes (22v12-15), we hear world long for Jesus to come (22v17), and then we’re given a strict warning not to alter this letter (22v18-19). And then the alarm rings a final time:
“Yes, I am coming soon” (22v20).
Hopefully we’re awake.
Awake to grace (22v21).
And that’s the end of Revelation. This Divine Peek-a-boo ends with this revelation: God is coming soon. God is not far away, watching us from a distance. Divine love is neither detached nor disinterested.
Jesus is God coming to us.
Look!—behold!—this!—God is coming soon.
And be filled with grace. Amen.
After those achingly beautiful visions near Revelation’s end, it’s really good news that Jesus is coming soon. Whether we can put words to it or not, we ache for his arrival. Without him our frozen and lifeless… outside the city walls (22v15). We ache for the warmth of home, but sometimes doubt we’ll ever find it. The Longing behind all our longings is for union with our Maker before a heavenly hearth.
The flashing voices of creation give words to it (22v17):
All creation aches for God to come.5
And Revelation promises here at its end that creation will not be disappointed. God is coming in Jesus. And Jesus is coming soon.
…but when is Jesus coming?
That’s the trillion dollar question, right? Jesus tells us he’s coming “soon”… but those words were penned two thousand years ago. Two thousand years is a long time. Where is he? Where is this Jesus who promises to remake the world? Where is all-powerful, unstoppable Jesus who rules the kings of the earth? Who assures us that history’s wrongs will righted? He whispers with quiet confidence that sickness, heartbreak, and death do not have the last word… but when is he coming?
People through the centuries have latched onto the word “soon” and basically stopped living. We’ve seen their cardboard signs announcing “The End is Near.” One letter in the New Testament address a church in Thessalonica who heard promises of Jesus’s Second Coming and thought this way.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, Jesus’s patience exceeds our own. His patience is driven by the divine desire for all to be saved.6 Perhaps we are impatient two-year-olds thinking Christmas will never come while our grown-up brother Jesus keeps assuring us… soon. That word, “soon,” should not be a source of anxiety or worry; it’s meant to be a source of comfort.
Perhaps there’s a different question that should consume us as the Apocalypse closes. Maybe we should take Jesus at his word. After all, Jesus just told us when he is coming: “soon.” Maybe we should ask the question “How is Jesus coming?”
Don’t misunderstand: Christians look for an actual, literal, historical, circle-it-on-a-calendar day, when the real-and-living Jesus will return to make all things new. That’s the historic hope of the Church. Jesus’s coming presence will be unmistakable one day. But, until then, can we recognize the ways that he’s already coming?
Jesus is indeed coming at the end of history to start “the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”7 Revelation wants us to wake and dream of that day.
But until that coming day…
how else does Jesus meet the world?
Because his coming is “soon.”
Revelation wants us recognize the world flooded
with the presence of the now and coming Jesus.
Dream of that coming day, but also dream about how you can join Jesus right now. How can you participate with him in the world? Jesus, after all, has promised that he is always already with those who love him and are loyal to him—even to the end of the age.8
When we live with love and kindness to those in need, Jesus is meeting us. Jesus says: “Pay close attention to those acts of mercy,9 because I’m coming to you.” And when one person gathers with another in unity, forgiveness, and prayer, we find Jesus coming to us. “I’m coming to you as you prayerfully work for oneness.”10
And in the moment of our baptism, we are mysteriously immersed into the life of Jesus… so much so that we have “put him on”: “I’m coming to you, soak up my death and my resurrection.”11 Likewise when we gather around the communion table, breaking the bread and drink the cup, Jesus meets us: “I’m coming to you; you participate with me.”12
In fact, the church confesses that Jesus is always already with everyone everywhere holding all things together and sustaining the entire world.13 Jesus is already here… we’re just oblivious to him. Were it not for his presence, we wouldn’t be able to live, move, or exist at all.
In our moments of realizing God’s love, or begin experiencing love or joy or goodness or peace or loyalty, we’re tasting fruit of the Son’s Spirit.14 We need to learn to name it: “I’m experiencing Jesus… Jesus is coming to me, to us—bringing grace and peace.”
Jesus comes to us so frequently—so soon, even today—
that we’ve stopped recognizing his coming before his coming.
We began by saying that Revelation makes everything strange so that perhaps we’ll start to see. We’re invited to see the strange world of Jesus as the truth about the strange world in which we live. We’re invited to reimagine reality:
Wake up!—and dream of a world where Love reigns and Life wins.
Because that’s the world we’re sleepwalking through.
Ever-coming Jesus, help us loosen our grip on WHEN you’re coming and recognize HOW you’re coming. Help us name the moments you already meet us. Until that day when your thievery finally robs the world of sin and death, help us wake up and recognize your presence. Give us eyes to see, ears to hear, lives awake.
Make us alive, sweet Alpha and Omega, First and the Last. You are the beginning of all our desires and dreams, the end of all our doubts and deaths.
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.
Dream grace in us.
- Jesus began insisting that he is “coming soon” as Revelation began (3.11). He’ll come unexpectedly, like a thief (3.3). He interjects a reminder again later in Revelation (16.15). Now his words ring out again and again as the book closes.
- This either the second time John tells us of his mistake of the second time he makes it. A similar account is told in 19.10. Either way, it shows incredible humility to share it… not once but twice. He wants us to identify with his mistakes and learn from them.
- An example of this within the Bible itself can be seen in Dan 12.4,9.
- See chapter 8.
- cf. Rom 8.22-23.
- 2 Pet 3.9.
- C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle.
- Matt 28.20.
- Matt 25.35-40.
- Matt 18.20 (and its context of 18.15-19)
- Gal 3.27, cf. Phil 3.10-11.
- 1 Cor 10.16.
- Col 1.17, cf. Acts 17.28
- Gal 5.22, 4.6