Verse 10 encouraged John not to hide away the words of God. No lamp is to be lit and then covered up. Jesus said that in a parable. The words and lessons of God are to be held aloft, illuminating paths through life. Fastened behind that command is the following pair of verses.
12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 22:12-13–ESV)
The broad meaning is that God will reward us for the good things we have done, but I stumble over that word soon. Since John saw these visions, literally billions of people1 have come and gone. What does the word soon mean for each of those? What did the word soon mean for them? He did not come while they were alive. They sort of went in his direction, but does that count? Is that how we are to interpret this passage?
When my mind faces this question, it conjures little suspicions of trickery. The doubts are not full-blown, but wispy. Full-blown would mean I was telling God he was wrong and that is never safe territory to tread.
Since I want to know the answer to problems like this one, and since I must teach about this verse I dug at its roots. Digging for understanding is a bit like digging around roots of an errant shrub in some flower bed.
Let me tell you what I found rotting there in the soil, and then we will return to a useful perspective on the word soon. The natural growth of our lives is toward ungodly nutrients. Just as tree roots seek leaky water pipes so do the tendencies of our hearts.
Just as tree roots seek leaky water pipes so do the tendencies of our hearts.
We do not gravitate toward eternally helpful things. That is not the way people work. We also hate being caught busy at something we should not be doing. Think cookie jars, texting while driving, shopping online at work, eating breakfast after clocking in. If we figure that our mom, the police, or our boss may show up at any moment, then we behave much differently; it could be said, much better. Notice here how uncertainty can be used to breed behavior?
Check out these other quick examples.
- Since I’m seeing the dentist on Monday, I will floss this weekend
- The maid from my church is coming. I better hide those magazines.
- I am seeing my eye doctor Friday. I better take my eye drops.
- Since the girls are watching American Idol with me, I won’t watch that Victoria Secret commercial. (“No those aren’t bathing suits. That is underwear.” Bathing suits versus underwear is a discussion that really happened with one of our younger kids. Not that that has any bearing on my watching it or not.)
- My life insurance physical and blood work is five days away. No ice cream this week otherwise the cholesterol will be up, and my insurance quote will be higher.
So, see how urgency, uncertainty can be used to breed behavior? God says, “soon,” intending that by this word choice people will be on their best behavior. There are even parables Jesus told with this theme.