"And he said to me, ‘These sayings are faithful and true; And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show to His servants the things which must soon take place.' 'Behold I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the sayings of the prophecy of this book” (Revelation 22:6,7). Over 1,900 years ago Jesus said, “I am coming quickly!” To give added emphasis, He repeats it three times in this last chapter of Revelation. He promises that He is coming with a reward—“Behold, I am coming quickly and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work” (Revelation 22:12). Finally, Jesus’ last words in the book of Revelation are, “Surely I am coming quickly” (Revelation 22:20). We have to wonder, considering that nearly two thousand years have passed, what does “I am coming quickly” mean? Has Jesus had an unexpected delay? Have we, the church, failed to “get our act together” so He could come? Is the promise just a carrot being dangled before us to keep us perpetually motivated to follow the Christian life?

It seems clear that the apostles expected Jesus to return within their lifetimes. The apostle Paul included himself in the “we” who would see the coming of the Lord, saying, “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). John said, “It is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). James said, “Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand…the Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:8,9). Peter said, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers…for the time has come for judgment to begin” (1 Peter 4:7,17).

Peter himself confronted this issue, referring to “scoffers [who] will come in the last days…saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?…All things continue as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:3,4). He points out that the wicked antediluvian world was finally destroyed by a universal flood, and that our present wicked society has a rendezvous with fiery judgment “in which the heavens will pass away” (vs.5-7, 10). But the Lord will bring this about at the right time, and for God this will be neither too early nor too late.

In fact, the passing of what we consider to be a long period of time is meaningless in God’s view. He is not concerned with how much time has passed, but rather how ready the world is for Him to come. “Beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). If God had said, “I’m sending Jesus in a couple of days,” we would not understand, but it would be consistent with His frame of reference where two days could be as 2,000 years. “The lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (v. 9).

For the church, this long wait is analogous to the forty years that the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. The sentence that they would not enter was given after 12 spies returned from spying out the land and 10 of them reported that the people of Canaan were too strong for them to defeat. God had already told them that he would fight for them and would even send hornets to drive out the corrupt idolaters who lived there (Deuteronomy 7:20, Joshua 24:12). However, despite the miracles they had seen in coming out of Egypt, the people still did not have the faith to believe that God could give them victory.

Sending in the 12 spies was a test, and their response showed that they failed the test, that they were not ready for the trials that would be involved in entering the Promised Land where powerful enemies were determined to hold on to their territory. The spies, presumably the most courageous warriors they could find, fled before the inhabitants of the land, and this was a preview of the disastrous defeat which would have occurred if God had allowed them to enter then and there. The wilderness wandering that God prescribed, rather than being a punishment, was a time to test them and to increase their faith so that they would finally be ready. As they were about to enter the Promised Land, Moses said, “The Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not” (Deuteronomy 8:2).

Likewise, the Second Coming of Christ is not simply a matter of Jesus appearing in the sky one day. Before He comes the world must go through the time of trouble and the fearsome events that are portrayed in the Book of Revelation. The world (including the church) is no more ready for the time of trouble than the children of Israel were ready to enter the Promised Land. Unpleasant and discouraging as the two thousand years of "wilderness wandering" have been, they have been a necessary preparation for the events that will precede the Second Coming.

This gets to the heart of the matter. Although people are being saved and lost all the time, the final events (which are the subject of most of the Book of Revelation) have the potential for bringing about the greatest mass movement for the acceptance of the gospel in all of human history. But the corresponding danger is that almost everyone could be swept away in the last-day deceptions. That which makes the difference is the response of God’s people, who have been given the role of being His messengers to the world.

This does not mean that God is waiting for His people to “finish the work” and then Jesus will come. “He [God] will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness” (Romans 9:28). The great harvest, depicted in chapter 14, is a work that only God can do: “On a cloud sat One like the Son of Man…and in His hand a sharp sickle…and He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped” (Revelation 14:14-16). Only God, through His Holy Spirit, can change a human heart so that it is fit to be a part of His harvest. But the “Lord of the harvest” has, in His divine wisdom, appointed His church to be “laborers” in His harvest field with a small but essential role that He will not do for us.

Jesus said, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2). In a sense the last great harvest is like every other harvest. Only God can make a seed germinate and grow, and only He can send the vital sunshine and rain. But unless the "laborers" plant the seeds in the ground there will not be a harvest. And the laborers are responsible for chasing away birds, pulling weeds and removing rocks from the field (Matthew 13:2-23).

Peter characterizes the role of God’s people as “looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:12). The fact that the day can be “hastened” indicates that although His coming is inevitable, it is not on an absolute, preordained date. Whether He comes sooner or later depends on the response of people who know Him and tell others about Him. “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). God provides the message, prepares the way and sends the Spirit, but He doesn’t do the preaching. Angels are pictured as giving the great messages, but they symbolize men, women and children who have experienced God’s grace and are impelled to share it, even in the face of opposition and the threat of death.

Continue to next section: FINAL WARNINGS