When God became a man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, his purpose was to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Before Jesus was crucified, resurrected from the dead, and ascended to heaven, he promised he would return for those who belong to him (e.g. John 14:3). Many people want to know when this will happen.
Jesus told his followers, “I am coming soon” (Rev. 22:7), but he also said that no one, not even angels, knows the exact day or hour (Matt. 24:26). By “soon” Jesus means that nothing else prophetically needs to occur in order for him to return. In response to this, believers must keep watch (Matt. 24:42).
What does the Greek word “soon” mean as it’s used in the book of Revelation? Is God slow to keep his promises? What else needs to happen in order for Jesus to return? Could Jesus return today? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see How Many Prophecies Did Jesus Christ Fulfill? to learn more.
What did Jesus mean when he said he would return “soon”?
In Revelation 22:7, Jesus said he was going to return “soon.” This promise leaves some people confused because most define “soon” to be less than 2,000 years. Did Jesus return and most people just missed it? Did Jesus fail to keep his promise of coming again soon? The emphatic answer to both of these questions is “no.”
|Basic definition||quickly, speedily, soon|
|Strong’s definition||shortly, i.e. Without delay, soon, or (by surprise) suddenly, or (by implication, of ease) readily — lightly, quickly|
|Part of speech||Adverb|
|Translated “soon”||NIV, NLT, ESV, CSB, NRSV|
|Translated “quickly”||KJV, NKJV, NASB|
The descriptions of “quickly” and “soon” could have two different connotations in English. “Quickly” could refer to the speed of Jesus’ return, and “soon” could refer to the time of it. In Revelation, the meaning of the word is likely the second option, i.e. a reference to time. Readers of translations that opt for the word “quickly” should interpret it in relation to when he returns not how he does.
What does “soon” mean? Bible scholars are in general agreement that “soon” means that nothing else prophetically needs to occur in order for Jesus to come again. In God’s plan for the ages, Jesus’ return is next. Therefore, whether Christians are reading Revelation in the first century or in the twenty-first, Jesus is coming again “soon” because it’s imminent — it could happen at any moment.
Is God slow to keep his promises? If there are Bible readers who ask this question today, they are not the first ones to do so. Believers in the first century asked it too, which is why Peter addresses it in the second epistle that bears his name. Peter reminds Christians that they need to adopt God’s view of time, and not project our expectations and definitions on his good and perfect plan for the world.
2 Peter 3:8-9 reads, “Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (ESV)
Also see Is H Jesus Christ’s Middle Initial? to learn more.
Could Jesus return today?
The Bible teaches that God has a plan for the ages. Many of the major events and moments of his plan are described in advance through prophetic teachings, like the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ (e.g. Isa. 52:13-53:12).
Certain events are dependent upon other events happening first. For example, Jesus’ crucifixion had to precede his resurrection. Also, consider that Jesus could not come again before he came for the first time. This being the case, there was a time in history that Jesus’ return could not have been “next” because there were other things that had to happen first.
What needs to happen in order for Jesus to return? Nothing. When Jesus said that he is coming “soon,” the implication is that nothing else needs to happen in God’s plan for the ages in order for Jesus to return. He could literally return at any time.
People reading this article in the twenty-first century can correctly say “Jesus could come back today.” People in the first century, and in every other century, could have had the exact same expectations. All generations of Christians after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension who say this are correct.
Also see Did Jesus Have a Tattoo? to learn more.
Why didn’t Jesus just tell people exactly when he would return?
Why didn’t Jesus tell his followers the date, time, and location of his return? Wouldn’t that be the best way for them to be ready for his re-arrival? God, in his wisdom, has decided that the best way that believers can be ready for Jesus’ imminent return is to not know the day and hour of it.
If one friend told another friend they were going to come over on Saturday at 3:00pm, the host would prepare for their arrival on Saturday at 3:00pm. If the friend said they were coming over Saturday, but didn’t specify a time, the host would need to be prepared for their arrival all day long.
Jesus said, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:44). Not knowing the say or hour leads believers to live in a constant state of readiness.
Revelation commentator, Robert Mounce, writes, “Matthew 24:42-44 counsels every generation to be on the alert for the return of the Son of man. An infallible timetable would do away with that attitude of urgent expectation that has been the hallmark of the church down through the centuries.” (Mounce, The Book of Revelation, NICNT, p. 404)
Also see What Did Jesus Wear? to learn more.
Bible verses about Jesus’ imminent return
- Romans 13:11, “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.”
- 1 Corinthians 7:29, “the appointed time has grown very short“
- 1 Thessalonians 5:2, “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”
- Hebrews 10:25, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near“
- James 5:8, “You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
- 1 Peter 4:7, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.”
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