“Behold, I Am Coming Soon” (Acts 1:1-11; Revelation 22:1-6, 12-20)
Take a look at the picture over our altar. Of course, it’s a painting of the Ascension of Our Lord, that time when Jesus ascended into heaven. But if you didn’t know that, and you just look at Jesus there midway in the sky, you might wonder: Is he going up or is he coming down? It looks like it could be either. For just as Jesus ascended into heaven on Ascension Day, so too will he come down from heaven when he returns in glory on the Last Day. That’s the point of our message this morning, namely, that Christ’s ascension points us to his return. Not only so, today we’re even given a glimpse at what’s in store for us when he does return. For today our ascended Lord gives us his promise, “Behold, I Am Coming Soon.”
Christ’s ascension happened forty days after his rising from the dead. During those forty days, the risen Lord appeared to his disciples and spoke about the kingdom of God. Then at the end of that time, Jesus led his disciples out to the area of Bethany, just outside Jerusalem. The disciples are wondering if Jesus now is going to implement the final phase of his messianic reign, and so they ask: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
If we stop and think about it, maybe we would like to ask the same sort of questions: “Lord, when will it be? Tomorrow? Next week? Next year? A thousand years from now? How long, O Lord, how long? How long will we have to put up with the evil that surrounds us in this sinful world? How long will we have to put up with our own weakness and sin? How long will you keep us in suspense? Can’t you give us a timetable, a schedule, a specific date?”
But our Lord says to us what he said to them: “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” God has not given us that information. The exact time of Christ’s return is not something we need to know, nor can we know it. Despite all the date-setters who have come down the pike–those who claim that just now the biblical prophecies are all being fulfilled and that Jesus therefore will be here any day now–despite their claims, the fact is, no one knows. It could be this year, but it could be in a hundred years. The words of Jesus at his ascension still stand: “It is not for you to know the times or seasons.”
“But there is something I do want you to know,” Jesus basically says to his disciples. “In a few days, I’m going to send you the Holy Spirit. Then you will have the power to bear witness to my salvation all over the world. That’s something important for you to know, because as my church that will be your mission: To proclaim the good news of my death and resurrection and explain what that means for all people. Preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in my name. Tell everyone what I have done to rescue them from death and hell and to bring them into life forevermore. I will empower you for that mission.”
Leaving them with that promise, Jesus then was taken up before their very eyes. The scene must have looked like what we see in the painting. In a moment, a cloud will come by and take him from their sight. But then a couple of angels appear and say to the disciples: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
The angels here would have us make the connection in our mind: Whenever we think about our Lord’s ascension, we should also think about his return. Keep in mind that your ascended Lord is coming back. Just as the disciples saw Jesus go into heaven in majesty and power, so will all people see his glorious return from heaven. On Ascension Day we sang, “See, the Lord Ascends in Triumph.” Today we sing, “Christ Is Surely Coming.” For these two go together, Christ’s ascension and his return. This Jesus, who died and rose for you–this Jesus, who promised you, “I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, you will be also”–this same Jesus is coming back, for you! That, my friends, is what you need to know today.
That’s the same message we get in today’s reading from Revelation, indeed, from the last chapter in the Bible, Revelation 22. Jesus is coming back, and he’s coming for us! And what’s more, he is coming soon. “Behold, I am coming soon,” Jesus says in this chapter. And so that we would have this promise ringing in our ears as we close the Bible, our Lord says the same thing again: “Surely I am coming soon.” Apparently, Jesus really wants us to know this and take hold of his promise.
“Behold, surely, I am coming soon.” The word “soon” here adds a note of urgency to our expectation. Jesus could come at any time. We are not to grow complacent as we wait for his return. Rather, we are to be ready, always ready, for that glorious day. “I am coming soon.”
When he comes, that day will be a day of judgment. That’s what we confess in the Creed, isn’t it? “From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.” And that’s what Jesus tells us in our text: “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done.” For those who have done evil, in keeping with their persistent impenitence and unbelief–they will be barred from God’s presence forever: “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” Their judgment will be swift, certain, and severe.
But for us, the judgment will be sweet, certain, and serene. Christ will have a gracious reward for those who have done good, for those whose lives display the evidence of the living faith that has been planted in their hearts. And that’s us, fellow baptized believers in Christ, saved by his grace. That day will be sweet, certain, and serene. We will enter into the full enjoyment of God’s presence forever: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.”
What a blessed hope we have, my friends! Entrance into the holy city, the new Jerusalem, that beautiful, shining city where God will dwell with his people. A city full of life, where death and mourning, crying and pain, will be no more. A city of joy, where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. What a blessed hope we have! Access to the tree of life. Paradise restored. Healing and wholeness, eternal life in a place of perpetual fruitfulness and vitality. This is the blessed home that is waiting for us when Jesus returns, and this is our blessed hope.
Such blessedness is promised to us because of the gift of Christ’s righteousness. “Blessed are those who wash their robes.” Our sinful robes have been washed clean and pure in the waters of Holy Baptism. By faith we have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. His holy, precious blood cleanses us from all our sins. His cross is our tree of life.
And so the invitation comes to us again and again to partake of God’s gift: “And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” Yes, eternal life in Christ is a free gift. You don’t deserve it, you can’t earn it, but it is yours, entirely by grace. This water of life will quench your thirst like nothing else can. It will refresh and revive you as you wait for Christ’s return.
Refreshed and yet still longing for her Lord’s return, the church cries out, “Come!” With eager expectation, the bride of Christ looks forward to the bridegroom’s arrival. Every Christian who knows his need and knows his Lord likewise cries out, “Come!” Come and rescue us from this world of sorrow and sin and pain and sadness. Come and save us, Lord, as you have promised. Come and take us home, where we belong.
This is what you can bank your whole life on, my friend! At the last day, when our Lord Jesus Christ comes again, you and I will be raised up with restored, glorified bodies, and we will see our Savior face to face. This great hope is ours because of Christ’s sure promise, “Behold, I am coming soon.” Although for the moment he has been taken from our sight, this same Jesus will come back in heavenly glory and will restore all things. And we will see his face.
“Behold, I am coming soon,” our risen and ascended Lord says to us today. Hold on, hold close to Christ, hold tight, it won’t be long now. He who ascended into heaven will come again from heaven to take us home to himself. Until that day, then, hold on to his promise, “Behold, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!