John promises a special blessing for those who read the Book of Revelation and those who hear the book read aloud. In the midst of great persecution, the new believers in Jesus were frequently threatened with death or torture if they refused to renounce their faith and offer incense to the gods of Rome. But John wants them to “keep” the faith because although they appear to be losers now, they will win in the end. He says, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” I disagree with Osborne, who suggests that “The focus is not just on eschatology but on ethics. In other words, in light of the fact that ‘the time is near,’ we are called to live decisively and completely for God.”[1] No one lives decisively and completely for God. That’s something that’s not in the capacity of fallen human beings. When the Israelites decided to live completely for God, they promised to keep all of Moses’s laws. Then Moses tells them that they won’t do it. Again, Joshua charges the people to choose this day which God they will serve, and when the people say they will serve the one true God, Joshua says in Joshua 24:9, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God.” The focus is on eschatology. In Jesus, we will have the ultimate victory!

The last phrase of this verse, “for the time is near,” has caused great confusion in every generation since it was written. Keener points out how every generation from the beginning has looked for the victory of Jesus to come during their lifetime or at a certain point in history. He spends several pages of his commentary on Revelation explaining each one of the prophecies of the past. Each of these prophecies has failed. Jesus made it clear that no one knows the time of his return to set up the kingdom. Only the father himself knows the “when.” At Jesus’ ascension, the apostles asked him if now was the time, and he instructed them not to focus on that but to focus on “keeping” the faith until he returned. Keener’s conclusion is right when he says, “Setting deadlines—or predicting the signs that suggest such deadlines—misses the point. With or without such signs, we should always be ready.”[2]

Richison rightly understands that the issue isn’t as much “nearness in time” as much as it is concerned with the imminency of Christ’s return. He writes, “The idea is that of imminence. Imminence does not necessarily mean near in time. The word ‘near’ means impending. No prophecy needs to be fulfilled before the Lord comes. He could come in the next few minutes or He might not come for another hundred years. This is the next event on God’s prophetic program.”[3] Wrapped up with the idea of imminency is the idea of certainty. It was John who told us about Jesus’ words assuring the disciples that he would go and prepare a place for them but would return to take them to be with Him. He assured them that he would not have told them so if it were not true. John is, again, in this last book of the bible, reminding his readers, as well as all throughout history who hear and read this prophecy concerning Christ’s return, that they can take this truth to the bank. This certainty is accompanied by the assurance that Jesus will take us to be with himself. He has already prepared a place for us. We might fail in life in many ways, but Jesus will not go back on His promise. The realization of this truth will affect how we live today. Underwood writes, “Yet the certainty of Christ’s return is to influence the entirety of our lives. As a result, we don’t cheat on exams, we don’t throw out our used motor oil in a way that pollutes God’s creation, and we demonstrate Christian patience (and maybe even evangelism) while in a long checkout line to pay for our new socks. Living life in view of Christ’s return is a lifelong discipline. It starts with being convinced of the certainty of that great event.”[4]

[1] Osborne, Grant R. 2002. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[2] Keener, Craig S. 1999. Revelation. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[3] Richison, Grant. 2006. Verse by Verse through the Book of Revelation. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems.

[4] Underwood, Jonathan, and Ronald L. Nickelson, eds. 2006. The NIV Standard Lesson Commentary, 2006–2007. Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing.