If Jesus Christ is the giver of the revelation, its content is summed up in the phrase what must soon take place (compare 4:1; 22:6). It is a message about the future, and everyone is curious about the future. This is the fascination and the appeal of the book of Revelation. The phrase, "what will happen," or take place, is found in another biblical book concerned with the future, the book of Daniel (see 2:28-29), where it refers to the sovereign plan of God. But now it is a matter of what must soon take place. One little word makes a big difference! Soon anticipates the announcement to follow that the time is near (v. 3; compare 22:10). In Daniel it was a matter of what must happen "in days to come," while here the momentous events are soon (as in Christ's repeated promise that "I am coming soon" in Rev 2:16; 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20).
Much of the flavor and excitement of the book of Revelation is traceable to this fervent conviction that the end of the world is near. Many Christian readers and preachers today downplay that conviction in light of the fact that nineteen hundred years have passed, and the expected end has not come. Christians tend to get nervous about any implication that the Bible might be mistaken. Yet a great deal is lost when the striking words soon and the time is near are not given their proper force. The conviction that the end of the world is near is what makes the book of Revelation larger than life.
Anyone who has faced the prospect of imminent death, whether from illness or accident, and then recovered knows how precious life then seems. The colors of the world are brighter and its contrasts sharper. Everything around us is etched more deeply than before in our senses and in our memories. When we assume that life will go on forever, one day often blurs into another, but when we are reminded that it has an end, every moment and every perception can come alive. Samuel Johnson once said that the prospect of one's own imminent death "wonderfully concentrates the mind," while the verdict of one character on the murdered grandmother in Flannery O'Connor's well-known story, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," is that "she would of been a good woman . . . if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life" (O'Connor 1988:153).
Such is the eschatological perspective of the book of Revelation: living every moment as though it were our last. This perspective pervades the entire New Testament, beginning with John the Baptist (Mt 3:2, 7-10) and continuing with Jesus (Mk 1:15 par. Mt 4:17), Paul (Rom 13:11-12), James (5:8), Peter (1 Pet 4:7) and John (1 Jn 2:18). But nowhere is it so consistently in evidence as in this last New Testament book. Far from covering life with a shroud of gloom, the intense awareness of the end of all things infuses the book's imagery with sharpness and rich color. The announcement that "the time is near" provokes not resignation or a feeling that nothing matters, but on the contrary a kind of jubilation at the preciousness of life and at the world God created and will create anew in the events that must soon take place. For the writer of this book and for his readers, the time of the end will be a time of new beginning.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.