When will Jesus return? Did He really say He was coming back soon? If so, He must have come back a long time ago. Some say His Second Coming took place in A.D. 70. Others think the New Testament is mistaken. Yet others say that “soon” is in God’s eyes, with whom a thousand years are as a day. What are we to believe?
This question is a stumbling block to the faith of some. I myself have been perplexed by it. Much of the confusion centers on a handful of words. In one Insight, we cannot examine all the words and texts. We should take our time and examine with care. In this Insight, I will mostly concentrate on one word that is found in Rev. 22:7, 12, 20. Jesus three times said, “I come quickly (or soon).”
Translation and definition (both Greek and English) are very important here. I checked a web site that displays twelve versions for every verse in the Bible. In the case of these three verses, four of the versions render it “soon”; eight render it “quickly.” Which is the better translation?
The Greek here is “tachu” (Strong’s #5035), which has more than one meaning. Strong’s Concordance defines “tachu” this way: “shortly, i.e. without delay, soon, or (by surprise) suddenly.” The meaning is either soon or suddenly. Jesus’ return could be either “without delay” or “(by surprise) suddenly.” The four Bibles that translate “soon” force their view upon the readers. The eight Bibles that translate “quickly” allow the readers to study and make up their own minds.
It may surprise you that “quickly” in English carries the same two meanings as “tachu” in Greek. Many believers miss this. The first English dictionary I looked in gives these definitions for “quickly”: “1) rapidly, fast; 2) soon, promptly.” The second I looked in gives the definitions as “with speed, rapidly, very soon.” “Quickly,” like “tachu,” can refer to either “when” or “how.”
WHEN: TIME vs. HOW: SPEED
how soon? vs. how fast?
promptly vs. rapidly
without delay vs. swiftly
soon vs. suddenly
Granted, the two ideas can happen together. However, not necessarily. Take for example:
1) I come soon, but move very slowly. Or,
2) I delay my arrival, but move swiftly when I come.
Revelation is admittedly a difficult book. Let’s examine a few texts outside of Revelation to help us determine if Jesus said that He would come soon or that He would come suddenly?
The problem for the five virgins was that “the bridegroom tarried” (Matt. 25:5). Had he come soon, they would have entered the feast. The parable of the talents says: “After a long time the lord of those servants comes” (Matt. 25:19). “Long time” is the exact opposite of “soon.” “The Son of man is as a man taking a far journey… Watch you therefore: for you know not when the master of the house comes… Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping” (Mark 13:34-36). A long journey with a sudden return. “The day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction” (1 Thess. 5:2-3). These texts support a sudden return, not a soon return of Jesus.
In short, to translate it, “I am coming soon,” is prejudiced and misleading. “I am coming quickly” conveys the extent of the Greek into its equivalent in English, allowing students to further study Scripture for themselves, to determine if “quickly” in these cases means “soon” or “suddenly.”
P.S.: I am indebted to Terry Carter for studying this issue with me, but any errors in this Insight are my responsibility.