Friday, July 24th, 2020
Just like English, Biblical Greek has one word that means to come, and another that means to arrive. For the Greek geeks, the words are respectively ἔρχομαι and ἥκω. But although the two words are technically different, they are commonly and casually used interchangeably. Such overlap usage is both understandable and forgivable, because we do exactly the same thing in English. Yes, we do.
For example, if she were running later than expected, I might text my wife and ask her, “When will you come home?” But if I were instead to ask, “When will you arrive home?” I would mean essentially the same thing. In such a scenario, I am basically using the words come and arrive interchangeably. No big deal; most everyone talks this way.
But if you think about it, there is technically an itty-bitty difference between the two words. To come home implies and involves the movement, transit, or (in her case) the drive from one starting point to another destination. Alternatively, to arrive specifies not the transit, but the exact ending point of the transit. Someone can only arrive after they have come.
Therefore, if my wife wanted to mess with me, she could reply to my inquisitive text with something like, “I will come home in about 15 minutes. But I will not arrive home for about 30 minutes.” In which case, I would smirk, because I would realize that she is being unnecessarily technical, when I just wanted a general answer. Plus, she knows me well enough (and English well enough) to correctly interpret my text. I just wanted to know what time she’ll get home.
But so what? I just spent four paragraphs discussing the difference between the words come and arrive. Why bother discussing the technicalities of common words?
Well, I bother because Jesus is coming quickly, but no one knows exactly when he will finally arrive. He is coming quickly but arriving slowly. Let me nuance that statement now. On occasion and all along, Jesus has been coming quickly since he ascended to heaven; but he has yet to finally and ultimately arrive.
Jesus has not arrived yet, in an ultimate second-coming sense. That said, I should affirm that he could arrive very soon. Indeed and frankly, I expect his ultimate arrival, his Parousia, in the near future. I even hope to skip the grave and live to see it.
Alternatively, Jesus has come and continues to come (quickly) through the years. In some manner or another Jesus has already come, even numerous times. For example, Jesus came when he appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus. And Jesus came when he appeared to John on the Island of Patmos.
Someone will likely protest, “But those appearances do not count! Jesus did not actually come to Earth. Those were only visions or voices.”
Okay, I will grant you that Paul and John may not necessarily have had a physical encounter with Jesus, though in the case of John, that is entirely debatable. But they both really, truly encountered him. Or rather, Jesus encountered each of them. In that way, Jesus did actually come. They had a genuine encounter with the risen, ascended Jesus. And each of them were alive and breathing on Planet Earth when it occurred. Since he appeared to them, it is fair to say that Jesus did come for them.
Please notice that I am making a distinction here between coming and arriving. I am not saying that Jesus has arrived. I am just saying that he briefly came. In the Book of Revelation, this is an important distinction that will help a reader make sense of a lot of Jesus’ statements.
I would like to suggest that we should recognize the paradoxical validity of both the distinction and the overlap. To arrive and to come can effectively mean the same thing. But they do not always mean the same thing. In the Book of Revelation when we hear Jesus saying, “I am coming quickly,” we should ask ourselves whether he is possibly pointing to brief provisional historical appearances or to his ultimate eschatological arrival. Consider that paradoxical possibility as you read through the Book of Revelation. It might help you make sense of a number of passages. It does make sense of things for me.