"Surely I Come Quickly"

Why erchomai tachu most likely describes
how Jesus is coming, not when He will come.

By Rusty Entrekin  

Four times in the book of Revelation, the NIV, RV and ESV translate the Greek phrase erchomai tachu "I am coming soon."
  1. "I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown." Revelation 3:11 (NIV) 
  2. "Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book." Revelation 22:7 (NIV) 
  3. "Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. (NIV) Revelation 22:12
  4. He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Revelation 22:20 (NIV) 

And yet, this phrase is translated "I come quickly" in the KJV and many other translations. Obviously, this leaves room for the idea of speed or suddenness of action. The NIV translation does not leave room for this. Which is correct here,  the KJV or the NIV? Is it possible that Jesus meant he would return with quickness or suddenness, rather than soon in time?

Let's look at how the verb tachu is used by New Testament writers in the rest of the New Testament to see. Tachu occurs a total of thirteen times in the NT. Twelve times it is translated "quickly" in the KJV. Once is it translated "lightly."

Here are all of the occurrences of tachu  outside of the book of Revelation.

Matthew 5:25  "Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.

Matthew 28:7  "And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you."

Matthew 28:8  So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.

Mark 9:39  But Jesus said, "Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name that can lightly speak evil of me." [Some translations render tachu "soon" here, but that is an interpretative translation, and I believe it is a mistaken one as well. I will explain why below.]

Mark 16:8  So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

John 11:29  As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him.

In each of these instances, note how this adverb denotes quick, sudden action. Take just a moment and substitute the word "soon" for "quickly" in the verses above. In all these instances, "soon" does not fit the sentence as well as "quickly" does, because swift action is being described rather than action sometime in the near but indeterminate future

Mark 9:39 may seems, on the surface, to be an exception, but it actually is not, because even here, tachu  conveys the idea of speaking too quickly, without weighing one’s words first. This verse also demonstrates quite well that tachu can be used to describe a swift action which takes place after a period of time has gone by.

Recently, a friend objected to this observation by saying, "In none of the these verses does the writer mean that the action will take place suddenly 2000 years from now."

That is true, but it is an irrelevant and misleading objection, for several reasons:

1) In Matthew 28:8, Mark 16:8, and 11:28, the biblical writers are describing past events, not events that will occur in the future.

2) In Matthew 28:7, "go quickly" is an imperative command that is obviously meant to be obeyed immediately.

3) In Matthew 5:25, Jesus commands  "Agree with your adversary quickly  while you are on the way with him." Who knows how much time may pass before you find yourself in a situation like this? Ten, twenty, thirty years or more? The idea behind this is to agree with an adversary quickly and immediately when you find yourself in this situation.

4) In Mark 9:39 Jesus said, "there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name that can lightly speak evil of me." The idea here is speaking too quickly (hastily). A long period of time might go by after a man has done a miracle in Jesus' name. But that man still will not be able to hastily speak evil of Jesus. He will hesitate and check himself before saying such a thing, because he has seen the power of God displayed in the name of Jesus.

And so we see that when tachu is used, it does not necessarily mean that the action takes place right away, or even that the action will take place in the near future.  Rather, it simply describes the speed and suddenness of an action once it has been initiated. As we are about to see, the first two uses of the adverb tachu in the book of Revelation illustrate this very well.

The Uses of the Adverb tachu  in Revelation

There are seven uses of the adverb tachu in the book of Revelation. Six of these regard Christ’s coming:

Revelation 2:5  remember, then, whence thou hast fallen, and reform, and the first works do; and if not, I come to thee quickly, and will remove thy lamp-stand from its place—if thou mayest not reform; (YLT)

Revelation 2:16  Repent, or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.

Note that in both of the above two verses, Jesus offers the offending churches some time to repent. The idea here is that if they do not repent now, they will not have time to repent when He comes, because when He comes, it will be quickly and suddenly. 

Now let's look at the other instances of tachu in the book of Revelation. There is no reason to believe that Jesus is speaking differently in these verses than he did in the two above.

Revelation 3:11  Behold, I come quickly; hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.

Revelation 22:7  "Behold, I come quickly." Blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.

Revelation 22:12  "And behold, I come quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every man according as his work shall be.

Revelation 22:20 He that testifieth these things saith, "Surely I come quickly." Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

The other use of tachu regards the coming of the third woe:

Revelation 11:14 The second woe is past; and behold, the third woe cometh quickly.

Significantly, in every one of these seven instances, the verb translated "come" (erchomai) is in the present indicative tense, not in the future tense.  So how should we take Jesus’ words in the first six verses above? Curtis Vaugnhan and Virtus Gideon, in A Greek Grammar of the New Testament, state that there are four regular, and four special uses of the present indicative in Greek ( page 136). Let’s look at these to see which one fits best, along with some scriptural examples of these uses which Vaughan and Gideon give.

The most common of these, the descriptive, describes an act in progress.  Did Jesus mean that He was already in the process of coming?  Since tachu conveys the meaning of sudden, swift action once it occurs, even the preterist notion of Jesus coming one to five years after the writing of Revelation is too slow to fit this idea.

The durative use, which describes ongoing, continual action, also does not seem to fit here either.

The gnomic use could fit. It describes a general or timeless truth, such as "Every house is built by someone." (Heb 3:4)

The iterative use could also fit. It describes something which occurs at successive intervals: "I die daily." ( I Cor. 15:31). Both the gnomic and the iterative uses would reflect our Lord’s frequent, unseen comings in judgment of nations and individuals. Two of the six "coming" statements in the book of Revelation are indeed individual applications of the idea that He comes swiftly to persons and churches with chastisements:

Revelation 2:5  remember, then, whence thou hast fallen, and reform, and the first works do; and if not, I come to thee quickly, and will remove thy lamp-stand from its place—if thou mayest not reform; (YLT)

Revelation 2:16  Repent, or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.

However, although these verses do establish the fact that there are individual comings of our Lord, since Jesus uses the words "to thee" and "unto thee" in the above two verses, the form of the present tense used here is probably the special use of the present indicative called the  futuristic present. An example of the futuristic present is "If I go away, I am coming again and will receive you to myself." (John 14:3). We use the futuristic present in English, also: "The President is coming to Atlanta."

The other three special uses of the present tense, the historical (describing a past event), the perfective (a completed event), and the conative (an act contemplated or attempted), do not fit at all.

And so the futuristic present is the best fit. Note that in John 14:3, when Jesus used the futuristic present to say, "If I go away, I am coming again and will receive you to myself," He did not mean that He was currently in the process of coming. Rather, he simply meant that the event was going to happen in the future. And so it is erroneous to claim that our Lord's use of the futuristic present in the verses above indicates that He was already in the process of coming quickly, in the sense of "soon." Obviously, since He stated that He is coming quickly, His coming would have occurred immediately if that was His meaning.

Rather, since the adverb tachu indicates swift, sudden action, Jesus must be describing how He is coming, rather than when He will come.

The futuristic present conveys the idea of imminence. When we speak of the "imminent" collapse of communism, we mean that it is bound and certain to happen, and that this sure and certain expectation looms over communist dictatorships.

Are there other passages in scripture that support this idea of Jesus returning swiftly rather than soon? Yes. There are many passages that indicate that Jesus will return suddenly:

Matthew 24:27  For as the lightning cometh out of the east and shineth even unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be. {Note that here the coming of Jesus is likened to the swift coming of lightning.}

Matthew 24:42  "Watch therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.

Matthew 25:13  Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh.

Mark 13:33-37  "Take ye heed, watch and pray; for ye know not when the time is. For the Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch ye therefore, for ye know not when the Master of the house cometh—at evening, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning— lest coming suddenly, He find you sleeping. And what I say unto you, I say unto all: Watch!"

Luke 12:35-39  Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning. And you yourselves be like men who wait for their lord, whenever he shall return from the wedding, so that when he comes and knocks, they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the lord will find watching when he comes. Truly I say to you that he shall gird himself and make them recline; and coming up he will serve them. And if he comes in the second watch, or comes in the third watch, and find it so, blessed are those servants. And know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and would not have allowed his house to be dug through.

Luke 12:46  the lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him asunder and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.

Luke 17:31  In that Day, he that shall be upon the housetop and his goods in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back.

Luke 18:8  I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?"

Luke 21:36  Watch therefore, praying in every season that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things which shall occur, and to stand before the Son of man.

1 Thessalonians 5:2-4  For you yourselves know perfectly that the Day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they are saying, "Peace and safety," then sudden destruction cometh upon them as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that Day should overtake you as a thief.

1 Thessalonians 5:6  Therefore let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us watch and be calm.

Revelation 3:3  Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard; and hold fast and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.

Revelation 16:15  "Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame."

There are also many verses which indicate that it will be a long time, from a human perspective, until Jesus returns. Jonathan Edwards wrote: "Christ often speaks of his last coming, as that which would be long delayed." The idea of Jesus returning swiftly or suddenly rather than "soon" better harmonizes with these passages:

Matthew 24:48  But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming;

Matthew 25:5  While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.

Matthew 25:19  After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.

Mark 13:34  For the Son of man is as a man taking a long journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch.

Luke 12:39  And this know, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not have suffered his house to be broken into.

Luke 17:22  And He said unto the disciples, "The days will come when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and ye shall not see it.

Luke 18:7  And shall not God avenge his own elect, who cry day and night to him, though he beareth long with them?

Luke 20:9 ¶ Then he began to speak to the people this parable; A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it out to vinedressers, and went into a far country for a long time.

Luke 21:24  And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.

Romans 11:25  For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part hath happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles shall be come in.

Hebrews 10:36  For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye may receive the promise.

James 5:7  Be patient therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receiveth the early and the latter rain.

2 Peter 3:8-9 ¶ But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing: that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.  The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Revelation 6:10  And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?

The Uses of the Noun táchos in Revelation

Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich list the following definitions for táchos: "speed, quickness, swiftness, haste" (p. 814). The noun táchos occurs twice in the book of Revelation. Green’s Literal Translation translates these two verses accordingly:

Revelation 1:11a  A Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him to show to His slaves things which must occur quickly.

Revelation 22:6  And he said to me, These words are faithful and true. And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His slaves what must happen quickly.

Young’s Literal Translation also translates tachos as "quickly" in these two verses.

Thomas Ice writes regarding these two occurrences of tachos:

The two times that this noun appears in Revelation (1:1; 22:6), it is coupled with the preposition en, causing this phrase to function grammatically as an adverb revealing to us the "sudden" manner in which these events will take place. They will occur "swiftly."

The tense of "occur" and "happen" in both of these verses is aorist. This tense, according to Moulton, presents "an event as a single whole, without regarding the time taken during its accomplishment." (Introduction to the Study of New Testament Greek, page 190).

But combined with en táchei, the literal sense is "things which must occur in speed" in Rev 1:1, and "what must happen in speed" in  Rev 22:6.

There is a passage in Luke which demonstrates that "in speed" is the natural meaning of en táchei rather than "soon":

Luke 18:7-8  And shall not God avenge His own elect, who cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily {Greek: en táchei}. Nevertheless when the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?"

According to Robertson, "long" in verse seven indicates God’s forbearance with the wicked:

God delays taking vengeance on behalf of his people, not through indifference, but through patient forbearance. {Robertson’s Word Pictures}

And so the word "long" indicates that en táchei cannot mean "soon" here. Instead, it must mean "in speed." This passage proves that en táchei is indeed used in the NT to describe a sudden, speedy action that occurs after a long time period.

There are only four other occurrences of en táchei in the NT. Try substituting the word "soon" in the following verses that use en táchei:

Acts 12:7  and lo, a messenger of the Lord stood by, and a light shone in the buildings, and having smitten Peter on the side, he raised him up, saying, ‘Rise in haste,’ and his chains fell from off his hands.

Acts 22:18  and I saw him saying to me, Haste and go forth in haste out of Jerusalem, because they will not receive thy testimony concerning me;

"Soon" does not fit in any of these verses!

The word "soon" could, however, be substituted in the remaining two verses, though it does not seem to be the best fit.

Acts 25:4  Then, indeed, Festus answered that Paul is kept in Caesarea, and himself is about speedily to go on thither, (YLT)

Romans 16:20  and the God of the peace shall bruise the Adversary under your feet quickly; the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen! (YLT)

And so it seems most likely that the words en táchei in Rev 1:1 and 22:6 refer to how  certain of the events described in Revelation will take place rather than when they will take place. Although "soon" may have been our Lord's intent, it seems best to translate the passage more precisely with the words "in quickness" and allow the Holy Spirit to guide the reader as to the intent.

If we take Rev 1:1 and 22:6 to mean that all of the things in the book of Revelation will occur "soon," then this causes problems for the full preterist view, because under it, all of the events in the millennium must be compressed into the 1-5 years full preterists claim occurred between the writing of the book of Revelation and it's supposed complete fulfillment in 70 AD. Rather, the correct sense seems to be that some of the things in the book will take place "in quickness."

In Conclusion

To summarize, the preponderance of NT Greek usage leads us to believe that the adverb tachu, combined with the verb erchomai in the present tense, most likely describes how Jesus is coming rather than when He will come. Therefore, "I am coming quickly" is a better and much more precise translation than "I am coming soon." Likewise, when the apostle John used the phrase en tachei, he may have been describing how certain events in the book of Revelation will happen, rather than when they will happen. Here as well, "in quickness" is a better and more precise translation. To translate tachu as "soon," or en tachei as "shortly" is intepretative, and it is possible to err in interpretation. 

Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™  Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

 
 

Rusty Entrekin is a theology graduate of Louisiana College. He and his wife Julie have seven children, with four still at home, and four grandchildren. Currently, he resides in Kennesaw, GA. He writes apologetic and theological articles to help people come to know Christ and grow closer to the Lord. If this article has blessed you, and you would like to free him up to write more, you may make a donation below.

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