I admit, I probably lost you at “maranatha.” It is not a word commonly known in many Christian circles. However, I hope I can help my readers make this word part of their everyday Christian language just as it was in the early church. First, we will explore what “maranatha” is and second, we will look into why we should participate in the “maranatha” cry.
What is Maranatha?
Maranatha is an Aramaic phrase that was transliterated into Greek and is found only once in the Bible in I Corinthians 16:22. Paul’s use of the Aramaic phrase, in an otherwise Greek text, indicates that it was a common phrase at the time of his writing. For example, we often used the word, “résumé” but that is indeed a French word that we use as part of our everyday vocabulary. The same seems to hold true for “maranatha.”
Maranatha has three possible meanings, “The Lord has come,” “Lord, come,” or “The Lord is Coming.” Scholars can’t seem to agree on which one, but contemporary scholars prefer the latter two translations. I agree with them for three reasons: the context of I Corinthians 16:22, the context of its use in the Didache, a similar phrase found in Revelation 22:20.
Maranatha in I Corinthians 16:22
In the sentence preceding “maranatha” in I Corinthians 16:22, the final greeting of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he makes the statement, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.” On the surface, it seems to be a strange, if not unrelated statement to make prior to proclaiming, “Maranatha!” But is it?
If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! (Maranatha)I Corinthians 16:22
The preceding sentence is certainly a warning to those who truly do not love the Lord. By crying out, “The Lord is coming,” or “Lord, come,” immediately afterwards, implies that the Judge is at the door. It warns us that we should inspect our hearts before his return.
That theme is consistent with Jesus’ words for his church to be ready and watchful and expect his return as we find in the Parable of the Ten Virgins, for example. If we love the Lord, we will live with that longing and expectation that he could return at any minute and we will be ready to receive him. We will cry out, “Maranatha!”
Maranatha in the Didache
The Didache, also known as the Lord’s Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations, is one of the earliest collections of Christian writings and it is dated to the first or second century A.D. In this early work, we also find the use of the phrase, “maranatha.”
Let grace come, and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the Son of David. If any one is holy let him come (to the Eucharist); if any one is not, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen.Didache 10:6
The overall context of the use of “maranatha” is in reference to the Eucharist (communion), but the immediate context is again repentance. We remember Christ through communion and we must approach it with a clean heart, repenting of our sins. The command to repent precedes “maranatha” again reminding us to search our hearts because the Lord is coming.
“Come, Lord Jesus” in Revelation 22:20
The phrase “maranatha” does not appear in Revelation, but wording similar to the Maranatha cry can be found in 22:10.
18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: 19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and [from] the things which are written in this book. 20 He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.Revelation 22:18-20
Revelation 22:20 uses both the idea that the Lord is coming and the call for him to come. Preceding this verse, the writer warns the reader about adding or subtracting from the book. It follows a similar pattern of theme structure found in I Corinthians 16:22 and the use of “maranatha” in the Didache, a warning following by a call for his return or a proclamation that he is returning.
It is also significant, I believe, that these verses in Revelation are at the end of the book. It is one of the last messages from God to you in his revealed word. That should give us pause and make us ask the question, “Am I living a life with the expectation that Jesus could return at any moment?”
Do We Love the World More Than Christ?
How often do we truly think about our Lord’s return? I would venture to say that for those of us in the American church, not often. A big part of that is that we might just love the world a little too much. In the comforts of Western life, we are more focused on improving our standards of living than in longing for the Lord Jesus to come back.
A love for the world, means we do not love the Lord. And if we are not longing for his return, then our love and our heart is in this world–and not in the one that is to come.
Maranatha in the Persecuted Church
The Maranatha cry has become a central part of the persecuted church and it is easy to see why. Persecuted Christians are keenly aware of just how evil this world is and their hope, by necessity, rests in the coming Lord. Maranatha is an encouragement to them in their suffering and they find great comfort in it and so did the early church. They long to see the Lord, to experience his return and we should take a page from their book.
If we are fortunate enough to live in a part of the world where war, starvation, and persecution are not common—we cannot take our blessings for granted. The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. We must heed the warnings of I Corinthians 16:22 and search our hearts to see if we really do love the Lord. And if we do, then let’s proclaim, “Come Lord Jesus,”
Join me and let’s make “Maranatha!” part of our every day vocabulary!
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