Maranatha: Come Lord Jesus!

by K.W. Leslie, 03 December 2019

There’s an Aramaic word in the New Testament which only appears once, in 1 Corinthians 16.22, and is probably better known as the name of a music label or a brand of peanut butter: Maranatha. Some bibles don’t bother to translate it…

1 Corinthians 16.22 NASB
If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha.

…and some bibles do.

1 Corinthians 16.22 ESV
If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!

Properly maranatha is two words, which in Greek are μαρὰν ἀθά, and in Aramaic are ܡܪܢ ܐܬܐ (still transliterated marán athá). And properly it’s not a command for our Master to come; it means “our Master came.” But Christians prefer to interpret it with the same idea we see in Revelation 22.20:

Revelation 22.20 ESV
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Yeah, the Lord came to earth in his first coming. But that’s not the end of the story. He’s coming back.

Hence the ancient Christians prayed maranatha, by which they meant “Come Lord Jesus!” We see it in the Didache and their prayer books. Christians still pray it.

Most of the time when we pray maranatha, it’s for our Lord Jesus to come back. Either we want his presence to be among us during our worship services or church business… or we want him to stop delaying his second coming and take over the world already. But more often when we ask for Jesus’s presence, we pray it in our native languages. “Come Lord Jesus!” works just fine. The word maranatha is more of a liturgical word; it’s something we might pray formally, but it doesn’t feel as personal as when we use the words we commonly use. I get that. And it’s fine: Using foreign-language words when English words will do, is frequently showing off how we happen to know foreign languages. And showing off is hypocrisy, and we don’t want any hypocrisy in our prayer life.

But then again: If you use the word maranatha in your private prayers, whom are you showing off to? So don’t worry about telling God maranatha in private. Jesus did tell us to pray “Thy kingdom come” after all, so by all means pray that Jesus return. The sooner the better!

A prayer for Jesus’s intervention.

Historically Christians have interpreted maranatha to refer to Jesus’s second coming: It’s a request that he return. And maybe rescue us from our problems and sufferings; maybe fix the world.

For dark Christians, they’re also hoping the second coming incorporates smiting the world. That if the time of great tribulation hadn’t killed off most of the wicked already, Jesus’s return might kill off the rest of ’em. And then he can rearrange the world to their his liking.

Now, since dark Christians don’t share Jesus’s attitudes and motives towards the lost, the way he rearranges the world won’t be to their liking either. But y’know, he’s gonna work on them too. The scriptures indicate his second coming isn’t for the purpose of judging the living and the dead: That comes at the very end, after the millennium. He’s returning to rule and save the world, not destroy it.

But maranatha is a prayer for Jesus to personally intervene in the world’s affairs. Not necessarily by splitting the skies, rapturing us Christians, and overthrowing the world’s governments. Instead he can intervene the way he usually has so far: Change circumstances. Change hearts and minds. Change lives. Come through for his people.

If we limit our expectations of what Jesus might do—if we only expect maranatha to be a prayer for the second coming, and never think in terms of Jesus being here for his people right now—we’re gonna overlook all the stuff Jesus is currently doing. Because there are plenty of behind-the-scenes things he’s up to. Stuff we Christians might miss; stuff cessationist Christians miss out on all the time. It’s kinda sad that we do: He wants us to see what he’s up to, and rejoice!

So while maranatha is usually about the second coming, it’s really about asking our Lord to flex his sovereignty. For our king to be king. (Included in the idea is we gotta act like his subjects and follow him. But we’re doing that already, right? Hope so.)

A reminder Jesus is coming back.

The other reason we pray maranatha is because we need to realize Jesus can return at any time. Whenever the Father decides the time is right—and it’s not for us to know when that’ll be, Ac 1.6-7 which means seriously, at any time—Jesus is returning. And since few of us know the time of our own death, Jesus might be returning for you personally, so be prepared either way!

Too many Christians aren’t prepared for Jesus to return. ’Cause they’ve been putting off certain things they intend to do for him, figuring they have all the time in the world. ’Cause it’s been nearly 20 centuries, roughly 66 generations, since Jesus was raptured… and for all we know it might take him another 20 centuries, another 66 generations. So, like the people in Jesus’s parables about his second coming, they’re living their lives as they please, ignoring the very real possibility their Master will return and catch ’em with their pants down.

There is such a thing as careful planning and preparation. I’m not saying we should act hastily. If you feel God wants you to minister in some way, go to school, go apprentice with another minister, and learn how to minister in that way. Don’t rush off to minister, assuming you’ll learn as you go. What you’ll invariably do (’cause I’ve seen it dozens of times) is try to reinvent the wheel, and do an ineffective, lousy job when y’could’ve done the wise thing and learned better. First go learn better!

But don’t procrastinate. Spend the adequate, proper time in training. Then go and do. Don’t assume “My master delays in coming,” so this means we can delay in being obedient. Assume he’s giving you time to be obedient… so obey! Follow Jesus in the time he’s permitted us. Because we really don’t know how much time that is, and if you’re not paying attention, the time’s gonna pass you by like that.

Maranatha is our reminder: Our time may be shorter than we think. So go and do.