Thank you, loyal readers. This is my last post on Revelation.
THE FINAL WORDS
The final “wrap-up” of the book (22:6-21) pulls back from the
focus on the new heaven and new earth.
The words are coming from Jesus, John, and possibly the narrator-angel. It also quotes the “Bride” and the
Spirit. Keeping in mind the epistles and
some other New Testament books, the loose, almost random, style will be
recognized from those other books. See,
for examples, I Peter 5:12-14, Hebrews 13:22-25, Titus 3:12-15, II Timothy
4:19-22, I Thessalonians 5:23-28, Colossians 4:7-18, Galatians 6:11-18, I
Corinthians 16:19-23, Romans 16:17-23.
22:6: “He said to me…”: It is not clear who “he” is, but it appears
to be an angel, perhaps the main “tour guide” for John. See 1:1:
“He [Jesus] made it known by send his angel to his servant John.” See also 22:9. The points that are made in 22:6: First, the book is “trustworthy and
true.” Second, it came from “the God of
the spirits of the prophets…” That is,
it is in tradition of the prophets—not only the New Testament prophets but
those of the Old Testament era. Our
understanding of those prophets was that God gave them a unique office that
made them spokesmen and women for God—an office higher than priests or
kings. John functions in that
God-ordained office in this book. The
third point is that God sent his “angel”:
This angel is the one who has been John’s tour guide throughout the
book. Finally, his point is: the revelation is of “what must soon take
place.” I shall try to comment on that
Now we have a quotation from Jesus.
Although all sorts of events take place in the book, the centerpiece
is: “I am coming soon.” I shall comment later. Then, Jesus goes on: “Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the
prophecy of this book.” The expression
“keeps the words…” is the very common word for “keep.” This word has a broad usage, but its meaning
centers around: held for security and
for faithful application. A prison is
“held” or “kept” until his or her court date.
A commandment is “held” or “kept” in the sense that it faithfully
obeyed. It is not simply memorized, but
rather it is applied in one’s life situation.
The words of this book have not been given as an entertainment or some
puzzle for prophecy buffs to figure out.
It is a prophecy of what is coming that speaks to our hearts a warning
to be ready for God’s future. There is a
great good future that ultimately awaits, but there are also troubling times
that are not good for those on the wrong side.
So, we need to wake up and be ready for the return of Jesus Christ.
John again wants to worship an angel.
See 19:10. Almost the same
response is given in the two passages:
John must not worship the angel who is the messenger, but the one that
the message is about.
Now John is warned not to “seal up the words of the prophecy…for the
time is near.” The book is not to be
hidden off somewhere. It is to be open
and available to people. It is a
difficult book to understand, yet God has made it available for us to read—and
read again—and to seek to understand.
Why? Because the time is
near. We would love to know how
near. But that is hidden from us. Jesus warned us: “And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”
There is then the strange set of “commands”: “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the
filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be
holy [or: be sanctified].” The best I can understand these commands is
that they are calling for manifestation of reality. So, I would paraphrase as follows. “Let the unrighteous person do injustice so
that his true nature is exposed. Let the
filthy do the filthiness so that his filthiness is evident. Let the righteous person continue to do
righteous deeds to display his righteous motives. Let the one who is holy live out that
sanctification.” I believe that this is
a statement that, when Jesus comes, he will expose all that is evil as well as
bring to light goodness and purity. Leon
Morris has a little different take. He
believes that this is a warning of the swiftness of Jesus’ return. There will be no time for repentance
then. If one is going to repent, he or
she had better do so now. (Morris, 259)
These verses are directly from Jesus.
Jesus is coming soon. I have seen
this explained to mean that, when he comes, he will come with great speed. Although that meaning of the Greek word
sometimes is the correct meaning in the context, it also can mean “not long
after this” or “immediately after this.”
For example Matthew 5:25 describes how we should come to terms “quickly”
with our brother. That is, without
delay. So, Jesus says, in Mark 9:39,
that a person who does a miracle in the name of Jesus will not “soon
afterward…speak evil of me.” In
Revelation, the use seems consistently to mean “not long after the present
time.” This is found in Revelation 2:16,
3:11, 11:14. In chapter 22, the word is
used in verses 7, 12, and 20 to refer to when Jesus is coming. In each case, the idea seems to be “not long
How do we reconcile this with what seems to be over 1900 years of
delay? II Peter seems to address this
issue as follows: “But do not overlook
this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and
a thousand years as one day. The Lord is
not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward
you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach
repentance. But the day of the Lord will
come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the
heavenly bodies [or elements] will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth
and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be
dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and
godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of
which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies
will melt as they burn! But according to
his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which
righteousness dwells.” (II Peter 3:8-13)
coming with a reward (ESV: “recompense”). This “reward” or “wage” can either be
positive or negative, depending on whether the person deserves blessing or
curse. The content of Revelation 19-22
is filled with examples of blessings to those who are in the Book of Life and
punishment of the wicked.
announces his identity as the Alpha and the Omega—the first and the last—which
is also used to designate “the one who sits on the throne” in 21:6. In 1:8 “the Lord God” identifies himself as
the Alpha and the Omega. So, the eternal
God and the One who is coming, that is, Jesus, both share this title of Alpha
and Omega. There can be no doubt of the
recognition of Jesus as fully God in this book.
The designation as “Alpha and Omega (the first and last letters
of the Greek alphabet), the first and the last, the beginning and the end”
communicates two truths to us about the both the Father and the Son. First, they have always been, and they always
will be. Most of what we experience is
transient. Circumstances change. We prosper and we get into debt. We are healthy and we get sick. We have friendships that go sour. We have times of joy and times of
sadness. We work hard and have leisure. We have beautiful days and times of
hurricanes, floods, blizzards, and drought.
But through all of it, God is still there. Before we were conceived, God was there. After we are dead, God is still there. When the last days come upon us, God will be
there. When the new heaven and new earth
appears, God will be there.
Second, they are the start and the completion. This book occupies the last place in the
Bible. It looks toward the wind-up of
the story. That story began in Genesis
1:1, which states: “in the beginning,
God…” In the Septuagint (the Greek
version of the Old Testament), the same word is used in Genesis 1:1 for
“beginning” as is used in this verse for “beginning.” God, Father, Son, and Spirit, were there in
the beginning to get things started.
They will be there in the final days of the story. They will be there TO FINISH WHAT THEY HAVE
John does not identify the speaker of these verses. The ESV does not use quotation marks and does
not use red ink, so it gives the impression that these come from John. However, it is possible that Jesus is
continuing to speak. Just as the
“recompense” of verse 22:12 suggests, these verses exhibit two outcomes—access
and exclusion. Those who “wash their
robes” have access to the tree of life and into the city. Those whose lives are stained by their sin
are “outside.” There are two other
usages of the verb that is translated “wash” in 22:14. In Luke 5:2, fishermen who would later become
fishers of men were washing their nets.
In Revelation 7:14, a heavenly being describes a great throng of people
who are worshiping before the throne of God.
“They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the
Lamb.” Throughout the New Testament
there is communicated the idea that it is through the shed blood of Jesus that
we are redeemed and made right with God.
The direct notion that we are CLEANSED by his blood is not always
brought out, but it is in a few cases. For
example, Hebrews 9:11-14 contrasts the sacrifice of Jesus with the Old Testament
animal sacrifices. Specifically, it
states that “much more will the blood of Christ…purify our conscience from dead
works to serve the living God.” Also, in
I John 1:7, we are assured that “…the blood of Jesus his son cleanses us from
all sin.” The robe would represent the
life of a person. As he or she wears it
in all of the activities of life, it will be soiled by those activities so it
becomes a history of that person. Through
faith in Jesus, his blood cleanses that history and the robe becomes a
brand-new robe enabling that person to take his or her place among the
redeemed. That person can enter the city
and can partake of the tree of life.
But “outside” are the outsiders, those who do not belong in the
company of the redeemed. Some specifics
are named—not as an all-inclusive list, but as a list that is open-ended. They are the “dogs.” Dogs were unclean animals and unclean people
were called dogs. Paul warns against “dogs”
in Philippians 3:2, which in the context probably refers to false teachers. Also excluded are the sorcerers, those who
practice magic arts—opening themselves to demon influence. There is a set of related Greek words which
refer to poison, medicine, mixing or preparing the medicine/poison, practicing
magic (probably associated with some sort of medicine or poison). Thus, ESV translates the word as
sorcerer. It is directly related to our
word for pharmacy and pharmaceutical. Those
who are excluded also include the sexually immoral and the murderers. They are also the idolators—worshipers of
false gods and followers of false religions.
And there are those who love and practice “falsehood.” This likely especially refers to false
philosophies and religions that lead people away from the truth. But it also could refer to anyone who engages
in untruth. Today the internet has
become a fountain of untruth. During the
last two years in which the pandemic of COVID 19 has been the number one
subject, rumors and wild stories have abounded, and some people seem to have
greatly enjoyed spreading these stories.
That, when it is combined with bizarre politics, has created a political
and cultural environment that is almost insane.
Those who are spreading falsehoods need to repent and wash their robes
in the blood of the Lamb that they might enter the holy city and partake of the
tree of life.
Revelation 22:16: Jesus
seems to want to make sure that we know that he is the source of these
statements. “I, Jesus,” he says. There were no “red-letter” editions of Bibles
in those days. The manner of writing
seems so obscure to us (no spacing, punctuation) that it is difficult to
understand how people received accurate information. So, Jesus clarifies that it is he who
delivers the message. First, he reminds
us of what the first verse of the book (Revelation 1:1) says: that this book came about, in three steps:
The Lord God
gave a revelation to Jesus Christ of what was soon to take place.
Jesus made this revelation known by sending his angel
to “testify about these things.” (22:16)
came to John, who has written down what was revealed to him.
Jesus oversaw this process “for the churches.” (22:16)
Chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation consist of letters to each of the seven
churches (which traditionally have been identified as “the seven churches of
Asia Minor.”) Those letters are addressed
to each church individually, and deal with local problems and give pertinent
warnings and encouragements. However, we
should understand that the rest of the book is also addressed to the
churches. The material in chapter four
and following informs the church at large without dealing with the local issues
as in chapters 2 and 3. Now, Jesus
brings us full circle and we are reminded that this all started with concern
for those local churches. In chapter 1,
John’s first vision is of Jesus walking among the seven lampstands, which
represent the seven churches (1:12-20).
Jesus also applies titles to himself
which echo previous titles. In 3:7 Jesus
“has the key of David,” which points to his royal authority. In 5:5 Jesus is described as “the Root of
David,” which points to his eternal pre-existence and creative role. In 22:16, Jesus identifies himself again as
the “root…of David” and also adds that he is the “descendant of David,” which
identifies him as the “son of David” who is the rightful heir to the throne of
Israel. His title as “son of David” is
used (at least) in Matthew 1:1, 9:27, 12:23, 15:22, 20:30, 21:9, 21:15, Mark
10:47-48, Luke 18:38-39. In addition,
Jesus identifies himself as “the bright morning star.” This expression is also used in Revelation
2:28, in which Jesus promises those of the church in Thyatira who conquer that
he will give them the “morning star.”
This is obscure to me. There is a
reference in Job 38:7 to “when the morning stars sang together” at the creation
of the earth, which is poetically described in Job 38:4ff. Usually Venus is the morning star. It is quite bright and may persist through
the dawn until the sun has risen enough to overwhelm it. Sometimes Mars may be a morning star. Sometimes more than one planet will occur
together. So, it is proper to refer to a
plurality of morning stars as they are in Job.
The morning star is beautiful. It
precedes the day as a sort of announcement.
So, Jesus, in his glory and beauty and in his role of ushering in God’s
new day, is the morning star. The
conqueror is rewarded with that glory and beauty and the hope of a new day.
Revelation 22:17: Now comes a beautiful invitation. It is first given as a single word: “Come.”
It is beautiful a word. It is the
centerpiece of an invitation: “Come…” to
our wedding, to our party, to our barbecue, to our baptism, to our church
service, to our celebration… “Come” and join us, celebrate with us, enjoy our
company as we enjoy yours, experience our bounty, be a part of our family. It is a beautiful word.
“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’” The Holy Spirit joins with the people of God
in issuing an invitation. The Spirit of
God is the quiet member of the Trinity who speaks—often in a whisper—the word
of welcome, of love, of hope. The Bride
has joined with the Lamb for eternity.
She loves Jesus and she wants to share him with everyone.
Added to these two is “the one who hears.” This is the one who hears the gospel message
and responds with faith. He or she has tasted
and seen “that the Lord is good…” (Psalm 34:8)
People shrink back in fear, not having experienced that perfect love
that casts out fear (see I John 4:18).
But “the one who hears” has experienced that perfect love of God that is
in Jesus. Therefore, he or she beckons
to his friends and family: “Come!” Come and experience what I have experienced.
Who should come?
The “one who is thirsty.” That
one who is desperate for refreshment from God, who is humble enough to
recognize how much he needs God—it is that thirsty one who is invited to come. This echoes the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:2-11,
especially those that spotlight the spiritually thirsty: the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3), those who
mourn (Matthew 5:4), those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). He or she is invited to come and drink the
“water of life without price.” Notice
that the river that flows from the throne is a river of the water of life (Revelation 22:1). It is the same water that quenched the thirst
of the woman at the well (John 4:13-14).
And it is “without price.” It’s
not cheap, but it is free. No one could
afford to buy it. The richest
billionaire could not afford a drop. But
whoever comes, will receive the water without paying a penny. See the invitation in Isaiah 55:1ff, in which
the Lord invites “everyone who thirsts” to experience God’s bounty—to buy “without
money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1)
Almost the last words in the Bible are the words
of this beautiful invitation. It reminds
us that the heart of God is full of love for every person and desires to quench
the thirst of his soul.
Revelation 22:18-19: A
warning! Who is the “I” who gives this
warning? It is unknown, but probably is
John. John is the “primary” narrator in
the book. At times it seems as though an
angel is speaking, even though he is not identified. However, in this case, probably John is
writing these words under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The warning is somber and sobering: do not add and do not take away.
does this only apply to the book of Revelation, or could it apply to any
book in the Bible? (I have observed it
used in that way.) It appears that it
was originally applied only to Revelation.
John very possibly had no idea that he was writing Scripture. He knew, however, that he had experienced the
kind of encounters that prophets of the Old Testament era had experienced. Hence, he calls the book “the prophecy of
this book” (22:18) and “the book of this prophecy” (22:19) He knew that what he
was writing was very serious and significant.
And, I believe, as I have said, that he was moved by the Holy Spirit to
write this warning. The warning
certainly also applies to all the writings of Scripture.
Is the kind of study and commentary, that I—as well as many others—have undertaken, forbidden by this warning? The book itself encourages people to read it
and to hear it read (orally) and to “keep what is written in it” (1:3). What is involved in reading the book?
I believe that Scripture can be read as a
mechanical exercise. For example, many
churches have “readings” designated for every Sunday of the year (usually
called the Lectionary). Many ministers
and lay people seem to regard these as a sort of mechanical exercise that may
or may not lodge in soul. Others,
however, take those same readings and make them the basis of their sermon and
use them as occasions for teaching. By
interpreting and instructing on the basis of interpretation are these ministers
adding to or subtracting from the Scripture?
I do not believe so. If they are
doing this in humility and with diligence, I do not believe they are sinning
against Scripture. “Humility” would
include an admission that one’s interpretation is subject to debate and
certainly is not to be equated with Scripture.
On the other hand, if a commentator or preacher denies
the validity of Scripture, including the Book of Revelation, one may be in
violation of this warning. If one
dismisses Revelation as a fabrication and not a prophecy, one is undermining
the authority of the book and is in violation of this warning. If one insists on a single interpretation
without admitting the limitations of human insight and if one condemns all
other interpretations as error and even coming from the evil one, then that
person is adding to the prophecy his own paradigm and interpretation and thus is
in violation of this warning.
This warning is solemn and reminds us of the
importance of the book and of the events that are predicted in it. Notice the punishments that are the
consequence of not heeding the warning: to
add to the book brings the plagues upon oneself; to take from the book means
loss of the life given through the tree of life as well as loss of citizenship
in the holy city.
Revelation 22:20: Now, the
identity of the speaker is not ambiguous.
The introductory clause declares that “he who testifies to these thing
says…” The direct quote then identifies himself
by describing his own action: “Surely I
am coming soon.” The “I” is the one who
is coming soon, and that would be Jesus.
So, in this sentence we have “he who testifies” equals “I” equals the
one who is “coming soon.” The problem
then is: what about verses
22:18-19? Is this “I” also Jesus? He very well could be, but I venture to stick
with my original understanding that John is issuing the warning, under the
authority of Jesus and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Once again we have that difficult word
“soon.” I refer to my previous
commentary in which I referred to II Peter 3:8-13.
The faith of the Bible is that Jesus is coming
again. In the communion ritual of some
churches is the brief “mystery of faith”:
“Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” This very simple, compact statement
summarizes the New Testament and is the foundation of our faith. Most churches have focused on the first two
components and shrugged their shoulders at the third. Yet, whenever the New Testament addresses
this issue—that Jesus will come again, it does so with the utmost seriousness. It is the end of the story and the story is
incomplete without it.
My suspicion is that I and many other Christians
struggle to incorporate the Second Coming into their consciousness and into
their faith for a simple reason. When
Jesus comes back, and even in the lead-up to that event, our every-day world
will be blown apart. Our little empires
will be gone. Many things that we hold
so dearly will take on very different meanings.
We are not so much afraid of the plagues and other horror scenes as we
are afraid of how all those events will reorganize and re-prioritize our own
Notice in II Peter 3:3-4: Scoffers “will come in the last days with
scoffing following their own sinful desires.
They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all
things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’” See also Matthew 24:37-39: For as were the days of Noah, so will be the
coming of the Son of Man. For as in
those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving
in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware
until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son
of Man.” If one reads on, especially
Matthew 24:45-51, one begins to understand the attitude of those who look for
the Second Coming and those who do not.
John responds with a welcome: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20b) Just as we are given a warm invitation to
come and take the water of life (22:17), so John encourages us to invite Jesus
into our lives now and at his Second Coming.
Revelation 22:21: There
are several different versions of this last verse. In particular, the manuscripts have the
possibilities as follows.
“with all the
“with all of
have or do not have the “amen” at the end.
None of these versions seem to me to alter the
meaning. The meaning is pretty
simple: “may God’s grace be with
us.” If one considers the weight of this
book, certainly we need God’s grace.
When we consider our need of salvation, we need God’s grace. When we desire to be reconciled to God, we
need God’s grace. If we humbly consider
who we are and who God is, we need God’s grace.
When we recognize that Jesus is coming back and his recompense—either
for the good or the bad—is with him, we need God’s grace.
God’s grace is intimately combined with what some
theologians call “the Christ event.”
That event is stated in many ways throughout the New Testament. For example, in the four gospels, the event
was stated this way (among other expressions):
· “…behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in
a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife,
for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his
name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’” (Matthew 1:20-21)
· ”The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the
Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)
· “And an angel of the Lord appeared to them [the
shepherds], and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled
with great fear. And the angel said to
them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be
for all the people. For unto you is born
this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” (Luke 2:9-11)
· “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was
with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,
and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of
grace and truth.” (John 1:1 and 14)
· “For God so loved the world, that he gave his
only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16
also read of the Christ event and the grace that came through the incarnation
of Jesus in other places in the New Testament.
· “’Let all the house of Israel therefore know for
certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you
crucified.’” (Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, Acts 2:36)
· “But now the righteousness of God has been
manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness
to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who
believe…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are
justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ
Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by
faith…” (Romans 3:21-25)
· “…that is, in Christ God was reconciling the
world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to
us the message of reconciliation.” (II
· “For our sake he made him [Christ] to be sin who
knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II
· “…yet we know that a person is not justified by
works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ…” (Galatians 2:16a)
· “For by grace you have been saved through
faith. And this is not your own doing;
it is the gift of God…” (Ephesians 2:8)
· “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours
in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality
with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a
servant, being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that
is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in
heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus
Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)
· “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness
and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” (Colossians 1:13)
· “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full
acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” (I Timothy
· “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God
our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in
righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration
and renewal of the Holy Spirit…so that being justified by his grace we might
become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-5, 7)
· “His [Jesus Christ’s] divine power has granted to
us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him
who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us
his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become
partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in
the world because of sinful desire.” (II
· “My little children, I am writing these things to
you so that you may not sin. But if
anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the
righteous. He is the propitiation for
our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (I
· “In this is the love of God was made manifest
among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live
through him.” (I John 4:9)
· “To him who loves us and has freed us from our
sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him
be glory and dominion forever and ever.
Amen.” (Revelation 1:5b-6)
I end with this final
quotation from Revelation: “Behold, he
is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced
him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so.
Amen.” (Revelation 1:7)
Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
(Scripture quotations from The
Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
The ESV Bible. Wheaton, Il: Crossway, Good News Publishers, 2001.)