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.
Revelation 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 later.
Revelation 22:7: 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.
Revelation 22:8-9: 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.
Revelation 22:10: 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.” (Mark 13:37)
Revelation 22:11: 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)
Revelation 22:12-13: 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 after this.”
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)
He is 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.
Jesus 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 STARTED.
Revelation 22:14-15: 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:
1. The Lord God gave a revelation to Jesus Christ of what was soon to take place.
2. Jesus made this revelation known by sending his angel to “testify about these things.” (22:16)
3. The angel came to John, who has written down what was revealed to him.
Moreover, 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.
First question: 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.
Second question: 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 lives.
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”
· “with all the saints”
· “with all of us”
· “with the saints”
· These either 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
We 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 Corinthians 5:19)
· “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 Corinthians 5:21)
· “…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 1:15)
· “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 Peter 1:3-4)
· “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 John 2:1-2)
· “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.)