From the outset of our studies in Revelation, I was unsure of how long it would take us to complete the book. Some 52 sermons later, we have finally reached the culmination of our study. It has, in many ways, been a “long and winding road.” This is the first time that I have ever expounded Revelation in its entirety. I have been challenged spiritually, emotionally and intellectually as I have prepared each week to expound the prophecy. And not for a moment do I regret the journey we have taken. It has helped me personally, it has helped our church corporately and, I trust, it has helped you in some way yourself.
Each study in Revelation has focused on the glory of Christ and of His church. The closing chapter is no different. Revelation 22 is really a continuation of the theme of Revelation 21, which focused our attention on the glory of the church: the new heaven and the new earth. These chapters do not describe a new cosmos; instead, God’s new covenant people are described in creation language. Such a description of the church finds its precedence in the Old Testament. Revelation 21:1 is a direct quote from Isaiah 65:17. The context of this verse makes it clear that a new cosmos is not in mind. Consider Isaiah’s words more fully:
For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying. There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed. And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them. And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord.
It is safe to assume that the biblical authors quoted Scripture in context. Thus, the context of Isaiah 65 helps us to determine the proper context of Revelation 21-22. It is clear that Isaiah is not describing a new cosmos in eternity, for he speaks of death, sinners and curses. Scripture makes it quite clear that none of these things will exist in the eternal state. The presence of these things, therefore, rules out the interpretation that Isaiah speaks of a physical cosmos.
What, then, does Isaiah describe? The “new creation” that he describes is “Jerusalema rejoicing, and her people a joy.” In other words, God’s covenant people are here described in creative language. In our previous study, we began to consider the glory of the church. We noted several aspects of this glory. We saw that, in God’s eyes, the church is a beautiful bride, a bulwark, big, brilliant and booked. This study will conclude our systematic exposition of Revelation by considering the final chapter of the prophecy, which continues to describe the glory of the church, which began in Revelation 21. We will take some time in upcoming studies to make some concluding marks about Revelation, but the actual exposition of the book ends here. We will divide this final chapter of Revelation into two broad sections.
The Expansion of the Church
Keep in mind once again that there is no chapter division between Revelation 21 and 22 in the original text. This is important to note, for John does not switch at 22:1 to a new subject. Instead, he continues the theme that he introduced in Revelation 21: the glory of the church. Revelation 22 begins by describing the expansion of the church:
And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever. And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to show unto his servants the things which must shortly be done. Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.
Scientists speak of an expanding universe. The theory is that our universe is not fixed in size: it is continually expanding and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. I do not know enough about science to give an informed opinion on this, but I know enough about Scripture to say that the church will continue to expand for the duration of human history. We saw in our previous study the vastness of the church, described by John as a 2,500 km cube. Kenneth Gentry has noted that a space shuttle flies no higher than 500 km; this clearly illustrates the enormity of the structure that John beheld. Of course, we are not meant to imagine that this is a literal city: John’s purpose is to show us that the church will continue to expand throughout history, so that it will be an organism of unparalleled size at the culmination of time. At the end of human history, the church will compass the whole world. This truth is cemented in 22:1-7 by several further metaphors.
The Clear River
Regardless of eschatological interpretation, Bible scholars are unanimous in their agreement that the language in the opening two verses of Revelation 22 comes straight from Ezekiel 47:1-12. John writes:
And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
The picture here is difficult for me to envision. The river clearly proceeds from the throne of God. It then seems that there is a street on either side of the river, with trees of life lining the way between the river and the streets. Although the English text speaks of “the tree of life,” there is no direct article in the original language; thus, “trees of life” is a preferable translation. In fact, even the English indicates that there is more than one tree of life, for “the tree of life” is seen “on either side of the river.” Thus, the river of life flows from the God of life, and feeds the trees of life than line its banks. Once again, the picture here is taken directly from Ezekiel 47:1-12:
Afterward he brought me again unto the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward: for the forefront of the house stood toward the east, and the waters came down from under from the right side of the house, at the south side of the altar. Then brought he me out of the way of the gate northward, and led me about the way without unto the utter gate by the way that looketh eastward; and, behold, there ran out waters on the right side. And when the man that had the line in his hand went forth eastward, he measured a thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; the waters were to the ankles. Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through the waters; the waters were to the knees. Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through; the waters were to the loins. Afterward he measured a thousand; and it was a river that I could not pass over: for the waters were risen, waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over. And he said unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen this? Then he brought me, and caused me to return to the brink of the river. Now when I had returned, behold, at the bank of the river were very many trees on the one side and on the other. Then said he unto me, These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea: which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live whither the river cometh. And it shall come to pass, that the fishers shall stand upon it from Engedi even unto Eneglaim; they shall be a place to spread forth nets; their fish shall be according to their kinds, as the fish of the great sea, exceeding many. But the miry places thereof and the marishes thereof shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt. And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine.
As you can see, the river of life inEzekiel 47flows from the new temple that Ezekiel is privileged to see. The closing eight chapters of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 40-48) all describe a magnificent temple. Some would have us believe that this is a physical temple that will one day be constructed during the millennium period on earth. But there is very little biblical basis for this; rather than describing a physical temple, Ezekiel is describing the glory of the new temple, thechurchofJesus Christ. Thus, the river of life comes forth from the church. All who are touched by the river of life receive life.
The trees of life, furthermore, “bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month.” In other words, each month, the trees of life are seen to bring forth a different type of fruit. Moreover, “the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” Now, we saw in our study of Revelation 21 that the new Jerusalem is a picture of the church. At one point in that chapter we are told that “the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it” (21:24). Now, “the leaves of the tree” are stated to be “for the healing of the nations.” Thus, as the nations enter the city, they are healed by the leaves on the trees of life.
The word translated “tree” in 22:2 is used often in the New Testament to describe the cross of Christ. Thus, through its gospel ministry, the church continues to give life to the nations, thereby expanding throughout history until the end of time. The nations are brought continually into the church. As the Spirit of God (perhaps pictured by the water of life) applies the gospel ministry of the church to hearts and lives, the church expands.
The United Nations means well. But the UN will never heal the nations and the conflicts of this world. The only hope for the world is the gospel of Jesus Christ; as it flows from the church, the nations are brought into it, and peace results.
The Curse Removed
John now speaks of a curse being removed, “And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him” (22:3). Again, we should remember that this “curse” is being removed from the church. But the question arises, “Which curse?” Perhaps our natural inclination is to think immediately of the curse upon mankind at the fall (Genesis 3:14-24). But another curse has played a prominent role in Revelation: the covenantal curse upon Israel. Centuries before the final destruction ofJerusalem in 70 A.D. God had pronounced blessings and curses uponIsrael: blessings if they stayed faithful to their covenantal commitments, and curses if they forsook those commitments (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28). For centuries,Israel had abandoned her covenant with God, and the ultimate proof of that was when they crucified Messiah. Thus, in 70 A.D., God poured out the covenantal curses upon her.
The question is, which of these curses is removed from the church in Revelation 22? There is a sense in which both of these curses have been lifted. Certainly, the covenantal curse would be removed onceJerusalem was destroyed. Israel was God’s unfaithful wife, and He would bring upon her all the judgement that He had promised. God’s full wrath would be poured out upon unfaithfulIsrael, and there would be none left for the church. This is because of the divine promise to the church, “And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27). Israel of old had been defiled, but God would not allow this to happen to new Jerusalem. He would protect her from this Himself.
In what sense has creation’s curse been lifted from the church? In the sense that “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). Everything described in Revelation 21:27 is outside the city; we who are in the city have had the curse removed from us. And, because of this, we “his servants” do indeed “serve him.”
None of this denies that there will be a day in which the curse will be entirely removed from the earth. This will certainly happen. Jesus Christ will return visibly and bodily to this earth, and He will restore all things to the way they were originally at creation. The complete lifting of the curse is made clear by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Christians inRome:
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
What a wonderful day that will be! But even though we yet wait for that time, we can rejoice as believers that, even now, the curse has been lifted from us! We are no longer under God’s curse because Jesus was cursed for us.
The Church Reigning
Because the curse has been removed, the church rules in Christ. At first glance, 22:4-5 seem to point to a time in the future when we will physically stand before God, but this is not necessarily the case. Let us consider John’s words:
And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.
Few, if any, reading this will claim that they have ever seen Christ face-to-face. We have no problem believing that we will see Christ face-to-face in eternity; thus, we may conclude, these verses must be describing eternity. Yet, when comparing Scripture with Scripture, we may come to a very different conclusion.
Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 3:18 of “with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord.” The result of this is that we “are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” By some experience, the Christian is able to behold “with open face” the glory of the Lord. What experience is that? Paul continues:
Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
(2 Corinthians 4:1-6)
Through the believer’s experience with the gospel, we have “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (emphasis added). The language of seeing Christ face-to-face is not meant to be literal. Instead, John is describing the intimate relationship that the believer has with God.
Not only do those in new Jerusalem see Christ face-to-face, but “his name shall be in their foreheads.” This concept has already been seen in Revelation (7:1-8; 14:1-5), where we defined it as not a literal mark, but as a symbol of sealing, protection and ownership. Those who are sealed by Christ belong to Him and enjoy His special protection. These privileges are enjoyed by all of God’s children.
The passage then picks up on the imagery of 21:23-27, where the city was described as a city of light. John continues, “And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light.” Once more, this imagery points to the church. Paul describes believers as “the children of light, and the children of day.” “We are not of the night,” writes he, “nor of darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5). John’s language is thus symbolic language speaking of the church.
The symbolism of 22:4-5 culminates in the final phrase, “and they shall reign for ever and ever.” Again, this language is descriptive of the church, “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:12). This reigning is not something for which we must yet wait. Even now, Jesus Christ reigns from the right hand of His Father. Since Christ reigns, and since we are seated in Christ, then we reign with Him (cf. Ephesians 1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:10). An entire series of sermons can be preached on this truth; suffice it to say for now that, seated in Christ Jesus, we reign with Him.
The implications of the church’s rule are far-reaching. In the 15 May 2006 edition of Time magazine, Andrew Sullivan wrote an article entitled “My Problem with Christianism: A Believer Spells Out the Difference Between Faith and a Political Agenda.” Sullivan, speaking particularly from an American perspective, writes of his disturbance that American Christians seem to insist there is a particular political position to which the Christian must hold. He is rightly troubled by the apparent assumption that American Christians are Republicans, whilst American non-Christians are Democrats. Sullivan’s solution, however, was equally troubling: separation of religion and politics:
Many of us who are Christians and not supportive of the religious right are not on the left either. In fact, we are opposed to any politicization of the Gospels by any party, Democratic or Republican, by partisan black churches or partisan white ones. “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus insisted. What part of that do we not understand?
Now, there is a sense in which a separation between church and state should exist. Both institutions have particular God-ordained spheres of authority, and neither should overstep the boundaries of their own authority to interfere with the other’s authority. But this is not the same as saying that Christians ought not to be involved in politics. That is quite simply not what Jesus meant when he said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Whilst the source of Christ’s kingdom is not this world, He has nevertheless left us in the world to impact the world. The church should impact society in every sphere of life—including politics. The truth is, how we submit to our Master will impact this world, in whatever vocation we find ourselves.
The Converted Rewarded
Next, we see something of a blessing pronounced upon those who obey the exhortations given in Revelation:
And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to show unto his servants the things which must shortly be done. Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.
The “sayings” that John has heard are now said to be “faithful and true.” The “sayings” referred to here are everything that John has seen and heard throughout the prophecy. John and his readers could count on it: what God revealed would come to pass. Victory for the church was assured.
Once more, we are given a clue as to the proper interpretation of Revelation. In these two verses, John twice uses the Greek word tachos, albeit in different verbal tenses: the first time translated “shortly” and the second time translated “quickly.” Though we have already received enough clues as to the timing of the prophecy’s fulfilment (cf. 1:1-3; 2:5, 16; 3:11; etc.), we are told once again that the things spoken of would be fulfilled within a short period of time.
It is interesting to note the various interpretations of “shortly” and “quickly” as set forth by commentators. The interpretation of the futurist school is particularly interesting. Many futurist commentators say, for instance, that “quickly” does not mean what it appears to mean, but that when these things begin to happen in an unspecified time in the future, they will happen quickly. In other words, “John, I may not come for another 2,000 years or more but, when I do come, I will come quickly.”
One commentator noted that “quickly” does not mean “soon,” but that it in fact means “imminent.” That is, “John, I will not tell you when I am coming, but my coming is imminent.” This supposedly means that in every generation, Christ’s coming is imminent: it could happen at any time. But this is to play word games, for a dictionary definition of “imminent” is in fact “soon.” Granted, this verse could have been exhorting John that Christ could come “anytime,” but it would be anytime soon!
There really is no way to get around these time frame references. Christ promised John that He would come soon—soon, that is, from John’s perspective. The word tachos in the New Testament always means “soon,” “within a short period of time.” Let me illustrate with but a few examples.
The word is used in 1 Corinthians 4:19 when Paul says to the church in Corinth, “I will come to you shortly.” Now, what do you suppose Paul meant by that? Did he perhaps mean, “I’m not telling you when I’m coming, but when I come, I will come at a brisk pace”? Or, “I may not come for another 30 years, but you should view my coming as imminent”? Of course not! Paul meant that, if all went according to plan, he would see them soon.
In Galatians 1:6 Paul marvelled that the Galatians were “so soon removed from him that called you unto the grace of Christ unto another gospel.” Paul wrote these words probably a few months after leavingGalatia. Thus, “soon” in this verse means precisely that: “soon.”
Again, Paul writes to Timothy, “Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me” (2 Timothy 4:9). Paul was in prison when he wrote these words, and his request was for Timothy to bring some relief and supplies to him. But he was not saying, “Timothy, please come visit me some time in the next 2,000 or so years” or, “I don’t care when you come but, when you do come, come quickly.” No, he was asking Timothy to be there as soon as possible.
Every instance in which the Greek word tachos is used in the New Testament, it always means “soon.” There is absolutely no biblical reason to ignore this plain meaning when we come to Revelation. It means the same in Revelation as it means in any other book of the New Testament. To twist the words to mean anything else is to play word games with the text of Scripture. It disturbs me to see how willing some are to do away with these words. Regardless of the popularinterpretation, Jesus Christ clearly expected the things of which He spoke to happen soon, and they did: within a couple of years after John wrote.
Some may raise an objection at this point: if the things prophesied in Revelation have already happened, what is the value of the book to us today? This is a question often posed by those with a futurist interpretation of the Scriptures. But this really is a pointless question. The prophecy ofGenesis 3:15—that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent and that the serpent would bruise His heel—has already been fulfilled. This prophecy was fulfilled in the cross of Christ (seeColossians 2:13-15). But no Christian would suggest that this prophecy has no value to us today. The entire Christian faith hinges on this prophecy: it is as valuable to us today as it was to those before the cross.
My point is simple: just because a prophecy has been fulfilled does not mean that it has no value for us. The value in the already-fulfilled prophecies of Revelation is the promise that the church will continue to conquer throughout her history. Because the prophecies of Revelation were fulfilled, just as Christ said they would be, the Christian of the 21st century can go into the world with great hope. Just when it seems that things in the world are falling apart, the Christian can take heart that the church will expand and have victory.
I recently walked by a Christian bookstore in a major shopping centre in Johannesburg. In the window of the store was the cover of a recent prophecy book by John Hagee. On the front cover of the book was a picture of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who recently called forIsraelto be “wiped off the map.” Hagee had written an entire book about end-time prophecy largely based on that one statement.
As I stood looking at the cover of the book, the owner of the store came out and said to me, “That’s a great book!” When I asked why, he said, “Because it’s full of prophecy.” When I asked whether President Ahmadinejad’s statement had been prophesied in the Bible I was told that, indeed, it had. I asked what made this particular book different from all of Hagee’s other prophetic books over the last thirty years, but the owner ignored the question and continued telling me how wonderful the book was.
That encounter illustrates an important point: we need to have our feet firmly planted in Scripture, rather than being tossed about by every “supposed prophetic wind” that arises from a Middle Eastern crisis. Revelation shows how Christ would come in judgement upon Jerusalem, after which the church would go forth in glory and continue to expand until the end of time. Praise God that this effect of fulfilled prophecy is being experienced today.
The Expectation of the Church
In this closing section, the imminence of the prophecy is once again stressed. A sense of urgency is clearly seen in these verses:
And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which showed me these things. Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God. And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand. He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie. I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. 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: 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. He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. 21The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
The vision of new Jerusalem, as you can imagine, has been somewhat overwhelming. For 22 chapters, John has been “bombarded” with vision after vision: some terrible, some glorious. It is little wonder that he is confused by the end of it all:
And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which showed me these things. Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.
This is not the first time in the prophecy that John has displayed some confusion. He had already fallen before an angel once before and been rebuked for it (cf. 19:10). It seems now that the angel has been so faithful with God’s Word that John has mistaken him for Jesus Himself. But the angel quickly rebukes him, instructing him to worship God alone.
Having corrected John’s confusion, the angel now proceeds to give him an important commission. This three-fold commission really summarises quite neatly the whole message of Revelation.
The first aspect of the commission is for John to reveal what he has seen, “And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand” (19:10). This is a statement of the utmost significance, which again clearly points to the contemporary fulfilment of the prophecy.
The latter half of Daniel records several visions and prophecies that God gave to Daniel concerning events to come. Essentially, all the prophecies deal with the kingdoms of the world that would precede the new covenant, and how thekingdomofGodwould crush all of these kingdoms and expand throughout the earth. In several different visions, Daniel is told of the rise and fall of four consecutive kingdoms: those of the Babylonians, the Medo-Persians, the Grecians and the Romans. Each kingdom would be responsible for the downfall of the previous one, and theRoman Empirewould ultimately fall to the church. The events foreseen by Daniel, however, would span a time period of some 450 years. Thus, at the end of the book, Daniel is instructed, “But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” (Daniel 12:4).
This command to Daniel is instructive. He is told that, because the fulfilment of his prophecies are so far in the future, he must “seal the book, even to the time of the end.” But contrast this with John’s prophecies, which parallel Daniel’s in many ways. Instead of being told to “seal the book,” John is told, “Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.” The instructions to the two prophets are completely opposite: Daniel is told to conceal his prophecy, John is told to reveal his prophecy.
These opposing instructions create something of a problem for the futurist, who says that the fulfilment of Revelation is yet future from our standpoint. Daniel is explicitly told to conceal his prophecies because the fulfilment is such a long way off; John is explicitly told to reveal his prophecies because the fulfilment is at hand. But if Daniel’s “far off” prophecies were but 450 years away, could John’s prophecies—which, according to the futurist, have not come to pass in 2,000 years—honestly be said to be “at hand”? How can 450 years be a long way off, but 2,000 years be at hand?
No, we must understand that the fulfilment of John’s prophecies were significantly closer to the time of writing than were the fulfilment of Daniel’s prophecies. Daniel’s prophecies would not come to pass for 450 years; John’s would come to pass within a few years. And because of the imminent fulfilment of John’s prophecies, he is instructed to record them.
The second aspect of the commission is for John to remind that it is soon. He is told to make the message of Revelation urgent:
He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie. I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.
The fulfilment of the prophecy was so close by that there was little opportunity for people to change their ways, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” This is not to say that the grace of God was insufficient to save, but that people didn’t have much time to change: there was not much time for repentance. And yet the invitation to repent is still there! “Time is running out: repent before it is too late!”
Now, Jesus Himself speaks, “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” Again, He cements the fact that the fulfilment of the prophecy is close by. He would come in judgement, and reward according to works. Works are inseparable from faith (cf.James 2:14-26) and thus judgement would ultimately be based on works. Those who bore the fruit of faith would be spared; those who did not would fall under condemnation. Jesus told of the same event during His earthly ministry:
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
The passage goes further to speak of the absolute inescapability of the judgement. It would be inescapable because it would be none less than Jesus Christ Himself—“Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last”—who would bring the judgement to bear. Some, specifically “they that do his commandments” would be “blessed.” They would escape judgement and “have right to the tree of life.” They would have access to new Jerusalem. But the rest, those who disobeyed, would be counted as “dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” These would be excluded from the city, forever to remain “without.” Again, the seal of surety is the testimony of Jesus Christ, “I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.”
The third aspect of the commission is for John to record that it is serious. In John’s own day, destruction was imminent, and his readers needed to be warned of it. In our day, a similar certainty looms—the certainty of death—and we need to be warned of it. John writes:
And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. 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: 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. He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen.
The invitation to “come” is issued from three sources: “the Spirit,” “the bride” and “him that heareth.” “The Spirit,” of course, is the Holy Spirit, who applies the redemptive work of Christ to those who receive Him. “The bride” is perhaps the church in heaven, desiring that unbelievers would turn to Christ. “Him that heareth” is perhaps the church on earth, or possibly Christ Himself, calling the lost to come to the throne of grace. Whatever the precise identity of these three sources, the glory of the passage is the gracious invitation, lifted directly fromIsaiah 55:1-5: “And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”
Judgement was certain to fall, but anyone who came to Christ for eternal life would be saved. That invitation extends to our own day. Jerusalem has been destroyed and the prophecies of Revelation fulfilled, but each of us faces judgement at our own death. Would you escape that judgement? Then come and take of the water of life freely.
The graciousness of the promise is highlighted by a severe warning, which closes once again with the assurance of imminence:
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: 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. He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly.
This is perhaps one of the strongest warnings in all Scripture, and one that has sadly been abused by many interpreters. As an illustration of this, consider the following excerpt from a letter that I received in April 2005 warning me of the “dangers” of preterism:
Preterism does not begin to come to grips with the statements of Revelation. It treats the wording of prophetic Scripture in a cavalier manner. It places one not far down the road from those who say the resurrection is past (II Tim 2:18). It certainly places one under, and is the classic example of, the condemnation of Revelation 22:19, i.e. those who take away from the words of the book of this prophecy.
Apparently, then, I have been written out of the book of life because I have not taken seriously the words of Revelation! Sadly, this man’s sentiments are not unique to him. Many interpreters seem to believe that those who disagree with them fall under the condemnation of these verses and are thus unbelievers. I strongly disagree with John MacArthur’s interpretation of Revelation (and I am sure he loses much sleep over that!), but I would never suggest that he falls under the condemnation of 22:18-20.
Whilst I have a different interpretation of Revelation to the man who wrote to me, I neither deny the prophecy, nor do I take the words of Scripture lightly. In fact, I take the words of Revelation very seriously. I take very seriously Jesus words, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:34-35).
The warning of 22:18-20 is not to believers who misinterpret Revelation; it is to unbelievers who tread under foot the blood of the Son of God. It is impossible for a believer to be written out of the book of life. Thus, these words can in no way apply to believers. The warning is to those who disregard God’s Word and cling to their sin. For those, there is no hope of salvation.
Christ’s judgement upon Jerusalem was imminent when John wrote. That is a past event for us, but judgement for us is still inevitable. Christ is the only escape! Only those who come to Him in repentance and faith will be delivered from the wrath to come.
John concludes Revelation with a twofold prayer. First, his prayer is for glory, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (22:20). This prayer was not uttered out of morbid introspection. John did not pray, as we so often do, for Christ to come in order to deliver him from suffering. Instead, John’s desire is for the glory of Jesus Christ. For in the destruction ofJerusalem, Jesus would be glorified:
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Jesus had taught His disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10). That is John’s prayer at this point, for Christ’s kingdom would only fully come after the destruction ofJerusalemand the Jewish temple.
Second, John’s prayer—a prayer that the church must pray if she will be successful in her Great Commission—is a prayer for grace, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (22:21). There is nothing on earth more glorious than thechurch ofJesus Christ. Just read what God says of the church in Revelation 21-22. We ought to desire that the church becomes more glorious. We ought to be passionately committed to doing church God’s way, to exercising all the ordinances given to the church. We must be sure to have biblical leadership in place and to have biblical preaching from the pulpit. Our ministry must be biblical, as must our church discipline. For as we obey the Lord of the church, so the church becomes more and more glorious and sanctified. And why do we desire the church to increase in glory? Because the more glorious the church, the more glory goes to Jesus Christ.
May our expectation be the expansion of Christ’s church in light of the fulfilment of this glorious prophecy. May we be as expectant as the early church was for the glory of our great God.