Wednesday, December 30 –
We have come to the next to last day in our reading thru the New Testament in a year. Today’s reading is from Revelation 22:6 – 21. Please read the passage and come back to take a second look at it together.
John has been on a marvelous, wondrous journey. I wonder what he felt like as he came towards the end? As John stands in the New Heaven, the New Earth, he sees the beauty of the re-creation in heavenly form. Rivers of water that are full of life, trees bearing twelves different kinds of fruit every month of the year. The leaves are for healing the people who are redeemed and have come out of the great tribulation. Most of all, he sees and realizes we will all see the throne of God and the Lamb – Jesus, whose glory shone bright. (22:1-5).
“And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.” “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (22:6-7).
The “he” at the beginning of verse six is the angel who has guided John through the visions and pointed out to him what to “see”. The angel speaks to John’s wonder and awe – “it’s all true”, and it will be fulfilled – “soon”. We read that word “soon” and wonder how two thousand years can be soon? Yet, we remember from the scriptures “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). What the angel speaks to John is much more than a timetable, it is an exhortation for John, as well as for us today. John’s life was filled with uncertainties. All of the disciples had been martyred, and so had many of the early church believers. John was exiled on an island because he dared preach the Gospel that the Romans despised. The uncertainties of life, along with the opposition of a culture opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ was true then, and it is true today. Therefore, he speaks to John – “believe what you saw, it’s trustworthy and true”. Secondly, look forward with hope, expectation, and faith, for one day it will take place. Last of all, “keep the words of the prophecy”. How do we “keep” the words of the book of Revelation? John wrote what he saw and he wrote to the churches of his day that they might realize that God knows what is happening upon the earth. God knows about the cult of the emperor. God knows about the spread of evil that has its source in the Devil. God knows about the tragedies and martyrdoms. God knows all of this, and yet he calls them to be faithful, to persevere, and to trust obediently in Him – the best is yet to come.
“I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.” And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (22:8-10).
John is overwhelmed by all that he has seen, and it leads him for a moment to forget that it was an angel who was showing him these things. As he falls at the angel’s feet, he hears the angel speak – “you must not do that! I am a servant like you, and all others who keep this book. Worship God”. It had happened to him before (19:10), and it is easy for us also to love the revelation, the ecstasy of the knowledge while forgetting that it is God who reveals himself to us, and he alone is who we are to give our worship. It was in the book of Daniel that similar prophecies had been shown and at the end, an angel had told Daniel to “seal up the prophecies” for they were not yet ready to be fulfilled (Daniel 12:4). Now, the angel tells John “do not seal up the words of the prophecy, for the times is near (22:10). The time the prophecy speaks of is coming and nothing more needs to occur for it to come to pass. The book of Revelation was written to remind every age of Christianity that Christ may come back “NOW”. In light of that, how then should we live?
“Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (22:11-15).
John sees into the present day and the choices people make. While Revelation is at times disturbing, often mystifying, it is a call for people to heed their choices. To those who reject God and his word, the book of Revelation will not make any sense. To those who practice a lifestyle of ignoring God’s holiness, and despising his commandments, there is no good that awaits them. To those who see God at work in these “revelations”, and believes that there is a choice that leads to eternal life, and they want that – then they are those who have had their robes washed and have the right to the tree of life that is inside the city.
The Bible began in the creation of the universe, and the earth was made as a place for humans to live with God and enjoy his creation. When Adam and Eve turned away from God, the sin that entered in sought to overthrow all God had done. Now, John sees that God is re-creating the heavens and the earth, free of the sin that once reigned in every human heart. Again, we realize how God did it –
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (22:16-17).
He is the living water, and those who know their need can only be found in Him are the thirsty ones who will come. Even at the end of the prophecy, Jesus is inviting anyone who will come to Him, to come. It is an invitation from the Spirit of God who convicts us of our need as sinners, and it is the Church (the bride) that brings us to Christ. John is finished, the revelation is over, but yet in the end there is both a warning and a reminder –
“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (22:18-20).
It is standard in many early century letters to warn those who receive it not to change the contents. Since most letters were copied and sent on, it was possible for the copyist to change what he felt needed changing. John warns those who would receive the revelation to not add or subtract from the words he received. God had spoken very similar words to Moses at the giving of the Law (Deuteronomy 4:12; 12:32). We are told to receive the word of God as inspired by God for our needs (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We are never given the option to vote on what we like or dislike.
The message is finished and all that remains is a benediction – a word of affirmation and blessing for all who would receive it –
“He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (22:21).
We say “Amen” as a form of agreement – “yes Lord, yes Lord”. John is full of joy as he concludes because he knows that all that he has seen and written will come to pass. Even though it did not happen in total during his own day, he prays with us even today – “Come, Lord Jesus! …may your grace be with us…Amen”.
John lived through the end of the first century. The emperor Domitian also lived at the end. Domitian saw himself as a god but learned quickly after his death that the enemy had lied to him. John also died at the end of the first century and quickly saw heaven again. To the Christians that lived on, more persecution from other emperors would take place. It was encouragement that John saw God conveying to those who suffered, even died, for their faith. To those who were mystified by the resilience and perseverance, as well as love and forgiveness, they kept hearing the invitation to “come”. The grace of God knows no boundaries and heaven is made up of forgiven sinners, not people who worked their way there.
Back at the beginning of the revelation, John saw Jesus standing among the churches. He heard the reproofs he had to those who were religious, but had lost their focus, lost their first love. Grace is needed for all of us in all situations, and grace is what draws us back to loving our Savior – the one we longingly pray “Come, Lord Jesus, come”.
While we finished the book of Revelation, there is one more thing to write – an epilogue if you will. We'll look back at “what have we just read?” - a look once again at the big picture. That we will do as we end these readings, tomorrow.