RPM, Volume 18, Number 34, August 14 to August 20, 2016

To the Ends of the Earth

Revelation 22
The Last Words

By Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

These are the last words of the last book of the Bible! And what memorable words they are!

It is enormously interesting that in this final chapter of the Bible we have recorded for us in triplicate the parting words of Jesus Christ "I am coming soon" (22:7, 12, 20). If they were just the last words in Revelation we would regard them as important, but their repetition, and the fact that they are Jesus’ words, makes them all the more important. They were uttered almost two thousand years ago, and that in itself is underlines their mystery. Evidently, "soon" has to take on a different significance after so lengthy a time period. Obviously, these words were meant to be encouraging. John was imprisoned on the island of Patmos, and John, as well as the Christian church, needed encouragement. That encouragement comes to them in form of a promise of Jesus near-coming.

Some have tried to suggest that statements such as these portray an accurate witness to an expectation among the early Christians that Jesus’ second coming was imminent, something that clearly had to be revised as the delay became more and more evident. What this statement shows is a kind of primitive view of the eschatology (or the events that lead up the end).

Because this view has been so prevalent amongst liberal scholars over the past century, some have tried to undercut the problem that this seems to pose by suggesting that it is not referring to His final coming, but to something that took place in John’s time. After all, we read in the one of the seven letters at the beginning of Revelation, the letter to the Church at Philadelphia, "I am coming soon" (Rev 3:11). Many (partial preterists, for example) interpret this as Christ’ coming in judgment upon Jerusalem in the years 67-70 AD. And there are certainly some passages in the New Testament that do reflect that event. However, as we have seen, there are too many indications to suggest that the Book of Revelation was written after 70 A.D. When John had given this vision, Jerusalem had already been destroyed.

How then can we understand these words, especially after two millennia?

These words of Jesus are to be measured, not by human chronology, but by events in the time-table of God’s pattern of redemption in history. What the New Testament wants us to appreciate more than anything else is that following the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, there are no more major events left before His second coming! In the particular time-table of the God’s purposes in history, the next great event to to take place is the second coming of Jesus Christ! In that sense, He is coming soon. And it has been precisely this that the church has so often failed to appreciate, focusing instead on this or that supposed fulfillment of prophecy in the future rather than on the event of the second coming itself.

It is in view of this very thing that John is told in verse 10: "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book." This is, in fact, mirroring in reverse something which Daniel was told. He was told exactly the opposite: to seal up the words of the prophecy that he was given because it referred to a time in the future, when God will fulfill all the prophetic passages and promises of Scripture (Dan 12:4). Only after these prophecies were fulfilled could the seal be broken. John, on the other hand, is living in a time when these prophecies of Daniel have been fulfilled. The divine "yes" in Jesus Christ has been uttered (2 Cor. 1:20). All the promises of God’s deliverance have come to their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Now, only the second coming remains. That is the next great event marked on the calendar of God’s redemptive plan in history.

This, of course, is signaled to us in the New Testament, by the emphatic assertion that we are living in "the last days" (cf. Heb 1:1-2). The "end of the ages" has already dawned (Heb 9:26). The last days began at Pentecost (Acts 2:17). We are on the last lap of human history. And however long that lasts on our perspective, on Christ’s calendar it is soon.

What is particularly interesting is that each time this statement occurs, John wants us to capture the practical significance of the statement.

1. "Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book" (22:7-11)

This statement is full of echoes of the Old Testament. It is reminiscent of something Moses says repeatedly in the Book of Deuteronomy as the Israelites prepared to move into the Canaan (Deut 8:2, and some twenty other references!). In fact, the books of Deuteronomy and Revelation have a similar function to play: God was promised blessing to the obedience of faith and cursing to the disobedience of unbelief. This is God’s covenantal pattern. To those who respond to the words of Jesus' near-coming there is held out the promise of rich blessing. And what blessing it is! John had seen it in these last twenty-one chapters. John has glimpsed heaven.

John’s instinctive response to this blessing is to fall down and offer worship to the angel who had served as his guide in this vision. What John discovers as a consequence is that the angels are staunch defenders of the regulative principle of worship! They are utterly intolerant of false worship, of worship that is offered in any other way than that which the Bible has sanctioned and commanded. "Do not do it…" they say (22:9).

There is also the other side. There is what C. S. Lewis calls, the shadow-side. The words of 22:11 need to understood within the parameters of covenant theology. "Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy." (22:11). In other words, those who respond in faith are given this promise that the blessings will continue for ever; but, those who respond in antagonism, will continue in that condition for ever and ever. Harsh as this sounds, it is in fact noteworthy that the logic is similar to Paul’s statement in Romans 1:24 whenever he suggests that God "gives them up." C S Lewis remarked on this by suggesting that the gates of hell are locked from the inside.

2. The second assertion of the near-return of Jesus Christ is found in verse 12.

Again, the practical conclusion is appended: "I will give to everyone according to what he has done." This, of course, is not a bald statement of justification by works, thereby contradicting everything that has been said thus far in the book of Revelation. He is speaking here of the response of faith that they have made.

And what a response it is! To those who have washed their robes, He describes the glory of this city: its Eden-like beauty ("the tree of life" 22:14). John is evidently struggling to describe it.

But there is a dark side: "Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood" (22:15). The ugliness of the "outside" is in stark contrast to the beauty of the "inside." The outside is undesirable and ugly. It is offensive and destructive. There is no grace of any kind. Everything about the outside is contrary to grace and to God. There is no possibility of change. There is no help offered. This is hell.

The Holy Spirit and the bride now respond by shouting words of invitation to come to Jesus Christ (22:17)! The bride is adorned in all her beauty and is now desirous that Jesus come and wrap up the progress of redemptive history and bring in its fulfillment. Every obstacle has been removed. The consummation is here.

3. The final assertion of Christ near-coming comes at the close of the chapter (22:20).

Words of warning are added: "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book" (22:18).

These are solemn words that have often gone unheeded. God will not tolerate any tampering with that which he has revealed. The canon has been given.

We need to be careful how we respond to the teaching of the book of Revelation. Nothing is to be added or taken away (22:19).

That has always been the churches temptation: to add or take away.

Do not add or subtract to this infallible revelation.

Can you say, "Come Lord Jesus" (22:20).

Can you say "Amen…" (22:21)

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