Monday, January 27, 2020

In Conclusion... Revelation 22:10-15

The Bible is a series of divinely-inspired, God-breathed books, that were written by 40-or-so men “carried along by the Holy Spirit” in their own time, place, and context to record the revelation of God as pointed toward, completed in, and resulting from the work of Christ. One can imagine that finishing a collection of books of this magnitude is no small feat. The idea of concluding such a work might lead us to wonder with great interest, what final words will be offered in God’s special revelation? How exactly will this wrap up? What parting message will be shared? Over the next couple of weeks, with great reverence and care, we will answer this question as we cover the final verses in Revelation. Today, as we begin to bring our study of this important book to a close, we are going to read four statements that work together in Revelation 22:10-15 to bring the Revelation of Jesus Christ to an end.
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The first statement given in this context is a prophetic utterance and the first element of this utterance is a command—“and he said to me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book for the time is near” (22:10). In many cases throughout the Bible, prophets are asked to share things and keep other things hidden or “unshared.” This is the case for John in the Book of Revelation. Earlier in Revelation 5, John weeps when the seven-sealed scroll appears with no one able to open it—a scroll containing, at least in part, the unfolding series of judgments that move God’s plan along to the end. When Jesus emerges to open the scroll, John is relieved and then permitted to describedwhat ensues (the seals, trumpets, and bowls). In other cases, John is asked to withhold information. In Revelation 10:4, John is told to seal up what the seven thunders said to him. In both ways—in withholding information and in sharing revelation—John serves as a prophet. Here, John is asked to share the contents of this book openly—i.e. proclaim the revelation contained in this work to the world. After all, as was alluded to in 22:7, “the time is near” (22:10). People need to hear this and be given an opportunity to respond to it.

However, the next element of the final prophetic message is the realization that often comes with the call to share what is revealed. The first realization concerns the stubborn—“Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy” (22:11a). God is realistic concerning the response people will have concerning his revelation. For many who are stubborn and “stiff-necked,” they will continue to resist in spite of what has been shared. A similar realization is given to Isaiah at the front end of his ministry. Immediately after an experience in the throne room of God in which he was commissioned in a special way to speak for God to his people, he is told the following: “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand. Render their hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim,…” (Isaiah 6:9-10).

In this case, Isaiah is sent with word from God to a stubborn and obstinate Judah and Jerusalem. God knows that despite his messages and overtures, the people will continue down their path of resistance. That said, he is perfectly willing to provide much-needed and important revelation nonetheless and was prepared to tell them on the back end of their failure “I told you so.”
Unfortunately, the same will be true in John’s case with many who pick up the Book of Revelation and read it. Many will refuse to believe it and/or resist its many implications and, as a result, persist in their wrongdoing and wallow in their worldly filth. That said, John, acting as a New Testament prophet, is still called of God to share what he has recorded in this volume.

Thankfully, there are others who, in God’s grace, respond positively to the revelation provided and, as a result, begin a life of righteousness and holiness unto the Lord—“and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy” (22:11b). These two kinds of people—the wicked and the righteous, are also identified in Daniel (a book that shares a lot in common with Revelation).

Daniel 12:9-10-“Many will be purified, many spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.”

Both in Daniel and in Revelation the Word reveals that the world will continue to consist of the wicked and the righteous right up to the end. Given that the end is near, comments like these are intended to encourage the unsaved to think carefully about the choices they are making concerning God’s revelation in general and the greatest revelation—Christ—in particular. Those who enter a relationship with Christ are made righteous and placed on a path of holiness that will lead them to enjoy the many blessings that are described in this book in the end. Those who stubbornly refuse Christ will continue on the path of wickedness all the way to the eternal separation from God described in this book. In many ways, what is expressed in this final prophetic message is the same kind of statement God offered to so many in Isaiah’s day and in Daniel’s day—a sobering front-end reminder that there are two types of people in the world and it is preferred to avoid the wicked and unrighteous bunch by responding positively to God’s revelation.

2. The Final Prediction-22:12

Following the final prophetic message is the final prediction given in the passage—“Behold, I am coming quickly,…” (22:12a). Just as Jesus has already done in verse 7, Jesus promises and predicts his impending return. That he uses “quickly” or “soon” means that people everywhere ought to treat the return of Christ with great urgency.

There have been people in every age who have believed that they were living in the very last of the last days—i.e. that they would see the return of Christ described in the Book of Revelation. There are those who believe this today. While some might seek to tame this sentiment, I believe God desires us to live this way, regardless of whether-or-not it may happen in our lifetime. Consistently in the New Testament, Jesus and the disciples make the case that his return is soon.

Luke 22:34-36-“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Matthew 24:27-“For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

Matthew 24:42-“Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”

Revelation 3:11-“I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.”

See also Matt. 25:13; Rom. 13:11; 1 Thess. 4:3-18; 2 Pet. 3:10-12

If they believed this, how much more should we and how much more seriously should we consider how we live and minister in light of this?

Along with the prediction of his second coming, Jesus predicts what will come along with his return to the earth—“and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (22:12b). It is important to acknowledge that in Revelation, the “reward” is not salvation (so that none should believe that works bring about a right relationship with God). Instead “rewards” in Revelation focus on the end times and relate to eternal blessings that will be given to believers for their faithful walk with Christ. In other words, though believers are not saved by works, good works done in faith are rewarded by God in the end. The rest of the New Testament shares the same testimony.

1 Corinthians 3:8, 12-13-“Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor…Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.”

Again, believers, while not saved by works, will be rewarded according to their good works done in faith by the grace of God. One motivating factor behind such works done in this life ought to be the imminent return of Christ who could come back any moment. This final prediction intends to motivate good works from those who belong to Christ—those kinds of works that will be rewarded in the end.

3. The Final Theological Statement-22:13

Following this final prediction is a final theological statement—“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:13). Here, not once, not twice, but three times Jesus refers to himself as the sovereign Lord of all. Each element of the triad here endorses parallel references to the start and finish of history. The theological point being made with these titles—Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end—involves the eternality, preexistence, and authority of Christ and reiterates his divinity in those terms. No one is superior to Him as he is the ultimate Alpha. No one is worthy of “first” priority except He who occupies “first” place on the list of supremacy. No one has been from the beginning except Him. All other things have a starting point. Similarly, there is no authority higher than the “Omega” that will exist in the end. All others simply share in the program that he has authored. There is no one worthy to give the “last” word on the matter other than He. All other words are judged against His. There is no one else who decides the “end” except Him. All others are subject to his will. What Jesus shares here is a power message of his divinity, beautifully captured in a fitting triad of completion.

What renders this statement especially beautiful is that this theological claim also satisfies the second and concluding element of an inclusio (bookend) found in the Book of Revelation. Both at the beginning (Rev. 1:8) and end of the book (here in 22:13), God and Christ (respectively) refers to himself as the beginning of all things. Literarily, this establishes that the same One who ordained the beginning of the world will bring it to its end. He is both the Creator and the Recreator.

4. The Final Beattitude-22:14-15

The last statement made in this passage is a final beatitude given in two parts. Initially, the beatitude addresses those to whom a blessing applies—“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and may enter by the gates into the city” (22:14). Though this is the last of the seven beatitudes in the book (see 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7), the one unifying theme is the necessity of remaining true to the Lord in order to participate in the resurrection to eternal life (Osborne, Revelation, 789).

Here in 22:14, the imagery of washing their robes speaks of ridding one’s life of the filth of this world and striving to live in purity before God (Osborne, Revelation, 789). These are those who have been made right before God in salvation and, as a result, pursue holiness in Him –exchanging their garments of sin and shame for the robes of righteousness. According to this blessing, these will be granted access to the tree of life and entry into the gates of the holy city. In other words, eternal life and uninhibited access to God’s presence is promised to the righteous.

In stark contrast to those called “blessed” are those left “outside” the gates—i.e. those who are prohibited from enjoying the fruit from the tree of life. These are identified in verse 15—“Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices lying,…”. As with the list of iniquities found in 21:8, this verse is not intended to serve as an exhaustive list of unpardonable sins. Instead, it denotes the kinds of practices that are witnessed on a regular basis in the lives of those who are not in right relationship with God. Their being “outside” the boundaries of heaven indicates that they will not enjoy the blessings described earlier—those blessings that come from access to the tree of life and proximity to God’s glorious presence.

So What?

These four statements—a prophetic utterance, prediction, theological statement, and beatitude—lend themselves to important applications for our lives today. First, the prophetic utterance highlights that faithfulness to share God’s message is its own reward and we ought not base our success on how many or who responds so long as we are faithful to proclaim what God has revealed. Second, the prediction indicates that we ought to be spending what little time we have left before Jesus’ return performing those works that please him and forsake that which is trivial or against God’s will. The theological statement ought to engender confidence that regardless of what we perceive around us, God is sovereign over it all and will bring to a perfect close what he has started. The beatitude ought to have us checking ourselves to see if we are in the faith and cause us to share that faith with those still on the outside looking in. Ultimately, these final statements are a call to be busy—busy sharing what God has made known, knowing that He is in control and pleased by our efforts to share him with those around us. This business ought to be fueled by the imminence of his return, the glory of the blessings that are coming for the saved, and doom that will befall those who don’t enter into a relationship with Christ in time.

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