Wednesday, February 5, 2020

In Conclusion...Pt. 2 Revelation 22:16-21

Today is an exciting day in the life of our church as we are concluding our expositional journey in the Book of Revelation. What a ride this has been! We’ve witnessed heavenly spectacles, letters to churches, monsters, witnesses, plagues, hosts of angels, and one most glorious Lamb. Though, to be sure, this series hasn’t begun to capture all that this book has to offer, it has been my prayer that the salient features and core message of this work has been made clear. Praise the Lord for his perseverance and wisdom every step of the way. As we close our study this morning, we are going to read the final five statements that it makes in Revelation 22:16-21. These statements help bring everything to a close and also remind the reader of what is most important as she anticipates the fulfillment of what is predicted in this prophecy.

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1. The Final Sign-Off-22:16

Here at the end of Revelation, Jesus identifies himself using the first person for the first time in this book and indicates that everything disclosed in this prophecy is ultimately from him—“I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches” (22:16a). In other words, this book isn’t just the Revelation of Jesus Christ about Jesus Christ, it is the Revelation from Jesus Christ. He is its ultimate author and everything that John has recorded has been sourced in him. While Jesus is the source of the Revelation, the agent of transmission is referred to as Jesus’ “angel” –i.e. a heavenly herald (not unlike Gabriel in the life of Mary) who delivers God’s message. The original recipients of this message are “the churches”—i.e. those same seven churches that are addressed in Revelation 2-3. These local congregations are the direct audience for this Apocalypse, making you and me indirect recipients of this text that must learn to apply today what was originally applied in the first century appropriately.

After indicating all of this and reminding John of the unique transmission of this book, Jesus provides a sign-off of sorts in the second part of verse 16.

How one signs off at the end of a message can say a lot. In fact, some more recent sign-off lines that have become legendary. Whether it is the famous radio DJ Casey Kasem’s ”keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars” or Edward Murrow’s “good night, and good luck” or Bob Barker’s “help us control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered. Goodbye everybody!” these famous “goodbyes” are memorable ways of establishing report with an audience. For his part, Jesus signs off with a reminder of who he is (after all, what could be better than being reminded of who Jesus is)—“I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright and morning star” (22:16b).

This simple and yet profound reminder establishes continuity with the rest of God’s revelation and instills hope in what is to come. First, the “root and the descendant of David” is a military metaphor that has its origin in Isaiah 11:1 and 10. Many Jews understood (and understand) these verses to foreshadow a Warrior Messiah who would destroy their enemies (Osborne, Revelation, 792). This is part of what is in view here. However, added to this is that this Warrior Messiah is a descendant of David—i.e. the prophesied forever king who will rule for eternity (see 2 Samuel 7:16). Jesus refers to himself as this coming victorious Warrior King who totally defeats evil and subsequently rules a forever kingdom—what an encouragement this would have been to the churches in the first century, some of whom were suffering under Roman persecution. What an encouragement this should bring to us today as we look at the unrest and poor leadership in our own world!

Added to this reference is an important image Jesus uses to describe himself—“the bright and morning star” (22:16b). This too is a messianic reference with origins in the Old Testament. In Numbers 24:17, Moses predicts that “a star will come out of Jacob.” However, Jesus uses this same image of himself in his message to the church in Thyatira in Revelation 2:28. There, he is sure to emphasize the brightness of this star—the last star to be extinguished by the rising sun each morning. Jesus is making the case that he is the most glorious presence and the “one who return will remove the cold and dark hour before the sunrise and bring in the perfect day of God” (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 510).

What a sign-off! In these few short words, Jesus reminds readers of his impending victory, eternal rule, and unmatched glory. Again, I ask, what reminder could possibly eclipse the one contained in this goodbye?

2. The Final Invitation-22:17

Following this final sign-off is a final invitation. The invitation is given in verse 17a—“the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’…” (22:17a). The invitation is initially offered by the Holy Spirit and the Bride—i.e. the church who is saved, sealed, sanctified, and sent by the Spirit. One might say that the Spirit sends his invitation through the church who has been sent into all the world to share the gospel and make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Also important to note is that the invitation is open—“come.” This is consistent with Jesus’ commission in Mark 16:15 when he says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” There is no exclusion nor is there any reservation that should be considered in the invitation the church is asked to extend in the Spirit. As Revelation 22:17 continues, the same open invitation is also shared by those who hear and respond positively, “and let the one who hears say, “Come.””

In almost a breathlessly urgent tone, the invitation is extended further—“and let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (22:17b). As in 21:6 and 22:1, the “thirsty”—i.e. those who are without the water of life that is Christ—are asked to draw from him springs of water without cost. The repetition of the plea to “come” to Christ and take from the life-giving water of salvation remains “to the very moment when history will transform into eternity, after which no further opportunity for a decision is available” (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 512). The implication of this final invitation is simple, the Holy Spirit and the Church and fresh converts join in one voice here to say “come to Christ now before it is too late.”

3. The Final Warning-22:18-19

Following this final invitation is a final warning. The speaker shifts from the church and holy Spirit back to Jesus who interjects in the first part of verse 18 with “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book.” Though some believe that John is the speaker here, only Jesus possesses the kind of authority to determine what is included in his special revelation and when it ends. While Jesus has typically revealed his prophecy in this book by means of an intermediary (angel), here, he himself speaks and provides this important two-fold prohibition.

The first element of this warning tells everyone reading not to add to this book—“If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book” (22:18b). There is little doubt that the substance of both verses 18 and 19 is adopted from Deuteronomy 4:2.

Deuteronomy 4:2-“You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”

As this warning cautioned against misappropriating the Old Testament Law, here Christ is warning against false teachers who distort the meaning of the prophesies by adding their own teaching to it or removing the meaning that God intended (Osborne, Revelation, 795). Just a verse later in Deuteronomy 4 (4:3), the Balaam incident is alluded to in which false teachers steered the People of God away from the heart of the Law. This same incident was alluded to earlier in Revelation 2:14. These references provide a fitting backdrop for what is intended here in 22:18. None should misuse, abuse, or add to the prophecy provided in this book. To do so would mean entering the realm of false teaching. False teachers run the risk of incurring the same kinds of judgments/plagues that are described in the Apocalypse. One commentator says “anyone guilty of not heeding this monumental warning will not experience the deliverance promised the Philadelphia church (3:10-“because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world…”) but will remain behind to endure these plagues” (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 518).

However, not only should people refrain from extra-curricular eisegesis of the text and wild and fantastic additions to its meaning, Jesus also shares that people must take all of this Revelation into full consideration—“and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (22:19). In other words, one cannot preach the heaven this book describes without also acknowledging the reality of hell. One cannot promote the gracious invitation of God and hold back any mention of the deserving judgment he will reign down upon a deserving and stubborn world. One must advocate for and seek a full picture of what God has revealed given all that he has chosen to disclose. People do not have the freedom to gloss over and/or ignore the uncomfortable or less-glamorous portions of his word. This is true of the Bible in general (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and the Book of Revelation in particular (Rev. 22:19). Those who do not endorse the full counsel of God’s word (embracing all that he has revealed) are prone to embrace an incomplete and false gospel and therefore are cut off from the tree of life (the symbol and concrete metaphor of eternal blessing) and the holy city (the literal expression of God’s glorious presence).

4. The Final Reminder-22:20

This warning is followed by a final reminder (just in case anyone has already forgotten)—“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly’…” (22:20a). This is the last time (of many—see Rev. 3:11; 22:7, 12 for others) that Jesus reiterates his imminent return. This once again highlights the tone of urgency there is to share this revelation and voice the open invitation already mentioned just a few verses ago—the invitation to come to Jesus and accept the life-giving water he alone provides.

Following this reminder, John, the apostle, voices his affirmation and agreement of what has been shared saying, “Amen, Come, Lord Jesus” (22:20b). Here, John says “amen” (“I agree”) and then makes a request of the speaker “come,” demonstrating his desire to see his Savior in literal victory ushering in a new heaven and a new earth for his people. He then calls his much-anticipated Savior “Lord Jesus,” celebrating the divinity and authority of Revelation’s protagonist here at the very end of the book.  

5. The Final Blessing-22:21-“…The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”

Following the sign-off, invitation, warning, and reminder is the final statement made in this consequential work—the final blessing—“the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (22:21). Here, John asks that Christ impart his grace to “all”—perhaps broadening the scope of his intended audience here to extend beyond the seven churches and include anyone who reads this book. It is John’s desire that everyone who may read this revelation would experience the saving grace of the Lord Jesus—that same saving grace that provides salvation, perseverance in tribulation, relief from God’s wrath, and eternal life and blessing in a new heaven and a new earth. It is this grace that Jesus alone can provide and it is available to all who read, hear, and heed the words of this prophecy (1:3).

So What?

With these final statements disclosed, the Book of Revelation comes to an end and the Canon of Scripture comes to a dramatic close. Though all of our questions may not be answered, all that God’s people and all the World needs to know has been disclosed and reiterated. This world and everyone in it is fallen and deserving of the judgment that is coming. However, those who answer the invitation of Christ and come to him in faith will find perseverance in tribulation, ultimate victory over evil, sin, and death, and a place in a perfect and everlasting existence in heaven. If we can walk away from our study of this book remembering anything at all, let it be this—salvation is in our Lord Jesus Christ: Salvation for this day, salvation in every day to come, and ultimate salvation in the end. May this dwarf our view of what may come against us as we wait for his glorious return and may this galvanize us be about the business of extending the invitation we hear voiced in this work to those around us: “Let the one who is thirst come: let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (22:17). And may we as God’s people say along with John “Amen, Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” (22:20-21).

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