THE EPILOGUE – Revelation 22:7 – 21

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015

The epilogue [which some understand to start with verse 6] includes three speakers: Jesus, John and the angel who brought the Revelation to him. Scholars disagree about which words are spoken by which speaker. The important thing is that the words are true regardless of who said them.
In the epilogue we find:

Three affirmations by Jesus that he is coming soon.
Affirmations of Jesus’ identity.
Confirmation of who is in the ‘city’ and who is outside.
Warnings about the importance of a correct response to Revelation.
Eager expectation of Jesus’ return.

Jesus – verse 7:
‘Behold, I am coming soon …’
The word translated ‘soon’ is tachu. It can mean ‘soon’ or ‘quickly’ or ‘suddenly’, the latter with the connotation of surprise or unexpectedness.

In the context of the letters to the churches Jesus said ‘I am coming soon’ - in 2:5 [in some manuscripts and translations], 2:16 and 3:11. In the first two of these it is attached to an urgent command to repent; in the third it is spoken as an encouragement to keep holding on in the context of patient and faithful endurance. In 16:15 Jesus interrupted a vision of the final judgments to say ‘Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him …’

Here in 22:7 it is attached to encouragement to ‘keep’ the words of Revelation. In 22:12 it includes the promise of reward, and in 22:20 Christ simply re-affirms the truth of his return.

‘… blessed is he …’
Jesus affirms the blessedness of those who ‘keep the words of the prophecy of this book’.  When we see that word ‘keep’, our performance-based minds immediately think in terms of ‘obey’. But apart from the seven letters to the churches where there are commands to ‘remember’, ‘repent’, ‘do not be afraid’, ‘hear’, ‘hold’, and ‘buy from me’, there are very few commands in Revelation. The ‘blessed is he who keeps the words …’ refers to the whole book, not just to the seven letters, so we have to look beyond our immediate thought of obeying commands to something that is far bigger than that and is the source out which such obedience springs.

The verb ‘tereo’ means to ‘keep’ in the sense of keeping something safe, watching over, preserving or guarding, or holding something as precious. Below are some examples of this use. Note that the four categories listed have a large overlap of meaning. Some references could be placed under more than one meaning:

Guarding – Matthew 27:36; Acts 12:5,6; 16:23; 24:23; 25:4,21.
Saving [in the sense of keeping in reserve] – John 2:10; 12:7; 2Peter 2:4,9,17;Jude 6,13.
Protecting [keeping safe] – John 17:11,12,15; 1Thessalonians 5:23; 1Timothy 5:22; James 1:27; 1John 5:18.
Reserving [keeping hold of] – 2Corinthians 11:9; Ephesians 4:3; 2Timothy 4:7; 1Peter 1:4; Jude 1.

When ‘keep’ is used with the meaning of ‘obey’, that obedience is not a superficial, duty-based, self-serving, legalistic obedience. It springs from this other meaning of ‘keeping’ – in which the word of God is so treasured, so valued, that it is guarded and held with a deep intensity. It is given this value and held in this respect because it is God’s word. When Jesus tells us to ‘keep’ his commands or to ‘keep’ his word, he is not merely saying ‘Do what I say’. He is commanding us to place extreme value on his word, to hold it as a precious treasure of immense value. Here in Revelation 22:7 Jesus is affirming the blessedness of all who so value and so hold tightly to the ‘words of this prophecy’. That valuing of the truths of Revelation, that holding it fast, will express itself in a strong and unassailable confidence in all that is written in this book  - so that the ‘patient endurance’ it calls for will prevail and we will not lose heart, we will not give up, we will not become discouraged. We will not discard our hope because the time is long and the pressure intense. We will hold to this word and guard it against corruption and neglect. With the promises and assurance it reveals we will live with joy in this world, and we will prevail, because it is by this word that the saints overcome.

John – verse 8
John affirms that he is the one who saw and heard all the things he has written. Just as he saw the divine glory of Jesus [John 1:14], just as he saw, heard and touched the incarnate Jesus [1John 1:1-1], so now he has seen and heard this Revelation given by Jesus to his Church.

So overwhelmed is he by what he has seen and heard that again [as in 19:10] he begins to worship the angel who had showed him these things.

The angel – verse 9-11
The angel forbade the worship, stating that he was a ‘fellow servant’ with John and his ‘brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book’. He commanded John to worship God.

There are two main thoughts in what the angel said next:

[1] That the time is so short, the ‘end’ is so near, that the book must not be sealed. [Unlike the scroll of Daniel’s vision, which he was commanded to seal (Daniel 12:4).]  The words of Revelation are meant to be seen, meant to be read – it is after all, as we saw at the beginning, a revelation, an uncovering of the truth, intended to enlighten and encourage. As long as it is open, as long as its message is read and understood, as long as all it says has not happened, there is opportunity for unbelievers to repent, there is opportunity for fake believers to repent. Salvation is still possible.

[2] But, the end, when it comes, will come abruptly. There will be no opportunity then for the unbelieving to suddenly start believing. There will be no time then for the wicked to suddenly repent. What they are  is what they will be. It is quite difficult to translate exactly in English what is contained in the tenses and moods of the verbs in verse 11. [There is no ‘let’ in the Greek text; it is inserted as a way of translating the Greek third person imperative into English.]

People are defined by what characterizes them in the present [two of the unredeemed, two of the redeemed] – ho adikon – the one doing wrong; ho ruparos – the vile; ho dikaios – the righteous; and ho hagios – the holy.

Each is followed by a verb which is in the Imperative Mood [the mood of command], and the Aorist Tense [the tense indicating a single-event action]. The verbs are – adikesato – a command to do wrong’; - rupareutheto – a command to be vile; (dikaiosunen) poiesato – a command to do (righteousness); and hagiastheto – a command to be holy. Each verb is followed by eti – a reference to time meaning ‘still’, ‘yet’.

The end comes with such abruptness that at that moment, whatever a person is, is what he will be from that moment. What characterizes him in the continuum up to that moment, is at that moment frozen, and what he is at that moment is his choice. That is what he, by his choice, takes with him to the judgment.

How urgent it is to value the words of Revelation, with is repeated affirmations that Christ is returning suddenly in glory and in judgment!

Jesus – verse 12-16
Again Jesus says ‘Behold, I am coming soon!’ [compare 22:7; and also 16:15 – ‘Behold, I come like a thief!’] The point is the abruptness, the unpredictability of the exact moment.

‘My reward is with me …’ With that ‘reward’ he will ‘give to everyone according to what he has done’. The word ‘reward’ means ‘what is due’. The word used for ‘give’, is not to give as a gift, but to give as a recompense or requital.

[The concept of ‘reward’ has been mentioned in 11:18 where prophets, saints and those who reverence God’s name are listed as those being rewarded.

The concept of the judgment being ‘according to’ what a person has done is mentioned in 2:23 and 20:12,13.]

‘I am the Alpha and the Omega …’
Jesus digresses from the topic of rewards to affirm his identity. He applies to himself three similar concepts, two of which were mentioned at the very beginning of Revelation:

I am the Alpha and the Omega [applied to God in 1:8 and 21:6; to himself in 1:11, in some manuscripts and translations].

I am the First and the Last [applied to himself in 1:17; (1:11); and 2:8].

I am the Beginning and the End [applied to God in 21:6].

Jesus is what God is. The origin of all things. The ‘end’ of all things. As Colossians states ‘all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together’ [1:16b,17]. It is within his power and authority, more than that, it is consistent with his nature, that he is the one who comes and gives to everyone according to what he has done. This is his prerogative; this is something that he alone can do. Because he is the Alpha and the Omega. Because he is the First and the Last. Because he is the Beginning and the End. But it is an even stronger thing. Because he is all of this, he cannot leave everything unended. He cannot simply leave it hanging, unresolved. To do so would be utterly inconsistent with his being. To do so would be to deny himself.

Given that he is who he is, we can trust him entirely in this matter of ‘rewards’, in this matter of giving ‘to everyone according to what he has done.’

This action of Christ is divided into two outcomes:

In 22:14, those who are ‘blessed’ are those ‘who wash their robes’. This is obviously a reference to cleansing through the blood of the Lamb [see 1:5; 7:14]. To these people the ‘right to the tree of life is given’, and entrance to the ‘city’. These are the ‘bride … of the Lamb’, ‘the Holy City’ which we have just seen. Their ‘reward’ is the salvation they each have in and because of Jesus Christ.

In 22:15 the fate of those who are not washed in the blood of the Lamb is defined briefly: they are ‘outside’ the ‘city’. This means they are not in the new heaven and the new earth. These are identified as:

‘dogs’ - This term was used by Jews to refer to Gentiles. It was also used by Paul to refer to Jews who were insisting that Christian Gentiles had to go through Jewish ritual to be accepted [Philippians 3:2]. It infers impurity, and, in particular, corrupt religious belief.

those who practice magic arts’ – [mentioned also in 21:8] sorcerers, those employing drugs in witchcraft]. This covers everything mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:9-13].

the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters’ – these need no explanation. [But we should keep in mind the root sins out of which these come, not just the visible actions – as taught by Jesus in Matthew 5-7.]

everyone who loves and practices falsehood’ [the word translated ‘practices’ means to ‘do’ or to ‘make’] – the reference is to all who love and makes a lie. This includes all human religions and cults.

‘I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony …’
By this, Jesus then confirms the integrity of the Revelation. The one who is the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, is not a remote deity who knows nothing of our human state and our human pressures. He says ‘I, Jesus …’ ‘Jesus’ – the son of Mary; Jesus, who lived and walked and talked among us; Jesus, the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief; Jesus of Nazareth, who died for our sins. Jesus himself is the one who sent his angel ‘to testify to the churches’ [Greek text].

He further identifies himself as ‘the Root and Offspring of David’. He is both the origin - ‘root’ - and the descendant - ‘offspring’ - of David: he is both God and man. He is also ‘the bright Morning Star’ – the one who heralds and brings to pass the new day, the new heavens and the new earth. [Note: some understand ‘Morning Star’ as a reference to Numbers 24:17 – which speaks of a ‘star’ – a victorious ruler that comes out of Jacob.]

John [or the angel?] – verses 17
Jesus has said that he is coming. John (or perhaps it is the angel) anticipates this with eagerness and extends a final offer of the water of life:

The Spirit [the Holy Spirit] says ‘Come!’ – God himself is anxious for this day. This day means restoration and liberation. Romans 8:26,27, written in a passage heavy with the suffering of creation and of humans, states that the Holy Spirit groans [the Greek verb is agonizo] over our suffering. How intensely he longs for this day! Not only will human agony be ended. Not only will the agony of the whole universe be ended. The agony of God himself will be ended.

The bride says ‘Come!’ – The Church, the redeemed, the saints – we who believe in Christ, washing our robes in his blood – we also look with eager expectation for this day when we will suffer no more, when we will sin no more, when we will no longer fail to glorify God and honour Christ, but will be like him for we will see him as he is.

Let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ But how can those who hear urge Christ to return if they are far from him, if they do not know him, if they are numbered among those who are ‘outside’?

John (or the angel) then adds his own final appeal gospel appeal. For, although we have seen the ‘end’ multiple times in the Revelation, it is yet possible in human time for anyone who hears, really hears, to look forward to Christ’s return with eager expectation instead of dread. All that is necessary is to come and drink from ‘the free gift of the water of life’. It is not necessary for anyone to look at their sin and see themselves excluded. All that is necessary is to see the grace of God in Christ, to believe in him, and in doing so, to have the gift of life, life that continues forever.

[Note: it is possible that the first two calls to ‘Come!’ are addressed to unbelievers, not to Christ. In this case the whole of this verse expresses the gospel appeal/command to the unconverted. The Spirit, the Church, all who hear the words of Revelation, are here urging the godless to repent and be saved, and so to live with Christ forever.]

John [or the angel] – verses 18-19
These verses contain a solemn warning about how the contents of Revelation are treated. [See comments on verse 7 above.] Jesus has just confirmed that he himself sent ‘this testimony’ to the churches [verse 16]. The angel has just confirmed that the ‘words are trustworthy and true’ and that their source is God, the same God who inspired the prophets [verse 6]. John has just confirmed that he himself saw and heard all the things that he has written in this book [verse 8]. To tamper with its contents is to tamper with the word of Christ [verse 16], to tamper with the word of God [verse 6]. That is exactly what Satan did in Genesis 3. That is exactly what Eve did in response to the devil’s deception. That is what the Jews of Jeremiah’s day did [Jeremiah 23:25-40]. This is what Jesus’ contemporaries did [Matthew 15:1-9]. This is what the apostles confronted as they preached the gospel and pastored the church [2Corinthians 11:3,4; Galatians 1:6-9; 2Peter 2:1-3].   

Now everyone who hears the words of Revelation is cautioned not to be similarly careless or similarly arrogant about this word of God, because to do so means to be excluded from salvation and from life. Only God’s truth saves. Only God’s truth sets people free. Only God’s truth gives spiritual life. Only God’s truth cleanses [James 1:21; John 8:32; 6:63; 15:3]. To add something human to the divine word is to dilute and disempower it. To take something away from the divine word is to reduce and alter it. In both abuses of the word of God, the resulting body of ‘truth’ is no longer pure truth, no longer the power of God for salvation [Romans 1:16].

The last words – verses 20,21
John repeats Jesus’ affirmation. He refers to Jesus as ‘he who testifies to these things’, again reminding the reader just who it is who has given the Revelation. For the third time in this chapter we hear Jesus saying ‘I am coming soon’. This time, instead of ‘Behold!’ he introduces his statement with an affirming ‘Yes’. He wants us to be in no doubt about it. Yes. He is coming. And he is ‘coming soon’. And it is rather triumphant, this ‘Yes.’

John’s response is ‘Amen’ – so be it. ‘Come, Lord Jesus’. Adding his urgent appeal to those of the Spirit and the Church collectively – ‘the bride’. He has heard, he has seen, he has written, all that has been testified in Revelation, and he says ‘Come.’ We also are those who have heard the testimony of Jesus given in the Revelation. May we also join in and say ‘Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.’

The Revelation ends with a benediction: ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.’ And this – this grace of God whereby we are redeemed and given a place in the ‘city’ is assured by the testimony of Jesus; this grace whereby we are cleansed and by which we overcome is assured by the blood of the Lamb.