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A Study on Revelation 21:1-22:21 - Part III

The Epilogue – 22:6-21 

These verses serve as a formal conclusion to the book and are linked with Rev. 1:1-3 by a number of verbal similarities. Note, however, that whereas the introduction to Revelation pronounced a blessing on all who obey the words of this book, the conclusion declares a curse on all who disobey.

A.The Testimony of the Angel – 22:6-15

1.the conclusion introduced – 22:6-7

Cf. Rev. 1:1-3. Of special interest here is the reference in v. 6 to the Lord as “God of the spirits of the prophets.” Note several things about this phrase:

First, the word “spirits” is what grammarians call an “objective” genitive. The idea can be paraphrased: “God over the spirits of the prophets” or “God ruling or inspiring the spirits of the prophets.” In any case, God is clearly portrayed as sovereign over what prophets prophesy. God, as it were, owns, operates, and oversees the ministry of true prophets. This confirms what we see elsewhere, especially in 1 Cor. 14, that the prophetic is entirely dependent on God, always awaiting his anointing and activity. Prophets may prophesy at will, but they only receive revelation by the initiative of God. Thus, more so than with the gift of teaching, prophets are somewhat passive, being instruments or conduits for the revelatory word of God, whereas teachers are more active, drawing directly from the Scriptures and expounding what they interpret. This is, in fact, the primary distinction between the prophetic gift and the teaching gift: the former is dependent on a spontaneous revelation while the latter is dependent on an inscripturated text. However, this should not be taken to mean that the Spirit is not also active in the exercise of other spiritual gifts, such as teaching.

Second, is the word “spirits” a reference to the human spirit of each prophet or is it a reference to the Holy Spirit? Some find it problematic to suggest that the Holy Spirit would be mentioned in the plural. But remember: (1) the plural is used for the Holy Spirit in Rev. 1:4; 4:5; 5:6; and (2) when the human spirit is energized by a charismatic manifestation of the Holy Spirit (i.e., when a spiritual gift is in operation), Paul seems to have in mind both; in 1 Cor. 14 it is difficult to know when one should translated pneuma as “Spirit” and when as “spirit”. Gordon Fee simply renders it S/spirit.

Third, Paul uses the same terminology in 1 Cor. 14:32 (“the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets”; the only difference is that in Revelation the definite article appears: “the
spirits of the prophets”). There he has in mind the control by the prophet of the manifestation of the Spirit. In other words, Paul is saying that, contrary to those who think prophecy is an ecstatic and uncontrollable phenomenon that overwhelms and overrides the will of the prophet, each individual is capable of consciously refraining from prophetic utterance in accordance with the rules and decorum for prophetic ministry in the church.

When John says that the angel was sent “to show His bond-servants the things which must shortly take place” he does not mean that Christians in general saw the visions as John did but “that they experienced the visions vicariously through John’s record of them” (Beale, 1126).

2.John’s second rebuke – 22:8-9

This passage is virtually identical to Rev. 19:10, except that in the latter we read at the conclusion: “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

People have often wondered why John would be so nave as to fall at the feet of an angel and worship? Some have tried to dismiss the problem by saying that the word “worship” (proskunesis) need only refer to a normal gesture of respect, far short of genuine worship. Whereas the word can often have this meaning in the Bible, the angel’s response in v. 10b and his advice to John indicate otherwise. There are at least three answers to this problem, all of which bear a measure of truth.

·First of all, it may be that John, much like Daniel in chp. 10 of his prophecy, was overwhelmed with the brilliance and power of this angelic being. Let us remember that in 18:1 an angel is described as “having great authority” and so completely reflecting the glory of God that “the earth was illumined”.

·Second, in the Rev. 19:10 passage the angel has just pronounced an awesome beatitude on John and others who are invited to the marriage supper, immediately followed by a powerful declaration that authenticates its reality: “These are true words of God” (v. 9b). The impact of this statement may have been simply more than he could fathom. He may have thought that any spiritual being commissioned from the throne of God with such profound news was deserving of special reverence.

·Third, it has been argued that John’s desire was “to counter a tendency to angel-worship in the Asiatic churches to which he addressed his work” (Bauckham, 133). However, as Bauckham goes on to note, “in that case it is surprising that no reference to this aberration is made in the seven messages to the churches” (133).

But is there any other reason why the Spirit, through John, would include this story? Yes.

·First of all, note that it is the angel as the giver of prophetic revelation (this is especially emphasized in 22:8-9) that explains why John prostrates himself in this way. But “in rejecting worship the angel disclaims this status: he is not the transcendent giver of prophetic revelation, but a creaturely instrument through whom the revelation is given, and therefore a fellow-servant with John and the Christian prophets, who are similarly only instruments to pass on the revelation. Instead of the angel, John is directed to ‘worship God’ (19:10; 22:9) as the true transcendent source of revelation” (Bauckham, 134). As 22:16 makes clear, “the angel is mere intermediary, Jesus is the source of the revelation” (134). The angel wants to make it clear that when it comes to revelation, he belongs on the side of the creatures who receive it, while Jesus belongs on the side of God who gives it.

·Second, it may be that John is reinforcing in this story one of the principal themes of the entire book: namely, the difference between true worship and idolatry. Everyone in Revelation either worships God or the dragon/beast/Babylon. There is no third way or middle ground.

·Third, and related to the above, is the fact that “this passage presents an example of how easy it is to fall into idolatry, for which the judgment described throughout ch. 19 comes into play” (Beale, 947). If someone like John, who has been the recipient of such marvelous revelatory experiences as found in Revelation, can fall prey to this temptation, how much more should we be on the alert!

The phrase “the testimony of Jesus [cf. 1:2,9; 12:17; 19:10b; 20:4] is the spirit of prophecy” (found in 19:10 but not in 22:8-9) deserves comment. The Greek would allow us to render the first part either of two ways: (1) “the testimony about Jesus,” or (2) “the testimony which comes from Jesus,” i.e., which Jesus himself bears or declares. The latter option points to the idea that all true prophecy has its origin in the words and acts of Jesus; the former option highlights the idea that all true prophecy consists in testimony or witness to/about Jesus himself. I.e., he is its content and focus (whether directly or indirectly).

The second half of this statement may mean that all true prophecy is inspired by the Holy Spirit (i.e., energized and sustained by him). Or it may mean that the essence of prophecy, the purpose and principle of it all, is bearing witness to Jesus. Or again, it may mean that the (Holy) Spirit is chiefly characterized by prophetic manifestations. Aune also suggests the possible translation, “the prophetic Spirit,” by which he would be referring to “the power that allows certain individuals to have visionary experiences and gives them revelatory insights not available to ordinary people” (3:1039).

3.an enigmatic exhortation – 22:10-13

Cf. Dan. 12:4. What Daniel was commanded to seal up for a future season, John is told to declare to all openly, for the time of fulfillment of such prophetic truth is at hand.

Verse 11 is problematic. If this were merely a statement of fact, no problem would exist. But it is an exhortation. How is it that an angel exhorts unbelievers to be unholy? Mounce suggests that since the end is near “there is no longer time to alter the character and habits of men” (392-93). But we know now that for John and his readers the time of the end has extended for some 1,900 years. Perhaps the angel’s point is that “the bent of one’s choices forms an unchangeable character, so that the imperatives have the sense of ‘be what you always have been as you face judgment’” (Beale, 1132).

Others argue that the meaning is to be found in Isaiah 6:9-10 and its use by Jesus in Mt. 13:9-17,43. In both these passages unbelievers are exhorted not to hear because of their insensitive response to the prophetic word. “To such communities,” explains Beale, “God sent prophets whose words increased the blindness of the apostate but served to shock the elect remnant out of the spiritual torpor characteristic of the majority. The impious were even exhorted not to understand, as a punishment for their apostasy and idol worship” (1132). The exhortation of Rev. 22:11 would thus be a judgment in which those who have rebelled and resisted the word of God are, in a sense, consigned and given over to a deeper aggravation of their chosen behavior.

What shall we make of the terminology of imminence here and in 1:3? It is a blessing to read, hear, and obey the words of this prophecy because “the time is near” (v. 3b). In 1:1 John said the things in Revelation “must shortly take place.” In 22:7, Jesus says, “I am coming quickly.” In 22:10, the angel declares that “the time is near,” and again in 22:12 Jesus says, “I am coming quickly.” What do these statements mean? Here are the options as I understand them:

(1) These statements have become the principal basis for the preterist interpretation of the book. Preterists insist that we should interpret these time indicators literally. Thus, John is saying that the vast majority of events in Revelation are all to transpire within the first century (primarily in the events associated with the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 a.d.).

(2) Some say that the words “near”, “shortly,” and “quickly” mean that once the appointed time arrives the events will unfold suddenly or will occur rapidly. In other words, the emphasis is on the speedy manner of fulfillment.

(3) Others contend that all that is meant is that the events are certain to occur.

(4) Some point to 2 Peter 3:8 (“With the Lord a day is like a thousand years”) and argue that John is writing from the divine perspective. What may seem like incessant delay to us is “quickly” and “near” for the Lord who views time from a heavenly perspective.

(5) Mounce argues that behind these words is the prophetic principle of imminence; i.e., John’s point is that the events could transpire at any time, even soon (although there is no way for anyone to know that with certainty; therefore, we must always be ready).

Consider Jesus’ statement in 22:7,12 (“I am coming quickly”). The preterist focuses on the word “quickly” and thus concludes that this is not the second coming of Christ at the end of history but his “coming” in judgment in 70 a.d. Others focus on the word “coming”, believing it to refer to the Parousia, and thus conclude that “quickly” must be pointing to the notion of imminence (but not necessarily immediacy).

(6) Beale contends that John’s words “quickly” (or “soon”) and “near” are a substitute for Daniel’s phrase “in the latter days” (e.g., Dan. 2:28). In other words, “John understands Daniel’s reference to a distant time as referring to his own [John’s] era, and he updates the text accordingly. What Daniel expected to occur in the distant ‘latter days’ – the defeat of cosmic evil and the ushering in of the divine kingdom – John expects to begin ‘quickly,’ in his own generation, if it has not already begun to happen” (153). John is declaring that prophetic fulfillment has already been inaugurated in his own lifetime. The consummation, however, is yet to come. In summary, “John probably views the death and resurrection of Christ as inaugurating the long-awaited kingdom of the end times, which the OT (e.g., Daniel) had predicted and which will continue to exist throughout the church age” (185).

I find Beale’s explanation the most likely one. It seems as if John’s intent is to bring events which were once in the distant future into the immediate present. In that sense, then, “the time is near.” But the “time” for “what” is near? Wilcock asks the appropriate questions: “Time for the end of time, and all its associated events? Time for the beginning of a long series of happenings which will eventually usher in the end? Time for some immediate crisis of trouble or persecution, which will be a kind of foreshadowing of the end? John is not told immediately” (32). I believe Wilcock is correct when he goes on to suggest that

“the fulfillment is a process, not a crisis; and a lengthy one, not a sudden one, we may observe – for though events at its climax will move swiftly enough, the process itself will occupy the whole of the gospel age, from the inauguration of the kingdom (12:10) to its final triumph (11:15). If this that Daniel has foreseen for the latter days is what the angel is now bringing into John’s immediate purview, then ‘the time is near’ indeed. As soon as his letter reaches its destination in the churches of Asia, they will be able to say, ‘These things are happening now’” (33).

4.the seventh beatitude – 22:14-15

For the metaphor of believers washing their robes (in the blood of the Lamb), see 7:14. Here we have the seventh and final beatitude or blessing in Revelation: those who have washed their robes clean by faith in the blood of Christ have been given authority or power over the tree of life in the sense that they can eat of it to their eternal spiritual welfare.

For the imagery of v. 15, see comments on 21:8,27. Here John adds one element: “dogs”, which in Scripture are generally regarded as unclean and despised and often refer symbolically to unbelievers (see Phil. 3:2-3; 2 Peter 2).

B.The Testimony of Jesus – 22:16

There are several ways to interpret the words, “to you (plural) . . . for the churches”.

(1) The “you” (plural) = the seven churches and the “churches” = all other congregations addressed at the close of each letter.

(2) The “you” = the believers in one church and the “churches” = the other six churches.

(3) The “you” = church authorities or prophets or elders in each church and the “churches” = the rest of each congregation.

(4) The “you” = all the people who are addressed by Jesus “concerning” the state and destiny of the “churches”.

(5) It could be that “you” and the “churches” are co-extensive, hence, “to witness these things to you in/among the churches.”

C.The Testimony of John – 22:17-211.

the invitation – 22:17

Here the Spirit speaks through the bride, the people of God, issuing an invitation to “Come!” But to whom is the invitation addressed? Is it Jesus, being an invitation or plea that he come soon? If so, is the invitation issued by the “one who hears” also directed to Jesus for the same purpose? If so, the last two exhortations are probably issued to people in general to believe (see 21:6). Or it is also possible that the three final imperatives are exhortations to humanity other than Jesus (see the three similar exhortations in Isa. 55:1.

2.a concluding warning – 22:18-19

These verses are clearly built on Deut. 4:1-2 (cf. 12:32) and 29:19-20. What does it mean to “add” to or “take away” from the words of the prophecy of Revelation? In Deuteronomy it refers to those who taught, contrary to what God had said, that compromise with idolatry was not inconsistent with faith in Yahweh. Thus Beale concludes that

“to ‘add’ to the words of John’s prophecy is to promote the false teaching that idolatry is not inconsistent with faith in Christ. To ‘take away from the words of this prophecy’ is also to advancee such deceptive teaching, since this teaching would violate and vitiate the validity of Revelation’s exhortations against idolatry” (1151).

What are the consequences for disobedience to this exhortation?

(1) Some suggest that forfeiting one’s “part from the tree of life and from the holy city” refers to something other and less than the loss of salvation. Perhaps it means heavenly reward or position.

(2) Some contend that true believers can and, in fact, do violate this command and thus forfeit or lose their salvation.

(3) Others contend that whereas loss of salvation is theoretically possible, it will not in fact occur. The threat of loss is the means by which God stimulates his people to obey the command. In other words, if a believer were to “add” or “take away” he/she would lose their spiritual life. But a believer, in point of fact, will not. The threatened consequence is what the Spirit uses to energize and motivate the believer to obey the command.

(4) Others contend that those who “add” or “take away” are not true believers in the first place. A true believer is, by definition in Revelation, one who refuses to compromise with paganism. These are people who by their profession and outward behavior appeared for a time to belong to the church, but whose unregenerate condition is subsequently revealed by their disobedience to John’s command (cf. 1 John 2:19).

3.benediction – 22:20-21