Revelation 22. The final words of the Jesus, the angel, John and the Bride.
As in the first chapter, the speaker is not named, but “I am coming soon” tells us who it is. The message is urgent and will be repeated two more times. The certainty of his coming, previously symbolised by the reaper with the sharp sickle and the warrior on a white horse, is stated in plain words: there is no scope for evasion.
‘Faithful’ and ‘trustworthy’ translate the same word, pistos. Combined with ‘true’, it appears twice in relation to Jesus himself (3:14, 19:11) and twice in relation to the words that he speaks and John writes down (21:5, 22:6). The living and the written Word are equally trustworthy. This needs stressing, because the mind, conditioned as it is to the natural and every-day, finds the content of Revelation difficult to stomach. Will the earth and man’s works on it really be burned up? Will demons really torment men for five months? Will the glorified Jesus really reign in Jerusalem, in his own person? The speaker reiterates what John stated at the beginning (1:1-3), adding that the prophecy comes from the same God who commanded and controlled the spirits of all the prophets when they prophesied. Elsewhere he is called ‘the God of the spirits of all flesh’ (Num 16:22), the source of the life animating every living creature (Job 12:10, 34:14). Being prophetic, the message consists precisely of its carefully chosen words, which the reader should take to heart.
The apostle vouches for what he has heard and seen. Because of the wondrous things revealed since he last spoke with his guide, he is again moved to prostrate himself, and again he is rebuked. Those who propagate the gospel (19:10) and live in keeping with the prophecy have the same status as angels, who also serve. We must worship the one who begot us all.
Angels appear in the Apocalypse more than in any other book, giving us insight into the unseen. They perform the Father’s will, and do not sin. God could have created a world inhabited only by angels, for sinlessness is not incompatible with the freedom to choose evil. But instead he created a world alongside heaven, inhabited initially by just one couple, creatures of flesh who would become as numerous as the angels by the innate, autonomous power of procreation. Man knew neither good nor evil, and flesh veiled the world of spirit. Satan, having free access to the garden, was tempted by the opportunity to interpose himself between God and man and become God himself. He became evil in the very act of tempting another to commit evil.
And what was the message that man listened to? “You can be like your Maker, even if you do not heed his words.” God had set before him just one prohibition, devoid of moral content except that he had said it. “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came, and I died.” Sin consisted in not acting in accordance with his words and listening to another voice. Man got to know evil, and since he was now excluded from God’s presence, he had to learn what good was by resisting evil (Gen 4:7), and that involved suffering. Angels learned by observing God’s response and obeying his commands.
Initially there was no separation between earth and heaven, and no underworld. After man’s transgression God continued to live on earth; there could be no kings, therefore, claiming divine authority in his absence. But his sanctuary was closed off. Angels, being his sons, had spiritual bodies bodies in his likeness, just as human beings had physical bodies in his likeness. Women conceived children by them, and men became increasingly violent. Instead of resisting evil, they succumbed to it. So there came a point when the earth was corrupt beyond saving, and God withdrew, destroying the planet’s surface by the fragments of other destroyed planets. What remained of the first world was subducted into the now molten mantle, which thereby became the underworld.
They will no longer be male and female (Gal 3:28), because there will be no more reproduction. As at the beginning, the female will be in the male, one body, just as male and female, both, are in the image of God (1:13), and God is ‘he’, not ‘she’. We shall be like the firstborn Son himself, even in his glory (I John 3:2f, II Thes 2:14). In a sense not envisaged by the Serpent, we shall be like God, and cease to know sin. Meanwhile, in this mortal body we seek to be like him now, together growing up into him who is the head (Eph 4:13-15).
It is in heaven that “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father” (Matt 13:43), ‘like the stars’ (Dan 12:3, Gen 15:5). The kingdom of the Father is in heaven, where the new earth will be, and comes after the kingdom of the Son (I Cor 15:24). In the meantime, Revelation opens up what, in the books of Daniel (12:4) and Isaiah (29:11), was once under seal. Until the predestined end, events must take their course (Dan 12:9f), for the darnel will continue to grow alongside the wheat. Individuals will continue to be measured by their moral choices, not their intelligence, or creativity, or pleasing appearance.
his arm ruling for him.
Behold, his wages are with him
and his reward before him.
He will tend his flock as a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs with his arm. (Isa 40:10f)
As the Bible closes, he chooses to emphasise what he taught at the beginning of the gospel. There is a reward for those who fear and serve him (11:18). In the age to come there will be a blessing for those who act on his commandments (poiountes tas entolas autou). The sanctuary of his presence will not be closed off, and they will share in its benefits. (The alternative reading, plunontes tas stolas autωn, ‘who wash their robes,’ is a copyist’s correction, prompted by 7:14.) The word entole, command or commandment, refers to the decalogue, but not in any narrow way. Whoever loves his neighbour fulfils the Law and will be approved. Those who break the Law, whether by flagrant acts of wickedness or by habitual dishonesty, are and will be excluded. Their lot is to be burned in the lake of fire outside the city. ‘Dogs’ (Phil 3:2) epitomises the evildoers particularised in the list that follows, ending with a generality that encompasses them all.
The Root of David has conquered (5:5), the scion whom David acknowledged as his lord (Matt 22:42), the first and the last. Like the morning star, he has risen from the womb of death’s darkness, and at sunrise we shall follow, leaping from the stall like calves. Let every believer hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
call upon him while he is near.
Like the earlier blessing, this solemn warning – adapted from Deuteronomy 4:2 and directed, surely, towards teachers, translators and theologians – is a measure of the importance of the revelation. Why does the Church pay the book so little heed and not consider its words trustworthy? Why is she so unconcerned about the ending? Meanwhile those who suffer for the Name cry, “How much longer?”
Behold, he comes,
leaping over the mountains,
bounding over the hills. …
Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle
or a young stag on the mountains of spices.