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 came 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). The prophetic message is that contained in the book’s precisely chosen words.
The apostle vouches for what he heard and saw. 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. Angels, those who spread the gospel (19:10) and whoever lives in keeping with the prophecy have the same status. We should worship 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 they 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 he chose to create an earth as well as a heaven, a world initially inhabited by just one couple, who would become as numerous as the angels by an innate, autonomous power of procreation. Man knew neither good nor evil, and knew nothing of worship. Satan, having free access to the garden of God, was tempted by the opportunity to interpose himself between God and man and become God himself. He succumbed to 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 obey him.” 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 God’s words and listening to another’s voice. Man got to know the difference between good and evil by knowing evil. Since he was now excluded from God’s presence, he could learn what good was only by resisting evil (Gen 4:7). Angels learned what good was by observing what God did 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. But his sanctuary was closed off. Angels, being his sons, had spiritual bodies made in his likeness, just as human beings had physical bodies. 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 destroyed it. Only then did he withdraw to heaven. What remained of the first world was subducted into the now molten mantle, which thereby became the underworld, Tartarus.
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 (I John 3:2f), even in his glory (II Thes 2:14). In a sense not envisaged by the Serpent, we shall be like God. We shall know God fully and cease to know sin. Meanwhile, in this mortal body we seek to be like him now, doing what is good and abhorring evil, growing up into him who is the head (Eph 4:13-15).
The past tense signifies the certainty of fulfilment. 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 is, 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. Man will continue to be defined by his moral nature, and measured by that rather than by his intelligence and creativity.
his arm ruling for him.
Behold, his wages are with him
and his reward in front of him.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs with his arm. (Isa 40:10f)
As the Bible closes, this is the message he chooses to emphasise, being a summary of 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); they will have the right to enter the holy city Jerusalem by the gates and share in its benefits; the sanctuary of his presence will not be closed off. (The alternative reading, plunontes tas stolas autωn, ‘who wash their robes,’ is a copyist’s correction, based on 7:14.) The word entole, command or commandment, refers to the decalogue, but not in any narrow way, and whoever loves his neighbour fulfils the Law. 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’ at the head of the list epitomises the types that follow (Phil 3:2); more narrowly, it stands for homosexual prostitutes (Deut 23:18).
We should recall that the Root of David has conquered (5:5), the son whom David acknowledged as his lord (Matt 22:42), the first Adam 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 Proverbs 30:6, 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 the 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.