Revelation 22. The final words of the Jesus, the angel, John and the Bride.
As in the first chapter, the identity of the speaker is not stated, but “I am coming soon” indicates it is Jesus himself. The message is urgent and will be repeated two more times. The certainty of its happening, hitherto 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 both 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 he really reign in Jerusalem, in his own person? The speaker reiterates what John stated at the beginning (1:1-3), except for a declaration that the Lord is not merely the God of the prophets but God of the spirits of the prophets; he controls their spirits and speaks through them – John included, whose opening words Jesus repeats in his own voice. Elsewhere he is called ‘the God of the spirits of all flesh’ (Num 16:22), the source of the life that animates every living creature (Job 12:10, 34:14). The prophetic message is that which has been revealed in the book, in its carefully chosen words.
The apostle vouches for what he heard and saw. Because of the wondrous things revealed since last speaking with his guide, he is again moved to prostrate himself, and again he is rebuked. Angels, prophets and those who live in keeping with the prophecy have the same status. We should worship him who made heaven and earth.
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 their sinlessness is not incompatible with free will. But he chose to create an earth as well as a heaven, a world inhabited by man, initially just one couple. Man did not know who God was, spiritually. Satan, having free access to the garden of God, was the first being to transgress, tempted by the opportunity to interpose himself between man and God and direct worship to himself. He succumbed to temptation in the very act of tempting a creature who did not know what sin was. Sin consisted in not believing and acting in accordance with God’s words.
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, but that was enough. ‘I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came, and I died.’ Man got to know the difference between good and evil by knowing evil (Gen 3:22). God’s glory was hidden from him; man had to learn what good was by resisting evil (Gen 4:7). Since he was now excluded from God’s presence, he had to live in faith.
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 where the earth was corrupt beyond saving, and God destroyed it. What remained of the first world was subducted into the now molten mantle, which thereby became the underworld. Only then did he withdraw to heaven.
They will no longer be male and female (Gal 3:28), because there will be no more reproduction. The female will be in the male, one body, just as male and female, both, are in the image of God, 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 not know evil because we shall know God fully. Like the angels, we will always see his face. 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 on the new earth 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 follows 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 kept 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.
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 – a summary of what he taught at the beginning of the gospel. There is a reward for those who fear him 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 Rev 7:14.) The word entole, command or commandment, does not refer solely to the decalogue. 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 fate is to be burned in the lake of fire outside the city (Rev 20:8). ‘Dogs’ at the head of the list epitomises the types that follow; more narrowly, it is metaphorical for homosexual prostitutes (Deut 23:18).
Christ is the Messiah of the prophets and specifically the fulfilment of Psalm 110 concerning the Son of David (Matt 22:42). He is the star who rises in our hearts from the dark womb of the morning, assuring us of the resurrection before the full day dawns.
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? 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.