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. “I am coming speedily” suggests it is Jesus himself. The message is urgent and will be repeated two more times. The certainty of its happening, symbolised by the reaper with a sharp sickle and, later, by 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 and here). 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 accept. 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 (i.e. he belongs to them) but the God of the spirits of the prophets (they belong to him and he 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 breath of life that animates every living creature (Job 12:10, 34:14).
John vouches for the truth of what he has recorded. As before, he is moved to worship the angel because he has revealed things that only God knows. John does not identify the speaker because he cannot, and in a sense it does not matter. What matters is the words. What matters is that we worship him who made the heaven and the earth (14:7).
Angels appear in the Apocalypse more than in any other book, giving us an 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. Sinlessness is not incompatible with free will, and we will not sin in the world to come. But he chose to create an earth as well as a heaven, a world inhabited by man. Some angels did sin. Satan, having free access to the garden of God, was the first 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 on the basis that God’s words were true.
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, that meant living by faith.
Initially there was no separation between earth and heaven, and no underworld. After man’s transgression, God continued to live on earth. 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. But God did not leave the earth. Once it had become corrupt beyond saving, he destroyed it. What remained of the first world was subducted into the now molten mantle, which thereby became the underworld. He withdrew to heaven, and except for one brief lifetime he hid his face from man. As in the garden, we must learn obedience by faith.
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 are both in the image of God, the firstborn, and God is ‘he’, not ‘she’. We shall be like the Son himself (I John 3:2f), even in his glory (II Thes 2:14). And we shall not sin because, like the angels (Matt 18:10), we shall always see his face. But in this mortal body we should seek to be like him now, doing what is good, abhorring evil, growing up into him who is the head (Eph 4:13-15, 5:1).
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 brightness of the firmament’ (Dan 12:3), ‘like the stars’ (Dan 12:3, Gen 15:5). In the meantime, Revelation opens up what in the books of Daniel (12:4) and Isaiah (29:11) was kept under seal. Until the predestined end, events must take their course (Dan 12:9f). Man will continue to be defined by his moral nature.
and his arm rules for him.
Behold, his wages are with him
and his reward is before 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, in the sermon on the Mount. There is a reward for those who in this age fear him and serve him (11:18). Whoever keeps his commandments, as he kept his father’s commandments, will abide in his love and enter the gates of righteousness (John 15:10). Likewise, in the age to come there will be a blessing for those who act on his commandments (poiountes tas entolas autou); they too will be entitled to enter the holy city Jerusalem and share in its benefits. (The alternative reading, plunontes tas stolas aut&omega:n, ‘who wash their robes,’ is a copyist’s theological 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’ is metaphorical for homosexual prostitutes (Deut 23:18).
See on 5:5 and 2:28. Christ calls himself the morning star as if he too were reflecting a greater light. To those who have eyes to see, he is the living assurance that day is about to dawn.
call upon him while he is near. (Isa 55:6)
Like the earlier blessing, this solemn warning – adapted from Deut 4:2 and Prov 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, night and day 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.