Revelation 22:12-14, 16-27, 20-21
Chapter 21 begins with John’s vision of “a new heaven and a new earth” (21:1a)—the first heaven and earth having passed away (21:1b). He “saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband” (21:2). God promised that “he will wipe away from them every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more,” (21:4) and “Behold, I am making all things new” (21:5). The faithful will receive water “from the spring of the water of life” (21:6-7), but the faithless will be “in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (21:8).
In Revelation 21:9-27, John provides a detailed description of the New Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven from God” (21:10). It glows with the glory of God (21:11)—and has a high walls with twelve gates and twelve foundations (21:12-14). It’s length, breadth, and height are each 12,000 stadia, about 1,500 miles (21:16). The city is gold (21:18), as are the streets (21:21). The foundations of the wall are adorned with many kinds of jewels, and the gates are each a single pearl (21:19-21). There was no temple there, “for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple” (21:22). In like manner, there is no need of a sun there, for God and the Lamb provide its light (21:23). John records and unusual promise—that “the nations will walk in (God’s) light” (21:24)—”the nations” being a code phrase meaning Gentiles.
In Revelation 22:1-11, John pictures a “river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb” (22:1). Along the banks of the river stands “the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruits, yielding its fruit every month” (22:2). “There will be no curse any more” (22:3)—meaning that the curse of the Garden of Eden has been removed. The faithful will see God’s face (22:4)—unlike earlier times when God told Moses, “You cannot see my face, for man may not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).
Overcome with this grand vision, John fell down in worship at the feet of the angel who had revealed these things. However, the angel replied, “See you don’t do it! I am a fellow bondservant with you and with your brothers, the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God” (22:9).
It is sometimes difficult to know who is speaking in these verses:
• Verses 16 and the middle portion of verse 20 are clearly Christ’s words.
• Verses 12-13 are almost certainly Christ’s words.
• I have treated verses 14-15, 18-19 as John’s words—but they could be Christ’s.
• The beginning and ending of verse 20 are clearly the word of John, as is verse 21.
REVELATION 22:12-13. I AM COMING SOON
12“Behold, I come quickly (Greek: tachy). My reward (Greek: misthos) is with me, to repay to each man according to his work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”
“Behold, I come quickly” (tachy) (v. 12a). The idea behind Christ’s Second Coming has its roots in the Old Testament understanding of “the Day of the Lord.” It is to be a day of judgment in which the faithful will be rewarded and the unfaithful will be punished.
What does Jesus mean by “quickly”? The Greek word tachy can be translated either “soon” (within a short period of time) or “quickly” (swiftly or suddenly) (Price, 617-618).
If we take tachy to mean “soon” (within a short period of time) then we must acknowledge that this has not happened—not, at any rate, if we apply our usual time-standard. It has been more than two millennia, and we are still waiting for Christ’s Second Coming. However, we need to remember that “a thousand years in (God’s) sight are just like yesterday past, like a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4). If we look at the word “soon” from God’s perspective, it looks very different.
If we take tachy to mean “quickly”, then Jesus is saying that he will come suddenly. This certainly accords with Jesus’ pronouncements about the suddenness of his coming—and the surprise that people will experience (Matthew 24:36-44; 25:1-13; Mark 13:32-37). The emphasis in Jesus’ pronouncements is that we must be always ready for an event of eternal significance that will come suddenly and without warning. Jesus warns, “Watch therefore, for you don’t know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Matthew 25:13).
“My reward (misthos) is with me, to repay to each man according to his work” (v. 12b). The word misthos is sometimes used to refer to wages—compensation due for work accomplished—quid pro quo. For instance, Paul says, “Now to him who works, the reward (misthos) is not counted as grace, but as something owed” (Romans 4:4). In 1 Timothy 5:18, he quotes Deuteronomy 25:4: “You shall not muzzle the ox when it treads out the grain”—and then adds, “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (misthos).
But more frequently in the New Testament, misthos refers to spiritual rewards received for faithful discipleship. For instance, Jesus says, “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward (misthos). He who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward” (misthos) (Matthew 10:41). Paul says that our spiritual work will be tested by fire on the Day of the Lord, and then adds, “If any man’s work remains which he built on it, he will receive a reward” (misthos) (1 Corinthians 3:14).
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (v. 13). These three phrases are three ways of saying the same thing—that Christ is eternal—that he “was in the beginning with God” (John 1:2)—that he will bring history to its conclusion at the end—and that he will reign eternally with the Father.
“the Alpha and the Omega.” Alpha and Omega, of course, are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Earlier in this book, the title “Alpha and Omega” was used for God (1:8; 21:6). Now Christ applies it to himself.
“the First and the Last.” God used this title for himself in Isaiah 44:6 and Isaiah 48:12. Now Christ applies it to himself.
REVELATION 22:14. BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO DO HIS COMMANDMENTS
14 Blessed are those who do his commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city.
“Blessed are those who do his commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city“ (v. 14). This is the seventh and final beatitude to be pronounced in this book (see 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7). The number seven is highly significant in both Old and New Testaments, and conveys the idea of completeness or fulfillment. It is probably not accidental that this is the seventh and final blessing to be announced in this book.
“Blessed are those who do his commandments” (v. 14a). An alternate reading is “Blessed are those who wash their robes.” One of my Greek texts has one wording and the other has the other wording. I consulted a number of commentaries, hoping for an explanation, but found none.
“Blessed are those who do his commandments” emphasizes obedience, while “Blessed are those who wash their robes” emphasizes holiness. At their root, both emphasize being in the will of God—living as God would have us live.
Earlier, Jesus spoke of “a few names in Sardis that did not defile their garments.” He said,“They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy” (3:4). Now 22:14 (in one of the alternatives) pronounces a blessing on “those who wash their robes”—those who keep themselves holy by receiving the grace open to them through Christ’s sacrifice. It is significant that plynontes is present tense, which signifies an ongoing action. While we received forgiveness when we first availed ourselves of God’s grace, we have continued to sin—and thus are in need of continuing forgiveness. God know of our ongoing need, of course, and so bestows grace on a continuing basis.
“that they may have the right to the tree of life” (v. 14b). This is the first of the two blessings accorded to those are living as God would have them live.
We first heard of the tree of life in Genesis, where it appeared alongside the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9). God forbade the couple to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, warning, “for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). When the couple succumbed to temptation and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:22). To prevent the man from eating from the tree of life and living forever, God drove the man out of the garden and placed cherubim and a sword to prevent his return (Genesis 3:23-24).
Earlier in the book of Revelation, Jesus said, “To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of my God” (2:7). Then, earlier in chapter 22, John told about the river of the water of life that flows through the New Jerusalem. He said, “On this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruits, yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (22:2). Now we learn that, for those who obey God’s commandments (or “who wash their robes”), the curse of Genesis 3 has been removed—that God will restore their access to the tree of life.
“and may enter in by the gates into the city “ (v. 14c). This is the second of the two blessings bestowed on those “who wash their robes.”
This is no small honor. The New Jerusalem is a beautiful and radiant city with high walls and great gates. Its foundations are adorned with jewels. Its gates are fashioned from great pearls—each gate fashioned from a single pearl. Its streets are paved with gold. John told us, “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple. The city has no need for the sun, neither of the moon, to shine, for the very glory of God illuminated it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (21:22-23). Who would not want to live there?
But, as we will see in verse 15, admission to the city is anything but automatic. Sorcerers will be forced to stay outside—as will fornicators, murderers, idolaters, and those who love and practice falsehoods.
Who would want it otherwise? While Christians would like to see everyone brought into the New Jerusalem, it would not be appropriate for unholy people with stained garments to bring their unholiness into God’s holy presence. Nor would it be appropriate for those who have not availed themselves of the cleansing power offered by the crucified/risen Christ to corrupt the city where the inhabitants have washed their robes and thus are clean.
REVELATION 22:15. NOT IN THE LECTIONARY READING
15 Outside are the dogs, the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
While this verse is not in the lectionary reading, the preacher should be aware of it. In verse 14, John pronounced a blessing on the faithful—those who keep God’s commandments (or “who wash their robes”). Now, in this verse, he pronounces a woe on those who continue in their sins—”sorcerers and those who are sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters” and those who practice falsehood. John calls them “dogs”—a contemptuous label. It does a disservice to the text to eliminate verse 15, which is the second half of the two-step thought introduced by verse 14.
This list of sins is illustrative rather than exhaustive. People guilty of other sins will surely share in the fate of those guilty of the sins listed in this verse. However, we must not lose sight of grace. We are all sinners, dependent on God’s grace for our salvation. The kind of people that John describes in this verse must be unrepentant sinners—people who have chosen not to avail themselves of God’s grace.
REVELATION 22:16. THE ROOT AND DESCENDANT OF DAVID
16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify these things to you for the assemblies (Greek:ekklesiais—churches). I am the root and the offspring of David; the Bright and Morning Star.”
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify these things to you for the assemblies” (ekklesiais—churches) (v. 16a). Earlier, the angel who showed John the vision of the New Jerusalem said, “These words are faithful and true. The Lord God of the spirits of the prophets sent his angel to show to his bondservants the things which must happen soon” (22:6). Now Jesus identifies himself as the one who sent the angel. Jesus is the one identified as “the Lord” in verse 6.
“to testify these things to you for the assemblies” (ekklesiais—churches) (v. 16b). John is not to be the sole beneficiary of the vision of the New Jerusalem. Jesus sent the angel to show John this vision so that John could testify to the churches regarding what he had seen. John fulfills that requirement by writing this book.
“I am the root and the offspring of David” (v. 16c). Keep in mind that this is Jesus speaking.
Yahweh promised David, “When your days are fulfilled, and you shall sleep with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who shall proceed out of your bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:12-13)—a promise that Jews interpreted to be messianic.
The allusion in our present verse is to Isaiah 1:11, where Yahweh promised, “A shoot will come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots will bear fruit.” Jesse was David’s father, so that was a promise of the continuance of Jesse and David’s lineage—another messianic promise.
Clearly, Jesus is emphasizing his Davidic lineage—and the messianic promise stemming from that lineage.
“the Bright and Morning star” (v. 16d). Some scholars see an allusion to Numbers 24:17, which says, “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.”
I had not understood this reference to Jesus as the bright and morning star until recently—in part because I had not really seen the bright and morning star. In recent years, we moved to a house located several miles outside of town, where the sky is darker and clearer than when we lived in town. Our bedroom window faces east, and the view in that direction is lovely enough and our location private enough that we leave that window undraped. When I awaken in the middle of the night, I see stars—tiny specks of light scattered across the sky.
But, if I awaken at the right time, about five a.m., I see the bright and morning star arise in the east. It isn’t really a star, but is instead the planet Venus. No matter the name, it dominates the eastern sky. While the stars are tiny specks of light, the morning star is like the landing light of an airliner—a great, bright, lamp that shines as bright as all the other stars put together. It is a brilliant diamond on a black field, surrounded by specks of diamond dust. Venus is what we call the Morning Star.
Jesus says, “I am the root and the offspring of David; the Bright and Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16). He is the great light in the sky—the “light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5)—the one whose presence heralds the coming of a new day.
REVELATION 22:17. LET EVERYONE WHO HEARS SAY, “COME”
17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” He (Greek: ho—the one, anyone) who hears, let him say, “Come!” He (Greek: ho) who is thirsty, let him come. He who desires, let him take the water of life freely.
“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ He (ho—the one, anyone) who hears, let him say, ‘Come!'” (v. 17a). This is an example of parallelism, where the same thought is expressed in two different ways.
The Spirit is the Holy Spirit, and the bride is the church (see 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:23-25; Revelation 19:7; 21:2, 9).
Is this an evangelistic invitation to the world-at-large to come to Christ and find salvation—or a plea to Christ to come soon? There is no scholarly consensus on this point. The fact that the word, “Come” is singular in both instances lends weight to the possibility that this is a plea to Christ to come soon. That would also accord with the plea in verse 20: “Come, Lord Jesus!”
“He (Greek: ho) who is thirsty, let him come. He who desires, let him take the water of life freely“ (v. 17). This is another example of parallelism.
This part of the verse is an invitation to the world-at-large. The word “come” is singular in this part of the verse too, but it corresponds to the singular ho, which could be translated “the one” or “anyone.”
This invitation brings to mind two passages from the Gospel of John, as well as one from the prophet Isaiah:
• In the first passage, Jesus was talking to the Samaritan woman. He told her that, if she had asked him, he would have given her living water. Then he said, “Everyone who drinks of this water (meaning water from the well at their feet) will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:13b-14).
• In the second passage, Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink! He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, from within him will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38).
• In the book of Isaiah, God (through the prophet) said, “Come, everyone who thirsts, to the waters! Come, he who has no money, buy, and eat! Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1).
Our present verse, then, is an invitation to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness to come and be filled (see Matthew 5:6).
REVELATION 22:18-19. IF ANYONE ADDS OR SUBTRACTS FROM THESE WORDS
18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book, if anyone adds to them, may God add to him the plagues which are written in this book. 19 If anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, may God take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book.
These verses pronounce judgment on anyone who would add to or subtract from “this book” (v. 18)—”this prophecy” (v. 19). Reddish likens these verses to a copyright symbol that puts people on notice that infringements won’t be tolerated.
It is clear that those who formulated the lectionary have left out verses 15, 18, and 19, because those verses seem harsh and judgmental. However, those verses are part of the canon. We therefore have a responsibility to proclaim unpopular Biblical truth, just as a physician has a responsibility to tell patients the unhappy truth about their condition, even at the risk of offending them. The physician’s challenge is to find a way to present unpleasant news in a kind and caring way. The preacher’s challenge is much the same.
It seems especially brazen to leave out verse 19, which pronounces judgment on “anyone (who) takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy.”
REVELATION 22:20. AMEN! COME, LORD JESUS!
20 He who testifies these things says, “Yes, I come quickly” (Greek: tachy).
Amen! Yes, come, Lord Jesus.
“He who testifies these things says, ‘Yes, I come quickly'” (v. 20a). This is the third time in this chapter that Jesus says he is coming soon (see 22:7, 12). For the double-meaning of “quickly” (tachy) see the comments above on verse 12a.
“Amen“ (v. 20b). This word is Hebrew, and in the New Testament is transliterated into Greek. In other words, Greek letters are used to make the sound of the Hebrew word. In the Old Testament, amen means “to confirm; to support; to be faithful… (and) is also used in response to worship and praise…. The English word amen comes from this word and means, ‘I agree; may it be so'” (Baker and Carpenter, 70).
In this verse, the speaker uses Amen to show his approval of Christ’s promise to come soon.
But who is speaking? That isn’t clear. Perhaps it is the Spirit and the bride/church, as in verse 17c.
“Yes, come, Lord Jesus“ (v. 20c). In 1 Corinthians 16:22, Paul uses transliterated Aramaic to say,“Maranatha”—“Lord, come!” Here the words are Greek—“erchou kyrie Iesou”—”Come, Lord Jesus!”—but the plea is the same.
Why would anyone want to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus”? Wouldn’t it just cut our lives short if Christ were to come again today?
No! When Christ comes again, it will be to set things right—to restore the Eden in which God intended us to live. Consider what life will be like when God’s kingdom is fully come. In that kingdom, there will be no need for armies—or prisons—or locks on the door. No police force will be required to enforce proper behavior. People will look for ways to give rather than to grab. There will be no false or deceptive advertising—no manipulation. God will depose all dictators and tyrants. Wouldn’t you like to live in such a peaceable place! Pray for Christ to come again!
REVELATION 22:21. A BENEDICTION
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with all the saints. Amen.
This would be a typical benediction for an epistle, but is unusual in an apocalypse.
An alternative reading is, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all of you.” The word “saints” is not found in the original (at least not in the two Greek texts that I consulted).
See the comments on verse 20b above for the meaning of “Amen.”
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
David E. Aune, Word Biblical Commentary: Revelation 17-22, Vol. 52c (Dallas: Word Books, 1998)
Baker, Warren and Carpenter, Eugene, The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: Old Testament(Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2003)
Blevins, James L., Knox Preaching Guides: Revelation (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984)
Boring, M. Eugene, Interpretation: Revelation (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1989)
Boxall, Ian, Black’s New Testament Commentary: The Revelation of Saint John (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009)
Gaventa, Beverly R., in Cousar, Charles B., Gaventa, Beverly R., McCann, J. Clinton, and Newsome, James D., Texts for Teaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV–Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)
Holladay, Carl R., in Craddock, Fred B., Hayes, John H., Holladay, Carl R., and Tucker, Gene M.,Preaching Through the Christian Year C (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1994)
MacArthur, John, Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Revelation 12-22 (Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 2000)
Mangina, Joseph L. Brazos Theological Commentary: Revelation (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2009)
Metzger, Bruce M., Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993)
Morris, Leon, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Revelation, Vol. 20 (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1987)
Mounce, Robert H., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Revelation(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977)
Osborne, Grant R., Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Revelation (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002)
Palmer, Earl F., The Preacher’s Commentary: 1,2,3, John, Revelation (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982)
Patterson, L. Paige, The New American Commentary: Revelation (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2012)
Peterson, Eugene H., Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John & the Praying Imagination (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1988)
Price, Daniel J., in Van Harn, Roger E. (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts: The Second Readings: Acts and the Epistles (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001)
Reddish, Mitchell G., Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Revelation (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2001)
Rowland, Christopher C., in The New Interpreter’s Bible: Hebrews, James 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, Jude, Revelation, Vol. XII (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998)
Thompson, Leonard L., Abingdon New Testament Commentary: Revelation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997)
Copyright 2012, Richard Niell Donovan