Commentary on Revelation 22:6-21

Notes (NET Translation)

The epilogue of the book parallels the prologue:

  • the revelation is to show his servants what must happen soon (1:1; 22:6)
  • the revelation is authenticated as from God (1:1; 22:6)
  • those who obey will be blessed (1:3; 22:7)
  • the book contains words of prophecy (1:3; 22:7,10)
  • the imminent coming of Christ (1:3, 7; 22:7, 12, 20)
  • the challenge to be faithful (1:3, 6; 22:7, 9, 11, 14, 17)
  • the Alpha and the Omega (1:8; 22:13)

While the exact speaker in each verse of the epilogue is sometimes unclear it should be kept in mind that the message ultimately comes from God.

6 Then the angel said to me, “These words are reliable and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must happen soon.”

The Greek text actually says “he said”. The NET assumes the pronoun refers to the angel that revealed the new Jerusalem (21:9). Another option is that these are the words of Christ. The words of this prophecy are reliable and true because they come from God. This description of the prophecy parallels the description of Christ (1:5; 3:7, 14; 19:11). The unusual title “the God of the spirits of the prophets” is in some way related to the contents of the book. It could be a reference to the human spirits of the prophets or the seven spirits of 1:4. The contents of the book are not just for John but for God’s servants, meaning the saints (1:1; 2:20; 7:3; 19:2, 5, 10; 22:3, 9). As in 1:1, the words “what must happen soon” allude to Dan. 2:45 and speak of the inauguration of prophetic fulfillment, not just its consummation.

7 (Look! I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy expressed in this book.)

Verse 7 clearly contains the words of Christ about his coming(s).

This refers to his final appearance but includes his earlier comings throughout the church’s existence, all of which are imminent for every generation of the church. The translation of ἔρχομαι by “I am coming” (so NASB) allows for this inaugurated understanding, and the context of the repeated declarations of Christ’s comings in chs. 1–3 points to this conclusion (see on 1:7; 2:5, 16; 3:3, 11), as does our analysis of the inaugurated use of the Dan. 2:28–29, 45 allusion in 1:1, 19 and 4:1. Therefore, Christ’s coming is a series of comings in blessing and judgment and will be consummated by a climactic coming in final blessing and condemnation. Nevertheless, the greater focus here at the end of the book is likely on the consummate coming. (Beale 1127)

The ultimate goal of the book is for its readers (or hearers) to obey its revelation and be blessed with salvation.

8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things, and when I heard and saw them, I threw myself down to worship at the feet of the angel who was showing them to me.

John fell down and worshiped an angel in 19:10 too. It seems the revelatory experience overwhelms John so much that he cannot help himself.

9 But he said to me, “Do not do this! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets, and with those who obey the words of this book. Worship God!”

The angel is not only a fellow servant of John and the prophets, but of anyone who obeys the words of this book. The entire book can be summed up in the words “Worship God!”

10 Then he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy contained in this book, because the time is near.

The words of the prophecy are not to be sealed up because the words have begun to be fulfilled, will continue to be fulfilled in the present, and will do so until their consummation in the future. The churches must hear the words so that they can obey God. This is in contrast to Daniel 12:4.

11 The evildoer must continue to do evil, and the one who is morally filthy must continue to be filthy. The one who is righteous must continue to act righteously, and the one who is holy must continue to be holy.”

Verse 11 takes the form of a command but its interpretation is a matter of dispute. G. K. Beale notes that v. 11 is alluding to Dan. 12:10, which predicts that in the latter days false members of the covenant community will not understand the dawning fulfillment of prophecy and will continue to disobey God, whereas the godly will discern the fulfillment of prophecy occurring around them and respond by obeying God. The change of the prediction in Daniel to the imperative in Revelation expresses the awareness that Daniel’s prophecy is beginning to be fulfilled and that genuine believers should respond positively to it. G. R. Osborne takes v. 11a to be a rhetorical warning to the evil and filthy that they may cross a point of no return. The saints are also warned that their job is to proclaim the prophecies even though evil will persist. Verse 11b is an exhortation to the righteous and holy to be known for their righteous deeds and holy living.

12 (Look! I am coming soon, and my reward is with me to pay each one according to what he has done!

The voice of Christ resumes and appears to continue until 22:17. This verse continues the message of v. 11. This verse alludes to Isa. 40:10 LXX and speaks of Jesus fulfilling the role of Yahweh.

13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end!)

This verse forms an inclusio with 1:8, 17. Like God, Christ is sovereign over all of creation from the beginning to the end.

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes so they can have access to the tree of life and can enter into the city by the gates.

The blessed are those who wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb (7:14). It is Christ’s worthiness, not our worthiness, that qualifies one to enter the new Jerusalem. The verb “to wash” is in the present tense, indicating an ongoing activity (sanctification) that characterizes the lives of the blessed. The Greek text states that the blessed have authority over, not mere access to, the tree of life. They have power over the tree to use it for their redemptive benefit.

15 Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the sexually immoral, and the murderers, and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood!

The term “dogs” refers to impure or malicious people (Prov. 26:11; Isa. 56:10-11). The other items in the list are repeated from 21:8.

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star!”

The “you” is plural and refers to the believers in the seven churches. Jesus identifies himself as the Davidic messiah (Rev. 2:28; 5:5). The “I Am” part of the saying probably also identifies him as Yahweh.

17 And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say: “Come!” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wants it take the water of life free of charge.

Recall that the bride is the church (19:7-9; 21:3). The language of this verse is reminiscent of Isa. 55:1. This verse invites the reader to come to Jesus.

18 I testify to the one who hears the words of the prophecy contained in this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.

The identity of the speaker is not clear but the surrounding verses (16, 20) favor it being Jesus. In its original context, the warning refers to the book of Revelation and not to the entire Bible. Warnings of this nature are also found in Deut. 4:2; 12:32; 29:19-20.

Perhaps most striking, however, is the self-understanding that such a statement presupposes. Revelation’s author is consciously placing it on a par with Deuteronomy, and therefore with the core of the authoritative Jewish scriptures (similar claims are made for the Pentateuch in its Septuagintal version in Ep. Arist 310–11). (Boxall 319)

19 And if anyone takes away from the words of this book of prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book.

What does it mean to “add to” or “take away from” the revelatory words? The answer must be sought in Deuteronomy. In Deut. 4:1–2 and 12:32 the same sort of language serves as a warning against deceptive teaching that idolatry was not inconsistent with faith in the God of Israel (see Deut. 4:3 [alluding to the Baal-peor episode of Num. 25:1–9, 14–18] and Deuteronomy 13). Those who deceive in this way are false prophets (so Deuteronomy 13). The verse numbered 12:32 in English versions is regarded by the MT, the LXX, and the Targums (Onqelos and Neofiti) as the first verse of Deuteronomy 13, which introduces the subject of false prophets (cf. the false prophet Balaam who was behind the deception at Baal-peor: see on Rev. 2:14). Such false teaching amounts to “adding to” God’s law. It is also tantamount to “taking away from” God’s law, since it violates the positive laws against idolatry, consequently nullifying their validity. The disobedience of following this false teaching is probably included in the dual warning of Deut. 4:2 and 12:32, as Deut. 29:19–20 confirms.

Therefore, “adding and taking away” are not general disobedience to the divine word, but adherence to false teaching about the inscripturated word. Belief in the abiding truth of God’s word is the presupposition for positive obedience to it (Deut. 4:2: “you shall not add … nor take away in order that you may keep the commandments of the Lord”). The ancient Near Eastern treaty documents after which Deuteronomy 4 is modeled were also protected against intentional alteration by means of inscriptional sanctions and curses.

The twofold warning of 22:18–19 is directed against those who foster or follow such seductive teaching. The Deuteronomic background is remarkably suitable here since the descriptions in the vice lists in 21:8, 27 and 22:15 have all concluded with emphasis on the deceptiveness of the ungodly in connection with idolatry. Consequently, to “add” to the words of John’s prophecy is to promote the false teaching that idolatry is not inconsistent with faith in Christ. To “take away from the words of the book of this prophecy” is also to advance such deceptive teaching, since this teaching would violate and vitiate the validity of Revelation’s exhortations against idolatry. Alternatively, it may be best to see “adding” and “taking away” as a hendiadys referring to a warning not to be associated with false teaching. (Beale 1151)

20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.

This verse expresses John’s desire that God’s grace enables the hearer/reader to understand and obey the contents of the book. It is unusual for an apocalypse to end with a benediction. But since the book begins as a letter it is appropriate. The manuscript evidence supporting the inclusion of the word “Amen” at the end of the verse is weak.

Bibliography

Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.

Boxall, Ian. Revelation of Saint John, The. Black’s New Testament Commentary. Baker Academic, 2009.

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. Kindle ed. New Covenant Commentary Series. Cascade Books, 2010.

Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Revised. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Osborne, G. R. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

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