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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Revelation 22

 

 

Verse 1

REV:22

"The vision in this last chapter of Revelation is directly continuous with what has preceded."[1] There are many things in this glorious vision which lie beyond our total comprehension; but so it was with the ancient prophecies of the Old Testament. What could have been more incomprehensible than the prophecies that a holy virgin would conceive and bear a son, that a man should die and not see corruption in the grave, or that one despised and rejected by man should be established forever upon the throne of David? "Yet the pious Jew preserved his faith amidst all these wonderful, and in appearance, contradictory intimations."[2] Just so, Christians should receive the great prophecies of the New Testament in the fullest confidence that, despite having no accurate knowledge of how these things shall all be fulfilled, they shall nevertheless come to pass exactly as God has said. The ultimate triumph of Christianity over all the corruptions of earth is the will of God; and nothing can stand in the way of that.

In this chapter, for the first time, "The imagery of the paradise of Eden, linking the end of history with its beginning, appears."[3] John took the motif of the Fall in Genesis 3 and described the complete reversal of it to convey the ultimate glory of man in Christ Jesus."[4]

Those scholars are wrong who connect the imagery of these glorious chapters with pagan myths, folklore, apocryphal writings, and the literature of classical paganism. The apostles of Christ knew nothing of such things. It is likely true that certain vestiges of ancient truth handed down through Adam's posterity in a garbled, distorted, and perverted condition might indeed have been preserved and referred to in pagan myths of folklore; "But our apocalyptist and the Old Testament writers from whom his imagery is taken are without doubt unconscious of such primitive connections, if they exist."[5] Even the Old Testament prophecies which seem to be reflected in much of the terminology of Revelation must not be thought of as determining John's meaning here. Those interpreters who take the obvious reference of certain Old Testament prophecies to the literal Jerusalem as proof that the visions in Revelation must also be applied to literal Jerusalem have missed the point altogether. These final chapters do not refer to a return of Jews to Jerusalem (literally). "That interpretation is far-fetched and is not borne out in the scriptures."[6] Many have simply overlooked the truth that John did not receive this vision from a study of the Old Testament, nor from pagan or secular literature. The vision came from God through Jesus Christ to the apostle John. "He (the apostle), not the Old Testament prophets, determined what the content and meaning of his words should be."[7]

[1] George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), p. 286.

[2] Floyd Myers, Difficult Passages in Revelation Examined (Pekin, Indiana: Floyd Myers, 1960), p. 170.

[3] G. R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation (Greenwood, South Carolina: The Attic Press, 1974), p. 330.

[4] Douglas Ezell, Revelations on Revelation (Waco: Word Books, 1977), p. 109.

[5] Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1919), p. 764.

[6] Joseph M. Gettys, How to Study Revelation (Philadelphia: John Knox Press, 1955), p. 111.

[7] Ibid., p. 112.

And he showed me a river of water of life, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, (Revelation 22:1)

River ... water of life ... This metaphor was used by Jesus himself in his conversation with the woman of Samaria (John 4:10), and in his reference to "living water" (John 7:37,38). This is in no sense a literal river. Ponce de Leon's search for "the fountain of youth" was a wild goose chase; he did not find it, nor will it be in heaven, literally. However, the reality symbolized by it will be there. Therefore, all of the arguments about where, precisely, this river is located in the city of God are unnecessary. The point is that eternal life will belong to those who enter it.

Proceeding out of the throne ... This is the throne of God and of the Lamb, so Beasley-Murray is right in saying, "The river flows from Christ."[8] However, he is wrong in the view that "Christ took the place of the temple."[9] Just the opposite is true: secular Israel had permitted the temple to take the place of Christ who is the true temple.

The throne of God and of the Lamb ... In the fact of the eternal throne of God being here identified also as the throne of the Lamb is also the inherent truth that, "The kingdom in which Christ now reigns may be called also the kingdom of God."[10] There are not two kingdoms any more than there are two thrones.

[8] G. R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 331

[9] Ibid.

[10] John T. Hinds, A Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1962), p. 307.


Verse 2

in the midst of the street thereof. And on this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve manner of fruits, yielding its fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

In the midst of the street ... "This may be taken, not as the end of the first sentence, but as the beginning of the second."[11] As a matter of fact, the phrase may be applied: (1) to the river of life; (2) the throne of God; or (3) the tree of life. It does not make the slightest difference which view is taken. No literal description of heaven is here intended. These are symbols, not literal thrones, rivers, streets, and trees. Note too that "street" is not a reference to one street but to all streets. See comment under Revelation 21:21.

The tree of life ... This is not one tree, but stands either for many trees of one variety, or even many varieties of trees.[12] "The tree of life is apparently used collectively to include a number of trees."[13] "Tree seems intended to be understood generically of that whole class of trees."[14] We still use this idiom, for example, when we remark that, "The date palm grows in southern California." Lenski correctly observed that all these terms: avenue, river, and wood (tree) are comprehensive and collective."[15]

But what does it mean? The tree of life has the same inherent meaning as the "river of life." Those who have access to it will enjoy all the rights, blessings, and privileges of eternal life. The words of Ezekiel 47:12 are used here almost verbatim. The account in Genesis shows that Adam and Eve's expulsion from Eden deprived them of access to the tree of life; but in heaven redeemed mankind shall have this privilege restored. Could this be some literal tree with visible fruit? We believe it to be a beautiful symbol of a far greater reality.

Bearing twelve manner of fruits ... every month ... This should take care of any notion that this is a literal tree.

Leaves ... for the healing of the nations ... Here, too, literalism is impossible. "Healing, of course, implies disease;" but, "That will be one of the things that will be unknown in heaven."[16]

As throughout the vision, John uses present terminology to describe future conditions. In a spiritual sense, the leaves of the tree of life, in this present age, are the healing of the nations. The realities of the word of God always bless and honor the peoples who receive and obey it. What our world needs now is to catch a new vision of the realities of the Christian gospel; and, if it should happen, "the leaves of the tree of life" would indeed be the healing of the nations.

[11] William Barclay, The Revelation of John (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), p. 221.

[12] John Wesley, Notes on the New Testament (London: Epworth Press, n.d.), in loco.

[13] Martin Rist, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. XI1 (New York-Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 542.

[14] A. Plummer, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 545.

[15] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John's Revelation (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943), p. 650.

[16] John T. Hinds, op. cit., p. 308.


Verse 3

And there shall be no curse any more: and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be therein: and his servants shall serve him;

And there shall be no curse any more ... "This is an allusion to the curse pronounced upon the Ground because of the sin of Adam (Genesis 3:17)."[17] In the final city of God, such curses can never come.

And the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be there ... The oneness of the Father and the Son are dramatically and forcefully stated in the visions of Revelation, no less than in the dogmatic propositions of the Fourth Gospel. See John 1:1-14; 14:1-10; 5:17ff.

And his servants shall serve him ... Heaven is never depicted as a place of leisure or idleness, but always as a place of activity. Even the angels which Jacob saw on the ladder reaching to heaven were "ascending and descending" upon it.

ENDNOTE:

[17] E. M. Zerr, Bible Commentary, Vol. 6 (Marion, Indiana: The Cogdill Foundation, 1954), p. 352.


Verse 4

and they shall see his face; and his name shall be on their foreheads.

And they shall see his face ... This is a privilege that man has never had, not even the saints of the Old Testament; but the final joys of the redeemed shall surpass all the joys of the Old Covenant.

And his name shall be on their foreheads ... God's "mark" will be upon his children eternally; and this must be understood in the sense of their bearing a spiritual likeness to Christ and God. "The supreme felicity (of the saints) is revealed in the immediate presence with God and the Lamb."[18] Just as, "The worshippers of the beast had his mark upon their foreheads, thus bearing the moral and spiritual image of their master (Revelation 13:17),"[19] just so, God's children entering heaven shall bear a spiritual and moral likeness of God and of the Lamb.

[18] Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 766.

[19] J. W. Roberts, The Revelation of John (Austin, R. B. Sweet Company, 1974), p. 194.


Verse 5

And there shall be night no more; and they need no light of lamp, neither light of sun; for the Lord God shall give them light; and they shall reign for ever and ever.

And there shall be night no more ... All of the dread and fear of the darkness which have dogged the steps of humanity through the ages shall disappear in the light and bliss of heaven. "The saved will need no sun nor lamp, because of the light of the divine glory with them."[20]

And they shall reign for ever and ever ... "It is not said that they shall reign over anyone."[21] The millennial notion of the saints reigning over people is carnal, secular, and unbiblical. The reigning will be over themselves in perfect control of all their abilities and powers in the true service of God in whatever activity God may assign to them, exactly the same kind of reigning they are doing now. When taken with the statement in Revelation 22:3 that, "His servants shall serve him," it is clear enough that, "Paradise is not only the absence of evil but the privilege of serving God in his presence forever."[22] It is a false view that looks upon heaven as a place of idleness and inactivity, as some have imagined:

I go where the loud Hallelujah's are ringing, But I shall not take part in the singing. Then weep not for me, friends, if death do us sever, For I'm going to do nothing forever and ever.[23]

Maybe such a view has comfort in it for people who are oppressed and overworked, but it is nevertheless a false view.

This verse concludes the vision of the new Jerusalem, the Paradise of the redeemed. The wonders and glories of it surpass all imagination and leave the mind numb in the contemplation of it.

Let us leave it here in all its glory; for there are times when silence is better than speech, when worship and wonder should supplant the words of men. Here is the final glory.[24]

[20] Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 767.

[21] Leon Morris, Tyndale Commentaries, Vol. 20, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969), p. 257.

[22] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Revelation (Chicago: Moody Press, 1968), p. 123.

[23] Donald W. Richardson, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (New York: Pillar Books, 1964), p. 140.

[24] Charles M. Laymond, The Book of Revelation (New York-Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1960), p. 146.


Verse 6

And he said unto me, These words are faithful and true: and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show unto his servants the things which must shortly come to pass.

These words are faithful and true .... Apparently, an angel is the speaker here, but Christ is behind all that he said. "This whole book is represented by John as the Revelation of Jesus Christ, through the angel."[25] The divine authority of the entire Revelation is affirmed. "The primary purpose of this epilogue (Revelation 22:6-21) is to affirm the authority of John's book.[26] The meaning of this whole verse is: "The words of the Christian prophets do not speak their own minds, but God's."[27] Lenski's outline of this epilogue is:

God's attestation (Revelation 22:6-15).

Jesus' attestation (Revelation 22:16-19).

John is dismissed (Revelation 22:20).

John's farewell greeting (Revelation 22:21).[28]SIZE>

We acutely need this divine attestation, for the most glaring error in most of the books one reads on this prophecy is that of making the "source" of these visions to be everything or anything except what it is; namely, a revelation from God (Revelation 1:1). As far as this writer is concerned, if people do not believe that God authored this book, they could spare themselves the trouble of studying it, much more the labor of writing their comments on it.

"The angel" here does not say that God commissioned "me," his angel, but that, "God commissioned his angel." "Angel is used here generically to designate whatever angel acted at any time in the vision."[29] Thus the angel here speaks for God himself.

The God of the spirits of the prophets ... The "prophets" here are those of both the Old and the New Testaments; God spoke through all of them. This is the message of God's deputy angel in this passage.

To show the things that must shortly come to pass ... As Wesley put it, "which will begin to be performed immediately."[30] "The adverb shortly modifies the verb come to pass, telling how it is to occur, suddenly."[31] The false idea that John expected all of the things in this prophecy to appear within a few years should be rejected. The present dispensation was described as "a thousand years" in Revelation 20; and that proves that our prophecy takes a long view of the ages; and yet many of the things in it were in the process of happening at the very time it was written.

[25] G. R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 334.

[26] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 289.

[27] J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 1092.

[28] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 655.

[29] Ibid., p. 657.

[30] John Wesley, op. cit., in loco.

[31] James D. Strauss, The Seer, the Saviour, and the Saved (Joplin, Missouri: College Press, 1972), p. 288.


Verse 7

And behold, I come quickly. Blessed is he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book.

And behold, I come quickly ... "It is no longer possible to believe that John had a naive attitude toward this promise."[32] He did not believe that all things in Revelation would come to pass in his generation. If so, how could he have envisioned 1,000 years before the final judgment (Revelation 20:5)? It is not John who is mixed up on this but some of the interpreters.

Quickly ... can mean "soon"; but it may also mean "suddenly" or "unexpectedly"; and, "The ambiguity is no doubt purposeful in order to provide for all generations a spiritual and moral tension of expectancy and perspective."[33] No Christian should live in any other way than in a consciousness that the Lord may come at any time.

It is irreligious to ask, Who is the speaker here? Angels are the envoys and mouthpieces of God here, as in the Old Testament, and therefore entitled to speak either in their own name or that of the Lord.[34] The words, "I am coming" show that Jesus is being quoted.[35]

Blessed is he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book ... "In principle, this applies to all of God's book (the Bible)."[36] The book of Revelation, however, is primarily in view.

Before leaving this verse, we wish to emphasize that, "In the Christian doctrine of the last things, the imminence of the end is moral rather than chronological."[37] Each successive Christian generation, for anything that is known to the contrary, could be the last generation. "In that sense, the time is always near."[38] The achievement of this state of expectancy and uncertainty was evidently God's design in the language chosen, not only here, but throughout the whole New Testament.

"I come quickly" need not mean "I come soon," though that meaning is possible. The expression may also mean, "I come suddenly."[39]

Since some nineteen centuries have already passed since these words were written, we know that the second meaning cited here is the correct one.

[32] G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 283.

[33] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 290.

[34] James Moffatt, Expositor's Greek New Testament, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967). p. 488.

[35] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 659.

[36] James D. Strauss, op. cit., p. 288.

[37] F. F. Bruce, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 665.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Edward A. McDowell, The Meaning and Message of Revelation (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1951), p. 218.


Verse 8

And I John am he that heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel that showed me these things.

And I John ... Who is this John who writes with such assurance and authority? It is foolish to raise such a question, because there is but one John. Instinctively the Christian heart turns to the blessed apostle, that disciple whom the Lord loved.[40] As Hilgenfield remarked:

An unknown John whose name has disappeared from history, leaving hardly any trace behind it, can scarcely have given commands in the name of Christ and of the Spirit to the seven churches.[41]

I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel ... Notice the startling difference between this passage and that of Revelation 19:10. There, John fell down to worship the angel; here he fell down to "worship God" in the presence of the angel. One may only be astounded at the scholarly blindness to this astounding difference in the two incidents. It is not recorded here that John fell down to "worship the angel"; therefore, it must be concluded that John intended to "worship God" before the feet of the angel. Otherwise, we would have to suppose that John deliberately disobeyed the prohibition mentioned on the first occasion. John did not merely forget what he had been commanded. No! this was something different. In this event, he was directing the worship to God, but doing so "before the feet of the angel." We deplore the fact that all of the writers whose works we have examined missed this completely. Note:

John repeats the curious incident of Revelation 19:10.[42] This is the same incident which is here related again.[43] John failed to learn his lesson from the heavenly messenger in Revelation 19:10.[44] This is a duplication.[45] John twice mistook an angel for the Lord Jesus Christ.[46] Either John would have removed this passage as a needless repetition, if he had had opportunity fully to revise his book, or he thought it necessary to give the same warning twice.[47]

All such views do not even see the corral, much less the mule! The overwhelming importance of these two different episodes is that they show the utter sinfulness of bowing down in the presence of even the highest angel in order to worship God.

The derivative teaching from this is that it is likewise sinful to bow down before a man, or before an image in order to worship God. The specious reasoning by which it is pretended that people bow down before images and religious prelates "to worship God" in so doing is dramatically refuted by this.

The prompt action of God's angel in forbidding John to bow down before an angel while in the act of "worshipping God" also forbids the notion that one may bow down before men or images (both of which are far less than an angel) while in the act of worshipping God. "A Christian should assume no prostrating position"[48] before any being, or any thing, in such a manner as to suggest worship. People should worship God only through Christ; but more, they must not assume any kind of position that could suggest worship of any other being, or object. The failure to discern this truth was the basis for the justification of idol worship by the ancient pagans themselves.

Robert H. Charles, Archdeacon of Westminster, said: "The golden calves in Dan, Bethel, and Samaria were treated as outward symbols of deity, and not as deity itself."[49] Most significantly, this is exactly the line of reasoning followed by those who seek to justify the consecration and use of sacred images in the worship of Jesus Christ today. These marvelous passages (both of them) show that it is not merely the worship of an angel (or a man, or an image) that is proscribed and forbidden to Christians, it is the bowing down before them that is also sinful, even though the purpose might be alleged as being to worship God in such a position. What a tragedy that so much of current scholarship seems totally blind to this truth. In the light of this blindness, one may wonder if a move to consecrate sacred images in many Protestant churches today would be resisted.

[40] Walter Scott, Exposition of the Revelation of Jesus Christ (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, n.d.), p. 444.

[41] Hilgenfield as quoted by Walter Scott, op. cit., p. 444.

[42] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 283.

[43] John Wesley, op. cit., in loco.

[44] James D. Strauss, op. cit., p. 289.

[45] Martin Rist, op. cit., p. 545.

[46] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 661.

[47] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 224.

[48] Watchman Nee, "Come, Lord Jesus" (New York: Christian Fellowship Publishers, 1976), p. 252.

[49] Robert H. Charles, The Decalogue (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1923). p. 54.


Verse 9

And he saith unto me, See thou do it not: I am a fellow-servant with thee and with thy brethren the prophets, and with them that keep the words of this book: worship God.

See thou do it not ... worship God ... No matter how John intended it, his bowing down before the angel was sinful, and was in itself an action that was contrary to the heavenly edict, "Worship God."


Verse 10

And he saith unto me, Seal not up the words of the prophecy of this book; for the time is at hand.

Seal not up the words of the prophecy of this book ... "The contents of John's prophecy have a twofold perspective.[50] "Some of the events foretold are to occur many centuries in the future";[51] but parts of Revelation deal with events that confront John's generation. The savage sea-beast is about to turn upon the helpless Christians. In a Roman courtroom, at the headsman's block, or in the brutal arena, the saints are about to be called upon to face their own Calvary; and the courage to face such a trial would be immeasurably aided by the knowledge of the final victory which in God's good time would crown the efforts of the faithful. This was what sent Paul himself to the block shouting the immortal words of 2 Timothy 4:8.

For the time is at hand ... "The impending coming here is not the parousia, but the beginning of the persecutions."[52]

[50] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 291.

[51] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 284.

[52] J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 198.


Verse 11

He that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness still: and he that is filthy, let him be made filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him do righteousness still: and he that is holy, let him be made holy still.

He that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness still ... Apparently, John recognized that this prophecy would complete the New Testament, providing the finality of God's revelation to man. That having been completed, "No greater power could be brought to bear upon them before He comes again.[53] This thought is that of Christ himself who said that one rising from the dead would not be any more convincing than the Scriptures (Luke 16:31). Therefore, for those who will not heed the holy Scriptures, let them go on in their wickedness. "This is a plain call for the reader to put his life in order while there is still opportunity for change."[54] Many writers quote Swete in this context. He said, "There will come a time when change will be impossible, when no further opportunity will be given for repentance on the one hand, or apostasy on the other."[55] However, it is probably the judicial hardening of willful and habitual sinners that best answers to what is here meant. As others have expressed it:

John is saying that there will be no opportunity for last-minute repentance.[56] Do not hinder the man who has completely hardened himself in his wickedness.[57] This is a clear refutation of the doctrine of purgatory and second chance-ism.[58] A man can so long refuse the way of Christ that in the end he cannot take it. That is the sin against the Holy Spirit.[59]

[53] J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 1091.

[54] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 284.

[55] H. B. Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John (London: Macmillan, 1917), p. 305.

[56] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 259.

[57] William Hendriksen, More than Conquerors (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1956), p. 252.

[58] James D. Strauss, op. cit., p. 291.

[59] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 225.


Verse 12

Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to render to each man according as his work is.

Behold, I come quickly For discussion of this, see under Revelation 22:7.

And my reward is with me, to render to each man ... The coming of Christ in the New Testament is invariably associated with the final judgment of the good and bad alike, the good to receive eternal life, and the wicked to receive the second death.

In this verse, "The words take the first person and become the very words of Christ."[60] Although Roberts understood the "coming" here to be not the Second Coming, but his coming in the great ordeal the church was confronting, such views do not take into account the rewards and punishments clearly associated with it in the text. These indicate the Second Coming of Christ in glory to judge the living and the dead. Limiting this to the period of the persecutions coming upon the church when John wrote comes from the acceptance of a narrow preterist system of interpreting this prophecy. The people who passed through that persecution did not receive their rewards then; at least Paul didn't (2 Timothy 2:4).

The usual knee-jerk response to a verse such as this may be illustrated by, "John had no expectation that this age of human history would last even a generation, to say nothing of centuries."[61] Such a dictum flows out of a comprehensive misunderstanding of this whole prophecy, to say nothing of the entire New Testament. See the "Speedy Return of Christ," in my Commentary on 1Thessalonians, pp. 18-20.

According as his work is ... That the final judgment will be related to the deeds of men is so clear and so often repeated in the New Testament that the interpretative denials of it are continuously refuted and checkmated.

[60] J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 196.

[61] Martin Rist, op. cit., p. 546.


Verse 13

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

I am the Alpha and the Omega ... These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet used idiomatically to express comprehensive completeness. In this prophecy it is found in Revelation 1:8; 1:10,11; 21:5,6; 22:13. We agree with Barclay that, "There is more than one idea here. There is the idea of completeness, of eternity and of authority.[62] Actually, all three statements in this verse are parallel aspects of one great truth.

CHRIST; THE ALPHA AND THE OMEGA

"I am the Alpha and the Omega." This is one of the most intriguing things Christ ever said. Of course, the idiom of so using the first and last letters of the alphabet is perhaps as old as language itself. A similar use was made of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, as when Abraham was said to have kept the law from Aleph to Tav; and Psalms 119 is written on the pattern of the same alphabet from Aleph to Tav. Colonial literature in America had the expression one still hears now and then, "From A to Izzard," Izzard, of course, being the old name for Z.

I. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega with reference to his eternal existence. He said, "Before Abraham was, I AM" (John 8:58). Christ is "before all things" (Colossians 1:17), and was "in the beginning" (John 1:1f). He is the same "yesterday, today, and for ever" (Hebrews 13:8).

II. He is the Alpha and the Omega with reference to the atonement for man's sin. The sins of Abel, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of all the pre-Christian world, their sins, no less than ours, are forgiven only through the blood of Christ. He is the Alpha and the Omega concerning human redemption.

III. He is the Alpha and the Omega with reference to the word of God. He was the first to declare fully God's word to people. In a very real sense, Jesus was God's first complete word to men. But if the word in Jesus is first, it is also the last. He revealed that, "The word that I speak, the same shall judge him (man) in the last day" (John 12:48). People shall never be through with the word of Christ; it shall confront them in the final judgment.

IV. He is the Alpha and the Omega of the Christian faith. As the writer of Hebrews said, "He is the author and finisher of our faith (KJV)" (Hebrews 12:2). Regarding the personal redemption of every man, Jesus is the all in all, the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega.

V. He is the Alpha and the Omega as regards the resurrection of the dead. Paul wrote the Colossians that Christ was the "firstborn from the dead," which does not mean that his was the first resurrection of a mortal, but that Christ was the first to be raised from the dead upon whom death would have no further power. Lazarus and others who were "raised" died again, but not so with Christ. He shall be the last in this regard, because it is his word that shall summon all the dead to the final judgment.

VI. He is the Alpha and the Omega in the New Testament. His name is in the first verse and in the last. His titles mark the opening words, and his blessing closes the sacred canon of the New Testament.

VII. He is the Alpha and the Omega in the final judgment. The eternal judgment shall begin with the body of Christ (the church), as indicated by 1 Peter 4:17; and the final word of it shall be pronounced by the Son of God because the father hath committed judgment to the Son (John 5:27). Christ will be the Alpha and the Omega in the eternal judgment.

ENDNOTE:

[62] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 225.


Verse 14

Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have the right to come to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city.

Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have the right ... Some scholars still prefer the KJV rendition of this as, "Blessed are they that do his commandments," which could well be correct. Recent generations of Bible translators are allergic to any mention of "doing" God's commandments. However, as regards this verse, it could not make the slightest difference. "Washing one's robes" and "doing his commandments" are synonymous terms. Either way, there's a lot of doing for the sinner who hopes to be saved. Oh no; he does not thereby earn or merit salvation; but there are nevertheless things to be "done" by the sinner before God will save him. This is one of the seven great beatitudes of Revelation. They are:

i

Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep the things that are written therein (Revelation 1:3).

ii

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord (Revelation 14:13).

iii

Blessed is he that watcheth and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame (Revelation 16:15).

iv

Blessed are they that are bidden to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).

v

Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection (Revelation 10:6).

vi

Blessed is he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book (Revelation 22:7).

vii

Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have the right to come to the tree of life, and to enter in through the gates into the city (Revelation 22:14).

Barclay's comment on this seventh beatitude is excellent:

This shows man's part in salvation. It is Jesus Christ who in his Cross has provided the grace by which alone man can be forgiven; but man has to appropriate that sacrifice ... We can supply soap and water, but we cannot compel a person to use them.[63]

Mounce pointed out that, "The participle, they that wash is in the present tense, suggesting continuous action."[64] One is never through with washing his robes and striving to achieve through Christ that degree of holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. When all that Christ does for people is considered, man's part in redemption is not worthy to be compared with Christ's; but still, Christ has given man a role to play in his salvation; he must wash his robes. He gives the holy bride the glorious garments; but she must put them on (See under Revelation 19:7ff). Free grace gives the white robes to the sinner, but he must take care of the laundering!

[63] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 227.

[64] Robert H. Mounce, Commentaries on the New Testament, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), p. 393.


Verse 15

Without are the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the fornicators, and the murderers, and the idolaters, and every one that loveth and maketh a lie.

Dogs ... "This can denote a thoroughly immoral person, and that may be its meaning here."[65] Male prostitutes in the old pagan temples were commonly called "dogs." The attitude toward dogs in the ancient culture was quite different from that in America today. Dogs were generally wild, vicious, dirty, cowardly, and disgusting. They were the scavengers of ancient cities.

Sorcerers ... The black arts were common in John's day, and they have again become so in our own. Satan still operates in the same old ways; he has not invented a new sin in thousands of years.

Fornicators ... See full comment on this in my Commentary on Hebrews, p. 325.

Murderers ... The Christian view of this is more strict than that of the natural man. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus made the antecedent attitudes of contempt and hatred to be murder "in principle."

Idolaters ... The ancient idolatry was enshrined in the temples of paganism; but the modern idolatry is more subtle, and is identified with self-love and the selfish disregard of others. The old temples with their idol gods are no more, except in some backward nations; but people still worship power, fame, wealth, gold, science, themselves, or humanity anything except the one true and Almighty God.

Every one that loveth and maketh a lie ... Most commentators stress the broad implications of this, noting that it does not say, "anyone who ever told a lie." True as this is, we may not suppose that God takes a light view of any falsehood, however inoffensive it may appear to people.

Without ... This is actually the big word in the whole verse. It does not mean that just outside of God's city such characters as these are lurking and trying to enter. "Their doom is not mere exclusion from the city but is the lake of fire (Revelation 21:8)."[66] "Outside, or without, therefore involves a reference to the lake of fire."[67]

[65] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 227.

[66] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 293.

[67] Martin Rist, op. cit., p. 547.


Verse 16

I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things for the churches. I am the root and offspring of David, the bright, the morning star.

Up to this verse, we have been studying God's authentication of this prophecy (Revelation 22:6-15). See outline under Revelation 22:6. This verse through Revelation 22:19 is the authentication of Jesus the Lord. "Revelation again takes on the aspect of a legal document. Note the legal formula, "I Jesus,' showing that Jesus is bearing witness that his angel was divinely commissioned to show the visions to John."[68] Thus God and Christ attest the authenticity of Revelation; "Two witnesses are wholly sufficient."[69] Thus, this book and all of its words are established as faithful and true (Revelation 22:6) by two witnesses and two attestations, that of God by his angel, and that of Christ himself.

I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify ... We may therefore place infinite trust in what is here revealed. In order that the full weight of just who is testifying here may be seen, Jesus further identified himself in the next lines.

These things for the churches ... This requires that we understand the brief individual messages to the seven churches in the beginning of Revelation as an introduction; the whole book is intended for all of them.

I am the root and the offspring of David ... the morning star ... This ties the end of the New Testament with the very first verse of it (Matthew 1:1); and the mention of the star recalls the light that led the wise men to the manger in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:10f).

The bright, the morning star ... "Christ is the Star of the Dawn, and what James Stewart once in a convocation at Edinburgh called "The Star of the Eschaton.'"[70] This particular pair of metaphors, the root and the star, occurs together nowhere else in the Bible. Perhaps a little closer look at them will prove helpful.

CHRIST; THE ROOT AND THE STAR

Can anyone imagine two things more unlike than a root and a star? This proves that the Holy Spirit gave these words, for no man would ever have dared to describe the Lord in one breath as a root and a star. Yet, both terms are frequently applied to Christ in Scripture. The metaphor of the root appears in Revelation 5:8; Romans 15:12; Isaiah 11:1,2; and in this passage. That of the star is in Numbers 24:17; Matthew 2:2; 2 Peter 1:19. It is the contrast in these metaphors which we shall emphasize.

I. Here is the contrast between the near and the far. A root is near, but a star's distance is measured in light years! Is it not so with Christ? Where two or three are gathered together in his name, there is he; and yet he is at the right hand of the Majesty on High.

II. Here is the contrast between the visible and the invisible. The root is hidden beneath our feet, but the star blazes forth in the sky. That is the way it is with Christ. His influence is hidden and works secretly like leaven in the three measures of meal; but it also blazes forth in all creation. The influence of Christ is so universal and extensive that a fool can see it.

III. Here is a contrast between the earthly and the heavenly. Jesus Christ is both perfect man and perfect God. The New Testament has many examples of the humanity of Christ. He was hungry, tired, sorrowful, etc., like all men; but his miracles proclaim him as God of every God.

IV. Here is the contrast between the local and the universal. A root is fixed. It cannot move, except to creep a short distance from its humble beginning; but a star sweeps through the outer reaches of the universe in an orbit of incomprehensible distances. Its light travels 186,200 miles per second, and that for one million years at a time! A root may be localized and contained in an earthen jar; but a star rises for the whole world to see and hangs a blazing lantern in the sky where none can miss it. Is not also Christ like this? To individuals, Christ is "my Saviour," "my shepherd," etc.; but to the world he is the Christ of the Ages, the Christ of the first century and of the last; he is the Christ of Damascus Road, and the Christ of Every Road. He is the Christ of a little child's bedside and the Christ of all races and conditions of man. He is here; he is also everywhere.

V. Here is the contrast with that which is small and that which is big. A root may be so small that an eye can hardly see it; but a star may be so large that a million worlds cannot be compared with it. Jesus Christ is so great that time and space cannot contain him; but he was also wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. Mary clutched him to her breast" and little children sing of the "Little Lord Jesus"; but multitudes of the heavenly host fall down in his presence.

VI. Here is the contrast between the high and the low. A star is high; a root is low. Christ is both:

There's not a friend like the lowly Jesus;

No friend like him is so high and holy;

And yet no friend is so meek and lowly![71]SIZE>

VII. Here is the contrast between that which needs man's care and that which needs nothing. A root must be watered and cultivated; a star needs absolutely nothing from man. Just so, Christ is above and beyond all people. Nothing that men can do can either cause or prevent the everlasting glory that pertains to him; and yet Christ needs people. There are certain phases of his work that cannot get on without men. Christ works through his human children, and their labors are important to the Eternal. "For it is God who worketh in you both and to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).

[68] Olivia Crouch, All Things New (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1976), p. 230.

[69] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 663.

[70] Ralph Earle, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 10 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 625.

[71] Johnson Oatman, Jr., There's Not a Friend, Hymn No. 267, Great Songs of the Church (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company).


Verse 17

And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And he that heareth, let him say, Come. And he that is athirst, let him come: he that will, let him take the water of life freely.

The Spirit and the bride say, Come ... "The Spirit is the Holy Spirit, and the bride is the church (Revelation 21:2,9). It is the testimony of the church empowered by the Holy Spirit."[72] Note that there are four invitations in this verse, yet there is only one. "It is not as though the Spirit says, Come; and then also the bride says, Come; but the Spirit moves in her, and she is moved by him."[73]

Come ... This is what people have to do if they wish to be saved. This verb implies that unless men shall "come," they shall continue to be lost. This means that God in Christ has already done everything that even God can do to save people, and that the next move is up to them. This also inherently teaches that it is possible for people to do this. No enabling act on God's part is necessary; it is the human will that must respond to this call.

And he that heareth, let him say, Come ... Roberts tells us that, "There is evidence from early sources (Didache 10:6-7), that this was a liturgical prayer used in the ritual of the Lord's supper."[74] This is no doubt correct; and it is most important in determining the meaning of "come" in this passage and elsewhere in the New Testament. The word maranatha, transliterated from the Aramaic was commonly used in such rituals, and it may be written either marana tha, or as maran atha (The old manuscripts did not divide between words.). Note the discussion of these two ways of dividing this word in 1 Corinthians 16:2, and see the discussion in my Commentary on 1Corinthians, pp. 284,285. Remember that there is just as much authority for rendering "Come, Lord Jesus" as "The Lord has come,"[75] as there is for understanding it as a petition for him to come. In fact, there is a double meaning in it. It means, "Come Lord, and be with us in the communion, as thou hast promised"; but it also means, "Lord, come in the Second Advent." The Supper itself was observed with reference to that future event as well as a reference to the crucifixion. What better way could there have been to preserve this mystical implication than by using one word that gathered up multiple meanings in itself, maranatha? The late great Christian scholar, J. W. Roberts, left us this priceless comment:

At the table (of the Lord's Supper) they saw his presence with the eye of faith and took it as a pledge of his ultimate manifestation at the parousia ... (John) knows that the church will join in saying of Christ, Come.[76]

The double meaning here extends even further than this, for the saying of "Come" by the Spirit and by the church also refers to the invitation for men to accept the gospel, as already pointed out.

The key word in this passage should be rendered maranatha, as a single word with two meanings. It is a tragedy that the usual scholarly bias to the effect that all of the first century Christians believed the Second Advent to be scheduled for their immediate future has caused them to edit out of the word one of its legitimate meanings by writing it marana tha. We defy anyone to deny that there is just as much authority for writing it maran atha. To divide the word at all is to impose an interpretation upon it. The true meaning is that, "The Christians prayed for the Lord to come in whatever manner of visitation he should choose."[77]

And let him that heareth say, Come ... This is directed not to the Lord but to sinners to accept the gospel. "The personal responsibility of each Christian to bear testimony to the lordship of Christ is here asserted."[78] We also agree with Strauss that many Christians are not living up to this trust, because, "The contemporary church is snarled up in the clergy system."[79]

It will be noted here that we construe the first two "Comes" as directed to Christ, and the latter two as directed to sinners. Beasley-Murray also concurred: "It is more likely that John intends us to view the call in the first two sentences as directed to the Lord."[80] H. B. Swete also took this view.[81]

[72] Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 395.

[73] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 670.

[74] J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 201.

[75] F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), p. 100.

[76] J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 201.

[77] Ibid., p. 202.

[78] James D. Strauss, op. cit., p. 293.

[79] Ibid.

[80] G. R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 344.

[81] H. B. Swete, as quoted by William Barclay, op. cit., p. 229.


Verse 18

I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book.

The sacred prohibition against either adding to or taking from the word of God may not be restricted to the book of Revelation. We have already noted that John was conscious of this book's being the last of the sacred canon (see under 5:11); and it should be observed here that John tailored his words to include both his prophecy and the canon. "Prophecy of this book" (Revelation 22:18), means the book of Revelation; "book of this prophecy" (Revelation 22:19) means the entire Bible. There is the additional fact that the prohibition against adding to or taking from, is here identical with the warning in the Old Testament to the same effect (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32). John was not conscious merely of writing Scripture, but of writing the final Scripture.

The solemn prohibitions here are not directed solely against copyists, but against all perverters of sacred truth.[82] We view these two verses as the words of Jesus." Swete says, "The speaker is surely Jesus."[83] Why should John have appended this here when he did not do so in the case of his gospel? This action here, signaling the end of the New Testament, was not taken by John, but by Jesus.

The prophecy of this book ... "The Apocalypse is a book of prophecy; four times it is called that in Revelation (Revelation 1:3; 22:10,18,19 and here)."[84]

If any man shall add unto them ... "Those who allow this book to form a basis of unbridled fancy, or a ground of bitter dispute and controversy cannot be excused from serious blame and fault."[85] Certainly the importing of whole systems of theological speculations must be seen as forbidden. Wesley understood the prohibitions "as applicable to the whole New Testament."[86] "God's word is neither a human discovery, nor a human invention."[87] We should recognize such truth in all our studies of the word of God.

If any man shall take away from the words ...

Inasmuch as this portion of the word of God is rooted in, interwoven with, and is the completion of, all the word of God, it becomes impossible to tamper with this final book without maltreating what had been given by God before.[88]

"These words are a solemn protest against the spirit which handles rashly or deceitfully God's word."[89] Any violation of God's word, whether by adding to it, or taking from it, or by making one's wishes the parent of his interpretation, is strictly prohibited. The tendency of people to violate the word of God evidently underlies the efforts of some to make these verses not the words of the apostle, but of "some later scribe, anxious that none should alter the book in the days to come."[90] Alford noted that, "This is an awful warning to those who add to it by irreverent and trifling interpretations."[91]

It is the humble prayer of this student of the Scriptures that none of the interpretations presented either add to or subtract from what is written. Any view, or any interpretation that violates what the text says should be rejected.

[82] Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 779.

[83] H. B. Swete, op. cit., p. 311.

[84] W. A. Criswell, Expository Sermons on Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962). IV. p. 166.

[85] Charles R. Erdman, The Revelation of John (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1966), p. 180.

[86] John Wesley, op. cit., in loco.

[87] George Eldon Ladd. op. cit., p. 296.

[88] G. H. Lang, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (London: Portsmouth Press, 1945), p. 385.

[89] W. Boyd Carpenter, Ellicott's Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing Company, 1959), p. 636.

[90] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 232.

[91] Alford as quoted by Lenski, op. cit., p. 673.


Verse 20

He who testifieth these things saith, Yea: I come quickly. Amen: come, Lord Jesus.

In this terse statement, "Christ sums up the book."[92] This also has the utility of revealing Christ as the author of the two previous verses. They are Christ's words, not even John's, much less the words of some nameless scribe.

Yea; I come quickly. Amen: come, Lord Jesus ... See under Revelation 22:17 for further discussion of the use of these expressions in the New Testament church. As Caird summed it up:

No one who has ever read John's book can have any doubt about what the prayer is asking. It is a prayer that Christ will come again to win in the faith of his servants the victory which is both Calvary and Armageddon.[93]

Caird also pointed out the responsive nature of this verse, indicating "its standing in the liturgical setting of the eucharist, answered by the eucharistic prayer maranatha (1 Corinthians 16:22)."[94] Beckwith also identified these last words with the maranatha of 1 Corinthians 16:22.[95] See under Revelation 22:17 for the mystical double meaning of this expression. Any argument from this that the early Christians expected the literal return of Christ in their generation is absolutely untenable. Many scholars do not understand how the church of all ages prays, "Oh, Lord come," without any sense of failure due to his not having come in his Second Advent, even yet; but the answer is right here in the double meaning of this passage.

As Criswell said:

It is hard for us finite creatures of the dust and of time to realize, that there is no such thing as "time" with God. He sees the beginning; he sees the end; he sees the present; and all are alike to him. Even to us the coming of the Lord "is near," as near as the length of our life away.[96]

[92] J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 1092.

[93] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 288.

[94] Ibid.

[95] Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 780.

[96] W. A. Criswell, op. cit., IV, p. 180.


Verse 21

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with the saints, Amen.

This conclusion stands in the same category as the precious benedictions of Paul in the rest of the New Testament. "It is surely symbolical, and it is surely fitting, that the last words of the Bible should be GRACE!"[97]

Revelation is written for the saints, to them alone it is spoken; they alone can keep it. Let no man think that if he has not already found Christ that he may find him here. Here indeed, faith and love are the key to knowledge.[98]

Strauss made the similar observation that, "Revelation is not for the curiosity seeker or for religious fanatics, but for all those who would continue to the end."[99]

As we meditate upon this, the last verse of the New Testament, we feel something of the emotions of many others who have concluded similar studies in the word of God. Carpenter concluded with this prayer:

May He (who alone can) open our eyes to see the shining towers of the Heavenly Jerusalem; and may he unseal our ears, and bind us by his love to that sweet service and citizenship which are perfect freedom, and bring us to that spiritual city which is full of divine enchantment.[100]

Adam Clarke composed a few lines of poetry, the first two (lines) regarding himself, and the last four for his readers:

Like travelers when they see their native soil, Writers rejoice to terminate their toil. My latest labour's end at length is gained, My longest journey's welcome goal attained, By God's assistance has the work been wrought, By his direction to your dwellings brought.[101]

Our own thoughts area strange mingling of joy and sorrow. We praise God that, through some twelve years of intensive New Testament study, life, vigor, and health have been graciously preserved by the Lord, and that my precious wife, Thelma, has likewise been preserved and blessed as a sharer in these labors. But no joy of completion can equal that of having been permitted to think God's thoughts after him and to pursue the sacred writings with invariable purpose for so long. The conclusion of any worthy effort of such duration is necessarily also an occasion of melancholy. An era in our lives is over; and through our tears we write, "Blessed be the name of the Lord." Houston, Texas, March 17,1979.

[97] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 232.

[98] Charles H. Roberson, Studies in Revelation (Tyler, Texas: P. D. Wilmeth, P.O. Box 3305,1957), p. 198.

[99] James D. Strauss, op. cit., p. 295.

[100] W. Boyd Carpenter, op. cit., p. 637.

[101] Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Holy Bible (London: Carlton and Porter, 1829), VI, p. 170.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Revelation 22:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/revelation-22.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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