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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Revelation 22

 

 


Introduction

Verse 1

Revelation 22:1. And he showed me a river of water of lift, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. No scenery is complete without water; and more especially to the Jew, accustomed to a burning climate and a thirsty land, water was the constant symbol of all that was refreshing and quickening to men. The joy of the heavenly city could not, therefore, be perfect without it, ‘There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High’ (Psalms 46:4; comp. also Ezekiel 47:1-12). The river here spoken of corresponds to that of Genesis 2:10, but it is a still brighter stream. It comes ‘out of the throne of God and of the Lamb,’ out of the highest and most blessed of all sources, God Himself, our God, revealed to us in His Son in whom He is well pleased. The waters are those of peace and spiritual life: Jerusalem’s ‘peace is like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream’ (Isaiah 66:12). Not only so; the waters are ‘bright as crystal,’ of sparkling purity and clearness.


Verse 2

Revelation 22:2. In the midst of the street of it. These words are best connected with the words immediately preceding, and they thus describe the course of the river. We are again, as in chap. Revelation 21:21, to understand the word ‘street’ genetically, so that the picture presented to us is that of a clear stream flowing down the middle of each street of the city, bordered with trees on either side. Yet these trees are one tree.

And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve harvests of fruits, yielding her fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. The idea of the ‘tree of life’ is no doubt taken from Genesis 2:9. It grows on either side of the river, nourished by its waters and shading its banks. Interpreters differ as to the meaning of the second clause of the verse, some preferring the rendering given above, others that of the Authorised Version, ‘twelve manner of fruits.’ A good sense may be obtained from the latter interpretation, which will point us to the variety, ever new, of the enjoyments provided for the inhabitants of the city. But the former interpretation appears to be preferable. It is almost demanded by the third clause of the verse, ‘yielding her fruit every month,’ which carries our thoughts much more to the same fruit produced every month than to twelve successive varieties of fruit. Besides this, the general idea of the passage is rather that of continuous nourishment than of variety of blessings. Finally, the thought has direct reference to that upon which the believer lives, and this is always one and the same: ‘Christ’ liveth in us (comp. chap. Revelation 2:7). It is unnecessary to say that the number twelve is not to be understood literally. The supply of fruit, at once for the nourishment and the delectation of the saints, never fails.—In the last clause of the verse it. Is not implied that any inhabitants of the new earth stand in need of healing. For the same reason it is impossible to think that ‘the nations’ here spoken of have yet to be converted. They have already entered that better world to which the old world has given place. That they are ‘healed’ can signify no more than this, that they are kept in constant soundness of health by what is there administered to them. As we must persevere throughout eternity in faith, so also shall we persevere in health (comp. on John 20:31). ‘The nations’ we have already seen to be full partakers of all the blessings of the city (chap. Revelation 21:24). They include Jewish as well as Gentile Christians, and the importance of both classes, not the inferiority of either, is the leading thought


Verse 3

Revelation 22:3. And there shall be no more anything accursed, anything upon which the curse of the Almighty rests, and fit only to be cast out of His presence.

And the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it. What throne is this? The three clauses that follow appear to show that it is the throne of God in the innermost recess of His sanctuary. The ‘throne’ therefore is not concealed. The redeemed have constant access to it.

And his servants shall do him service. They shall perform their priestly functions for ever in His presence.


Verse 4

Revelation 22:4. And they shall see his face. It had been said to Moses by the Almighty, ‘Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see Me, and live’ (Exodus 33:20). But the blessing denied to the great leader of the hosts of Israel is granted to those who are taken up into the Mount with God. He is revealed to them in the Son, and they shall ‘see Him even as He is’ (1 John 3:2). The beatific vision of the pure in heart is that ‘they shall see God’ (Matthew 5:8).

And his name shall be on their foreheads. The name referred to is that of God and of the Lamb. As the high priest of old wore upon his forehead a plate of gold with the name of Jehovah inscribed upon it. So the redeemed, now all high priests in the sanctuary, shall wear the same name upon their foreheads. Nothing is said of the golden plate. The name is written upon the forehead itself.


Verse 5

Revelation 22:5. And there shall be night no more. We have already had a similar statement in chap. Revelation 21:25, but it is now repeated in a different connection and with a different purpose. Then it was to indicate that the gates of the city shall be continually open, so that the redeemed may continually enter with their gifts in order to magnify its King. Now it is to show that, having entered, they shall suffer no interruption in their joyful service, and shall need no nightly rest to recruit the weary frame for the service of the following day. They shall be always strong and vigorous for the service of their Lord.

And they need no light of lamp, neither light of sun, for the Lord God shall give them light. Did they need light of lamp or sun, it would show that they were still amidst the changes of this fleeting scene, for the lamp wastes as it burns, and the sun hastens daily to his setting. But He who is ‘without variableness or shadow cast by turning’ is now their light, and that light never fades. As their frame never wearies for service, so the conditions necessary for the accomplishment of that service never fail.

And they shall reign for ever and ever. The transition is sudden, almost startling, for we have been reading only of ‘service.’ Yet it is eminently characteristic of St. John, who constantly delights at the close of a passage to return to his earlier steps, and to close as he had begun. He has reached the consummation of the happiness of the saints of God, and of what can it remind him but of his very earliest words, words too the echo of which has run through the whole of the Apocalypse, ‘And he made us to be a kingdom, to be priests unto His God and Father’ (chap. Revelation 1:6)? It is true that the redeemed are priests, but they are more than priests. He with whom they are one is a ‘priest after the order of Melchizedek,’ both priest and king. In like manner they are both priests and kings; they ‘sit down with their Lord in His throne, even as He also overcame, and sat down with His Father in His throne’ (chap. Revelation 3:21). They share the Divine authority over all things around them, and their authority is without interruption and without end. They reign ‘for ever and ever.’


Verse 6

Revelation 22:6. And he said unto me, These words are faithful and true (comp. on chap. Revelation 21:5). There is no ground to think that we have here a recapitulation by St. John himself of the things that had been spoken to him. We hear rather the words of the angel who has been throughout the whole book the medium by which the revelations contained in it have been communicated. Nor are we to confine the ‘words’ to which reference is made to those connected with the vision of the New Jerusalem. They refer, as appears especially from Revelation 22:7, to all the visions of the book.

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. It is doubtful whether by the expression ‘the spirits of the prophets’ we are to understand the spirits of the prophets themselves, which belong to God and which He uses for His own purposes, or the Spirit of God, that Spirit by which of old ‘men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Ghost’ (2 Peter 1:21). The latter appears to be the true interpretation, for it directs us more immediately to that Divine inspiration to which it is the object of the Seer to trace all the revelations which he had enjoyed, and it connects us more closely with that Prologue of the book which is at present in his mind. In chap. Revelation 1:4 we have read of the ‘seven Spirits which are before His throne,’ that is, of the one Spirit of God in the completeness and manifoldness of His gifts. Here, in like manner, we are led to think of the varied gifts of prophetic power with which God had been pleased to endow the commissioned servants of His will. The things revealed in this instance were those already spoken of in chap. Revelation 1:1, where the same words are employed to describe them. It is curious to find the word ‘servants’ in this verse, when in chap. Revelation 1:1 we had only one servant spoken of. Yet we cannot suppose that under the plural form are included those Christians for whose behoof the revelations had been given. It can only include those to whom they had been made. Perhaps the explanation may be that, as ‘the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy’ (chap. Revelation 19:10), St. John here unites with himself the prophets of God in all past ages. All of them, though ‘in divers portions and by divers manners’ (Hebrews 1:1), had had one revelation to proclaim; and, although that revelation had now reached a fulness which it had not previously attained, the last stage in the unfolding of God’s will was only the completing of what had gone before,


Verses 6-21

The Apocalypse began with a Prologue. As in the case of the Fourth Gospel, it now ends with a corresponding Epilogue, in which the great importance of all the revelations it had contained is again set before us, and we are urged anew to the acceptance of the blessings and an avoidance of the plagues of which it speaks. At the same time various particulars of the Prologue are taken up, and the whole book is presented to us in its compact unity.


Verse 7

Revelation 22:7. And behold, I come quickly. The Lord Himself is introduced as the speaker, as He at once summarises the contents of the book, and presents to His Church that theme which was her encouragement and hope amidst all her troubles. The words are not to be regarded as those of the angel. They are rather a parenthesis on the part of St John himself, as he lovingly recalls the thought that was to him the chief spring of life and joy.

Blessed is he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book. After the parenthesis the words of the angel are resumed. It is true, that at the time when they were uttered the book had not been written. But the command had been given that it should be written (chap. Revelation 1:19), and the task might easily be viewed as already accomplished. The book indeed was but a transcript of those eternal verities which had been written in the counsels of God from before the foundation of the world (comp. on chap. Revelation 21:5). The word ‘keepeth’ is a favourite one with the Apostle. It is not enough to hear or to enjoy. The Son ‘kept’ the Father’s commandments, and it is the test of the love of believers, ‘If ye love Me, ye will keep My commandments’ (John 14:15).


Verse 8

Revelation 22:8. And I, John, am he that heard and saw these things. Once more, as at chap. Revelation 1:1; Revelation 1:4, the Seer names himself, thus again binding together the opening and closing paragraphs of his book,—a clear proof that by the words ‘these things’ we are to understand the contents of the whole book and not merely those of its latest section. On the importance of seeing and hearing, comp. 1 John 1:1-2.

And when I heard and saw I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which showed me these things. Once before, at chap. Revelation 19:10, he had done the same thing, and had been corrected for it. We need not wonder that he should do it again; nor is it necessary to think that, having just heard the words ‘Behold, I come quickly, he may have been doubtful whether the angel before him was the Lord Himself or not. Such had been the glory of the revelations that a mistake of this kind might easily be made more than once. But, whenever made, it was needful that it should be pointed out.


Verse 9

Revelation 22:9. The angel forbids the worship that would have been paid him, and adds, I am a fellow-servant with thee, and with thy brethren the prophets, and with them which keep the words of this book: worship God. Before God alone must all His creatures bow. All are only His ‘servants,’ and it is their duty to encourage one another in their mutual service. It is needless to say that distinctions of office are not here denied; but there is something deeper than office in which Christians are one.


Verse 10

Revelation 22:10. And he saith unto me, Seal not up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand. At chap. Revelation 1:19 St. John had been commanded to ‘write,’ now he is commanded to proclaim what he had written. The Apocalypse was not to be a sealed and hidden book like that of Daniel (chaps. Daniel 8:26, Daniel 12:4). It was to be opened for the instruction and the guidance of the Church. There was not a moment to be lost. The Lord was at hand. Let all who believed that truth prepare themselves for His coming.


Verse 11

Revelation 22:11. He that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness still: and he that is filthy, let him be made filthy still: he that is righteous, let him do righteousness still: and he that is holy, let him be made holy still. It is not possible to separate these words from the last clause of Revelation 22:10 or from Revelation 22:12. But the question still remains, In what sense are they to be understood? Are they a warning to the wicked as well as the good, so that the former may repent while there is time? They can hardly be looked at in this light. There is no appearance of an exhortation to the wicked to repent either in the passage before us or in any other part of the Apocalypse; and in Revelation 22:12 ‘reward’ only, not punishment, is spoken of. The Apocalypse is a book for the Church, although indirectly it appeals to the world. Or, do the words contain the truth that the mystery of God’s dealings is finished, and that nothing more will be done by Him to lead men to change their state? This we must take to be the meaning, a meaning applicable not simply to the few moments immediately preceding the Lord’s coming, but to the whole Christian era. The words contain that solemn lesson often taught in Scripture, but nowhere so impressively as in the writings of St. John, that the revelation of Christ is the final test of the character, and the final arbiter of the fate, of man. It is the revelation of that Light which appeals to the spark of light in the breast of every one. Will one listen to the appeal; will he follow that voice of his nature which bids him bring his light to the Light,—then his little spark will be kindled into a bright ever-enduring flame. Will he close himself against the light, will he, because he loves the darkness, refuse to admit the light,—then his darkness shall continue and deepen, and the little spark that might have been fanned into ever-increasing brightness will expire. Under the influences of the Gospel of Christ we make out our own destinies; we sow the harvest that we shall eventually reap. Such is the great moral spectacle upon which, as he surveys the history of man, the eye of St. John always rests. It is this that lends to the world its solemnity, and to the revelation that is in Christ Jesus its unspeakable importance. We need not remain unrighteous and filthy: we may not remain righteous and holy; but, whatever the changes that we experience, this is true, that we are fixing our own character and conduct every day we live, and that, if judgment overtake us at the last, the result will be traceable to no arbitrary decree, but to the manner in which, as moral beings, we met the conditions of that moral system in the midst of which we have been placed.


Verse 12

Revelation 22:12. In conformity with the general tenor of the Apocalypse, this verse is to be regarded as addressed only to the righteous. The word reward in it is not to be understood in a neutral sense, but as indicating what it naturally means. Every man whose work is pleasing to the Lord shall receive the welcome and the blessing which the faithful Lord is ready to bestow.


Verse 13

Revelation 22:13. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. These words confirm the statement made in the previous verse (comp. chap. Revelation 21:6). They take us back also to chap. Revelation 1:8.


Verse 14

Revelation 22:14. Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city. The thought of the blessed ‘reward’ that had been spoken of fills the mind of Him who is to bestow it, and He accordingly continues in this and the next following verse to enlarge upon it. Those who are to enjoy that reward are evidently conceived of as one class, the Church of Christ as a whole, not two classes, Jewish and Gentile Christians. All have ‘washed their robes,’ and in that respect they are one. In the two last clauses of the verse their blessedness is presented under two points of view—first, they have ‘a right to,’ literally, they have authority over, ‘the tree of life,’ so that they may eat continually of its fruit; secondly, they ‘enter in by the gates into the city.’ This last we might have expected to be mentioned first, for the tree of life grows within the city. But the first is the most important, and therefore receives the place of prominence. It is also possible that, as it is ‘the right’ to the tree of life that is spoken of, the eating of the tree may be separately viewed. The order may be—first, the right; secondly, the entering; thirdly, the eating.


Verse 15

Revelation 22:15. Without are the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the fornicators, and the murderers, and the idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie. These words appear to be added, net so much for the sake of telling us what shall be the fate of the sinful classes mentioned, as for the sake of enhancing by contrast that description of the blessedness of the righteous which had been given in the previous verse. The latter are within the city, separated for ever from the classes now described, the very mention of which awakens pain and horror in the mind. The word ‘dogs’ is a general appellative applicable to all these classes, and is to be explained by remembering the light in which such animals were regarded by the Jews (Psalms 22:16; Psalms 22:20; comp. Matthew 7:6; Philippians 3:2). This general appellation is then subdivided (comp. chap. Revelation 21:8).


Verse 16

Revelation 22:16. I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things for the churches. The closing message of the Book begins with these words, and it comes from Him who only here, and in His words to Saul (Acts 9:5), calls Himself by the name ‘Jesus.’ The word, therefore, must be understood in its most emphatic sense, the Saviour, He who saves His people from their sins and leads them in triumph to the promised rest. In the words employed by Him He first confirms what had been said in chap. Revelation 1:1, and then points out the persons to whom as well as those for whose behoof the testimony had been given. ‘I have sent,’ it is stated, ‘unto you.’ The persons thus referred to seem to be the ‘angels’ of the churches, not special office-bearers of any kind, but the churches in their action, in their presentation of themselves to the world in life and action. It is indeed possible that, as in Revelation 22:6 of this chapter we found the Seer coming before us as the representative of all those there called God’s ‘servants,’ so here we may have the plural ‘you’ because he is again regarded in the same light. The other explanation, however, is simpler, and finds some confirmation in the connection between so many different parts of the Prologue and the Epilogue. While thus testified to the churches in action, the things contained in this book are testified ‘for the churches,’ i.e for the seven churches mentioned in chap. 1, but considered as a representation and embodiment of the whole Church.—In the first words of this verse the Lord had described Himself as Jesus. The words which follow, I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright, the morning star, enlarge this description, and that in the manner of those double pictures which are so common in the writings of St. John. The first picture is taken from the circle of Jewish associations, the second from the field of the world. By the ‘root’ of David, we are not to understand that root out of which David sprang as if, when taken along with the following words, we had here a declaration that Jesus was both the ‘Lord’ and the ‘Son’ of David (comp. Matthew 22:45). The ‘root of David’ is rather the shoot which proceeds from David after he and his house have fallen, and it only expresses in a figure what is more plainly stated in the use of the word ‘offspring.’ But not only so, Jesus is also ‘the bright, the morning star,’ the most brilliant star in the firmament of heaven, now the harbinger of that day the light of which never dims. This is the Gentile, perhaps more properly the general, portion of the figure. David’s was a local name: the eyes of all nations are fixed with interest and delight upon the morning star (comp. chaps. Revelation 5:5, Revelation 2:28).


Verse 17

Revelation 22:17. And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. He that will, let him take the water of life freely. It is not easy to determine exactly the bearing of the different clauses of this verse, and much diversity of opinion prevails upon the point. They are commonly regarded either as a continuation of the words of Jesus in Revelation 22:16, or as the answer of the Church and the believing soul. Neither view is consistent with them as a whole. On the one hand, there is something unnatural in putting into the mouth of the Lord Himself those two cries addressed to Him to ‘come’ which are contained in the first two clauses. No other instance of the kind occurs in the Apocalypse, frequently as His Coming is there spoken of. On the other hand, it is equally unnatural to look upon the last two clauses as a response of the Church to her Lord; while, if her mind is at the moment as full as we know it to be of the Coming of Jesus, it is not easy to comprehend how she could pass so rapidly to a meaning of the word ‘come’ different from that which occupied all her thoughts. In these circumstances we venture to suggest that we may have here an interchange of thought and feeling between Jesus and His Church. He is coming: the Church is waiting in joyful assurance that He is at hand. Both the Lord and His Church are at a moment of highest rapture. What more natural than that at such a moment they should exchange their sentiments in the blessed fellowship of a common joy? If this be allowed, the first two clauses will be the answer of the Church to Him who has just described Himself by the glorious titles of Revelation 22:16. The Spirit working in the Church, and teaching her to long and cry for that Coming with which all her hopes are associated, together with the Church herself, no sooner think of the testimony of Christ as ended than they can restrain themselves no longer, and by the voice of the Church they both cry ‘Come’ (comp. on John 15:26-27). The Seer adds, in words expressing substantially the same thought, ‘Let him that heareth,’—him that heareth in faith, and to whom the glorious prospects of this book are a reality,—let him cry ‘Come.’ Then Jesus Himself takes up the ‘Come,’ ‘Let him that is athirst come.’ We must understand these words in the same sense as that in which we have understood the similar words of chap. Revelation 21:6. The thirst referred to is not the first thirst of the sinner after salvation. It is the constant longing of one who has already been refreshed for deeper and fuller draughts; and to each one who so thirsts the Lord says ‘Come.’ So also with the last clause of the verse. The persons referred to are already believers, within the city, within reach of the water of life; and to them the Lord says, Let them take it ‘freely,’ without hesitation and without stint.


Verse 18-19

Revelation 22:18-19. It seems best to suppose that we have the Apostle before us as the speaker in this verse. Nothing in it is stronger, or more incompatible with what we know of his meekness and humility, than are the words of chap. Revelation 1:3 to a very similar effect. Besides, we have not so much the man as the prophet before us, one who is in the Spirit, who speaks in the consciousness of his Divine commission, and to whom are imparted the boldness of his Master and His cause. For a similar command of Moses, see Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 12:32.


Verse 20

Revelation 22:20. He which testifieth these things saith Yea: I come quickly. Amen: Come, Lord Jesus. The structure of this verse resembles what we have already found to be that of Revelation 22:17, an exchange of sentiment between the Lord and the believer. Jesus Himself speaks first, testifying to that great truth of His Coming which has been the main theme of the whole revelation of this book; and adding, as suited the moment at which we have arrived, that He comes ‘quickly.’ To this the believer or the Church answers ‘Amen,’ and then adds, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’ The Coming of Christ has been the source of her hope, the spring of her joy, throughout all her troubles. When she hears that it is at hand, what can she do but lift up her head and cry ‘Come’?

Nothing now remains but that the Apostle, as he had begun at chap. Revelation 1:4 in epistolary form, should in like manner close. He does it with a benediction which ought to read differently from that of the Authorised Version, The grace of the Lord Jesus be with the saints. The words are in striking harmony with what we have found to be the tone and character of the whole book. It was especially intended to describe the fortunes of ‘the saints;’ it was written for their sakes, to encourage and strengthen them; it has now reached a point at which we behold nothing but saints in the new heavens and new earth; and its closing salutation is to them.

Amen, so let it be.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Revelation 22:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/revelation-22.html. 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 26th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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