Sunday, December 19, 2021

78. The Revelation: Reasons for Responding to God's Invitation (Rev. 22:13-21)


In these its concluding verses, the Bible comes full circle. It opened with the promise of a coming Savior, who would redeem His people from their sins. That promise, which came immediately after the fall, is recorded in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” Just as the Bible opens with the promise of Christ’s first coming, so it ends with the promise of His second coming. God’s final invitation to sinners comes in verse 17. Surrounding that invitation are several incentives designed to motivate people to respond to it.

The Invitation

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 wishes take the water of life without cost. (Rev. 22:17)

There are two distinct invitations in this verse, separated by the two exclamations, “Come.” The first part of the verse is a prayer addressed to Christ. The second part is an invitation addressed to unbelievers. The first part calls for Christ to come. The second part is the last call for unbelievers to come to faith in Christ.

To Jesus’ promise of His imminent return (verses 7, 12, 20), the Holy Spirit responds, “Come.” The text does not specify why the Spirit especially desires Jesus to return, but the rest of Scripture suggests both a negative and a positive reason.

Negatively, men and women throughout history have continually rejected Christ. Throughout the long, dark centuries of mankind’s sin and rebellion, the Spirit has worked to bring about conviction and repentance (John 16:8–11). When the Lord Jesus Christ says He is coming, the Holy Spirit echoes, “Come.” He pleads with Christ to return and end the Spirit’s long battle to produce conviction in hard-hearted people. On the positive side, it is the desire and ministry of the Spirit to glorify Christ (John 16:14). The Spirit longs to see Jesus exalted in beauty, splendor, power, and majesty. That will happen when Christ returns in triumph at His second coming.

The Holy Spirit is not the only one who longs for Christ’s return. Echoing His plea for Christ to come is the bride (the church). Throughout the centuries, God’s people have waited for Christ’s return. They long for Him to return and take them to heaven to live with Him forever (John 14:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:17). Believers are, in the words of Paul, those “who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). It is incongruous for someone to claim to love Jesus Christ and not long for His return.

The second use of the exclamation “Come” signals a change in perspective. The invitation is no longer for Christ to return, but for sinners to come to saving faith in Him. The phrase “let the one who hears say, ‘Come’ ” invites those who hear the Spirit and the bride to join with them in calling for Christ’s return.

The one who hears is further defined as “the one who is thirsty.” Thirst is a familiar biblical concept picturing the strong sense of spiritual need that is a prerequisite for repentance. Earlier in Revelation He promised, “I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost” (21:6).

Adding another dimension to the invitation, John writes “let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.” That unlimited invitation is typical of the broad, sweeping, gracious offers of salvation made in Scripture. It also illustrates the biblical truth that salvation involves both God’s sovereign choice (John 6:44) and human choice. God saves sinners, but only those who recognize their need and repent. The water of life is offered without cost to the sinner because Jesus paid the price for it through His sacrificial death on the cross.

The Incentives

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

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.

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

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. (Rev. 22:13–16, 18–21).

Surrounding the invitation in verse 17 are four incentives for sinners to accept it:

1. Because of Christ’s Person (22:13, 16)

The first reason for sinners to accept God’s final invitation is because it comes personally from Jesus Christ. The Lord’s threefold identification of Himself repeats the same truth for emphasis. Since the original readers of Revelation spoke Greek, Jesus identifies Himself first as “the Alpha and the Omega.” These words represent the symbols that form the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Together with the parallel phrases “the first and the last” (1:17) and “the beginning and the end,” it expresses Christ’s infinity, eternity, and boundless life transcending all limitations.

Christ further identifies Himself in His own words in verse 16. But before doing so, He tells John, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you.” Though angels communicated the Apocalypse to John, its source was Jesus. The expression “I, Jesus” appears only here in the Bible. It establishes that this final invitation in Scripture is not a human invitation, but a divine call issued personally to sinners by Jesus Christ. The Apocalypse is addressed to the churches (1:11), though they are to proclaim it to the entire world (22:10).

Then, in an astounding statement, Jesus declares Himself to be both “the root and the descendant of David.” That phrase sums up the biblical teaching on Christ’s two natures. Only the God-man can be both David’s ancestor and his descendant. In His deity, Christ is David’s root (Mark 12:35–37). In His humanity, He is David’s descendant (2 Samuel 7:12–16; Psalm 132:11–12).

Finally, Jesus describes Himself as “the bright morning star.” To call someone a star was to exalt him (Daniel 12:3). In extrabiblical Jewish writings, the coming Messiah was called a star. As the morning star announces the day’s arrival, so Jesus’ coming will announce the end of the darkness of humanity’s night and the glorious dawn of His kingdom. Christ is the “Light of the world” (John 8:12) who calls sinners to drink of the water of life.

2. Because of the Exclusivity of Heaven (Rev. 22:14–15)

This section begins with the last of the seven beatitudes in Revelation, each introduced by the pronouncement “blessed.” This blessing is pronounced on “those who wash their robes.” That phrase graphically portrays the believer’s participation in the death of Christ (7:14). “Soiled clothes” represent sinfulness in Isaiah 64:6 and Zechariah 3:3, whereas Psalm 51:7; Isaiah 1:18; and Titus 3:5 speak of the cleansing of sin that accompanies salvation.

Those who have experienced the washing from sin that marks salvation will forever have the right to the tree of life. The tree of life is located in the capital city of heaven, the New Jerusalem. This will be the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise, “To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God” (2:7).

Heaven is exclusively for those who have been cleansed from their sins by faith in the blood of Christ and whose names have been “written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (13:8). In contrast, everyone else will remain forever outside the New Jerusalem in the lake of fire (20:15; 21:8). As in 21:8, a representative list of the type of sins that exclude people from heaven is given to John.

The inclusion of dogs on the list seems puzzling at first glance. But in ancient times dogs were not the domesticated household pets they are today. They were despised scavengers that milled about cities’ garbage dumps. To call a person a dog was to describe that person as someone of low character (1 Samuel 17:43; 24:14). “Sorcerers” (from the root of the English word “pharmacy”) refers to those engaged in occult practices and the drug abuse that often accompanies those practices. “Immoral persons” are those who engage in illicit sexual activities. “Murderers” are also excluded from heaven in the list given in 21:8. “Idolaters” are those who worship false gods, or who worship the true God in an unacceptable manner (21:8).

The final group excluded from heaven also includes “everyone who loves and practices lying.” It is not all who have ever committed any of these sins who are excluded from heaven (1 Corinthians 6:11). Rather, it is those who love and habitually practice any such sin and refuse Christ’s invitation to salvation who will be cast into the lake of fire.

3. Because of the Truthfulness of Scripture (Rev. 22:18–19)

It is of great significance that the Bible closes with an affirmation of its truthfulness. The speaker who testifies to the authority and finality of the words of the prophecy of this book is none other than Jesus Christ. His solemn warning against tampering with Scripture applies first of all to the prophecy of the book of Revelation (1:3). The prohibition against altering the Apocalypse by implication extends to all of Scripture. Because Revelation describes the entire sweep of history from the close of the apostolic age to the eternal state, any alteration of it would be an alteration of Scripture.

4. Because of the Certainty of Christ’s Return (Rev. 22:20–21)

The book of Revelation and the Bible close with one final reminder and a benediction. In His last recorded words in Scripture, the Lord Jesus Christ, He who testifies to these things, affirms, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” His coming is imminent, just as Revelation and the rest of the New Testament teaches. John speaks for all true believers when he responds, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

The glorious, comforting truth is that those who humble themselves and accept God’s offer of salvation will find Him gracious. Fittingly, the last words of the Bible, “the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen,” are an expression of God’s grace toward fallen humanity. The Lord of glory, as He promised in Scripture, offers heaven to those who, in light of His certain return, accept His gracious invitation and return to Him.