Revelation is the last book in the Bible, the final book of the apostolic era, and also the book that most clearly describes the end of history and return of Christ. As “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:1), it has shown Christ reigning as Lord over His church, defending His people under persecution, slaying His enemies, and shining His glory on the eternal city. How fitting that Jesus should now speak at the book’s end.
Revelation 22:16 removes any doubt as to whose testimony is contained in the final message given to John: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches.” In the concluding verses of chapter 22, Jesus speaks as Sovereign, Judge, and Savior. In this last testimony, Jesus is Himself the Last Word as the canon of Scripture closes and His people wait expectantly for His return.
Throughout the book of Revelation, the sovereignty of God and of Christ has been emphasized as the basis of our hope for judgment of evil and the salvation of believers. Chapter 1 declared God as “the Alpha and the Omega” (1:8), who thus governs everything from the beginning to end. Chapter 22 ascribes this same sovereign title to Jesus: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (v. 13). In this sovereign capacity, Jesus dictates to John how to handle the message of this book: “And he said to me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near’” (v. 10).
Revelation described a situation that was urgent in John’s time. These were churches facing the tribulations written of in Revelation, so they needed the courage that the book supplies by declaring Christ’s sovereign victory. With the sword of the beast against their necks and the seductions of harlot Babylon alluring, it was necessary for John’s readers to know the certain victory of the Lamb from His reigning throne on Mount Zion. It is in this same spirit that Jesus provides the message of Revelation to the church today, “for the time is near.”
Jesus’ instruction for the unsealing of Revelation proves that the book was not written merely for Christians who will live in the future period just before Christ’s return. Jesus said that His message was urgent for the people of John’s own time and thus for believers throughout the church age as well. According to the Bible, the last days began when Jesus ascended into heaven and established His church through the apostles, starting the final era of redemptive history (see 2 Tim. 3:1; Heb. 1:2). Jesus therefore gives His last testimony to John “about these things for the churches” (v. 16). Since Revelation is intended for the churches of this present age, the neglect of this book today will leave the church weakened under the assault of the world.
Jesus speaks with a command: “Let the evildoer still do evil” and “the righteous still do right” (v. 11). Jesus commands not only godly people to be godly but also evil people to do evil. In what sense can we understand Jesus to be commanding evil? The answer is that Jesus is commanding that ungodliness be seen for what it is and that godliness be seen for what it is. One of the emphases of Revelation is that Christ will confront and judge evil throughout this age and especially at its end. Here, He commands that evildoing be seen as evil and moral corruption be displayed as the filth that it is. Is this not happening in Western society today, despite the propaganda that promises sexual perversity, celebrates greed, and masks a culture of death? Despite the clever denials and deceptions, wickedness is nonetheless revealed by its effects. In this way, the Sovereign Christ exposes the evil of both sinful deeds and sinful character.
The opposite will be true for godliness throughout this age and at the end: however misrepresented and despised biblical obedience may be in our time; Christ will ensure that its luster will nonetheless shine. Righteous deeds will be seen as being right, and Christ’s holy people will be revealed as holy. This is the command of the Sovereign Christ, speaking at the end of His Word.
In His last testimony, Jesus speaks not only as Sovereign but also as Judge: “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done” (v. 12). This is the second of three times in this final chapter that Jesus declares His soon return (see also Rev. 22:7, 20). In this instance, He is emphasizing the need to be ready at all times.
Jesus’ coming as Judge does not refer merely to His return at the end of the age, but also to His sovereign judgments within history. In His letter to Thyatira, Jesus warned about a woman He called “Jezebel,” and those who followed her into “sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols” (Rev. 2:20). Jesus warned that He would visit the woman with sickness and great tribulation upon that church, unless they repented. He summed up His providential discipline, saying, “I will give to each of you according to your works” (2:23).
These statements raise the question whether Revelation is teaching salvation by works. The answer is made clear in 22:14, where it is seen that only those who wash their sins in Christ’s blood can be saved. Salvation is not by works, since we are all sinners who would be condemned before God’s law. The standard of works for salvation was given by Jesus in Matthew 5:48. Paul informs us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), so that we can be saved only by God’s grace received through faith. Believers, Paul continues, “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).
It’s appropriate that Christ appears at the end of Revelation as Sovereign and Judge, since these themes play such a large role in the book. His final testimony, however, is given as Savior, since Christ’s true purpose in Revelation is to speak to His people for their deliverance from sin and salvation into eternal life. Indeed, when we speak of Christ’s bringing a recompense for His people, His primary reward is stated in the final beatitude of Revelation: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates” (v. 14). As judgment is by works, here we find that salvation is by grace through faith in the blood of the Lamb.
By saying that “those who wash their robes” are blessed, Jesus refers to the cleansing from sin that comes through faith in the blood of His cross. As noted earlier, this beatitude rules out the idea of salvation by works, since the believers’ robes need to be washed. Through the blood of Christ our sins are cleansed, our penalty is paid, and we are made acceptable to enter the presence of the glory of God and receive His blessing of eternal life. The cleansing of sin through Christ’s blood is not only a past reality to believers but a present resource. The washing of robes in verse 14 is in the present tense: they are blessed who “wash” their sins, referring to the daily cleansing that comes through confession and faith in the blood of Christ (see 1 John 1:9).
We are cleansed from sin by Christ’s blood, and thus through faith we receive eternal life. This blessing is symbolized by access to the Tree of Life and entry into the city gates. All that was lost by the breaking of God’s covenant in the garden has been regained through the new covenant in Christ. Christians do not stand outside the gates of the glorious city described in Revelation 21 and 22. Christians have the right to enter the city by its gates.
How great is the contrast for those who refuse Christ and His gospel in this life, and who after His return are consigned to eternal darkness. John writes: “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (v. 15). John earlier showed that in the final judgment, the ungodly are cast into the lake of fire for eternal torment (20:12-15). Here, he identifies those who violate God’s law – “the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters” – with the wild creatures that belong in the howling wilderness outside, to whom the gates of God’s city are permanently shut. In the ancient world, dogs were despicable creatures fit only to die. With this condemnation, the wicked likewise fall under God’s contempt and condemnation.
The concluding emphasis on “everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (v. 15) shows Gods special disdain for those who not only practice sin but call evil good and deceive others into joining their wickedness. There is probably as well a warning to professing believers and church members that our testimony must be true and consistent with our lives. Those who profess faith in Christ but show that their loyalty is with idolatry of this world have no reason to think they enter the city of God or eat from the Tree of Life.
Verse 15 records Jesus’ condemnation of veil men who were like dogs who had defiled themselves in immorality, murder, and idolatry. Yet while they lived, they still had the opportunity to be saved by turning to Christ for cleansing through His blood. Can a person who has committed terrible crimes against humanity be forgiven so as to stand spotless before the throne of God? He can through the blood of Christ, which fully pays the greatest debt of sin and washes clean all who come to God in Jesus name. The same salvation is offered to everyone now through faith in Christ, before he returns to judge every soul. Jesus gives this as His last testimony in the Bible: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates” (22:14).
Revelation 22:10-16 Study Questions:
How are you making sure you are ready for Jesus’ return?
The prologue in Revelation 1:1-3 stressed that John was writing a revelation from God, sent by an angel as a testimony from Jesus Christ concerning things that were soon to come. John wrote: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Rev. 1:3). Now at the end of his remarkable book, John provides nearly the identical exhortation: “These words are trustworthy and true…Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (22:6-7). John’s concluding interest concerns the book’s authenticity as a revelation from God and the urgent response merited by its message.
Included with these emphases is an implied challenge to us that comes not from John but from Jesus Christ: “How are you going to respond to reading this message?” All the information we need has now been provided; no further visions are needed for us to know what to do. The question now is whether we will do it! Will John’s readers commit themselves to worship and serve only Jesus Christ, living faithfully as His people, relying on His sovereign rule over history to ensure our salvation, and rejoicing now to give our testimony to God’s saving grace through the blood of Christ the Lamb?
In order to respond properly to the staggering message of Revelation, we must first be persuaded of its truth. The angel thus said to John, “These words are trustworthy and true” (v. 6). By recording this testimony John assured us that we may rely on Revelation’s visions to accurately depict our present age as well as its ending. We may safely obey the exhortations that accompany the books visions. If we commit ourselves to the faith and life urged by Revelation, we will experience the blessings promised with them.
When John claims that God’s Word is “trustworthy and true,” he is echoing the uniform teaching of the Bible about itself. According to the Bible, the Scriptures may be trusted completely because they are the Word of God. You see this view in Paul’s writing. In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul criticizes his opponents for not understanding God’s plan and purposes. Speaking of his own teaching, he adds, “These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:10). Second Timothy 3:16 states: “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” It is on this basis that what John says of Revelation is true of the entire Bible: “These words are trustworthy and true” (v. 6).
As the angel continues in verse 6, he describes God as “the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets.” By referring to the “spirits” of the prophets in the plural, John speaks of the inward faculties of the various men who wrote the Bible books. The Bible was written by men in a wide variety of situations, and their spirits were fully engaged in writing their histories, poems, and prophecies. Yet God was ruling over this entire process: the Lord is “the God of the spirits of the prophets.” The angel’s statement accords with the classic definition of the inspiration of Scripture, which states that the Bible’s human authors wrote under God’s control.
John offers a final attestation to the truth of Revelation by noting that it was recorded by an eyewitness of the visions who also was an authorized apostle of Jesus Christ. Verse 8 states: “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things.” The apostles were Christ’s authorized servants in recording the New Testament. What Paul said about his message is equally true of John’s teaching: “I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal 1:12). For this reason, the teaching of the apostles is to be “accepted…not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13). In this capacity, John assures us that the visions he has seen and heard are “trustworthy and true” (v. 6).
While believers await the appearing of Christ, John gives clear instructions in Revelation’s sixth beatitude: “Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (v. 7). To “keep” God’s Word is to receive it in faith, hold fast to it in hope, and obey it in action. Verse 7 informs us how to receive the entirety of God’s Word. We are to keep its words and its prophecy. Receiving the words of the Bible means that we are to study it carefully, believing and putting into practice everything that it says. Christians believe not only the general message of the Bible but its actual words, since they are spoken to us by God. We therefore take seriously whatever the test of Scripture says. Jesus asserted, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35).
The angel especially emphasizes keeping “the prophecy of this book” (v. 7). This means that the history revealed in Revelation – some of it present and some future – becomes the truth by which we live. We are to resist evil, knowing that it is soon to be judged and that Christ will not allow His people to be defeated. Knowing the certainty of our victory in Christ, we are to do the will of God and bear testimony to Christ’s blood.
The angel had reminded John the truth of these visions, and then, in verse 7, Jesus either interrupts to say that He is coming soon or says this to John through the angel. In response John is so overwhelmed that he loses his bearings: “I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me” (v. 8). We see in John that when we receive God’s Word as truth and keep its visions of glory, we will be cast down in an attitude of worship.
In responding to John’s action, the angel instructs us in the vitally important matter of worship. Angels are worship specialists, so we should listen carefully when they teach us about this topic. Here, the angel responds in outraged horror: “You must not do that!” (v. 9). We should not think that this interplay between John and the angel is disconnected from the exhortation to keep the message of Revelation. John is being shown, and we with him, that the first and single most important element in keeping God’s Word is to give God alone the glory that He is due. The angel reacts out of a consuming passion for the exclusive glory of God, and this same passion must be seen in the hearts of all those who keep the words of God’s Book.
We should consider the angel’s reaction not only negatively but also in three essential and positive statements that he makes to John. First, he tells us that the worship of God is a command and duty for all His servants in Jesus Christ (v. 9). The call to “worship” is in the form of an imperative, which means that it is a command. We do not worship God merely when we think it would be pleasing to do so, or would otherwise serve our interests, but we are to devote ourselves fully and constantly to the praise of God.
Second, note that “worship” in verse 9 has a direct object. Worship always has an object. The problem with many churches today is that the object or recipient of worship is man. But the angel insists that only God is the true object and consumer of worship. “Worship God!” he says. This means that we come to church not primarily seeking what we will get out of worship but what God will get out of worship. The best way to achieve this is to worship according to God’s Word. Through worship that follows the example of Scripture and fervently proclaim God’s Word we fulfill the command of Hebrews 12:28, “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.”
Third, the angel tells us that it is in true worship directed to God that we most thoroughly realize our high identity and privilege as God’s people. The angel tells John, “I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book” (v. 9). What an incredible dignity the angel conveys upon John if he worships God as he should. In worshiping God, he becomes a fellow servant with glorious, unfallen angels in the splendor of their holiness. This is also the true dignity of every Christian man and woman, when the worship of God through Jesus Christ we are elevated into the fraternity and brotherhood of angels!
In light of this instruction, we must not think we have kept the words of the prophecy of the book of Revelation until we have imbibed the passion for the glory of God that we see in this angel. This is our true calling, and it is the purpose of Revelation that even in this present evil age we would enter into it: that we would possess and overwhelming concern for the glory of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Moreover, we must not think we have suitably given testimony before the world to the gospel message of this book until the world has seen in our lives the consuming passion for the glory of God that Revelation is intended to inspire.
Revelation 22:6-9 Study Questions:
Will you commit yourself to worship and serve only Jesus Christ, living faithfully as His people, relying on His sovereign rule over history to ensure your salvation, and rejoicing now to give your testimony to God’s saving grace through the blood of Christ the Lamb?