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?