At the end of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and journey through the Sinai desert, Moses assembled the twelve tribes on the plains of Moab. There, Moses gave the book of Deuteronomy as a constitution for the nation of Israel in the promised land. Deuteronomy was different from Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers, which recounted past history and its lessons, and from Leviticus, with its procedures for the priesthood. Deuteronomy explicitly looked forward to the life that the Israelites were entering as a people, with promises and commands pertaining to their covenant life as the people of God.
In this respect, Revelation is like the book of Deuteronomy. The four gospels record the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The book of Acts tells of the apostolic founding of the church, and the Epistles record the doctrinal and practical instructions of the apostles to those churches. Revelation looks explicitly to the church age that was then beginning and would continue until Jesus returns, looking ahead even to an eternity of glory. As Deuteronomy was written directly to Israel as it departed the exodus generation, Revelation was given to the churches emerging out of the apostolic age into the gospel millennium. It details the promises and obligations of the church’s life as God’s covenant people in Jesus Christ.
One sign that the apostle John saw Revelation as a new book of Deuteronomy is the warning he attaches in Revelation 22:18-19. Directed to “everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book,” the warning threatens anyone who “adds to them [and]…anyone [who] takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy.” This warning mirrors similar words that occur in Deuteronomy. Moses commanded, “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you” (Deut. 4:2).
There are voices today that urge Christians to downplay Jesus’ sovereign demands. We are told to mention only the promises and comforting phrases of the New Testament without the requirements and warnings. Some even hold that to teach commands and laws for the Christian life amounts to an anti-gospel legalism. The book of Revelation shows, however, that Jesus did not hold this view. The Sovereign Lord puts commands before His people even as He provides the grace needed to keep them. Having insisted that His people must overcome the power of evil by faith, Jesus commands His church to reverently keep His Word. “Only hold fast what you have until I come,” Jesus says. “The one who conquers and who keeps my words until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations” (Rev. 2:25-26).
In addition to the warning that concludes Revelation, Jesus adds a promise to return soon: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon’” (v. 20). Jesus is not far off and inattentive but will soon return to bring both judgment and salvation. His primary emphasis here is to encourage His faithful disciples who are suffering in the world. In verse 17, the Spirit and the bride called out to the beloved Lord, saying, “Come.” He answers now, “Surely I am coming soon.”
So central is the theme of Christ’s soon return to the Christian faith that we should point out some of its important implications. First, the return of Christ should produce a serious concern to lead faithful, Bible-obeying lives. Christians have no need to fear condemnation in the coming of Christ, yet the Bible does teach that He will look to each of us to see the return on His grace in our lives. Faithful Christians will desire to do as much for Jesus as we can in these days and will desire that Christ receive a great profit from His investment in our salvation. Not only will Christ physically return to take accounts, but Revelation shows that He rules us now through the Holy Spirit, disciplining wayward believers and supporting His obedient disciples in their need.
Second, knowing that Jesus will soon return should animate all believers with a fervor for evangelism and world missions. We should be concerned about the spiritual condition of all people, realizing that without faith in Jesus they are under God’s wrath and in danger of terrible judgment when Christ returns. Moreover, we are told that Jesus will return only when the last of His people has been gathered to faith.
Third, the soon return of Christ calls on nonbelievers to repent, acknowledge the lordship of Jesus, and come to Him now in faith. Christ is coming soon to save His faithful people and also to judge rebels who have refused Him homage. In Jesus’ parable of the talents, which shows Him as coming back to reward His faithful servants; that parable concludes with a warning of judgment on those who did not trust or serve Him, who are cast “into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 25:30).
John concludes Revelation with a benediction that reminds us that Revelation was a letter sent by the apostle for the benefit of his churches. He concludes: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (v. 21). A benediction is both a prayer appeal and a declaration of God’s blessing on His people. As was Paul’s practice, John in his benediction proclaims the grace of Christ for believers. When we speak of salvation “by grace,” we mean that salvation is a free gift from God. Here, “grace: refers to the attitude of the Lord toward His people: Christ is filled with merciful love for all those who call on His name. Revelation has shown Jesus as the Lion and Lamb who is worthy to unseal the scroll of God and establish the divine purpose for heaven and earth. This victorious Lord looks upon His struggling people – then and now – with grace in His heart, acting in compassion for their sufferings and determining by His redeeming work to bring them with Him into the new Jerusalem that is to come.
“Grace” further refers to the power that God provides to His people in need. In Revelation, Christ has commanded believers to overcome through faith. Will we? The answer is yes! By His grace the people of Christ will persevere in faith so as to stand triumphant on Mount Zion together with the Lamb (Rev. 14:1). Christians are commanded to hold fast to God’s Word and uphold our testimony to Jesus to the end. By the grace of Jesus, we will: the stars of the churches will shine brightly in the darkness of this world until the morning star rises to bring a new day.
Christians are required to withstand the allures of the harlot and must refuse to worship the beast. We must reject false teaching from the false prophets of this world. Will the church and will Christians maintain their faith against such potent opposition? The answer, for which John prays and that he declares on Christ’s behalf, is found in the closing benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (v. 21). Not merely some of Christ’s people are strengthened, empowered, and secured by this grace, but, John insists, the grace of the Lord Jesus will save all who hear, believe, and call on His name in true faith.
With this benediction, John concludes the book of Revelation right where he began. Chapter 1 presented the “revelation of Jesus Christ…who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Rev. 1:1, 5). Looking now in faith to the same Lord and Savior at the end, experiencing the power of His grace, and hearing His promise soon to come for our salvation, we know that we can continue in faith and conquer in His name until He returns. With His promise of grace ringing in our ears, we hear our Sovereign Lord claim, “Surely I am coming soon.” We answer, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
Revelation 22:18-21 Study Questions:
How might we live in joyful expectation of the day when Jesus comes?
Having given His testimony through the angel to the churches, Jesus identifies Himself one last time: “I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star” (v. 16). In response to this statement, the bride of Christ, His church, appeals for Him to come. Jesus then promises to come soon, and John concludes the book by declaring the grace of Christ on His believing readers. The conclusion of Revelation is centered on Jesus’ salvation offer and His people’s adorning praise.
When Jesus says that He is “the root and the descendant of David” and “the bright morning star,” He declares Himself the fulfilment of important Old Testament messianic prophecies. The first statement comes from Isaiah 11:1-10, where the prophet foretold, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit” (Isa. 11:1). When Isaiah called the Messiah “the stump of Jesse” (Isa 11:10), he was speaking not of Christ’s divine nature but of the insignificant earthly remnant that David’s line would have become when the Messiah came. All that would be left was of merely a stump of the line of Jesse but a root of that stump. Yet that root, being incarnated as the Son of God, would be blessed by God to bring salvation. “The Sirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,” Isaiah wrote (11:2), and with divine power the “root” would fulfill God’s promises and restore life.
The second prophecy was made in Numbers 24:17 by the mysterious pagan shaman Balaam, whom God used to foretell Jesus Christ: “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” Jesus now declares that His victory has achieved this prophecy: “I am…the bright morning star” (Rev. 22:16). Balaam spoke of Christ’s rising not only to give light but sovereignly to crush His enemies, bringing redemption and salvation to the people of God.
The impact of Jesus’ self-description is felt not merely as we absorb the images but when we understand the doctrine that is realized in who He is and what He has done. In a world where salvation often seems unlikely, Jesus is the root from which an eternal peace has come to bless the renewed creation. Jesus is the rising morning star that signals the coming of an eternal age of glory and blessing. This is the Christian doctrine of salvation. Whereas humanism hopes for the cold advance of scientific progress, Christ speaks of eternal peace flowing from His saving work. Whereas Eastern mysticism hopes for the annihilation of the self in the cosmic sea, Jesus promises that His coming is the morning star that floods His people with life and light.
We know that we grasp Jesus’ message is we respond to it in the way that the Spirit-filled church speaks in Revelation 22:17: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’” The bride who calls to Jesus is His church. She is betrothed to Him through faith and longs for the Bridegroom to return so that the marriage feast may begin. The “Spirit” is surely the Holy Spirit, speaking through and with the church that He indwells.
While there is little doubt that at least the opening summons of verse 17 is directed to Christ, the second half of the verse calls to unbelievers who are present in the church or even in the world. John writes that “the one who hears” should say, “Come.” Hearers of the gospel should call out to Jesus and then plead with His salvation offer to the world. The final sentence in the verse is clearly directed to sinners in need of grace: “And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (v. 17).
That this evangelistic appeal occurs at the end of Revelation, and of the Bible, tells us something important about Jesus. Revelation is a book that shows Christ as judging His enemies, imposing His kingdom on the world, and casting down Satan and his servants. Yet the compassion of Jesus’ heart is not dimmed even in the midst of these scenes. While there remains time before the final judgment, Jesus still calls sinners to be saved. We discover the same mercy and zeal for salvation in the Gospels. Even after Jesus had been nailed to the cross, His first words were a prayer to the Father for the forgiveness of His tormentors: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). When one of the thieves crucified with Him called out for salvation, Christ was ready to give it: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Despite suffering so dreadfully on the cross, Jesus was still evangelizing! After Christ was resurrected and ascended to heaven, His disciples’ first witness was to the very Jewish leaders who had betrayed Jesus. His servants preached, “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). This is the Savior who sends His gospel out to you now, even as His Word is preached. The reason that He has not yet come in answer to the plea of His people is so that forgiveness of sins may still be offered until the last one has believed. What could keep you from calling on Him for your own salvation, even as Jesus speaks from heaven offering salvation before He returns?
Verse 17 concludes with a great statement of the gospel as it invites us to “take the water of life.” From the beginning of the Bible, where a “river flowed out of Eden to water the garden” (Gen. 2:10), to this statement at the Bible’s very end, God’s gracious stream has rippled with life-giving power for all who believe. David sang of “a river whose streams make glad the city of God” (Ps. 46:4), and Ezekiel foretold a stream issuing out from beneath the temple doors, bringing purity and life to a land poisoned by sin (Ezek. 47:1-12). Isaiah looked forward to the day of promise, declaring, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isa. 12:3).
Christ stands at both the end of the Bible and the end of history and together with His church offers you the water of salvation. What remains is only for you to come and take it: “And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price (v. 17).
Notice the kind of person to whom Christ offers salvation. He speaks to “the one who is thirsty.” Here is a universal appeal, for the entire human race thirsts from souls that are unfulfilled and dissatisfied with life. David wrote, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps. 42:2). It is with mercy and love that Jesus Christ presents Himself before everyone – even the greatest sinners – as “the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star” (v. 16). He calls, “Let the one who is thirsty come” (v. 17). Here is the general call of the gospel, offered universally to every soul, promising life if only you will come. It is the call given by the church today, proclaiming the gospel in every ear with the genuine offer of forgiveness and life.
You must receive salvation as a free gift, because you have nothing of your own with which to buy it. All your supposedly good works are corrupted by sin and are unacceptable to God (Isa. 64:6). Every quest you might perform, every dollar you might give, and every prayer you might offer is invalidated by the guilt of sin that lies heavy upon you. You must be saved by grace alone. Isaiah wrote: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isa. 55:1). Jesus offers you the salvation that He has achieved, which you receive as a gift through simple faith. Salvation is “the water of life without price” (v. 17), to the glory of God’s grace, which He generously extends freely to everyone who comes.
Revelation 22:16-17 Study Questions:
Who beckons Jesus to come (v. 17)?
How is the Spirit empowering you in your life as a follower of Jesus today?