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?