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?