Some simple, but blunt words end the Bible, with little or no interpretation needed.
You’ve probably been at some minor social setting, asked someone their name, and then within about thirty seconds, forgot it. I’ve not only forgotten once, but had to ask again several times. Usually it was because I was reading their t-shirt, or paying attention to some other disarming feature about them during our introduction. In order to save myself the embarrassment of asking again, I mentally ran through the alphabet trying to jog my memory. Thank goodness in some Christian settings, it’s acceptable just to call a Christian, “Brother,” or “Sister.”
Believers have a similar challenge. We hear a lot of words, study them, and read them, but they often don’t take root. Like it says in the book of Isaiah, “Hearing, they do not hear.”
The last section of the Book of Revelation reminds us to obey the words of this book, because Christ is coming back. In fact, our obedience to the visionary words of Revelation intertwine with the thought of Christ’s return.
And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place” (Rev. 22:6).
And so before this section launches into issues of obedience, we are assured that the last twenty-two chapters are trustworthy and true. In order to magnify this point, God is called “the God of the spirits of the prophets.” If the people of God believe the prophets, how much more should they obey the God who has inspired the spirits of those prophets.
Verse 7 follows up by saying, “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” The thoughts of keeping the words and of the Lord’s return literally join at the hip, and wrap around one another. Then verses 8-9 make a further claim:
I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”
Typically in this verse we pay a lot of attention to the fact that John made a mistake by worshiping an angel (again!). We usually miss, though, the grouping the angel lays out: 1. Angel. 2. Apostle (John). 3. Prophets. 4. Those who keep the words of this book. The way it reads, if you keep the words of Revelation, you are aligned in a fellowship with the prophets, the apostles, and even the angels.
And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy” (vv. 10-11).
Again, the words of the book and the nearness of the Lord’s return continue to link up. But rather than lead us into speculation about what “soon” means, the verses seek to create a certain moral urgency. The person who does not keep the words of this book and the one who does, have persistent corresponding behaviors. This is critical. When the Lord returns, everybody will be caught in the middle of some kind of chosen lifestyle.
In Matthew chapter 24, Jesus spoke a parable, talking about how he would go away for a long time and leave his servants in charge of his house. Later, He returns at a time nobody expects, and catches some of them faithfully caring for His house. He also catches others who were eating and drinking with the drunken, and beating their fellow servants. Either way, He will catch us all in the middle of something.
Jesus then rolls out an extended warning:
“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” 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. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (vv. 12-15).
Again, He returns to the book:
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star” (v. 16).
The entire book of Revelation is a long testimony about “these things.” It’s a kingdom word from Jesus who is both the source of David the king and David’s outcome as well. It’s a testimony from the One who appears as the bright morning star, not to those who sleep, but only to those who are spiritually awake.
In verse 17, “The Spirit and the bride say, Come, and let the one who hears say, Come.” The Holy Spirit always has one response when Jesus talks about coming back: Yes! Come back! And the lovers of Jesus, the bride, respond this way as well. Also, the one who hears, that is, the person who really heeds the words of this book and keeps them, has a heart level desire for Christ’s return. And so God invites us as well, “Let whoever is thirsty come. Let the one who desires to take the water of life without price.” This is the last gospel message of the Bible, attached to the return of Jesus.
And then the emphasis goes back to the book of Revelation.
“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (vv. 18-19).
This is the strongest warning possible to anyone who might want to monkey with the contents of Revelation. Lately, it has become vogue to alter history in the name of political expediency. It’s not hard to imagine Scripture falling under the same such revisions. But according to John’s warning, tinkering with Revelation is basically a ticket to hell. Don’t change it; keep it!
After this stark admonition, we’re brought back to the coming of Christ.
“He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (vv. 20-21).
John responds the way he does because obviously, he has the Holy Spirit (who always says to the Lord, “Come”), and he is part of the bride of Christ (that always longs for the Lord’s coming), and he is a person who has heard this word and kept it (which he proves by crying out, “Come!”).
When I was thirteen years old, my dad showed me how to use a fishing rod. From then on I was intrigued. Besides equipment, I collected fishing magazines—Outdoor Life, Field & Stream, Fishing Facts, Bassmasters. I wanted to know what kind of potential there was in the fishing world, what kind of things I could learn. How do I fish different seasons of the year, or different bodies of water? How do I use different kinds of lures?
Everyday after school (and three or four minutes of homework), I took off down the street to a duck pond that was full of largemouth bass. There I would practice everything I learned from those magazines. I was in the fishing world, and so when I read those publications it wasn’t just for entertainment, it was for implementation.
Later in life, my wife and I moved out to West Texas, an arid area without a lot of waterways. The entire year I only went fishing once. Meanwhile, those magazines sat in a corner of my closet, gathering dust. I didn’t open them because I wasn’t actively involved in the fishing world. This demonstrates that in a certain way, reading is an extension of activity. Whatever activity there is in the whole world, there’s a body of literature attached to it, so you can enrich the experience of that thing.
Our attached literature is the Bible. You could say we’re swimming in a reality that prepares for the return of Jesus Christ. God expects us to hear, and keep His book as we participate in this reality.
One element has to do with suffering and endurance. This is a big theme in Revelation that must be “kept.” We think we suffer a lot already in North America. For instance, we suffer over political views. In the wake of mainstream and social media, every time you vote there’s an oppressive feeling that half the nation is against you.
Perhaps you have suffered over racial issues, and have many personal anecdotes to back it up. No reasonable person will argue with you over it, because it’s real. You may have suffered for your gender, and perhaps endured misogyny or some kind of sexual abuse. That also is real. Maybe you’ve suffered because your entire family is locked into a generational cycle of poverty and addictions you can’t escape. Or maybe your suffering comes from sheer life itself that keeps dealing you one blow after another.
I would not dare minimize any one of those categories, but the Book of Revelation concerns itself with one very specific type of suffering, the kind that comes just because of your life union with Jesus. We may have no idea what that means in a place like North America, and often mistake it to be the same as mere discomfort, or offense. But Revelation means to portray physical persecution up to and including death. It comes because of one’s love for Christ and His word. The words of this book conditions your expectations and shapes your thoughts about these things.
Another item we find challenging in a privileged, first world environment are the many options for pleasure and indulgence. The words of Revelation shapes ideas about what life involvement ought to look like. The first three chapters are mostly all about the churches, and in fact, the entire testimony of the Book of Revelation was “for the churches” (22:16). God’s idea of noble and worthy involvement has to do with building up the Christians that you’re with. We’re to adopt and keep that ethic.
Revelation also reshapes our hopes from small and self-centered to God-sized. It’s common among us in the U.S. to think of election year as the end-all. Some of us are going to be so happy in November for all the wrong reasons, and some of us are going to be very unhappy for all the wrong reasons. The great theme of the New Jerusalem, the kingdom, the triune God in the middle of it all, should dominate our thoughts.
Keep the words of this book.
Your Lord returns quickly.