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The Grand Finale

 


Listen for God’s word to you from Revelation 22…

 

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.


The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.”

“Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll.”

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!”

10 Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near. 11 Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.”


12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you[a] this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.


The end of the book of Revelation is, to me, kind of like the Grand Finale of a great fireworks show set to the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky. The entire book is, as Michael Wilcock says, a sacrament of the imagination.

 

There is much packed into this final chapter. First, we have continued description of the New Jerusalem in verses 1 to 5. Second, we have the encounter between John and the angel. And third, we have Jesus’ final invitation and warning.

 

First, let’s look at John’s continued description of the New Jerusalem. As we might expect, it has seven parts to it. 

 

First, there is “the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.” John draws this image from several places in Hebrew Scripture. In Genesis 2 there is the river that waters the Garden of Eden and makes it fruitful. In Ezekiel 47 there is the prophet’s vision of a river that issues from the Temple. Psalm 46 talks about a river whose streams make glad the city of God. Joel 3 talks about a fountain that shall come forth from the house of the Lord. And Zechariah 14 talks about living waters that shall flow out from Jerusalem. In a desert land such as the Middle East, a river was a highly prized feature in any landscape. This picture tells us that heaven will be a place where our spiritual thirst is quenched.

 

Second, John tells us that on each side of the river there are trees, bearing twelve crops of fruit, one for every month of the year. And the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations. This tells us that heaven will be a place of fruitfulness and healing for all. This picture also comes from Genesis, chapter 3, where the tree of life grows in the Garden of Eden. Ezekiel 47 also contains a vision of trees growing on either side of a river—trees that provide sustenance and healing.

 

Third, John tells us that in the New Jerusalem there will no longer be any curse. Imagine a place where there is no more cursing, nothing negative, no accursed things such as those that plague our lives here on earth.

 

Fourth, John tells us the most important thing about the New Jerusalem: the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there. And God’s servants will serve him. Heaven will be a place of activity and productivity. 

 

I love the first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. “What is the chief end of man?” I will give you a hint: it is not his feet! The Catechism says that the chief end of man, the purpose for which we were all created and redeemed, is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” That is what we will be doing in heaven, without perception of limit.

 

Fifth, John tells us that in the New Jerusalem, we will see God’s face, and his name will be on our foreheads. 

 

The first part we can understand. What is one of the best things about meeting a loved one after a long separation? Seeing their face has got to be the best thing—up close and personal.

 

But what is this business of God’s name being on our foreheads? It is a sign of belonging. It reminds me of the time we took our children on a vacation to the British Isles when they were young. We were afraid of losing them in a big crowd somewhere and so we laminated a copy of the first page of each of their passports and put them on lanyards they could hang around their necks! No, we didn’t make our children wear those all the time, but it gave us as parents a sense of comfort when we were in a big city together like London.

 

God’s name being on our foreheads in heaven is symbolic of the fact that we will not be lost to God, or he to us, ever again.

 

Sixth, John tells us there will be no more night in the New Jerusalem. As we talked about last week, we won’t need any kind of artificial illumination or even the light of the sun, because God will be our light.

 

And finally, John tells us that in the New Jerusalem we will reign with God forever and ever. This is, perhaps, an image that we do not relate to anymore, especially as Americans, because we have no royalty in our country. But think of it like the end of a fairy tale. C. S. Lewis’s children’s story, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, ends with four children from our world being crowned as kings and queens in Narnia. Everything is festive and joyous. John is presenting us with a similar “happily ever after” ending. In fact, it is the true “happily ever after” ending upon which all the other tales are based.

The second major section of chapter 22 shows us John and the Angel.

We have here a threefold ratification of the message of Revelation from the angel, Jesus, and John. The angel tells John, “These words are trustworthy and true.” What the angel says has authority because he has been sent by the one true author, God. And the message he has brought is all about “things that must soon take place”. Thus, we have a reminder at the end of Revelation, just as at the beginning, that the book is primarily about things that happened in the first century.

Secondly, Jesus ratifies the message. It is sometimes hard to tell who is speaking in this last chapter of Revelation, but I take these to be the words of Jesus, “Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll.” I will say more in a few minutes about this key word “coming”. But notice again the importance of “keeping” the words of this prophecy. There are seven blessings or beatitudes in the book of Revelation, and this is the sixth one. The first blessing, in chapter 1, was given to those who read aloud this prophecy and those who hear it and take it to heart. It is not enough just to read or hear the Scripture. The key question is, do we keep it, do we treasure it up in our hearts and ponder it like Mary who treasured and pondered?

I had a member of a church I served many years ago who repeatedly told me about how many times she read the Bible every year. God bless her, she said she read it, I think, four times, from cover to cover in one year. I can’t even read that fast or that much! Reading is a wonderful thing, but quality is at least if not more important than quantity. I hope you not only read but treasure God’s word, not only his word in Revelation, but throughout the Bible.

Thirdly, John ratifies the message of Revelation. He says, “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things.” It is like he is putting his signature to it and declaring his solemn testimony. 

I believe God also wants each of us to testify to the things we have heard and seen. God does not expect us to share with others what we do not have. But in as much as you have experienced God—I hope you will share that experience with others.

Next, we see John falling down to worship at the feet of the angel. And the angel tells him forcefully not to do so. Perhaps some of John’s readers were tempted to, or were in danger of, worshipping angels. 

Have you ever noticed how prolific images of angels are in our culture today? It is so much easier to talk about angels rather than God. And it is easier to mention God in conversation than Jesus. I wonder why.

John is also told not to seal the words of the prophecy because the time is near. There it is again. We are reminded repeatedly that the message of Revelation was, in large part, about things that either had happened, or John expected would happen in the first century.

Then, in verse 11, we have this seemingly strange statement: “Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.” What does this mean?

Some commentators take this to mean that there will come a time when it is too late to change, when it is too late for the evil person to turn away from their evil and turn to Christ for salvation.

But then there was an ancient commentator, Andreas, who interpreted this as a statement of the Risen Christ saying: “Let each man do what pleases him; I will not force his choice.”

I prefer the latter interpretation. God does not force us to worship him. We are free to choose good or evil. 

In the third major section of this chapter, from verses 12 to 21, we have Jesus’ Final Invitation and Warning.

Jesus says, “Look, I am coming soon!” “Come” is the most oft repeated word in Revelation 22. Jesus says three times in this chapter that he is coming quickly. Then in verse 17 we read, “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” And finally, John concludes Revelation by uttering a prayer, “Come Lord Jesus!”

In case you missed it, Revelation is, among other things, about the Second Coming of Christ, a coming that has not happened yet. Jesus is coming back to wrap up world history as we know it. He is coming to judge the living and the dead. That is why he says that his reward is with him, and he will give to each person according to what they have done.

At the same time, Jesus issues his great invitation to us to come and drink of the water of life. This is an echo of what Jesus says to the woman at the well in John 4:14. “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

 

Jesus is coming back, and John invites us to be ready by first coming to Jesus who alone can give us eternal life.

 

Further, Jesus tells us something about himself. He says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” That is quite a claim. It is such an audacious claim that it is one worth examining. Either Jesus was and is Lord, or he was a liar, a lunatic, or a legend. We must each decide, and that decision may well have eternal consequences.

 

Then we have the seventh and final blessing or beatitude in this book. 


Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.


How do we wash our robes so that we may gain entrance to the New Jerusalem, eat of the tree of life, and live forever? In Revelation 7 John told us about those who “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” That’s how we gain entrance to the New Jerusalem. It is not by our deeds. It is by the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross. The invitation to wash our robes in the blood of the lamb is open to all. If, in the end, we find ourselves outside the New Jerusalem it will be because that is where we have chosen to be.

John adds a final warning not to add or take away from the words of his book. This was a common feature in ancient literature. Books were, of course, copied by hand and so one could not be sure that parts would not be left out or other words added. This is a warning to the copyist. But it also serves as a warning to us. People get themselves into needless trouble by adding to or taking away from Scripture.


I love the way the book of Revelation ends. The final sentence contains one key word. It is the word “grace”. The word points to God’s unmerited favor. Do you know how to spell grace? I like to spell it this way. Grace is…


God’s

Riches

At

Christ’s

Expense


I have referred several times during this series to the fact that I was fascinated with the book of Revelation in my teens, when I was a young Christian. To tell the truth, I am still fascinated by this book. But when I was first reading Revelation, I was also reading The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis. It is Lewis’s own version, in a way, of the story in Revelation suited for children. I can think of no more fitting way to end this series than with the final words of The Last Battle…


The things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.[1]



[1] C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle (Bodley Head, 1956), p. 165.

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