Lectures on Revelation 22: Part 2

Revelation 22
There were two descents of the city in chap. 21.—one at the beginning of the millennium, and the other at the commencement of the eternal state. The second verse of that chapter gives us its descent when the eternal state is come, and the tenth verse its descent for the millennium. The reason, I think, is, that at the end of the millennium the old heaven and earth pass away; and naturally the city would disappear from the scene of the convulsion. Then, when the new earth dawns on our view, the heavenly city again comes down, and takes its place permanently in the new heavens and earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. This is necessary to remark; because, while at the end of the thousand years all will be changed, still the heavenly city will abide forever. “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” There will be certain offices which the glorified church will cease to discharge towards the earth after the millennium is over; but its intrinsic blessedness remains the same. Consequently, it is said here, “There shall be no more curse.” Thenceforth this is as true evermore for the heavenly city, as it can be for the new heaven and earth afterward.
“And the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it: and his servants shall serve him: and they shall see his face, and his name [shall be] on their foreheads. And there shall be no night there, [or more,] and they shall have no need of lamp and light [of the sun]” —the one representing the light of man's making, and the other of God's; but all that suited this world is past for the city. “For the Lord God shall shed light upon them: and they shall reign to the ages of the ages” (Ver. 3-5). The expression “to the ages of the ages,” I apprehend, must be taken-in the strongest sense here. It does not refer only to what is called “the kingdom” —though of course the reigning begins then. in 1 Cor. 15:2424Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. (1 Corinthians 15:24) it is a kingdom which Christ delivers up at a definite point called, “the end.” “The end” implies that the thousand years and the judgment of the dead have taken place; for this judgment is part of Christ's “kingdom” —its great closing act, we may say. All this forms a part of the kingdom; and when it is over, and death, the last enemy, has been destroyed, then the Lord Jesus delivers up the kingdom to God.
The object of the kingdom is to reduce every enemy to subjection; and, this being accomplished, that special human kingdom terminates. But if there will then be a great change as regards the earthly saints in their natural bodies below, not so with those who are in the heavenly places, already glorified. They will reign forever and ever: it will be true throughout all eternity. These words seem here to be used without restriction. All the account, from the 9th verse of chap. xxi. to verse 5, inclusively, of chap. xxii, presents the relation of the heavenly city to the earth during the millennium. But there are certain features in it which are true everlastingly. One of these characteristics, besides its unchangeable intrinsic glory, is, that the service of the saints will be forever and ever. So as to the reigning. The mode of the reign, as of the service, may be changed after the earthly kingdom is closed; but, in themselves, they will, beyond doubt, endure forever and ever.
Now we are come to the closing comments of the prophet, and the conversation that takes place between him and the angel in reference to the prophecy, as well as the final message from the Lord Jesus Himself. Strictly speaking, the fifth verse ends the prophecy. But just as we have a prefatory charge at the beginning of the book, so here we have a sort of formal conclusion.
You will observe that the coming of the Lord Jesus is referred to no less than three times, and that each has a different connection in these farewell words of the Lord. The first time is in the 7th verse, evidently in dependence on verse 6. “And he said unto me, These words are faithful and true: and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show to his servants the things which must come to pass shortly. And, behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book.” (Ver. 6, 7.) The Lord Jesus here links His coming with the blessing of the man who attends to the words of the prophecy. In strict connection with this, the Holy Ghost solemnly commends the prophecy which was now brought to a close. The Lord Jesus, no doubt, foresaw the measure of slight which would be put upon this book, and the efforts of men to put it aside.
I do not like to refer to particular religious societies; but allow me to say a word about one which is a reformed body and well known. And yet, extraordinary to see in that which is arranged for the express purpose of giving the entire word of God to the people in daily portions, how is it that the book of Revelation is given? Why, it is only used, a little bit at a time, on one or two special occasions, and at other seasons not at all, while even part of the Apocrypha is read! It appears to me that the Lord was here guarding His people against all such disrespect, open or more subtle, to the book of the Revelation.1 Nor is it merely where these lessons are fixed, that there is a slight put upon it: let not others, differently situated, suppose themselves to be guiltless. Take those who have no formal division of the Scriptures day by day: do you find this book honored by them as the Lord enjoins? It is certain that in general, though God's children have not agreed to dishonor it, yet, as a practical fact, this book has been pushed aside, save for controversial, historical, or imaginative purposes. There is hardly an attempt to expound it simply and practically. Few servants, indeed, deal it out in due season, so as to make it a part of the household bread of the family of God. Even when interpretations of it are ventured on, are they not in general most crude—the far-fetched notions of an antiquarian, or degrading comparisons with an infidel historian or a daily newspaper?
What a solemn thing it is to depart from God's word! The Lord Jesus puts the book before His people as a light shining in a dark place—not at all as a mere exercise for men of learning in a speculative mood. It was meant for all the children of God, for their souls' profit, and to help their communion with God. He wanted them to know not only His grace, but the judgments that were coming upon the world. He desired them to understand that the book, which shows the world's course and doom, equally indicates their deliverance out of the judgment. For the Revelation makes it plain, that, before there is a word of the judgment, the church is seen in the presence of God: from the beginning of chap. iv. we see her above. How plain it is that the words of the prophecy are all of the greatest importance to God's people! He desires they should be happy in the fellowship He gives them with Himself before these things come to pass. “Blessed is he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book.” And why has it been comparatively so valueless as to its practical bearing?
Because the prophecy has been severed from the promise. The word of grace, “Behold, I come quickly,” has not been distinguished from “the sayings of the prophecy of this book.” And hence the church's portion has been confounded with the judgments of the world. The Revelation supposes that God's children are waiting for the coming of Christ, which ought indeed to be their bright hope from day to day. Where this is not the case, I believe that it is morally impossible to enter into or enjoy its disclosures. “Blessed is he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book.” The Lord is coming quickly. But if we are not looking for Him with hearts at rest through His grace, we are sure to pervert His sayings instead of turning them to profit.
When John heard and saw these things, he fell down to worship before the feet of the angel that showed them. He had done so previously. (Chap. xix. 10)2 Possibly, the grandeur of the vision may have led him to suppose that it was Christ Himself taking that form. But he is immediately corrected. The angel says to him, “I am thy fellow-servant,” or rather, “the fellowservant” of thee and of thy brethren, the prophets.” As it stands in our Bible, the statement is somewhat ambiguous. It might seem, as it stands, to convey that the angel was one of his brethren the prophets. Of course, this is not the meaning; but, instead of being the due object of such homage, the angel was the fellow-servant of John, and of John's brethren the prophets. “See thou do it not, for I am the fellow-servant of thee and of thy brethren, the prophets, and of those that keep the sayings of this book: worship God.”
But he adds more, and a very important thought it is, practically, for God's children. You may remember in the last chapter of Daniel, it is written thus (ver. 4), “But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.” Now mark in what a wonderful place God has put His Church, as we gather from comparing Rev. 22
He was sending His word to the most favored man that could be found among all the favored prophets of the Old Testament— “a man greatly beloved.” But, although there had been given him so plain and distinct a prophecy of Christ's coming and death, other words were added, as to which it was said, “but thou, O Daniel, shut up thy words, and seal the book even to the time of the end.” Here the same Spirit addresses John, saying to him, “Seal not the words of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.”
(Ver. 10.) How comes this to pass? The whole calling of the church is at the time of the end. From the day that the church began its actual existence here below, it was the time of the end; and all through her history, still it is the time of the end. Of course, I do not mean that it is distinctively the time of the end for the Jews, who must wait for the development of all on the platform of literal facts; but therein lies the peculiarity of the church's calling. She is above times and seasons, though she knows them; she has nothing to do with dates, or signs, or outward events, any more than with the world, of whose history they are the natural and necessary accompaniment. The church is lifted up above such a scene; she is heavenly. Such is the place where we are put by the grace of God, entirely outside all the computations which refer to the government of this world.
As for the Jew, of whom Daniel was the type, he must wait till the time of the end is historically come, till the knowledge is given by God to those who have understanding then. Until that time all is sealed up for Israel. This is not the case with the church represented by John. To him it is said, “Seal not the words of the prophecy of this book,” &c.
But here is the error made by many excellent persons. Sir Isaac Newton, a man of the highest reputation in human science, applied the shutting up and sealing of the book in Daniel to the church. The consequence was that he gave it up as a thing that could not be understood till the time of the end. Had he compared the passage in Daniel with the closing words of the Revelation to John, he would have learned that the very words that were hidden from the Jewish prophet are expressly opened to the Christian. If Daniel was to seal, John is expressly told not to seal. And why? Because Christ had come and is gone into heaven and is on the right hand of God, ready to judge quick and dead; He was rejected, and from that moment, it is morally the time of the end. And so the New Testament writers speak. The Apostle John says, “Little children, it is the last time;” Peter writes, “The end of all things is at hand;” James, “The Judge standeth before the door.” So wrote the Apostle Paul:— “Now all these things happened unto them as ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” [or ends of the ages are met]. And so Heb. 9:2626For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:26). Thus you have, substantially, the same great truth from the epistles of Paul, of Peter, and of James, down to the Revelation.
This it is, I conceive, that is supposed, when John is told not to shut up the words of the prophecy of this book. It is to be used and understood now, in virtue of the knowledge of Christ and with the Holy Ghost given by Christ as an unction whereby we know all things. To us the time is always at hand. The words of this book arc not sealed to us; so that it is unbelief, if, instead of taking the book as it were to Christ who is the light to reveal this as all else, we submit it to the world and its wisdom which can but darken. This, I doubt not, is the root and reason of the mistakes and difficulties so prevalent with regard to the interpretation of the book. In order to understand this and every other part of Scripture, I must see what God is doing for the glory of His Son. As a Christian I am encouraged to read the prophecy: its sayings are not sealed to those who have the mind of Christ. If I were a Jew, I should have to wait till the time of the end arrive in the full prophetic sense, i.e., the end of the age. Then the wise among the Jews shall understand; they are the godly intelligent remnant. With such a remnant, in principle (called it is true, into better hopes), the church began.
But some may say, There were certain things in Daniel which were to be sealed, and others which were not: why may not these last (not the first) have been the things John was there told not to seal? I reply that the Revelation supposes all the truth we find in Daniel and a great deal more. It could not be understood, if Daniel were not; while there are many truths added in the Revelation which were not given to Daniel. Such a plea is therefore unveiling. The fact is that Daniel speaks in the most general terms, and is told to shut up the words and seal the book—not merely certain parts of it. The Revelation goes over the same ground as Daniel with respect to the last empire, giving many things of a still wider scope and far more profoundly—things which grew out of the Christian apostasy, in addition to the previous ruin of Israel and the future wickedness both of them and the Gentiles. Therefore, if there was any book in the Now Testament which one might naturally expect to be sealed up, it is the Revelation; for, as it is the last, so is it the most difficult, abstruse, and comprehensive of all the books of the Bible. Therefore. when the Holy Ghost says, “Seal not the words of the prophecy of this book;” I conceive that we have implied a clear intimation of the peculiar privileges of the Christian. It supposes him to stand in the full light of God; and thus what may have been hidden before is now fully revealed, seeing that Christ has come and made us members of His body, and given us the Holy Ghost who searches all things, yea, the deep things of God. This, to my mind, is the ground on which it is said, “Seal not the words of the prophecy of this book.”
It is important in another Way not always seen. The events signified by the prophetic visions of the Revelation never enable one to understand the book itself. If they were to take place to-day, this would not of itself give intelligence as to the Revelation. The sole key to prophecy is the Holy Ghost, who is the only One that can make known its relation to Christ; and, without seeing this relation, we never understand it. Take one of the clearest and most defined of prophecies—that of the seventy weeks in Daniel. Persons generally allow that it has been accomplished. But ask of them its real meaning; and they will show how little it is understood. They have a vague idea that it is accomplished, and little more. It is not therefore the events themselves which explain the word: we need the teaching of the Spirit, which is as necessary to interpret prophecy as any other part of the Scriptures. Events may be the accomplishments of particular prophecy and a witness of its truth to those who doubt; but they never of themselves afford the just interpretation of the prophecy. They undoubtedly corroborate it when accomplished, and may be useful to stop the mouth of a gainsayer. But (as it has been long ago remarked by another) you must understand the prophecy itself, before you can apply it to the events; and when you do understand it, you have what God desired to give your faith, independently of the events. In fact, to refute such a notion we have only to weigh what is said here, as everywhere else in it: “Seal not the words of the prophecy of this book; for the time is at hand.” The value to us, to the church, is beforehand, whatever may be the use for those who shall be in the scene when the events arrive.
But now listen to a most solemn truth. When the time is actually come, of which the prophecy treats, what is the condition of men? It is fixed, forever fixed for all—hopelessly for some. “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him work righteousness still; and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” (Ver. 11.) That is, it is not the time when there can be moral change; not a time when there can be the conversion of sinners—when a man who is under the power of Satan can be delivered from it and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son. All this is at an end. Then he that is unjust must remain unjust, and he that is filthy remains filthy still. Men are solemnly settled in the condition in which they are found. The day of grace is over, the day of judgment will be come, and the door will then be shut.
“Behold, I am coming quickly, and my reward is with me, to give each as his work is.” (Ver. 12.) Evidently this confirms what has been remarked. When that day comes, it is the judgment of the living. It is the Lord's coming, not here spoken of as an encouragement to him who hears and keeps the words of the prophecy of the book, but rather in the way of discriminating judgment. “I [am] the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Ver 13.) That is, the Lord Jesus, beside what is peculiar to Himself, takes the same title here that God Himself did in chap. xxi. 6. As God was the sum and substance of all revelation, being and action, so was Christ. “No man hath seen God at any time: the only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” “Blessed [are] they that do his commandments [or wash their robes], that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. Without [are] the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the whoremongers, and the murderers, and the idolaters, and every one loving and practicing a lie.” (Ver. 14, 15.)
But next we have another thing. It is not the Lord's coming now, as an encouragement to those who should keep the sayings of the prophecy of this book; nor yet His coming as dealing with every man, His advent in the way of judgment and His reward with Him to give each individual as his work is. We have seen the holy and the righteous having their portion, and the filthy and unrighteous their judgment. But the Lord has His own proper and full relation to the church. Consequently, His voice is now heard with marked emphasis here. “I, Jesus, have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David.” (Ver. 16.) That is, He refers to His divine and His human character. But, beside this, He has a special relationship to us— “the bright [and] the morning star.”
When the Lord comes in His glory to the world, it is as the sun of righteousness with healing in His wings for those that have been broken, and scattered, and peeled,—a people terrible from their beginning hitherto. But then He appears in terror to tread down those that have despised Him under His feet. Not so does He present Himself to us. It is not for us the image of the sun, when man should sleep no longer. When the sun of righteousness calls man up, not then to work as he works now, it summons him that he may bow to Him whom he had long slighted, and in due time hear his doom pronounced by the Lord of glory whom he can despise no longer. Thus will he appear to the world, and “all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble. And the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.”
But for those who watch during the night of man's day before the Lord appears in His glory, for those who watch with bridal affections, not sleeping as do others—how does He speak to such? How is He made known to them? “I am the bright, the morning star.” Blessed star of morn before the day comes! We watch not for the day, but for Him during the night, and He will give us the morning star, the harbinger of the dawn. A blessed place it is—the place of our love and hope: it will never be disappointed of its joy; and the Lord Jesus Christ will surely come, as the bright and morning star to us. He cheers us while we wait, and will quickly come for us Himself. We may have to tarry somewhat: at least it may seem long to us. For those who waste their time in slumber, it will be alas! too short; but for those that wait for Him and yearn to see Him the hope might seem to be long deferred. Instead of growing weary and sick, may our hearts, on the contrary, be filled with the joy and constancy of assurance that the Lord is coming soon! He is the bright and morning star.
But more: “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come.” What a blessed thought for us that the Holy Ghost Himself is the One who takes up the word and says, “Come!” He groans with us, entering into our sorrows, now that He came down. He is not the less divine, I need not say; but withal He has condescended to identify Himself, as it were, with our hearts, and be the sharer of our feelings. But it is not groans that we have now; not such is the mind of the Spirit, when He thinks of the Lord Jesus coming for us. There is the calm and peaceful earnestness of desire. “The Spirit and the bride say, Come.” It is most strengthening to know that it is the voice of the Holy Ghost Himself which says to the Lord Jesus “Come.” It would not have been nearly so precious had the bride alone said “Come.” But it is “the Spirit and the bride.” She had done many things wrong—had made many mistakes in thought and feeling and ways. But now it is the Spirit, the Holy Ghost Himself, who says Come. He it is who leads the heart to desire the coming of Jesus; He is the energy of the church in bidding Jesus welcome. “The Spirit and the bride say, Come.” it is in looking up to Jesus that the church or the Christian says Come; not looking down to the poor sinner and telling him to come. The Holy Ghost leads and inspires the heart of the bride thus to cry, not only in sympathy of sorrow, but in communion with the joy with which she looks up in the hope of the Bridegroom's return.
And not only so, but “let him that heareth say, Come.” If I have only heard the voice of Jesus, I am entitled to say Come. Perhaps there are some who say, O that I could be happy in asking the Lord to come! How can I say Come, when I am so unworthy? The Lord warrants you to say Come. It is not merely the bride filled with the Holy Ghost that says Come—entering into her full privileges; but “let him that heareth say, Come.” Have you heard His voice, and tasted that He is gracious? Do you not know that He is the good Shepherd? I might be the very feeblest and weakest one, shrinking through ignorance from the Lord's coming at once; yet here I have the Holy Ghost inviting me to take up the very same word that the Spirit and the bride utter. “Let him that heareth say, Come.” Most evident it is, also, that this going out of the first affections of the heart towards Christ and His coming does not harden the heart towards the poor world, nor make us indifferent to the conversion of the lost; but the very contrary. Whatever estimate men may form of their own efforts, my conviction is that the people who most desire the conversion of sinners are, cæteris paribus, those who most desire the coming of the Lord Jesus. I do not believe that the men that want to put Him off are those that pray and labor most for the conversion of souls. What is it leads such to desire it? They labor for it because they see souls perishing everlastingly, and they justly feel that all are miserable without Christ. But they have these feelings only in common with all their brethren. We all believe that men will be cast into hell if they do not receive the gospel, and it grieves us to see them rejecting the Savior; we have these feelings as well as they. But we have another spring which they have not. It is indeed the Lord's way, and this is better than theirs. He understands what is good for poor sinners and poor saints, incomparably better than His servants do. Now He shows here that it is the same Spirit who looks up to Jesus and says Come, who also can turn us round to lost sinners with the invitation, “Let him that is athirst come.” It is there we have the other side. It is not here the Spirit directing the church in looking up to the Lord and saying Come; but the heart is now directed to the world and saying, “Let him that is athirst come; whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” (Ver. 17.)
The sinner is not told to say Come. Observe the great and plain difference in the latter part of the verse. In the first two clauses they say Come; but in the latter part they do not bid Jesus come, but are invited to come themselves: “Let him that is athirst come,” &c.
Thus God shows that the first thought of my heart should be towards Jesus. If true to Him, I shall desire His coming. The Spirit prompts and sanctions this desire. And what is the effect on my feelings towards the world? It will give me a heavenly reason for desiring the conversion of sinners. I shall have the same moral motives, and the same affections, which act on His servants who put off the coming of the Lord. And I shall have, besides, all the impetus which the hope of Christ's speedy coming can give me, and the sense of the danger of those to whom His coming can be nothing but certain judgment, even in this world. The more a Christian looks for Christ's coming at any moment, the more ardent must be his desire, and the more earnest his importuning, that souls should come and take of the water of life.
In this verse 17, then, God unfolds our two-fold relation. He shows me my relation to Christ, which ought to be the first thought of my heart—not merely that my soul should be at peace if He came, but filled with the earnestness of affection that desires His coming. And He shows me that, when I am right there, T shall turn round with quickened zeal in the sense of the grace of Christ, and shall say to every one that is athirst Come. More than this: if I see a soul that may not perhaps thirst deeply, but who is willing to come, I shall not tell him to wait till he is very thirsty. I shall bid him come at once, and welcome; for the word is, “he that will, let him take the water of life freely.” If there is only the desire of the heart, it comes from God, and no one rightly says, You must wait till you have gone through this or that experience. If a man has not got so far in realizing his state, I am not to keep him away. The water of life is for whosoever will. He is directed to come and drink of it freely. What fullness of grace marks the way in which the Lord brings our place before us!
“I testify to every one that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add to these things, God shall add to him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any one shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, that are written in this book.” (Ver. 18, 19.) You will observe that the tree and the city mentioned here answer to what we found in verse 14. Those that do His commandments (or rather, according to the critical text, “those that wash their robes”) are blessed, and have a title to the tree of life and entrance by the gates into the city. But as for such as take away from the words of this book, God shall take away their portion from both the tree and the city which are described in this book. They shall have no access thereto.
The Lord had intimated if any man would take away from the words of the prophecy of this book and thus would dishonor Him, He would assuredly know and feel and resent it. But He could not close with such words as these. He has reserved, as it were, the best wine to the last. He had already spoken of His coming in the way of judgment, as well as of His coming for the church in full grace; but how could He leave us with a note of sorrow? He must bring back our hearts to gladness and joy at the thought of His coming again; and so He says, “He that testifieth these things saith, Surely, I come quickly. Amen.” Immediately John, as representing the church, answers, “Come, Lord Jesus.” It is the ready reply of his heart to the Lord.
And if it is our privilege to look to Christ, and hear His voice; if we have known some little of the joy of being even now in union with Himself, made members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones; if we are waiting as those conscious of our bridal relationship to Christ, and assured that we shall have the bride's portion in presence of the Lamb for evermore, the Lord grant that this may be the answer of our hearts and lips— “Amen, come, Lord Jesus.” May it not be waiting for a something for ourselves, nor for the church, much less for the world! It is a blinding delusion to look for better days while Jesus is away. There are good days in store, even for this poor world—days of heaven upon the earth; but the Lord must come before them—and He must have us for Himself, first of all. The Lord will never have a time of real abiding joy for the world, as a whole, till He has had the church with Himself. For, as we see in Rom. 8, “the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.” The manifestation spoken of there will be in glory. The Apostle Paul had been speaking before of the glory which shall be revealed in us, when our bodies shall be changed and made like the glorious body of Christ. We are not like the Son of God now, as regards our bodies. Too well we know that we bear the image of the earthly still: but we shall bear the image of the heavenly. And then, when God sees us shining in the likeness of His own Son, He will have no reason to be ashamed of us. He will not present us before the universe, till our bodies are as worthy of Him as is the new life that He has given to our souls. When the sons of God are manifested, then creation will cease to groan, and the earth and heavens, filled with blessedness, will declare both the glory and the goodness of God. “The floods will clap their hands, and the hills be joyful together before the Lord.” Then it will be found that the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory that the Lord has set before us will issue in praises of joy and gladness, which will reach the most distant parts of earth and the utmost bounds of creation.
May the Lord grant that we may say, “Amen, come, Lord Jesus,” that we may say it for ourselves, as for all the church, and in a sense for all creation too, the blessing of which depends on our being manifested along with Christ! Meanwhile, the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints!