And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy.” “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to 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 may enter by the gates into the city.Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying. “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.
The visions of the Seer have closed, and closed with a picture of the final and complete triumph of the Church over all her enemies. No more glorious representation of what her Lord has done for her could be set before us than that contained in the description of the new Jerusalem.
Nothing further can be said when we know that in the garden of Paradise Restored into which she is introduced, in the Holy of holies of the Divine Tabernacle planted in the world, she shall eat of the fruit of the tree of life, drink of the water of life, and reign forever and ever.
Surely as these visions passed before the eye of John in the lonely isle of Patmos he would be gladdened with the light of heaven, and would need no more to strengthen him in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ. Was it not too much? The Epilogue of the book assures us that it was not; and that, although the natural eye of man had not seen, nor his ear heard, nor his heart conceived the things that had been spoken of, they had been revealed by the Spirit of God Himself, not one word of whose promises would fail.
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 unto His servants the things which must shortly come to pass. And, behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that kept the words of the prophecy of this book.
And I John am he that heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which showed me these things. And he saith unto me, See thou do it not: I am a fellow-servant with thee, and with thy brethren the prophets, and with them which keep the words of this book: worship God.
Attention has been already called in this commentary both to that characteristic of John’s style as a writer which leads him, at a longer or a shorter interval, to the point from which he started, and to the fact that light is thus frequently thrown on the interpretation of what he says. Every illustration of such a point is therefore not only interesting, but, important; and in the words before us it is illustrated with more than ordinary clearness.
The person introduced with the words He said unto me is not indeed named, but there can be little doubt that he is the angel spoken of in the Prologue as sent to signify the revelation that was to follow.
Again, when the Seer is overwhelmed with what he has seen, and may be said to have almost feared that it was too wonderful for belief, the angel assures him that it was all faithful and true.
A similar declaration had been made at Revelation 19:9 by the voice which there came forth from the throne, and likewise at Revelation 21:5 by Him that sits on the throne.
The angel therefore who now speaks, like the angel of the Prologue, has the authority of this Divine Being for what he says. It is true that in the following words, which seem to come from the same speaker, the angel must thus be understood to refer to himself in the third person, and not, as we might have expected, in the first, The Lord sent His angel, not The Lord sent me.
But, to say nothing of the fact that such a method of address is met with in the prophetic style of the Old Testament, it appears to be characteristic of John in other passages of his writings.
More particularly we mark it in the narrative in the fourth Gospel of the death of Jesus on the Cross: And he that hath seen hath borne witness, and his witness is true: and he knows that he saith true, that ye may believe.
Again, we read here that the Lord sent His angel to show unto His servants the things which must shortly come to pass; and the statement is the same as that of Revelation 1:1.
The next words, And, behold, I come quickly, are probably words of our Lord Himself; but the blessing upon him that kept the words of the prophecy of this book again leads the Seer back to the Prologue, where a similar blessing is pronounced.
Again, the remembrance of the Prologue is in the Apostle’s mind when, naming himself, he proceeds, I John am he that heard and saw these things. In precisely the same manner, after the introductory verses of the Prologue, he had named himself as the writer of the book: John to the seven Churches; I John, your brother. Then he was about to write; now that he has written, he is the same John whom the Church knew and honored, and whose consciousness of everything that had passed was undimmed and perfect.
This going back upon the Prologue is also sufficient to prove, if proof be thought necessary, that the words these things are designed to include, not merely the vision of the new Jerusalem, but all the visions of the book.
That the Seer should have fallen down to worship before the feet of the angel which showed him these things has often caused surprise. He had already done so on a previous occasion, and had been reproved in words almost exactly similar to those in which he is now addressed: See thou do it not: I am a fellow-servant with thee, and with thy brethren the prophets, and with them which keep the words of this book: worship God. How could he so soon forget the warning? We need not wonder.
The thought of the one vision preceding his former mistake might easily be swallowed up by the thought of the whole revelation of which it was a part; and, as the splendor of all that he had witnessed passed once more before his view, he might imagine that the angel by whom it was communicated must be worthy of his worship. His mistake was corrected as before.
The prophecy is now in the Seer’s hands, ideally, though not actually, written. He may easily speak of it, therefore, as written, and may relate the instructions which he received regarding it. He does this, and again it will be seen how closely he follows the lines of his Prologue: And he saith unto me, Seal not up the words of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.
He that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness still: and he that is filthy, let him be made filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him do righteousness still: and he that is holy, let him be made holy still. Behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to render to each man according as his work is. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.
Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have the right to come to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city. Without are the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the fornicators, and the murderers, and the idolaters, and every one that lives and makes a lie.
To the prophet Daniel it had been said, But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end. The hour had not yet come for the full manifestation of that momentous future upon which he had been commissioned to dwell. The situation of John was wholly different, and the hour for winding up the history of this dispensation was about to strike.
It was not a time then for sealing up, but for breaking seals, a time for prophecy, for the loudest, clearest, and most urgent proclamation of the truth. Behold, I come quickly, had been a moment before the voice of the great Judge. Let the bride for whom He is to come be ready; and, that she may the more promptly be so, let her hear with earnest and immediate attention the words of the prophecy of this book.
It is by no means easy to say whether the following words, He that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness still: and he that is filthy, let him be made filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him do righteousness still: and he that is holy, let him be made holy still, are to be considered as coming from the Apostle or from the angel who has been speaking to him.
This difficulty is the same as that experienced in the fourth Gospel at such passages as John 3:16; John 3:31, where it is nearly impossible to tell the point at which in the one case the words of Jesus, at which in the other the words of the Baptist, end. It would appear as if John so sank himself in the person with whom he was occupied at the time that he often gave utterance to thoughts without being able to distinguish between the other’s and his own.
In the present instance it matters little to whom we directly refer the words, whether to John, or to the angel, or to Him who speaks by the angel. In any case they contain a striking and solemn view of the relation between the righteous Judge and His creatures, when that relation is looked at in its ultimate, in its final, form. One thing is clear: that the first two clauses cannot be regarded as a summons to the wicked telling them before the Judgment to go on in their wickedness even while the period of their probation lasts. Nor can the second two clauses be regarded as an assurance to the good that there is a point in the actual experience of life at which their perseverance in goodness is secured. The words can only be understood in the light of that idealism which is so characteristic alike of the Apocalypse and of the fourth Gospel.
In both books the world of mankind is presented to us in exactly the same light. Men are divided into two great classes: those who are prepared to receive the truth and those who are obstinately opposed to it; and these classes are spoken of as if they had been formed, riot merely after, but before, the work of Christ had tried and proved them.
Not indeed that the salvation to be found in Jesus was not designed to be universal, that there was even one member of the human family doomed by eternal and irresistible decree to everlasting death, nor, again, that men are considered as so essentially identified with the two classes to which they respectively belong that they incur no moral responsibility in accepting or rejecting the Redeemer of the world. In that respect John occupied the same ground as his fellow Apostles. Not less than they would he have declared that God willed all men to be saved; and not less than they would he have told them that, if they were not saved, it was because they loved the darkness rather than the light.
Yet, notwithstanding this practical mode in which he would have dealt with men, such is his idealism, such his mode of looking at things in their ultimate, eternal, unchanging aspect, that he constantly presents the two classes as if they were divided from each other by a permanent wall of separation, and as if the work of Christ consisted not so much in bringing the one class over to the other as in making manifest the existing tendencies of each. The light of the one brightens, the darkness of the other deepens, as we proceed; but the light does not become darkness, and the darkness does not become light.
Hence, accordingly, the conversion of Israel or of the heathen finds no place in the Apocalypse. The texts supposed to offer such a prospect will not bear the interpretation put upon them. It does not indeed follow that, according to the teaching of this book, neither Israel nor the heathen will be converted. John only sees the end in the beginning, and deals, not with the everyday practical, but with the ideal and everlasting, issues of God's kingdom.
Hence, in interpreting the words before us, we must be careful to put into them the exact shade of meaning which the whole spirit and tone of the Apostle’s writings prove to have been in his mind when they were written. The clauses He that is unrighteous and He that is filthy are to be understood as He that has loved and chosen unrighteousness and filthiness: the clauses Let him do unrighteousness still and Let him be made filthy still as Let him sink deeper into the unrighteousness and filthiness which he has loved and chosen.
A principle freely selected by himself is supposed to be in the breast of each, and that principle does not remain fixed and stationary. No principle does. It unfolds or develops itself according to its own nature, rising to greater heights of good if it be good, sinking to greater depths of evil if it be evil.
Hence also we are not to imagine that the words under consideration are applicable only to the end, or are the record only of a final judgment They are applicable to the Church and to the world throughout the whole course of their respective histories, and it is at this moment as true as it will ever be that, in so far as the heart and will of a man are really turned to evil or to good, the allegiance he has chosen has the tendency of continued progress towards the triumph of the one or of the other.
In connection with thoughts like these, we see the peculiar propriety of that declaration as to Himself and His purposes next made by the Redeemer: Behold, I come quickly. He comes to wind up the history of the present dispensation. And My reward is with Me, to render to each man according as his work is. He comes to bestow reward upon His own; and there is no mention of judgment, because for those who are to be rewarded judgment is past and gone.
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end, the words again taking us back to the language of the Prologue, upon which follows a blessing for such as wash their robes, for those otherwise described in the Prologue as loosed from their sins in His blood, and in Revelation 7:14 as having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
These have the right to come to the tree of life, and they enter in by the gates into the city. A different order might have been expected, for the tree of life grows within the city, and it is the happy inhabitants of the city who eat its fruits. But this is the blessed paradox of faith. It is difficult to say which privilege enjoyed by the believer comes first, and which comes second.
Rather may all that he enjoys be looked on as given at once, for the great gift to him is Christ Himself, and in Him everything is included. He is the gate of the city, and as such the way to the tree of life; He is the tree of life, and they who partake of Him have a right to enter into the city and dwell there. Why ask, Which comes first? At one moment we may think that it is one blessing, at another that it is another. The true description of our state is that we are in Christ Jesus, who was made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glories, let him glory in the Lord.
To enhance our estimate of the happiness of those who are within the city, there comes next a description of those who are without They are first denoted by the general term the dogs, that animal, as we learn from many passages of Scripture, being to the Jew the emblem of all that was wild, unregulated, unclean, and offensive. Then the general, term is subdivided into various classes; and all of them are without, not put out. They were put out when judgment fell upon them. Now they are without; and the door once open to them is shut. The last words follow: I Jesus have sent Mine angel to testify unto you these things for the Churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright, the morning star.
And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And he that hears, let him say, Come. And he that is athirst, let him come. He that will, let him take the water of life freely. I testify unto every man that hears the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book: and if any man 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, which are written in this book. He which testifies these things says, Yes: I come quickly. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with the saints. Amen.
Once more in these words it will be seen that we return to the Prologue, in the opening words of which we read, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him, to show unto His servants; and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John. The glorified Lord now takes up the same words Himself; and, connecting by the name Jesus all that He was on earth with all that belongs to His condition in heaven, He declares of the whole revelation contained in the visions of this book that the angel through whom it was communicated had been sent by Him.
He Himself had given it, He, even Jesus, Jesus the Savior of His people from their sins, the Captain of their salvation, the Joshua who leads them out of the wilderness of this world, across the valley of the shadow of death, into that Promised Land which Canaan, with its milk and honey, its vines and olive trees, its rest after long wanderings, and its peace after hard warfare, only faintly pictured to their view. Well is He able to do this, for in Him earth meets heaven, and the angels of God ascend and descend upon the Son of man.
First, He is the root and the offspring of David, not the root out of which David springs, as if He would say that He is David’s Lord as well as David’s Son, but the shoot that comes out of the stock of Jesse and the branch out of his roots that bears fruit He is the Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, the substance of ancient prophecy, the long promised and looked for King.
Secondly, He is the bright, the morning star, the star which shines in its greatest brilliancy when the darkness is about to disappear, and that day is about to break of which the Sun of righteousness, with healing in His wings, shall be the everlasting light, Himself our Star, our Sun.
Thus He is connected on the one side with earth, on the other with heaven, Immanuel, God with us, touched with a feeling of our infirmities, mighty to save. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who shall say anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justified. Who is he that shall condemn?
It is Christ Jesus that died, yes rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Even as it is written, For Thy sake we are killed all the day long; We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Savior had declared, Behold, I come quickly, had spoken of the reward which He would bring with Him, and had used various images to set forth the happiness and joy which should be the everlasting portion of those for whom He came. These declarations could not fail to awaken in the breast of the Church a longing for His coming, and this longing now finds expression.
The Spirit and the bride say, Come. We are not to think of two separate voices: the voice of the Spirit and the voice of the bride. It is a characteristic of John’s style that where there is combined action, action, having both an inward and invisible and an outward and visible side, he often separates the two agencies by which it is produced.
Many illustrations of this may be found in his mention of the actions of the Father and the Son, but it will be enough to refer to one more strictly parallel to that met with here. In chapter 15 of the fourth Gospel we find Jesus saying to His disciples, But when the Advocate is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceeds from the Father, He shall bear witness of Me; and ye also bear witness, because ye have been with Me from the beginning. In these words we have not two works of witnessing, the first that of the Advocate, the second that of the disciples. We have only one, outwardly that of the disciples, inwardly that of the Advocate. In like manner now. The Spirit and the bride do not utter separate calls.
The Spirit calls in the bride; the bride calls in the Spirit. The cry Come is therefore that of the spiritually enlightened Church as she answers the voice of her Lord and King. Her voice is the echo of His. He says, I come; she answers, Come. John then adds the next clause himself: And let him that hears say, Come; that is, let him that hears with the hearing of faith; let him who has made his own the glorious prospects opened up in the visions of this book as to the Lord’s Second Coming add his individual cry to the cry of the universal Church. To this the Savior replies, And he that is athirst, let him come. He that will, let him take the water of life freely.
The words appear to be addressed, not to the world, but to the Church. He that is athirst has already drunk of the living water, but he thirsts for deeper droughts from that river the streams where of make glad the city of God. To partake more and more largely of these is the believer’s longing; and fullness of blessing is within his reach. Let him never say, It is enough. Let him drink and drink again; let him drink freely, until the water that Christ shall give him becomes in him a fountain of springing water unto eternal life.
The statements and replies contained in these words are those of the glorified Lord, of the Church speaking in the Spirit, and of the individual believer, as they hold converse with one another in that moment of highest rapture when evil has been extinguished, when the struggle is over, when the victory has been gained, and when the Lord of the Church is at the door. He in them and they in Him, what can they do but speak to and answer one another in strains expressive of mutual longing and affection and joy? Once more the Seer for it seems to be he that speaks turns to the book which he has written.
In the Prologue he had said, Blessed is he that reads, and they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things which are written therein. In the same spirit he now denounces a woe upon him who adds to it: God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in the book; nor less upon him who takes from it: for God shall take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book. The book has come from Him who is the faithful and true Witness of God, and it has been written in obedience to His command and under the guidance of His Spirit John himself is nothing; Christ is all: and John knows that the words of his great Master are fulfilled, He that receives you receives Me, and he that receives Me receives Him that sent Me. Therefore may he speak with all authority, for it is not he that speaks, but the Holy Spirit.
Yet once again, before the parting salutation, Christ and the Church interchange their thoughts. The former speaks first: He which testifies these things says, Yes, I come quickly. It is the sum and substance of His message to His suffering people, for they can desire or need no more. The I is the Lord Himself as He is in glory, not in the feebleness of the flesh, not amidst the sins and sorrows of the world, not with the cup of trembling and astonishment in His hand, but in the unlimited fullness of His Divine power, clothed with the light of His heavenly abode, and anointed with the oil of gladness above His fellows.
Especially is the Church told that this revelation is all she needs, because throughout the book she is supposed to be in the midst of trials. To the troubled heart the Apocalypse is given; and by such a heart is it best understood.
Jesus has spoken; and the Church replies, Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen to all that the Lord has promised; Amen to the thought of sin and sorrow banished, of wounded hearts healed, of tears of affliction wiped away, of the sting taken from death and victory from the grave, of darkness dissipated forever, of the light of the eternal day. Surely it cannot come too soon. Why is His chariot so long in coming? Why tarry the wheels of His chariots?
Yes, quickly. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.