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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Revelation 22

 

 

Verses 1-21

WE HAVE ALREADY seen that there is no temple in the heavenly city inasmuch as God and the Lamb are the Temple of it. The opening verse of chapter 22 shows that the throne of God and the Lamb is there, and this is again stated even more definitely in verse Revelation 22:3. Out of the throne proceeds the water of life like a flowing river. No earthly throne—not even the best of them—has proved itself to be a fountain of life. Their rule has been too oppressive or too weak, or their decisions before reaching the people have been too polluted in passing through lesser human channels. Here at last is a throne of absolute righteousness, which is exerted in beneficence, and life is the outcome. Moreover the city from which it flows out to men, is protected from every kind of defilement, and therefore no pollution reaches it as it flows. It is “pure” and “clear as crystal.” We read of Zion on earth as the spot where, “the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore” (Psalms 133:3). We are now contemplating the heavenly source whence all flows.

The river of life nourishes and supports the tree of life, and that tree is in the midst of the golden street of the city. Our thoughts are carried back at once to Genesis 2:1-25; Genesis 3:1-24. In his condition of innocence Adam had two trees within his reach. The tree of life was not forbidden him: the tree of knowledge of good and evil was. The one open to him he passed by: the one forbidden he took. As a fallen man the tree of life was placed beyond his reach by angelic action, never to be reached by anything that any man can do. There was no solution of the fearful problem raised until the Son of God appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Then, and only then, the responsibilities incurred by the knowledge of good and evil were met, and the risen Christ becomes the true Tree of Life for men. It is as true today as it will be then, that “the tree of life... is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7).

On this glorious tree the number twelve again is stamped. Its fruit is in twelve-fold diversity, and yielded twelve times a year. The fruits are apparently for the heavenly city, but its very leaves are to bring healing to the nations. The mention of months, of nations and of healing, show that the whole scene is concerned with the millennium and not with the eternal state.

When considering the eternal state, at the beginning of Revelation 21:1-27, we saw that much of the detail given is of a negative order—the mention of what will not be there. We find the same feature here. The city has no temple, no need of sun and moon, and no possibility of pollution. Now we find that there is no more curse, and it is repeated that there is no night there. Directly sin entered a curse entered, as Genesis 3:1-24 bears witness. The entrance of the law only made the curse more emphatic, and Malachi, the last prophetic word to the people under the law, uses the word freely: it is indeed the last word of the Old Testament.

The disobedience of the first man brought in the curse. The obedience of the Second, even unto death, laid the basis for its removal. When the throne of God and of the Lamb is established in the city then the curse goes out for ever. All disobedience will have disappeared. The Divine authority will be fully acknowledged, and righteousness, having nothing to challenge it, will be exercised purely in blessing.

Therefore it is that we read, “His servants shall serve Him.” But, if they were His servants, did they not always serve Him?—we may ask. The answer would have to be—only in part. So often, alas! selfish motives were mixed in with their service to Him, and the more spiritually minded they were the more they were conscious of it. Now at last the flesh in them has been eliminated and they really do serve Him. All that is entrusted to them, in carrying out the will of God and the Lamb, will be perfectly accomplished.

Then comes that glorious statement, “they shall see His face.” His face is connected with His glory in the revelation of Himself. When the law was given, and broken, Moses found grace in God’s sight, and thus emboldened he said, “I beseech Thee, shew me Thy glory.” The answer was, “Thou canst not see My face: for there shall no man see Me, and live.” Under grace the contrast is great. We can say, “God... hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” But what we have here far exceeds that. Brought into favour, we shall dwell in the full light of the knowledge of God, perfectly revealed in Christ. The prayer of our Lord will be fulfilled, “that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory.” We shall see the face of God for ever, in beholding Him.

Out of this, surely, springs the next statement, “His name shall be in their foreheads.” In Revelation 13:1-18, we learned that the followers of the beast had to have the mark or the name in their foreheads, thus declaring their allegiance to him, and that they represented him. Such come, as we have seen, under the wrath of God. We shall bear the name of God and the Lamb in the most prominent place, declaring our everlasting allegiance to Him, and reflecting His likeness as His representatives.

It would be difficult to conceive of anything more blessed than this— dwelling in His light, and reflecting His likeness for ever. Note the striking fact of “His” thrice repeated—not “Their.” God and the Lamb are both brought together under a pronoun in the singular. They are clearly distinguished; but They are one. Another indication this of the Deity of Christ.

Brought thus into this blaze of living light, all the darkness of night is for ever gone, and no feeble candle of man’s making is needed. Our chapter began with life and has proceeded to light. Love is not mentioned, it is only inferred, inasmuch as the city is the bride, the Lamb’s wife. That doubtless is because it is the city which is dwelt upon, and that sets forth not love but a centre of Divine administration.

So the closing words of the description are, “they shall reign for ever and ever.” As we learned at the opening of the book, the saints are made a kingdom of priests to God; that is, they are priestly kings. Further, as Paul told the Corinthians, “the saints shall judge the world.” And again, “we shall judge angels.” This is the thought of God, long purposed. Now we find it brought to accomplishment.

Here, then, are things that rise far above our feeble powers of apprehension at present. Nevertheless they are, blessed be God, profoundly real and, accomplished in their season, to be established for ever.

In verse Revelation 22:5 we have read the last utterance of prophetic revelation, and in it we were conducted to a condition of blessedness far beyond our highest thoughts. In Genesis 3:1-24 we have seen man departing from the light of God—such as was vouchsafed to him—plunging into spiritual night and becoming a slave of sin. Here we see redeemed men, who have received “abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness,” established in everlasting light, and they “reign in life by One, Jesus Christ,” as the Apostle Paul had written in Romans 5:17.

We are not surprised therefore that verse Revelation 22:6 gives us a solemn affirmation of the truth of the wonderful prospect unfolded. The Apostles made known the power and coming of the Lord, and Peter assures us that they had not followed cunningly devised fables in so doing (see, 2 Peter 1:16). Here we are contemplating glories which stretch out into eternity and which would be beyond belief were they not guaranteed to us as “faithful and true.”

Moreover they are “things which must shortly be done.” This statement surely is intended to intimate to us that we must reckon time according to the Divine estimation and not according to ours. The word translated “shortly” is almost the same as that translated “quickly” in the next verse, where we have the first of the three declarations, “I come quickly,” that occur in these closing verses. Our centuries are but so many minutes in God’s great clock! We incline to think however that this word is also intended to signify that when the Divine action takes place it is marked by swiftness, as it says in Romans 9:28, “A short work will the Lord make upon the earth.” When Jesus comes it will be no slow and long drawn out manifestation but rather like the lightning’s flash.

While we wait for His coming our blessedness lies in keeping the sayings of the prophecy we have been considering. We shall “keep” them if we bear them in mind so effectually that they govern our lives. We have heard the study of prophecy decried on the ground that it is but an intellectual exercise. It may be merely that of course, but it is not intended to be. If we keep the sayings of the prophecy we shall be enriched by the understanding of God’s purpose, of the objectives He has before Him, and of the way in which He will reach them. We shall also be blessed by the assurance of the complete victory that will crown all His judgments and His ways.

The effect of all this upon John was very great, as indeed it should be upon us who read it. The impulse to worship was doubtless right though falling at the feet of the angelic messenger was wrong. This was instantly repudiated by the angel for he took the place merely of a servant, and in that respect on a par with John or the prophets, or indeed with all who take the place of obedience to the word of God. God alone is to be worshipped. No holy angel will accept it, though it is the dearest desire of Satan, the great fallen angel, as is shown in Matthew 4:9.

Verses Revelation 22:8-9 are parenthetical in their nature. We must link verses Revelation 22:10-11 with verse Revelation 22:7. These sayings of the prophecy which are so profitable to the one who keeps them, are not to be sealed but kept open for any to inspect. The contrast to the close of Daniel’s prophecy strikes one at once. He was to “shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end.” The epoch in which we live—the Christian dispensation, we may call it—is “the time of the end,” or as John calls it in his epistle “the last time” (1 John 2:18). The Holy Ghost is come and that which formerly was sealed is open, and that now revealed is not to be sealed. No doubt it is also true that we are now in the last days of the last time, so that all this unsealed prophecy should have a special interest for us.

Verse Revelation 22:11 also is connected with the “Behold I come quickly” of verse Revelation 22:7, as also with the same announcement at the beginning of verse Revelation 22:12. The coming of the Lord will give fixity to the state of all, whether good or bad. Today there are the unjust and the filthy; the righteous and the holy. But today the unjust may be justified and the filthy may be born again and enter the ranks of the holy. The Lord having come, the state of each is unalterably fixed. May this tremendously solemn thought weigh heavily with us all!

Moreover, as verse Revelation 22:12 shows, the coming of the Lord will mean the judgment seat, where every man will have his work valued and rewarded according to its deserts. This is a very solemn thought for each believer. After the rapture of the saints comes the judgment seat of Christ.

It would seem as if, having uttered what is recorded in verse Revelation 22:11, the angel disappears, and the voice of Christ, the coming One, is heard alone. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. There could hardly be a stronger affirmation of His essential Deity than this. Obviously no created being, however exalted, could speak thus. It guarantees the rectitude of all His judgments, and that every reward He bestows will be in exact keeping with deserts.

Again we find the two classes in verses Revelation 22:14-15—the holy and the filthy. In verse Revelation 22:14 the better attested reading seems to be, “Blessed are they that wash their robes;” that is, once they were filthy but they have been cleansed. Only thus can anyone have right to the tree of life or be given access to the heavenly city. Those washed are within. Those characterised by the evils of verse Revelation 22:15 are without. The Apostle Paul had issued the warning, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers” (Philippians 3:2), and here we find such excluded for ever. Moreover he had plainly indicated that today in the assembly of God there is a divinely recognized “within,” and there is the world “without” (1 Corinthians 5:12, 1 Corinthians 5:13), so here we find the same separation maintained and carried into eternity.

Verse Revelation 22:16 has in it an element of contrast if compared with the first verse of the book. The prophetic unveilings, given by God to Jesus Christ, and conveyed to us by His angel through John, are now completed. The angel through whom they were communicated has disappeared. Jesus Himself remains, and in this verse and those succeeding it His voice only is heard. In the first place He endorses all that had been conveyed by the ministry of the angel, who had been sent by Him. We are not to think that the prophetic witness was anything less than Divine, though it has reached us in this way, The testimony was given in the seven churches which are in Asia, as stated in Revelation 1:4, but through them is intended for the enlightenment of the whole church until He comes.

Having thus endorsed the whole book, the Lord Jesus, using only His personal Name, presents Himself to us in a twofold way. First, as the root and the offspring of David, which gives us His title in Manhood to the kingdom and all dominance on the earth. Let Psalms 78:65-72 be read, and then 2 Samuel 23:1-5. These passages show that by a special intervention of Divine Power David was raised up to kingly estate, and how he was but an imperfect forecast of the infinitely greater One who was to spring from him after the flesh. Hence, in Isaiah 11:1, Christ is spoken of as a “rod” or “shoot” out of the stem of Jesse, and as a branch who is fruitful out of his roots. Here He is dearly presented to us as the “Offspring” of David.

But in the same chapter in Isaiah, verse Revelation 22:10, He is presented as “a root of Jesse” which shall be “in that day,” which answers also to what we have in our chapter. He is both “shoot” and “root” in Isaiah; both “offspring” and “root” in Revelation. In the former words His Manhood is the prominent thought; in the latter words, His Deity. And then—again reverting to 2 Samuel 23:1-39—when at last He rules over men in justice and in the fear of God, He will be “as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds.” In this striking and poetic imagery is set forth the opening of earth’s bright millennial day, when He comes.

But as the Revelation closes He presents Himself to us, not only in a way that refers us back to the Old Testament predictions of the rising of the Sun of righteousness, but in a second way more distinctly connected with New Testament hopes. He had been predicted as coming “a Star out of Jacob” (Numbers 24:17), without any reference to the morning. As the bright Morning Star, Jesus presents Himself as the Forerunner and Pledge of the uprising day. Now Israel does not know Him thus, for it has rejected Him and treated Him as an imposter. The Church, and the Church alone, knows Him in this character, and is authorized to entertain those heavenly hopes, centred in Him, which are to be realized before the day of glory breaks for Israel and the earth.

So in verse Revelation 22:16 the Lord Jesus addresses us personally as the One in whom all hope is centred both for the heavens and for the earth and He strips Himself, if we may so say, of all His titles and honours that more simply and effectively He may present HIMSELF. It is this that most directly appeals to the hearts of His own. Consequently there is an immediate response.

We may find encouragement in the fact that at the end of this book, and indeed of the New Testament as a whole, the Spirit is discovered as still remaining and the bride as a still existing entity on the earth. The failure which has so grievously marked the professing church, as indicated prophetically in Revelation 2:1-29 and Revelation 3:1-22, has not grieved away the One nor destroyed the other. The Spirit indwells the bride, and hence as with one voice the response, “Come,” is uttered. Such is the fact; but we may well challenge ourselves whether we are altogether in harmony with this cry. It is to be feared that all too many Christians are still looking for improvement on the earth, or at all events to an ideal condition of things being produced by the preaching of the Gospel, laying great stress on its social implications, and hence hardly joining in the cry.

This is it, we believe, which accounts for the next sentence, which contemplates some who hear, but who so far have not joined in the cry. Is any reader one of these? If so, you are invited to fall into line with the Spirit and the bride and add your “Come” to theirs. The more we realize our part in the Church and the place which the Church has as the bride of Christ the more ardently we shall desire the coming of the Bridegroom.

The third and fourth sentences comprised in verse Revelation 22:17 give us the happy assurance that until He comes the living water that the Gospel bestows is available for every thirsty soul. If our Lord speaks, as He does here, we who are His humble servants may boldly address men in the same confident terms. It is a joy to know that just as we may turn to Him who is the bright Morning Star and say, “Come,” so we may turn to men generally, and to the thirsting and the willing in particular, and bid them come to take of the water of life freely. Until this era of grace is replaced by an era of judgment the Gospel invitation is to go forth. It is for “whosoever will” and we may be sure that to the end there will be found some who by the working of God’s Spirit will be willing to take.

There is great solemnity about verses Revelation 22:18-19. To tamper with the Word of God is a great sin of which it is assumed no true believer will be guilty. Be it noted that the sin may be committed by adding to the words as well as subtracting from them. In olden days the former sin was that of the Pharisees, the latter that of the Sadducees. The one added their tradition, which had the effect of neutralizing the true word of God. The other adopted rationalist views and refused to believe in resurrection or in angel or spirit, and so took away much from the Divine word. Though the names are obsolete the spirit of both is very much alive today and this warning is greatly needed. The threatening at the end of verse Revelation 22:19 is perhaps the graver of the two. The taking away of his part from the tree of life, as the margin reads, seems to be correct.

Be it noted also that it is tampering with the “words” that is forbidden. At the very close we have a final intimation that the words of the Divine Writings are inspired. Verbal inspiration is claimed right up to the finish. If we have no verbal inspiration we have no inspiration at all. It is easy to see this if we transfer our thoughts to mundane affairs. The laws of our land are certainly not inspired but they are authoritative, and they have been enacted by Parliament in written form, sentence by sentence and word by word. In our Law Courts appeal is frequently made to the very words of our laws, knowing that they are valid and cannot successfully be impeached or altered. If counsel in some legal action waived the words of the law aside and pretended to interpret what he called “the spirit of the law” apart from the words, he would be quickly shown the emptiness of his contention and that the words had the authority and governed the case. Let us reverence the WORDS of this prophecy and of every other part of the Divine Writings.

In verse Revelation 22:20 we have what we may regard as the closing utterance of our blessed Lord in the Holy Scriptures—His last inspired word to His Church. He had just testified to the integrity and authority of His holy word, but in saying “these things,” we believe He referred to all contained in this wonderful book; indeed to all that we have in the Scriptures. And His last word of testimony is, “Surely I come quickly.” Thus for the third time in this closing chapter He announces His coming. In view of this how extraordinary it is that the very thought of His coming should have so largely slipped out of the mind of the church for ages, and even have been denied or explained away.

The explanation doubtless lies in the fact that the church slipped into the world and set its mind on the earth, as was indicated in the addresses to Pergamos and Thyatira in Revelation 2:1-29. Enticed by earthly allurements, the coming of the heavenly Christ lost its attraction. Let us see to it that the same process does not take place in our own hearts and lives. If we know what our portion and prospect really is we shall find His coming to be attractive beyond words, and our response will surely be, as indicated here, “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” We cannot desire delay and we add our hearty “So be it”—Come quickly, as Thou hast said, Lord Jesus. God grant that this may be the true response of all our hearts.

We have had in verse Revelation 22:20 the closing affirmation and promise of our Lord, and the closing response from the hearts and lips of His saints. Now finally in verse Revelation 22:21 we have the closing benediction from the Lord through the Apostle John, who was the vessel of these communications. The better attested reading is, “The grace of-the Lord Jesus Christ be with all the saints.” His full title is used here, and the closing note that is struck is that of His well known grace. This grace is to rest on ALL the saints and not on a few only, who may be specially faithful. And it will rest upon them ALL the time while we wait for Him.

The last word of the Old Testament is “curse.” That is because its main theme is the government of God and His law, ministered through Moses. And we read, “As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse” (Galatians 3:10). The New Testament introduces that “grace and truth” which “came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Hence the great contrast furnished by the closing words of the New Testament.

We may well bless God that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ shines like the sun upon every saint, while we all wait for the coming of our Lord.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Revelation 22:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/revelation-22.html. 1947.

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