The Epilogue - Rev. Herman Hoeksema
6 And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done.
7 Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.
8 And I John saw these things and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things.
9 Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.
10 And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.
11 He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.
12 And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.
13 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.
14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
15 For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.
16 1 Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.
17 And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.
18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:
19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
20 He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
21 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
As we have seen, the Book of Revelation consists, first of all, of an introduction in Chapter 1, verses 1 to 8. Secondly, there is the main body of the book. And finally, there is the close, or epilogue.
The main body of the book we have now finished. In our discussion we saw, in the first place, a picture of the church in its completeness, in its universality, and as she appears in every age, gradually degenerating into the church of Laodicea, or Babylon. Secondly, we found the vision of the Lamb standing as though it were slain before the throne of God and counted worthy to receive and to open the book with its seven seals. And then we followed the revelation contained in seal after seal as it was broken and as it was finally made manifest in the trumpets, and, in turn, in the vials. We obtained some vision of the mighty struggle which is carried on throughout the ages of the present dispensation for the completion and consummation of the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Mighty enemies arose against that kingdom. We obtained a view of the power of Antichrist developing throughout the ages and finally realizing itself in a tremendous worldpower which is pictured as the beast out of the sea, aided by the beast arising from the earth. We learned how the church will apostatize from God and the Lamb and degenerate into an abominable harlot, who will be instrumental in the power of Antichrist. But plagues were also sent, just because of the existence of this power of opposition, plagues of war and all kinds of social trouble, of revolution and insurrection, of famine and pestilence. And these plagues, we found, had for their purpose the detention of the powers of opposition, so that the world-power could not develop itself prematurely. But also the final destruction of that inimical power of the world and of all the enemies of Christ was revealed. In the meantime, we found that those plagues did not harm the people of God. On the contrary, they served to purify and to strengthen them. And in the midst of the tumult and tribulation of this present time, the one hundred forty-four thousand of the Lamb were sealed and kept safely. Finally, we also found how, in spite of all the counsel of the devil and of his host, the New Jerusalem descended out of the new heavens upon the new earth, and how the covenant of God was completely realized in that new world, where all the world shall lie at the bosom of God and be His kingdom, under Christ, the Anointed.
And now we have come to the close of the book. No more revelations and visions are to follow. What follows is an epilogue, a fit close and application of all that has been revealed to John and written by him. There is in, this epilogue, no doubt, abundant material for many separate discourses. We shall treat it, however, as one whole. For, in the first place, it actually constitutes one whole and belongs together. And, in the second place, as we said in the beginning, it is not our purpose to develop the different points of doctrine which are implied in the book, but merely to study it with a view to the purpose for which it has been given to the church, that is, to obtain a vision of the coming Lord. Much of the detail that is found in this passage we have met with at various other points in the book; and we will not repeat. Hence, we view the rest of this twenty-second chapter, from verse 6 to the end, as an epilogue.
The Speedy Coming Of The Lord: Assured
The main subject and contents of this epilogue is undoubtedly the speedy coming of the Lord. A careful reading will show that this is actually the allpervading idea of this passage. For it is mentioned in the text repeatedly. In verse 6 we read: "These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done." These "things which must shortly be done," (or: "come to pass") are all concentrated around the coming of the Lord. Here John records once more that they must come to pass. That the Lord does come constitutes the consummation of the counsel of God. And that these things must come to pass shortly, or quickly, is emphasized throughout the passage. This is really an assertion, therefore, that the Lord will surely come quickly. The same is true of verse 7. Here we have a direct statement of the Lord Himself: "Behold, I come quickly." The same thought is twice more expressed in verse 12 and in verse 20: "And, behold, I come quickly." The same idea is expressed in verse 10 from a slightly different point of view: "Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand." Once more, in verse 17 we read of the response of the Spirit and of the bride, as well as of the individual believer. And that response is again that the Lord may come quickly: "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." And, finally, in verse 20 we meet with the response from the heart of John himself in the same words: "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus." No less than seven times, therefore, in the space of these few verses do we meet with an indication of the coming of the Lord. Hence, I regard this as the main topic of the epilogue.
Neither need we be surprised that it should be so.
For we have here the close of the entire book. And it is the purpose of an epilogue, or application, to drive home the main subject of the Book of Revelation. That chief subject of the entire book is, beyond all doubt, that the Lord cometh quickly. The book was written that the church might not be forgetful of that fact, might not grow weary and despondent. It was written that the church might be able to see the coming of the Lord in the history of the world. Hence, it was indeed meet that the chief subject of the application, or epilogue, should be: "The Lord cometh quickly."
Now what is the meaning of this statement?
After all that we have discussed, we can realize the truth of this statement all the more clearly. Also at the beginning the statement was made. But then we could not conceive of all that was implied in this coming of the Lord. Now, however, we have obtained a conception of it; and we can realize the truth that is expressed here all the better.
Jesus is coming!
He has told us how He would come. He would come accompanied by wars and plagues of famine and pestilence. And the nearer He would come, the more emphatically the power of opposition would assert itself. We have learned to see that history is actually carried out so as to point to the coming of the Lord. And therefore we say, "lie is coming!" Others may be blind to the fact that the Lord is coming; but we say nevertheless, "He is coming; and we see Him come!"
Besides, according to the text, He is coming quickly. Also this we can now understand all the better. Nineteen hundred years have passed, and yet He has not arrived. But we understand that He is coming speedily nevertheless; He is coming quickly, very rapidly. He is coming as soon and as quickly as it is possible. If we will understand how rapidly Jesus is coming, we must take into consideration what must happen before His final coming. Let us use an illustration from the history of World War 1, and, in fact, also from the Second World War. When Germany pressed the Allies and pressed them hard, they were for a time in desperate straits. And longingly they looked for the coming of the Americans. The Americans said, "We are coming, and we are coming quickly." But many months elapsed before they actually did come. To the Allies in their desperate condition it seemed a long time before they actually came. Yet did not the Americans come quickly? Surely, they did; and they came as fast as it was possible for them to come. But think what was implied in their coming. Many, many things had to be prepared before they could come. An army had to be drafted and trained. Money had to be raised. The army had to be equipped. The material, clothing and ammunition and weapons, had to be manufactured. Ships had to be built. In view of all this, it was absolutely true that they were coming quickly. The same may be applied to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. From our point of view it may seem a long time. But look! The children of God must be gathered. The whole church, gathered from all nations, must be filled: not one of the elect may be lacking. Besides, the great apostasy must take place. Antichrist and all the power of iniquity must develop. Babylon must be realized. The world-power must be formed. Surely, all these things being taken into consideration, we may certainly say, "He comes quickly." Things, especially in the last twenty-five or fifty years, are developing before our very eyes. We see Him come!
Realizing, however, that from our point of view the time may seem long, the Lord assures His church in this application repeatedly that He is actually and surely coming, that all that has been written in the book concerning His coming is absolutely true.
For thus we read in verse 6: "And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to show unto his servants the things which must shortly be done." These words, according to the text, are faithful. They are faithful, that is, they shall prove to be real. They shall not disappoint those who read and believe. What is written in the book shall surely be realized. And therefore, they are not only faithful, but true. They are not mere fiction, a romance; but they are in harmony with reality. They are a revelation of the counsel of God which can never fail. And there is the most complete harmony between that counsel and these words of the Book of Revelation. In the second place, this is solemnly assured by supporting the statement that these sayings are faithful and true by the name of the Author. He is none less than the Lord God of the spirit of the prophets Who revealed these things to the churches through the medium of the angel who spoke with John. God controlled the spirit of the prophets; and He controlled also the spirit of John when he received these visions. God revealed to him the entire truth concerning the coming of the Lord and concerning His coming speedily. They were not products of a fanciful imagination, but they were the revelation of the living God. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. He stands above all time and history. And He is the Unchangeable One. He is the cause and also the purpose of all history; and He alone absolutely controls it, even by our Lord Jesus Christ. He, the unchangeable and almighty God, is the pledge for the truth of the statement that these things will come to pass, and that they will come to pass soon, so that it is certainly true that the Lord will come quickly. Jesus, the root and offspring of David, the bright and morning star, is the chief servant of the Lord. He is the Savior, Who once shed His lifeblood for His people; the root and offspring of David, Who once came as the realization of Old Testament prophecy. He is the bright and morning star, Who Himself is therefore the light of that eternal morning and Who will surely appear as the herald of the morning, as certainly as the morning star appears in the heavens.
Shall we waver in the sight of such witnesses? The wise of the world say, "You are demented. What you are teaching is absolutely contrary to fact." The powerful of the world say, "You are a dreamer." The rich of the world say, "You are a pessimist." Whatever they say, we have the testimony of Jesus, of the almighty, everlasting, faithful Savior. Shall we exchange world-views? Never! Jesus is surely coming! He is coming quickly!
The Speedy Coming Of The Lord: Impressed
This truth, that the contents of the Book of Revelation are faithful and true, is impressed upon us, first of all, by the mention of reward and punishment. It is because of the tremendous certainty and significance of this fact that the truth of Jesus' coming is impressed upon us very seriously.
First the command comes that the book must not be sealed, but must remain open, verse 10: "And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand." The book, therefore, must not be closed, and the sayings of this book must never be sealed. Its contents must be transmitted to the church. And it must be expounded by the church in the midst of the world. They must read it, understand it, and testify of it.
If this is done, the result will be two-fold, as is the case with the entire Word of God. Always there are those who are saved and those who are hardened. The Word of God is always a savor of life unto life, but also a savor of death unto death. What is true of the Word of God in general is also and emphatically true of the Book of Revelation. When it is opened and expounded, there will be those who will have nothing of it, who will deny the truth of its contents. As I said before, they will say, "You dream. You are beside yourself. You are a pessimist." The sayings of this prophecy will arouse the opposition of the wicked, of those who have no hope, or whose hope is vain because it is only a hope in and of the present world. This prophecy leaves no hope for their vain dreams. Thus, it will arouse them to greater hostility and opposition, to more wickedness. But, on the other hand, it will also strengthen the faith and hope of the people of God. This, therefore, is inevitable.
What then? Must this book remain closed because it will arouse opposition, because it will reveal more wickedness on the part of some?
No, the answer is in verse 11: "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still." These words have been variously interpreted. Some find irony in them. But this certainly does not fit the second part of the text, concerning him that is righteous and holy. Others explain them as referring to the confirmed state of the righteous and of the wicked after the final judgment. But there is nothing in the context to suggest this. Besides, it can hardly be said that the damned in hell are confirmed in their sin and still commit iniquity. The meaning, however, is rather clear if we see these words in their close connection with the statement in verse 10 that the time is at hand and that therefore the book must not be sealed. Before the end can come, the two-fold ethical fruit, that of the root-sin of Adam and that of the righteousness in Christ, must be ripe. And this is to be attained in the continued works of iniquity of the reprobate ungodly, on the one hand; and, on the other hand, it is to be attained in the fruits of righteousness in Christ on the part of the saints in the midst of an ungodly world. In this light we can understand the words of verse 11. This book will draw the lines. It will strengthen and emphasize the great difference between the people of God and the world. It will make the world more conscious of the great difference between its ideals and those of the people of God; it will also make the children of God more conscious of the same fact. And for the latter purpose the book may not remain closed, but must be open, so that all can hear and read and so that this two-fold effect may be achieved. For the time is at hand! The Lord cometh quickly! Let this separating process, this process of the bearing of a two-fold ethical fruit, go on without restraint, so that the fruit may become ripe, and so that the end may come!
To be sure, there is also the responsibility connected with the reading and hearing of the sayings of this book. For it is emphasized that the Lord will come with His reward, to render to every man according as his work shall be, (verse 12). Have we been more unrighteous and more filthy through the revelation of this book? We shall have no part with the tree of life, and we shall not enter into the eternal and glorious city of God. In the New Jerusalem are only those who have their robes washed, those who have by faith washed their robes in the blood of Christ. (The ARV renders verse 14 more correctly: "Blessed are they that wash their robes...") By faith they have been sanctified and cleansed from all unrighteousness and from all filth, even as by faith they have been justified and freed from all the guilt of sin. This implies too, of course, as far as the reward of the righteous is concerned, that the reward of their works is ever a reward of grace. For fundamentally the work of Christ their Lord in their behalf is the righteousness of the saints; and its imputation to them is the guarantee that they can never be condemned. It is in His blood that they wash their robes by faith! And they are blessed! They have a right to come to the tree of life. And they shall enter into the city through the gates. The meaning is not that there is a possibility of entering in any other way. But this expression is added in order to emphasize the fact that they enter into the city as those who are its rightful citizens. The angels of the gates open to them; and they belong to the commonwealth of Israel, the names of whose tribes are written on these gates. But in marked contrast are those who are "without," verse 15: "For without are dogs (meaning: false teachers), and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie." They receive the just reward of their works. They are "without," that is, in outer darkness!
But there is more.
The contents of the Book of Revelation is not only impressed by this mention of reward and of punishment. It is also impressed by a dire threat to those who assume an unbelieving attitude toward the contents of this book. This we find in verses 18 and 19: "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that 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 out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." In these words there is a very serious warning, a warning which is based upon and which proceeds from the truth and faithfulness of the sayings of the prophecy of this book.
Surely, what is said in these verses does not apply to the imperfect understanding of believers. After all, the words of the book remain a prophecy, with all the difficulties of interpretation contained in it. We realize clearly our own feebleness in understanding perfectly all that is implied in this prophecy. No, the words refer to a conscious attitude of unbelief. They are addressed to him that heareth the words of this prophecy, who therefore becomes acquainted with its contents. He can change the book so as to suit his own fancy and his own purpose, so that after all the kingdom of the world is confused with the kingdom of God in Christ. He can do that by adding to the book or by detracting from it. The book can indeed be so augmented and can be so abridged that the light of the truth of this prophecy is bedimmed, and so that particularly the truth that Jesus is coming is deliberately corrupted and denied.
The punishment which is threatened is, negatively, that he shall be deprived of his part in the book of life and of his part in the holy city and in all the things which are written in the book.
Of course, this must not be interpreted as if there were a falling away from grace, as though such a person at one time really had a part in these things, but later fell from grace and lost that part. All Scripture emphasizes very clearly that such a falling away is impossible. God preserves His people. And through the power of God's preservation they certainly will persevere. In actual fact, of course, no names can ever be taken out of the book of life. Nor does the person to whom these words apply truly have a part in the book of life even before his own consciousness. The Holy Spirit does not testify in his heart that he is a child of God, but witnesses, through the Word, that he is a child of the devil. He has no faith, and, therefore, no hope, that is, no expectation, no assurance, and no longing for eternal glory. Moreover, God, through His Spirit, impresses upon his mind that, seeing that he willfully distorts the sayings of this book, he must know and be conscious of the fact that he has no part in the real book of life and the real holy city. But it is possible for such an one to have a part in a book of life of his own imagination and in a holy city of his own creation. And it is possible for such an one to act and to speak as though he has a part in the book of life and the holy city while in actual fact he does not mean God's book of life and the real holy city at all, and while in actual fact he distorts and corrupts the very words of the prophecy concerning the holy city and the coming of the Lord. And it is possible to appear before men, before the church in the world, as having a part in the book of life and in the holy city. And it is possible that as far as men are concerned the name of such a person is written in the book of life. But what the text states here is another and emphatic way of saying that he who takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy has never had any part in the book of life -and in the holy city. And in the end this shall be revealed. Positively, these verses teach that such a false prophet shall participate in all the plagues that are written in this book, that is, in the plagues that are threatened upon the wicked, upon the antichristian world. He is like them and of them; and he shall participate in all their plagues, to the very last, in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. For, "Behold, he cometh!" And His reward is with Him, to render unto every man according as his work shall be. And His Word is inviolable!
The Speedy Coming Of The Lord: Kindling Response
Finally, we find in this passage a beautiful response to the prophecy of this book, and especially to the truth that Jesus is coming. This is expressed as a fact, let us notice. The text says, in the first place, that the effect of this revelation of the coming of the Lord upon the church as a whole is that she responds and eagerly says, "Come, Lord." We find this, in the first place, in verse 17: "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." And again, in verse 20 we read: "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
In verse 17, therefore, we read that the Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And we understand, of course, that they are not to be taken separately, as if the Spirit of Christ and the bride separately express this longing for the coming of the Lord. This is impossible. The Spirit is the Spirit of the Bridegroom. That Spirit of the Bridegroom dwells in the bride, that is, in the church. Hence, it is through the Spirit that the bride says, "Come." Under the influence of this revelation the bride says, through the Spirit, "Come, Lord Jesus." Naturally! This must needs be the spontaneous response of the bride. For the bride .receives a picture of the glory of the Bridegroom and of the time when she shall always be with Him. She is conscious all the more, through the prophecy of this book, of her present misery, of her tribulation which she must and does suffer in the midst of the world. She is conscious of her present separation. She is conscious of her sinfulness. And when, through the words of the book of this prophecy, she looks at the glory which shall be revealed to her, she calls out, under the influence of the Spirit of the Bridegroom, "Come; yea, come, Lord Jesus!"
This response comes from the bride as a whole. The church organically in principle always longs for the coming of the Bridegroom even though she may not always be equally conscious of this longing for the coming of the Lord. But also individual believers do not always partake in this sigh of longing. But the church responds to this promise of the coming of the Lord not only directly and in earnest prayer, but also in the preaching. Hence, through that preaching of the bride comes the admonition, or exhortation, "And let him that heareth say, Come." And again: "And let him that is athirst come." And once more: "And whosoever will (that is: whosoever longs for righteousness and life, and who therefore will), let him take of the water of life freely."
This is at the same time a test for us as a church and as individual believers. The question is: do we participate in this response? More or less, as the book was explained to us, did we say sometimes, "Come, Lord Jesus; yea, come quickly?" But, in the first place, as these words are an exhortation, we must turn away from the world and its lusts. We must look forward in hope to the blessed day when the Lord shall come. And it is only in that hope, which certainly can never fail, that we are able to say, "Come, Lord Jesus." Secondly, and in connection with this exhortation, to that individual child of God comes the glad evangel, "Take of the water of life freely." This water of life, as it flows forevermore in the New Jerusalem, is promised to us. It is for him that is athirst. There may be among God's people those who fear and doubt, who wonder whether they shall partake of the blessedness and the glory of the New Jerusalem. O, they are indeed thirsty. They long for the perfection which shall be revealed to us in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, they have nothing to bring, absolutely nothing. And therefore the exhortation and assurance is very significant: "Come, take of the water of life freely." That is, have absolutely nothing of yourselves. Have all things only in Christ Jesus. Then, indeed, you shall not only look at the water of life. You shall not only be athirst. You shall listen to this exhortation, "Let him come and drink of the water of life freely!"
Finally, we have at the close of the book a testimony of John, first of all in verses 8 and 9: "And I John saw these things and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things. Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God." John evidently is so overwhelmed by the visions he had received, and especially by the vision of the New Jerusalem, that he falls down to worship. Surely, that worship was mistaken, as is explained by the angel; and the angel corrects him. But the impression is indeed comprehensible. He is overwhelmed, and he accepted all that he saw and heard by faith. And there is a final testimony of John himself when, according to verse 20, he personally responds to the repeated assurance of the Lord's quick coming in the words, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
If that may be the result of our discussion of the Book of Revelation, the result that we have grown in the knowledge of the glory of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, grown in the faith and in the hope and longing and in the strength to renounce the world, in grace to wash our robes, and to walk in the midst of the world in that hope eternal, and therefore also in sanctification of life, it will be sufficient. And we may close where the book closes, with the apostle pronouncing the blessing upon the church: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen."