The Final Invitation

Revelation 22:6-21

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
November 2012

Today, we will be finishing our study of the Book of Revelation.  It has taken a long time but we have finally come to the end of the book.  There are several exhortations in this chapter.  Some are quite interesting.

Final Exhortations

1. We see the exhortation to worship God and not angels (22:9).

John falls down and starts to worship the angel who delivered this revelation to John but the angel tells him not to do that.  Angels refused worship, because worship was to go to God alone.  Jesus also said that God and God alone was to be worshiped (Matthew 4:10) and yet we find him allowing people to worship him many times in Scripture.

He accepted worship from the magi (Matthew 2:11), the leper (Matthew 8:2), the disciples in the boat (Matthew 14:33), the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:25), the man born blind (John 8:38), the women who went to the tomb on Easter Sunday (Matthew 28:9), Thomas (John 20:28) and others.

This proves that Jesus is God.  In fact, the same angels who refused to take worship from John were seen worshiping Jesus earlier in the book.

2. We have the exhortation not to seal up the book (22:10).

Daniel (8:26; 10:14; 12:4, 9) and other apocalyptic books (I Enoch 1:2) were sealed.  Daniel was an OT book.  His prophecies were far away in the distant future.  Revelation is a NT book and the last of the NT books.  The events of Revelation are to happen soon (22:11).

3. We have a strange exhortation in Revelation 22:11

Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.

Revelation 22:11 contains two exhortations.  One is for the wicked and one is for the righteous.  The one for the righteous makes perfect sense (“let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy”).  Those who are doing good should continue to do good.  The righteous should continue to do what is right.

The exhortation that does not seem to make as much sense.  The exhortation to the wicked says, “Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile”.  The wicked are exhorted to keep on sinning.  That is strange.  Normally, the wicked are exhorted in Scripture to stop sinning.  They are exhorted to change and repent.

They are exhorted to be holy but here evildoers are exhorted to keep doing evil! The filthy are exhorted to continue to be filthy.  That sounds like a good verse for little boys who do not want to wash their hands.  What does this verse mean?  Doesn’t God believe in change?  Doesn’t he want people to repent?

This verse is most likely talking about the eternal state.  There will not be any changes in eternity.  The moral state of the righteous and wicked will be permanent.  It will be unalterable.  The righteous will be fixed in a state of holiness and the unsaved will be fixed in a state of sin.  There will be no changes in eternity.

That is good news if you are righteous.  It is good news if you are righteous.  It is bad news if you are wicked.  If you die without Christ, you will be unjust forever.  If you die in your present state, you will be sinful forever.  Your spiritual condition at death will be your spiritual condition forever.  That means there will be no possibility of salvation after death.  Repentance will be possible not but it will not be possible then.

The Final Invitation

Revelation 22:17 is one of the most famous altar call verses in the whole Bible.  It is the last invitation to lost sinners in the Bible.  Jesus wants us to come.  The invitation comes from three sources.  The Spirit and the bride say, “COME!” And let him who hears say, “COME!” Whoever is thirsty, let him COME; and whoever wishes, let him TAKE the free gift of the water of life”. Notice the two groups who are invited to come: whosoever will and whoever is thirsty.

Two Groups of People Invited

Whosoever Will Can Come

He does not say, “Whoever is worthy can come”.  He says, “Whoever is willing can come”.  This tells us two things about salvation.

1) This tells us that there is no compulsion.

No one is saved against their will.  No one is forced to believe.  All who want to come to Christ are invited to come.  Everyone who comes to Christ in genuine faith wants to come to Christ.

2) This tells us that there are no restrictions.

Mark 16.15 says,’ Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.  The gospel offer goes out to everyone.  The call is universal.  Whoever wants to can come (black or white, rich or poor, moral or immoral, religious or secular).  He does not say, “if you have a college education, come” or “if you were born in a Christian home, come”.

Whoever is Thirsty Can Come

Let him who thirsts come“.  When we are really thirsty and dying of thirst, there is nothing that will satisfy us besides a glass of water.  We don’t just want it, we crave it.  All of us have a longing inside that only God can meet (a longing that Jesus compared to thirst).  The world cannot quench this thirst.  Possessions cannot quench this thirst.  Fame cannot quench this thirst.

Pleasure cannot quench this thirst.  Only God can quench it.  God made us for himself.  As Augustine said in his Confessions, “Our hearts are restless unless they rest in You”.  All who are spiritually thirsty are invited to come.  Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37).  Jesus invites whoever wants to come and whoever needs to come.

Does This Refute Calvinism?

Revelation 22:17 says “whosoever will” can come to Christ.  The Bible says, “WHOEVER shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13).”  Revelation 22:17 does NOT say, “whoever is predestined can come” or “whoever is elect can come” and drink from the water of life.  It says, “whoever WANTS TO can come and drink from the water of life”.

Is this a verse that terrifies Calvinists?  Is it a verse that blows their whole theological system out of the water?  No.  Calvinists believe that no one believes against their will. They agree completely with this.  Whoever wants to come to Christ can and should come to Christ.

Calvinists believe that the Bible teaches two things very clearly.  They believe that the Bible teaches that whoever wants to come to Christ will be saved (John 3:16).  They also believe that the Bible teaches that only those who are chosen before the foundation of the world or predestined will be saved (Ephesians 1:4).

Both are true.  The people who killed Jesus were not forced to do that.  They wanted to do it and yet the Bible teaches that his death was planned from eternity past.  There you have predestination and free will side by side.

Acts 2:22-23 says,  “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross”.  Jesus death involved both the eternal purpose of God and the free will of man working side by side without any conflict.

How do we put these two truths together?  Whoever wants to come to Christ can come but only those who have been chosen will want to come to Christ[1].

Calvinism simply addresses the root cause of why some believe and some do not.  Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them” (John 6:44).   Similarly, Acts 13:49 says, all who were “appointed for eternal life” (NIV) or “ordained to eternal life” (KJV) believed.

The Final Warning

After a final invitation, we come to a final warning.  The Bible contains many warnings. This is the last one in the Bible.  It is a warning against doing two things.  The first part of the warning is in 22:18 and it is about ADDING WORDS to the book.  Some might be tempted to do that.  The second part of the warning is in 22:19 and it is about TAKING AWAY WORDS of the book.

It is not a warning against anyone who misinterprets the book.  That would be much of the Christian Church.  It is talking about additions or deletions to the book.  Instead of trying to obey the book, some may want to change it.  Do we change or do we try to change the book?

Notice the play on words in the passage (“if anyone ADDS anything to the Revelation, God will ADD to that person the plagues described in this book.  If anyone TAKES AWAY from this book, God will TAKE AWAY some things from him”). The punishment will fit the crime.

This warning is equivalent to a copyright.  A lot of documents in antiquity had this type if warning.  It was a common practice to insert this type of a warning at the end of a book.  Before the invention of the printing press, authors were at the mercy of those who copied their books by hand.

The warning is not so much accidental errors but deliberate and intentional changes to the text. It would apply to a scribe who doesn’t like a few chapters in the book and so he cuts them out or another scribe who doesn’t think there is enough chapters in the book, so he writes a few of his own.

The point is that the book is finished.  It is complete.  It should not be altered or tampered with by anyone.  Why would anyone do this?  The book was unpopular in John’s day and still is today.  Many do not like the Book of Revelation.

1. This warning is serious.

This is a very strong warning. This is some of the strongest language you find anywhere in the NT.  There is not a warning exactly like this anywhere in the Bible.  If you commit this sin, you can’t be saved.  It is not a warning of loss of rewards in heaven, as some have suggested[2].

The idea is that some Christians in the New Jerusalem will have access to the Tree of Life and some will not have access to that tree.  We know that this will not be the case because Revelation 22:18 mentions people receiving plagues as a judgment and there are not going to be any plagues in heaven because there will not be any sickness.

2. This warning is controversial

In fact, it is so controversial that many who preach on the Book of Revelation skip over these verses.  Much debate has taken place among Christians over these two verses.  Arminians use this passage as proof that you can be saved today and lost tomorrow.  Adding to the Scripture is grounds for loss of salvation.  Are they right?  Let’s look at their arguments.

Arminian Arguments

1. The Book of Revelation was written to Christians (1:4, 11)[1].

2. Only believers will have access to the tree of life and the holy city. The same group of people who are outside the city (21:27; 22:15) are said to be in the Lake of Fire (21:8).

3. Christians are the only ones who could commit the sin.[2]

“And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him HIS SHARE in the tree of life and in the holy city”. You cannot take away from someone something that they never had in the first place.

4. Therefore, salvation can be lost. Christians can lose their salvation.

 Biblical Response

1) This warning is not just addressed to Christians.

It is addressed to “EVERYONE who hears the words of the prophecy of this book.”  The warning goes out to everyone, not just Christians.

I warn EVERYONE who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If ANYONE adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.  And if ANYONE takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

If it mentioned the book of life, it would ONLY be talking about the saved (because they are the only ones in the book of life).  The KJV reads, “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”. 

The KJV was written in 1611.  When it was written, the translators relied primarily on the Greek text of Erasmus.  Erasmus (1466-1536) was the first one in 1516 to published Greek NT.

No one had printed the Greek NT before Erasmus.  When he printed his Greek NT, he had one Greek manuscript for the book of Revelation.  It came from the twelfth century and it was mutilated.  It did not have Revelation 22:16-21.  It lacked the last six verses of the book.

Erasmus did not have a Greek manuscript for those verses, so he took the Latin Bible of his day and put those verses in Greek.  The Latin Vulgate Bible reads, “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”[3]

The problem is that no Greek manuscript reads “book of life”.  All Greek manuscripts say “tree of life”.  Not only do the oldest Greek manuscripts read “tree of life,” the majority of Greek manuscripts read “tree of life”.  That is what the majority text says.[4]

The NIV readsAnd if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the TREE OF LIFE”. All modern translations read “tree of life” and that is what the Greek text says.

That is a problem if you believe in the King James Only doctrine.  If you believe that the KJV is an inspired translation (as some do), how do you possibly explain a clear error here in the translation of this verse?

2) This is not talking about actual share but potential share in the tree of life and the holy city.

This interpretation is clear from several translations.  The NIV reads, “And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.”

The CEV reads, “If you take anything away from these prophecies, God will not let you have part in the life-giving tree and in the holy city described in this book.”

Potential share is clear from the immediate context of the passage.  The water of life is available to whosoever will.  Everyone has potential access to it.  Everyone can have a part of it (22:17).

Actual share would not make any sense in the context because this sin cannot be committed in the eternal state.  It can only be committed now.  We will all be sinless then.

The point is that people who intentionally and deliberately distort, pervert and tamper with Scripture cannot be saved.

This passage is not talking about people who add to Scripture in general (e.g., Quran or the Book of Mormon) and is not specifically dealing with the canon of Scripture which did not exist yet.  The books of the NT did not come together in one volume until much later.[5]

It is talking about those who add or take way from “the words of prophecy of THIS BOOK” (Revelation), not of every book of Scripture, but the same principle would apply when you try to add to what God has written in his Word and pass it off as inspired when God has not spoken or when you try to remove parts of God’s Word, as the higher critics and Jesus Seminar tries to do.

God apparently sees it as a very serious sin to tamper with Scripture.   The person who does this will be outside the holy city, along with dogs, sorcerers, the sexually immoral, murderers, idolaters and liars (22:15; cf. 21:27).

They are put in the same category.  This is one more sin to add to the list of things that excludes people from heaven.  All of those sins can be forgiven through repentance.  None of these behaviors are unforgiveable sins.

The lesson is that we need to be very careful with how we treat Scripture.  The sixteenth century John Calvin made the following statement in the prologue to his Institutes of the Christian Religion which I have slightly paraphrased:

“Such respect we should have for the Word of God that we should not pervert it in the least degree by varying expositions, which diminishes its majesty.  The Word of God should be interpreted very carefully and seriously.

If it is a great wickedness to contaminate anything that is dedicated to God, what will happen to the person who handles the most sacred thing on earth with impure or unprepared hands?  It is almost sacrilegious to interpret Scripture in any way we want with very little thought or study”

C.E.B. Cranfield, The renowned NT scholar in the UK, said the following in a personal letter (dated October 3, 1982):

“It seems to me that it behooves us all to be very, very humble in relation to Scripture and to be prepared to have to be patient and to admit that there is much in it that we do not yet understand.

The most learned and faithful of us are only beginners!  I shudder at the dangerous pride of those who are [always] so sure that they have the correct interpretation and use God’s Word as a weapon in their sinful hands”

3) Everyone means everyone, including Christians.

If a Christian committed this sin, he or she would not be saved, just as if a Christian committed apostasy or the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.  The real question is whether these are sins which genuine Christians can commit.

A professing Christian can commit this sin.  The question is whether a genuine Christian can commit this sin. Calvinists and Arminians disagree on this point.

I would agree with Calvinists on this point.  Both Calvinists and Arminians would agree that a person who commits apostasy is lost.  They disagree on whether a true believer can commit apostasy.

The Bible describes many kinds of faith and many kinds of believers.  It describes true and false faith.  One difference between the two is that true faith perseveres (I John 2:19; Hebrews 10:39).

 


[1] Daniel D. Corner, The Believer’s Conditional Security: A Study on Perseverance and Falling Away (Evangelical Outreach, 2000), 238, 256

[2] Ibid. 237, 526-528

[3] http://www.latinvulgate.com/lv/verse.aspx?t=1&b=27&c=22.  Why did the Latin Vulgate read “book of life”?  The Latin Vulgate was written in the fourth century by Jerome.  The difference between the word “book” and the word “tree” in Latin is only two letters.  The form of the word for “tree” in Latin in this passage is lingo.  The Latin word for “book” is libro (from which we get “library”).  The Greek words are not quite as close.

[5] The same warning is found in the Book of Deuteronomy.  Deuteronomy 4:2 says, Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you”.  Deuteronomy 12:32 says “See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it”.  If this prohibits new books of the Bible from being written, then the OT canon would have been closed when Deuteronomy was written and no book of the Bible could be written after that book.  Those words had nothing to do with the closing of the OT canon.

The Final Promise

The last promise is found in Revelation 22:20: “He who testifies to these things says,Yes, I am coming soon.”  That is mentioned three times in the chapter (22:7, 12, 20).  They are the last words of Jesus.  Many do not believe this promise but Jesus said that not only is he coming, he is coming soon[6].  How is this even possible?

Two thousand years have gone by and Jesus has not come yet.  Time is relative.  It seems to go slow on Monday morning but by Sunday evening we wonder how it went by so fast.  When we are young, time seems to go slowly but when we get older, we cannot believe how quickly time seems to go.  Since Jesus is coming soon, we need to be ready when he comes.

The Last Prayer

John says, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (22:20)It is a biblical prayer.  It is a prayer based on Scripture.  Jesus said it three times in this chapter.  That is the way we should prayer.  It is asking God to do what He has already promised to do.

The Last Blessing

The last blessing is found in Revelation 22:21: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen”.  The last book of the NT ends with a benediction.  The last book of the OT ended with a curse (Malachi 4:6).  The last book of the NT ends with a blessing.


[1] http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=1016121719241

[2] One example is Thomas Constable of Dallas Theological Seminary.  Constable states,  “If he or she is a believer, the part (share) lost must be some special privilege in the eternal state”.  http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/revelation.pdf

[3] http://www.latinvulgate.com/lv/verse.aspx?t=1&b=27&c=22.  The real question is why did the Latin Vulgate, which was written in the fourth century by Jerome, read “book of life”?  The difference between “book” and “tree” is only two letters.  The form of the word for “tree” in Latin in this passage is lingo.  The Latin word for “book” is libro (from which we get “library”).  The Greek words are not quite as close.

[5] The same warning is found in the Book of Deuteronomy.  Deuteronomy 4:2 says, Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you”.  Deuteronomy 12:32 says “See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it”.  If this prohibits new books of the Bible from being written, then the OT canon would have been closed when Deuteronomy was written and no book of the Bible could be written after that book.  Those words had nothing to do with the closing of the OT canon.

[6] This is not talking about how Jesus will come (as some have suggested) but when he will come.  The same word is also used of the other vents of the book (1:1; 22:6).  All of the events of the book are said to happen soon.  That includes the Tribulation Period and the Thousand Year Reign of Christ.

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