Revelation 22:12-17 Commentary


12 "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.
13 "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end."
14 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.
15 Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.
16 "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."
17 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. NAU

Introduction

The epilogue of Revelation is found in 22:6-21. The opening paragraph of the epilogue (verses 6-17) provides a strong missionary emphasis. This passage establishes that the Christ is coming quickly, that He is divine, that the righteous and unrighteous have different destinies, that Christ has sent His angel to testify, and that the empowered church will take the gospel to the world. The mission of the church is very clear.

Verses 12-13: The Alpha and Omega

In verse 12 Christ proclaims that He is returning quickly and will reward every man according to what he has done. Christ follows this proclamation with the declaration (verse 13) that He is the Alpha and the Omega. Let's examine each of these points.

First, John says Christ is coming quickly. Four other times in Revelation (see 2:5, 16; 3:11; 22:7) Jesus says His coming will be soon. Because it has been over 2000 years since John wrote, some people might doubt that Jesus is returning. On this point, Horton (p. 335) writes:

As before, "I come quickly" may refer to the sense of imminence that God wants believers to have throughout the Church Age. It may refer also the suddenness and rapidity of the events that will take place at the time of His coming. Again, we must remember that God does not look at time the way we do. He can do in a day what we might expect Him to take a thousand years to do. He can stretch out to a thousand years what we might expect Him to do in a day. He is not limited by time as we are (2 Peter 3:8).

In one sense we already are in the last days. In I John 2:18 the apostle writes, "Children, it is the last hour." As Horton states (p. 335), "It has been 'last days' ever since the inauguration of the age of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17). In other words, this is the last age, the last dispensation, before Christ returns to establish His millennial kingdom." Of course, the very end of the "last days" is still to come. In due season, the consummation will take place.

Second, Christ will bring His reward with Him. Both the believers and the unbelievers will be judged according to their works. As Mounce (p. 393) states:

The distribution of rewards on the basis of works is taught throughout Scripture. Jeremiah 17:10 is representative: "I the Lord search the mind and try the heart, to give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings." Paul teaches that God "will render to every man according to his works" (from 2:6), and Peter declares that God "judges each one impartially according to his deeds" (I Peter 1:17). The reward will be spiritual blessedness to the righteous but judgment for those who are evil. It is the quality of a man's life which provides the ultimate indication of what he really believes.

John is not teaching a doctrine of salvation by works. With regard to his entire gospel, John declares (John 20:31), "but these [truths] have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name." The only way to be saved is through faith in Christ. However, even though they are saved through faith in Christ, the believers will be rewarded according to their works.

According to Ladd (p. 292): "From the perspective of the Apocalypse, patience in tribulation, steadfastness under persecution, faithfulness to Christ constitute the good works of Christians (13:10; 14:12)." Horton (p. 335) explains further that "The judgment will be based, not on the amount of the works, but on the spirit, motivation, and love a person showed while doing them (see Matthew 18:23-35; 25:14-30; I Corinthians 3:13-15; 13:3)."

Third, Jesus establishes who He is. Here, in this passage, He uses the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet to identify Himself as divine. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega. Mounce (p. 393) makes these comments:

In 1:8 and 21:6 it was God who identified himself as the Alpha and the Omega. The risen Christ now applies the title to himself. Its meaning is essentially the same as that of the two following designations--"the first and the last, the beginning and the end"--the first of which Christ has already applied to himself in 1:17 and 2:8. The names set him apart from the entire created order.

Concerning Christ, Horton (p. 335) says, "He is called the beginning, for God created all things through Him and apart from Him nothing was made that was made (John 1:3). Therefore, He was before all things (Colossians 1:17). He is the ending, for He will bring all things to their God-appointed consummation, or end."

Verses 14-15: Two Destinies

In verses 14-15, John addresses both those who believe in Christ and those who do not. Those who do believe will have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Those who do not believe are outside the plan of salvation.

First, the destiny of the believers is to live eternally with Christ. A blessing is pronounced upon those who "wash" their robes. John uses a present tense, which indicates durative and continuous action. The believers keep on washing their robes. According to Ladd (p. 293):

The saints are not those who have achieved a human righteousness of good works, but those who wash their robes. This idea has already appeared in the Revelation; the martyred but redeemed church is described as those who "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (7:14; see also 3:4).

Those who wash their robes have the right to the "tree of life." Horton (p. 336) writes,

As background for the final invitation (v. 17), Jesus turns our attention to the New Jerusalem. Those who "do [obey] His commandments"--out of a love for God, for their neighbors (including the foreigners), and especially for Jesus, who has saved them (John 14:15, 21; 15:9-14; I John 2:3-4; 3:22, 24; 5:2-3)--have permission to "enter . . . the city." There a fullness of blessing awaits them. They shall "have right to" the tree of life. Again it is emphasized that we shall freely enter through the gates into the New Jerusalem.

Second, the destiny of the unbelievers is to remain "outside" the plan of salvation. With regard to the word "outside," Ladd (p. 293-294) writes:

Outside [i.e. of the city] . . . Taken literally, this suggests that only the redeemed inhabit the holy city, while the wicked, like dogs cowering at the city gates, are excluded from the holy city and find their destiny somewhere in the final order outside. As a matter of fact, John has already asserted that their doom is not merely exclusion from the city but is the lake of fire (21:8). The present verse is John's picturesque way of contrasting the fate of the wicked with that of the righteous. The wicked are indeed excluded form the city. "Dogs" is term sometimes used to describe wicked, malicious persons (Phil. 3:2; Ps. 22:16, 20).

Similarly, Horton (p. 336) states:

"Without" means outside the whole new heavens and new earth, that is, in the lake of fire, in outer darkness. Separated forever from all the blessing of God will be the unclean, or "dogs." Dogs were considered unclean animals under the law of Moses, and the term was applied to unclean persons as well, including people such as Sodomites (Deuteronomy 23:17-18; I Timothy 1:10) and false teachers of low moral standards (Philippians 3:2).

John names the some of the people who will remain outside. He says (verse 15) "Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying." Concerning this list, Mounce states (p. 394), "Five of the six designations are also found in the slightly longer list in 21:8 of those whose lot is the lake which burns with fire and brimstone." Such people do not have a right to the tree of life, nor do they enter the new Jerusalem.

Verse 16: The Angel

In verse 16 Jesus declares, "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." Several points about these comments strike our attention.

First, Jesus authenticates the angel who testifies. The angel way sent by Jesus Himself. Mounce (p. 394) writes:

The angel who has guided John through the various visions of the book is now authenticated by Jesus himself. It is to the angel of Christ that the revelation has been delegated. The plural "you" indicates that it was intended for others besides John. It stresses that the revelation is not a private affair but for the entire church.

It was important that the testimony be written. Because John wrote, the testimony has been preserved for the churches of all ages. Now, the written Word is the basis of the proclamation.

Second, Jesus says, "I am the root and the descendant of David." Some difference of opinion arises over this comment. According to one view, the "root" of David refers to "a shoot from the stump of Jesse." The comments of Barnes are representative of this view. He writes:

Not the root in the sense that David sprang from him, as a tree does from a root, but in the sense that he was the "root-shoot" of David, or that he himself sprang from him, as a sprout starts up from a decayed and fallen tree-as of the oak, the willow, the chestnut, etc. . . . The meaning then is, not that he was the ancestor of David, or that David sprang from him, but that he was the offspring of David, according to the promise in the Scripture, that the Messiah should be descended from him. No argument, then, can be derived from this passage in proof of the pre-existence, or the divinity of Christ.

Another view is that Jesus in His divine nature was the root or source of David, while in His human nature He was David's offspring. In other words Christ was both David's Lord and offspring (Matthew 22:42-45). Clarke's comments are representative of this view:

Christ is the root of David as to his divine nature; for from that all the human race sprang, for he is the Creator of all things, and without him was nothing made which is made. And he is the offspring of David as to his human nature; for that he took of the stock of David, becoming thereby heir to the Jewish throne, and the only heir which then existed; and it is remarkable that the whole regal family terminated in Christ: and as HE liveth forever, he is the alone true David and everlasting King.

Third, Jesus declares that He is "the bright morning star." Here, "morning star" is a translation of the Greek word phosphoros which means "light bearer" or "source of light." Phosphoros could refer to the sun or to the morning star. Both the NASB and the NIV translate as "morning star."

The planets Mercury and Venus are both morning and evening stars. Most of the time, the morning star refers to Venus. This star can be seen at certain seasons of the year just as the day dawns, and it reflects light. When Venus appeared as a morning star, the Greeks called it Phosphorus. When it appeared as an evening star, they called it Hesperus.

Jesus uses "morning star" as a figure of speech to apply to Himself. In his comments on Revelation 22:16, Robertson (p. 486) writes:

This "day-star" (phosphoros) is interpreted as Christ (II Pet. 1:19). In Rev. 2:28 the phrase "the morning star" occurs in Christ's words, which is here [Revelation 22:16] interpreted. Christ is the Light that was coming into the world (John 1:9; 8:13).

Verse 17: The Invitations

In verse 17, John writes, "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." Some writers refer to the entire verse as the invitation. However, as Mounce points out (p. 395), "Verse 17 consists of four invitations."

First, two different views are held concerning these invitations. Some writers hold that the first two invitations are appeals to Christ to return. Taken this way, the Spirit and bride, as well as the one who hears, urge Christ to return. Other scholars hold that these two invitations are given by the Spirit and bride and by the one who hears to the world to come to Christ. The last two invitations are uniformly held to be addressed to the world. Let the one who is thirsty come, and let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.

It seems to me that the first two invitations, like the last two, are addressed to the world. Mounce agrees with Ladd, who makes the following case (p. 294-295):

This invitation is susceptible of two very different interpretations. The Spirit is the Holy Spirit who speaks through the prophets (Rev. 19:10); the Bride is the church, the wife of the Lamb (19:7). It is possible that the first half of the verse is a call to Jesus to come and reward his people. This makes good sense and fits the context (22:12, 20). However, in this case, the second half of the sentence involves an unreasonably abrupt shift in viewpoint, for the second invitation is addressed to the world--to all who are thirsty, to come and quench their spiritual thirst by drinking of the water of life. Therefore it is better to interpret the entire invitation to be addressed to the world. When the Lord comes, it will be too late; there will come a time when repentance is impossible. But that hour has not yet come; and until that day, the Spirit issues the invitation through the prophets for men everywhere to come: the church re-echoes the invitation saying, Come. Those who hear and heed the invitation add their voices saying, Come; and in conclusion John add his own words inviting all who read his prophecy to come and drink of the water of life.

Second, the opening half of verse 16 stresses the role of the Spirit and the church in witnessing. The Spirit and the bride say to the world, "Come." The one who hears is a part of the church. Those who have responded to the gospel say "Come." Thus, the invitation goes forth to come to Christ and believe in Him. Horton (p. 338) comments as follows:

This chapter has already drawn attention to the Father (22:6, 9) and to the Son (22:16). Now it focuses on the work of the Spirit. This last mention of the Holy Spirit in the Bible draws attention to the greatest work and ministry of the Spirit in the Church Age. In view of Christ's witness to the things prophesied in the Book of Revelation the Holy Spirit inspires the Bride, the whole Church, to join Him in the invitation, the same invitation prophesied by Isaiah as a result of the suffering Servant's work in Isaiah 53, calling everyone who thirsts to come (Isaiah 55:1-11). Together they keep on saying "Come!" throughout the church Age.

The work of evangelism that needs to be done before Christ returns can be done as it should be done only by believers empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5-8; 2:4). That is, for the invitation to be effective the Spirit must do the real work, and the Church must cooperate with the Spirit, not merely as a body, but as individuals. Then, everyone who hears (hears and responds) has the responsibility to join in spreading the invitation.

Third, the invitation is addressed to those who are thirsty and those who would take of the water of life without cost. One more time the gospel appeal goes out to all who will listen. The Lord is seeking out those who will thirst for the truth and who will drink of the water of life. When we proclaim the Word, we must do so with the conviction that we will find the thirst souls, that they will respond, and that the spiritually parched lips of those who hear will be watered.

Conclusion

The opening paragraph of the epilogue to Revelation is an invitation to the world to come to Christ. John presents the entire story of the future with this emphasis in mind. He is an evangelist and spares no effort to draw men to Christ, the Savior of the world. The evangelist does not work alone; the Spirit of God empowers John and all other believers to tell the story. Ever and always, the invitation is simply "Come." We must not complicate it. The one who is thirsty just need to come to Jesus and partake freely of the water of life. This is the incredible gospel that we preach!

George M. Flattery

For Further Study

Barnes' Notes. Biblesoft, 2003.
Clarke's Commentary. Biblesoft, 2003.
Dyer, Charles H. The Rise of Babylon. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1991.
Horton, Stanley M. The Ultimate Victory. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1991.
Ladd, George Eldon. A Commentary on the Revelation of John. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972.
Lenski, R. C. H. The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966.
Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids: Willliam B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977.
Newport, John P. The Lion and the Lamb. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1986.
Ramsay, W. M. The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia. 1904.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
Swete, Henry Barclay. The Holy Spirit in the New Testament. London: Macmillan and Company, 1910.
Tenney, Merrill C. Interpreting Revelation. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978.
Walvoord, John F. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Chicago: Moody Press, 1966.

© Copyright 2006. GMF.