Don’t seal the prophetic words – Revelation 22:10-11

Previously: Don’t do that! – Revelation 22:8-9

The scripture

Rev. 22:10 – He also said to me, “Don’t seal the prophetic words of this book, because the time is near. 11 Let the unrighteous go on in unrighteousness; let the filthy go on being made filthy; let the righteous go on in righteousness; and let the holy go on being made holy.” (HCSB)

Don’t seal the prophetic words

The angel has another command for John in verse 10: “Don’t seal the prophetic words of this book, because the time is near.” Looking back to the Old Testament, we see that at least three times Daniel is prohibited from sharing what has been revealed to him because those things are for “many days in the future,” or “the time of the end” (see Dan. 8:26; 12:4, 9). In stark contrast, and in light of the return of Christ in the last days, John is instructed not to seal these prophetic words because the time of their fulfillment is at hand. Perhaps in Revelation we are witnessing the unsealing of the visions Daniel was instructed to hold fast.

But other commentators suggest that a better way to understand the angel’s command here is to compare it with the voice from heaven in Revelation 10, which booms, “Seal up what the seven thunders said, and do not write it down!” John has been faithfully recording what he sees and hears, but in the middle of his visions he is told that this particular message is to remain hidden.

We should not assume that the message from the seven thunders is finally unveiled at the end of the book, because we receive no indication of what that message might be. Perhaps there simply are some things God determines should not be shared.

The apostle Paul has a unique experience in 2 Corinthians 12 in which he is taken up into the third heaven – presumably where the throne of God resides – and hears “inexpressible words, which a man is not allowed to speak” (v. 4). Is it possible that the words of the seven thunders are so awe-inspiring, so wonderful, so frightening that there is no earthly way to express them?

Make these things known

This much we know: “John was to bury up the thing [Revelation 10:1-4] in his own breast, not to write it, not to make it known at all. But what he was not to do respecting the utterances of the seven thunders, he was to do with reference to all other ‘words of the prophecy of this Book.’ He was not to seal them up; that is, not to conceal them, but to record them, to make them known, to publish them to the Churches…. If John had sealed it up, or failed to lay it before us as it is, he would have forfeited his place and standing as an apostle of Christ; how, then, can we think our duty discharged, or the provisions for our highest blessedness duly accepted and used, if we pass it by as a dead letter, or make it to us as if it had never been?” (Joseph A. Seiss, The Apocalypse, p. 517).

In verse 11 the angel shows us how people on earth will continue to live according to their nature until these visions are fulfilled. “Let the unrighteous go on in unrighteousness; let the filthy go on being made filthy,” he says.

The unregenerate heart knows only how to act according to his sinful and fallen flesh, rejecting the call to repentance and the promise of new life, thus continuing in unrighteousness and filth. In contrast, the believer, whom God has granted new life, is being conformed to the image of Christ, conquering the flesh by the presence and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. That is why the angel says, “[L]et the righteous go on in righteousness; and let the holy go on being made holy.”

Hardening the heart

There also is a sense in which the angel speaks of the hardening of human hearts over time, especially in the days leading up to Christ’s return. We see this hardening in ancient Israel. The Lord tells the prophet Isaiah, “Go! Say to these people: Keep listening, but do not understand, keep looking, but do not perceive. Dull the minds of these people; deafen their ears and blind their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their minds, turn back, and be healed” (Isa. 6:9-10).

Because of Judah’s gross sin, healing only may be accomplished through punishment, and Isaiah’s delivery of this message from God only serves to further harden the people’s hearts. In the Book of Ezekiel, the Lord prevents His prophet from speaking in the intervals between addresses. But God promises, “I will open your mouth, and you will say to them, ‘This is what the Lord God says.’ Let the one who listens, listen, and let the one who refuses, refuse – for they are a rebellious people” (Ezek. 3:27).

We witness the same hard-heartedness in the New Testament. Jesus explains to His disciples the reason He speaks to the people in parables, “because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand” (Matt. 13:13). He then goes on to quote Isa. 6:9-10. Later, Jesus laments over Jerusalem’s rejection of Him, weeping because the people, who could have received peace, now find the good news hidden from their eyes. “They will crush you and your children within you to the ground, and they will not leave one stone on another in you, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:44).

In Romans 1, the apostle Paul writes of the depravity of ungodly people who refuse to glorify God – even though they know Him through creation and conscience – or show Him gratitude. Instead, their thinking becomes nonsense and their senseless minds are darkened. Claiming to be wise, they become fools. As a result, God delivers them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity, degrading passions, and worthless minds that hatch immoral schemes.

“Although they know full well God’s just sentence – that those who practice such things deserve to die – they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them” (Rom. 1:32). Paul later writes to Timothy, exhorting him to proclaim the message with great patience and teaching. “For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

Other passages could be cited, but the message is clear: Those who repeatedly reject the gospel message harden their hearts in small, almost imperceptible increments, until they pass a point of no return. Having filled up their measure of sin, and having exhausted God’s grace and mercy, they fall certainly and fully under His wrath. (see Gen. 15:16; Matt. 23:32; 1 Thess. 2:16).

Their measure of sin

In a 1735 message titled, “When the Wicked Shall Have Filled Up the Measure of Their Sin, Wrath Will Come Upon Them to the Uttermost,” Jonathan Edwards notes:

“God hath set bounds to every man’s wickedness. He suffers men to live, and to go on in sin, till they have filled up their measure, and then cuts them off…. There is a certain measure that God hath set to the sin of every wicked man. God says concerning the sin of man, as he says to the raging waves of the sea, Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further. The measure of some is much greater than of others. Some reprobates commit but a little sin in comparison with others, and so are to endure proportionably a smaller punishment.

“There are many vessels of wrath; but some are smaller and others greater vessels. Some will contain comparatively but little wrath, others a greater measure of it. Sometimes, when we see men go to dreadful lengths, and become very heinously wicked, we are ready to wonder that God lets them alone. He sees them go on in such audacious wickedness, and keeps silence, nor does anything to interrupt them, but they go smoothly on, and meet with no hurt. But sometimes the reason why God lets them alone is because they have not filled up the measure of their sins. When they live in dreadful wickedness, they are but filling up the measure which God hath limited for them. This is sometimes why God suffers very wicked men to live so long; because their iniquity is not full” (found at http://apuritansmind.com).

One final thought about the angel’s words in Rev. 22:11: The hardening of men’s hearts on earth, beyond the point of no return, continues throughout eternity. Hell is not a reformatory; it is a place of punishment, of banishment from the saving grace of God. Even if those in hades today or in hell after final judgment could repent, they choose not to, as the rich man in Jesus’ parable makes clear (Luke 16:19-31).

God has given them this life on earth to experience his grace and to benefit from His revelation in creation, conscience, Christ, and the canon of scripture. Having rejected that revelation and refused that grace, the unbeliever at some point prior to death passes the point of no return and God confirms the hardening of the lost person’s heart by sealing him or her as forever beyond the bounds of repentance.

Even when God’s judgment falls on this side of eternity and the wicked know it is their Creator pouring out His wrath, rather than repent, they shake their fists toward heaven and blaspheme (Rev. 16:9, 21). So perhaps the angel’s repeated use of the word “let” is prophetic as well as descriptive.

Next: My reward is with me – Revelation 22:12

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