Our verse-by-verse study of the Book of Revelation comes to a close with chapter 22. For several years now, we’ve been focusing on four major views of the so-called Apocalypse of John.
Whether you’re a preterist, who sees the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the Christian era; a historicist, who views the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history; a futurist, who sees most of Revelation as yet unfulfilled; or an idealist, who sees Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil, there are important truths the Lord reveals to all of us in this book.
We would do well to approach Revelation with caution — and with great anticipation, knowing God will fulfill all His promises to us. We also should be comforted by the fact that Revelation is the only book in Scripture specifically promising a blessing to those who hear its prophecies and keep them.
Rev. 22:13 – I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. (HCSB)
I am the Alpha and the Omega
In verse 13, Jesus identifies Himself with three names that confirm His eternality and deity. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End,” He declares. Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Jesus, or the Father, uses these words to describe Himself in other places in Revelation:
- “I am the Alpha and the Omega … the One who is, who was, and who is coming, the Almighty” (1:8 – usually understood to refer to the Father).
- “I am the First and the Last, and the Living One. I was dead, but look – I am alive forever and ever” (1:17-18 – Jesus).
- “The First and the Last, the One who was dead and came to life …” (2:8 – Jesus).
- “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (21:6 – often understood to refer to the Father).
Throughout the Gospels and Revelation Jesus reminds us that He is both divine and eternal. In addition, this Almighty One was dead and is alive forever; in other words, the eternal Son of God has left the glory of heaven, come to earth, added to His deity sinless humanity through the virgin birth, lived a sinless life, offered up that life on the cross to bear our sins, was buried, rose physically from the dead on the third day, appeared to many people, ascended into heaven, sat down at the right hand of the Father to serve as our Mediator and Intercessor, and is coming back one day in power and great glory to fulfill all things.
Unlike the mighty angel in Rev. 22:9, who urges John not to bow before him, Jesus truly is worthy of worship as the Alpha and Omega.
Rev. 22:12 – “Look! I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me to repay each person according to what he has done. (HCSB)
My reward is with me
Jesus speaks in verse 12: “Look! I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me to repay each person according to what he has done.” The New Testament often repeats the theme of judgment based on works. For example:
- In Matt. 16:27 Jesus declares, “For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will reward each according to what he has done.”
- In Matt. 25:31-46 Jesus speaks of the coming judgment of the “sheep” and “goats.” He separates those on His right from those on His left and explains that their works revealed their character. The sheep are welcomed into His kingdom, prepared for them from the foundation of the world, while the goats are banished to the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.
- In Rom. 2:5-8 Paul writes, “But because of your hardness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed. He will repay each one according to his works: eternal life to those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality; but wrath and indignation to those who are self-seeking and disobey the truth but are obeying unrighteousness …” While commentators have offered nearly a dozen interpretations of this difficult passage, the most likely one is that works are the outcome of a person’s faith, or lack thereof. Paul quotes from Ps. 62:12 and Prov. 24:12 when he writes, “He will repay each one according to his works.” The believer, indwelled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, lives a life of conformity to the image of God. The unbeliever, driven by the flesh, produces works worthy of eternal separation from God.
- In 1 Peter 1:17, Peter notes, “And if you address as Father the One who judges impartially based on each one’s work, you are to conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your temporary residence.”
- And in Rev. 20:13, as unbelievers stand before the great white throne, they are judged “according to their works.”
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?
Rev. 22:8 – I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. When I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had shown them to me. 9 But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow slave with you, your brothers the prophets, and those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.” (HCSB)
Don’t do that!
In verse 8, John identifies himself one last time as the one to whom these visions are given. “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things,” he declares. This harks back to chapter 1, in which the apostle calls himself Christ’s “slave John, who testified to God’s word and to the testimony about Jesus Christ in all he saw” (1:1b-2). He begins verse 4 with, “John: To the seven churches in Asia.” Shortly thereafter he writes, “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation, kingdom, and endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of God’s word and the testimony about Jesus” (1:9). As in his Gospel and letters, so in Revelation John is careful to emphasize the importance of eyewitness testimony concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ.
He begins his first epistle with these words:
What was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we have observed and have touched with our hands,
concerning the Word of life –
that life was revealed,
and we have seen it and we testify and declare to you
the eternal life that was with the Father
and was revealed to us –
what we have seen and heard
we also declare to you,
so that you may have fellowship along with us;
and indeed our fellowship is with the Father
and with His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-3)