August 28 – A WELCOMING INVITATION
Sunday School Lesson
Lesson 13 (KJV)
A WELCOMING INVITATION
DEVOTIONAL READING: Revelation 22:10–21
BACKGROUND SCRIPTURE: Revelation 22:8–21
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 I 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.
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.—Revelation 22:18–19
PARTNERS IN A NEW CREATION
Unit 3: The Great Hope of the Saints
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. Identify the descriptions that apply to Jesus.
2. Explain those descriptions.
3. Sing a praise chorus or hymn that expresses the hope of Jesus’ promised return.
HOW TO SAY IT
Maranatha (Aramaic) Mare-ah-nath-ah (nath as in math).
Omega O-may-guh or O-mee-guh.
Thessalonians Thess-uh-lo-nee-unz (th as nee-unz (th as in thin). Zechariah Zek-uh-rye-uh.
- Oh, Those Delays!
“Your flight has been delayed.” These words are distressing to the air traveler. In an environment of tight connections and few direct flights, a departure delay can result in disrupted plans and great inconvenience.
It is a mark of our impatience as a society that a few hours’ delay can be so traumatic. Our everyday schedules are thrown into chaos when car repairs take longer than expected, and when a promised two-day delivery actually takes three, when our food at the restaurant takes 10 minutes longer than we think it should. Delays are a frustratingly common element of life.
But what if the delay is for hundreds of years? Thousands? Christians must balance their expectation of Christ’s “could be at anytime” return with the awareness that His return has yet to happen after some 2,000 years. How do we live expectantly for Christ’s return while simultaneously being in an “expect delays” mode? This quandary has faced the church since the first generation of believers.
- Lesson Context
In effect, the entire Bible serves as the context to today’s lesson. The Old Testament teaches in many places that God will send a deliverer for His people. First-century Jews thought that such a person would be a political and military rescuer. God’s anointed leader, they believed, would be empowered to defeat their nation’s enemies, bringing peace and independence in the process (compare Acts 1:6; etc.). Jerusalem and its temple would be freed from Gentile influence, and pure worship of the Lord could then take place.
But two things happened to challenge this thinking. First, the Messiah that God sent did not come to be a leader of armies (see John 6:15). He came, rather, to save people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). His mission ultimately was for all humanity, for all are sinners. His death was a sacrifice for sins, intended to be effective for all people for all time. He was the sacrificial Lamb who took away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
Second, the Jerusalem temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 during the horrific War of the Jews. This was something that no Jew of the time expected. Jewish faith, based as it was on the sacrifices of the temple, went into a downward spiral. Expectations of a military messiah to defeat the Romans were crushed.
Some, perhaps most, Christians of the same century found their own hopes being challenged when Jesus’ return did not materialize as they thought it should (compare 2 Peter 3:3–4). But Jesus himself promised that He would indeed return. His return will be “with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30). His return will usher in the final judgment of both the living and the dead (Acts 10:42; 2 Thessalonians 1:5–10). Christians and some Jews both look for the Messiah to come, but their expectations are very different.
I. Paths, Advent, Separation (REVELATION 22:11–15)
A. Two Types (vv. 10–11)
10. And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.
As today’s text opens, the apostle John was still being addressed by the angel of the vials of plagues (Revelation 21:9). This angel was John’s guide to the New Jerusalem (22:1, 8–10). The fact that the time is at hand gives a heightened sense of the necessary fulfillment of prophecy. This should cause us to focus anew on the greatest of all Revelation’s prophecies: Christ will indeed return.
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.
The angel sums up the state of things by noting the paths that people take. There are really just two categories here, and the contrast is strong: the path of the unrepentant (who continue to walk the wide way of sin) vs. the path of the repentant (who take the narrow way; see Matthew 7:13–14).
In contrast with Revelation 2:5, 16; 3:3, 19, there is no call for repentance here. It is as if the judgment has already been determined. The obedient will continue to obey; the disobedient are not listening (see also 9:20–21; 16:8–11). Only those with ears to hear will heed (2:7); they are the ones whose hearts are attuned to God’s word.
WHEN GOD GIVES UP
A youth minister I once knew was counseling a grieving mother regarding the death of her adult daughter in an automobile accident. At one point the woman cried out in desperation, “Please tell me my daughter didn’t go to Hell!” The youth minister made the mistake of doing just that, in spite of evidence that the daughter’s life was like that of a seedy character in Matthew 13:5–7.
The fact is that we don’t always know whether a person makes a last-second admission of sin and repentants, nor precisely how God responds in those circumstances (but see Luke 23:39–43). We may find it more comfortable merely to believe that God never gives up on allowing chances to repent, even after death. But that just isn’t true. There comes a time when God determines that there are no more chances. One notable example is Jeremiah 44:1–25a, where God’s final warning is once again met with irresolute stubbornness. The prophet, speaking for God, gives up, saying, “Ye will surely accomplish your vows, and surely perform your vows” (44:25b).
We are to witness for Christ on the assumption that no one is beyond repentance as long as he or she is alive (compare Luke 23:40–43). How should this motivate your own witness? —R. L. N.
What Do You Think?
How can you find motivation to continue being a faithful witness even when (or especially when) nonbelievers refuse to repent?
What blessings can you anticipate from your efforts to share Christ, even if they seem ineffective?
B. Second Coming (vv. 12–13)
12. And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.
As in Revelation 22:7 (last week’s lesson), the voice of the Lamb (Jesus) breaks through. He does so to restate His promise to come quickly (see Revelation 2:16; 3:11). Previously a blessing was given to the ones who kept the words of the prophecy (1:3). Here, however, we might interpret the Lamb’s pronouncement as both a blessing and a curse, for He promises to reward each person according as his work shall be. The two sets of rewards are set forth in 22:14, below.
13a. I am Alpha and Omega.
For the final time in Revelation, we hear a voice asserting the speaker to be Alpha and Omega (compare Revelation 1:8, 11; 21:6). The first time we heard this self-designation, it was clearly “the Lord … the Almighty” speaking (1:8). Now the speaker is the one who is coming, namely Jesus the Lamb. We should not be troubled by this apparent blurring of the distinction between the Lord God Almighty and the conquering Lamb; this is a feature of this book. They are seated on the throne together (Revelation 22:1) to rule the New Jerusalem as one. While the Bible teaches that there are three persons in the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (and all three are in Revelation)—we should not forget that there is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4). We do not worship three gods, but one God. While this unity of persons might be mysterious, it is true (Matthew 28:19; Colossians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:13–14; 1 Peter 1:2; etc.).
13b. The beginning and the end, the first and the last.
In this final case of Alpha and Omega self-designation, the two letters of the Greek alphabet are doubly explained. That alphabet has 24 letters, with alpha standing at the beginning and omega at the end. To be Alpha and Omega is, therefore, another way of saying the beginning and the end and the first and the last of all things (compare Isaiah 44:6; 48:12; Revelation 1:17; 2:8; see also the discussion of typological language in the illustration on the next page).
C. Two Outcomes (vv. 14–15)
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.
The only way to enter the city is through the gates of pearl (Revelation 21:21). There is no secret passageway. No one can sneak over the walls at night, because there is no night (21:25; 22:5). The gates are guarded by powerful angels (21:12), and only those who have lived victorious, obedient lives will be allowed into the city. These are granted eternal life, as signified by their access to the tree of life (compare 22:2, last week’s lesson). They have overcome (2:7).
15. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.
Comparing this listing with the one in Revelation 21:8 (see lesson 10), we note that the latter designates eight categories of evildoers, while the verse before us has six. Five of these six are duplicates of those in 21:8, while one is new: dogs. It is unlikely that John would include a literal reference to an animal group in listing categories of human transgressors, so something else must be meant here.
There are several possibilities. The word dog, in singular or plural, serves as a metaphor for a male prostitute (Deuteronomy 23:18), for those who mocked Jesus at His crucifixion (Psalm 22:16–18; Matthew 27:35–44), for the enemies of David (Psalm 59:1–7, 14), for Israel’s greedy watchmen (Isaiah 56:9–12), for profane people who are incapable of receiving what is holy (Matthew 7:6), for Gentiles (15:21–26), for Judaizers (Philippians 3:2), and for false teachers (2 Peter 2:1–22).
There seems to be no decisive textual basis for selecting any one of these as the single reference over all the others. But a common thread is that the above categories refer to people who reject God’s authority. As seen in lesson 10, those to be denied access to “the water of life” (Revelation 21:6) are designated for housing in the lake of fire (21:8). These are the evildoers who are left outside the city (the meaning of without) in the text before us.
What Do You Think? Which method of motivation to repent should you use in your witness: promise of reward or fear of punishment? Why? Digging Deeper What examples of each can you cite from Scripture?
II. Testimony, Offer, Warning
- Jesus (v. 16)
16a. I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David.
Jesus includes more self-designations that help us understand the importance of the book of Revelation. To be the offspring of David is easy to grasp: Jesus is from that line by the earthly genealogy traced to Joseph (Matthew 1:1–17; Romans 1:3).
The imagery of the root is a little more complicated. Prophecy spoke of the coming Messiah as a “Branch” to grow from “roots” (see Isaiah 11:1; compare Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15; Zechariah 6:12). For Jesus himself to be that root in an ultimate sense is quite a strong claim! He is Messiah in all fullness. Any status that David had ultimately flowed from Jesus, not the other way around.
16b. And the bright and morning star.
Jesus’ final self-identifier has resulted in Jesus’ final self-identifier has resulted in Bible students searching the Old Testament for various “star prophecies” or tie-ins to the star of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:2, 7, 10). But that is unnecessary. Most of us have seen the phenomenon called the morning star, which is a reference to the planet Venus as it is visible shortly before sunrise.
TWICE-REMOVED (FROM) LITERALISM
The word phenomenon above is more important than you may think. Here, that word is actually shorthand for the longer term phenomenological language, a literary feature of the Bible and of language in general. The phrase refers to the way things appear from the point of view of an observer.
For example, when we speak of the sun’s rising, we are referring to the sun’s apparent movement in the sky (Ecclesiastes 1:5; etc.). What is actually, literally happening, as we moderns know, is that the earth is rotating on its axis.
Another literary feature we see in the verse at hand is typological language, which deals with symbolic meaning or representation. This feature is often present where someone or something serves as an “example” (1 Corinthians 10:6; 1 Timothy 4:12) or “pattern” (Hebrews 8:5) of someone or something else.
Phenomenological and typological language work together here. The “morning star” isn’t literally a star, although to the naked eye it appears to be. And Jesus isn’t literally that “star.” Infinitely better, He is an example or pattern of how that “star” functions: night is almost over, He is coming soon with His light. The eternal day of the holy city and of the everlasting reign of the Lord and the Lamb is near (compare 2 Peter 1:19).
The next time you see bright Venus, will that fact come to mind? —R. L. N.
B. Water (v. 17)
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.
The Spirit is the Holy Spirit, the promised divine presence on earth after Christ’s ascension (see John 16:7–13). The bride is the church, the embodiment of Christ in His followers on earth (see lesson 10). Their invitation to come and drink of the eternal water of life is a call to faith and obedience, a call to join Christ before He comes again. It is a choice available to all!
What Do You Think?
How can you help your church identify things that hinder its invitation to unbelievers to “come”?
If you find yourself in a minority of one in identifying one or more such things, what should you do next?
C. Tampering (vv. 18–19)
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.
The voice now switches to that of the one who records it, John himself. Two stern warnings are in order at this point, and the first one is that hearers of this book must not add content. The penalty of plagues on anyone foolish enough to do so is described in Revelation 16.
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.
Deletions from … the book are also warned against. All the book’s messages are to be taken to heart! Ignoring or removing parts we don’t like will have eternal consequences. Persons unwise to the point of making such subtractions will not be part of the citizenry of the New Jerusalem. Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32 inform us that neither this prohibition nor the one just before it is anything new!
All this should give us something to think about in studying Revelation because we tend to be selective. We avoid chapters that seem too disturbing, too hard to understand, or that don’t fit our image of what God “should” do.
A good strategy is to read the entire book in one sitting to allow its full message to speak to our minds and hearts. This is how we will gain the full blessings of Revelation’s prophecies. This will be true even if we do not comprehend everything. This book promises blessings for the future but also for today (Revelation 1:3). It is the grandest story of all time. It is the promise that God will defeat the forces of evil and will reign in victory forever from His golden, eternal city.
What Do You Think?
What can you do to ensure that you neither add to nor subtract from the prophecies and promises of the book of Revelation?
Could failing to read the book of Revelation amount to violating 22:19? Why, or why not?
III. Promising, Longing, Closing
A. Reaffirmation (v. 20a)
20a. He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly.
One last time John reminds us of Jesus’ promise to come quickly. This promise embraces both the presence of Christ in His church today (compare Revelation 2:5, 16; 3:11) and the promise of Christ’s return in the future (compare 22:7, 12).
There will be only two reactions when Christ returns: joy and fear. Christ is coming the second time—a time of glory and judgment. He will vanquish all the evil that seems so powerful now. Who can stand before the wrath of the Lamb? No one (Revelation 6:17). The intent of this book as a whole is to bring readers to repentance, faithfulness, and endurance so that we will greet the return of Christ with joy.
- Desire (v. 20b)
20b. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
Lack of fear is the position of John as he ends the book with a short prayer. The word Amen means “It is true.” This is a loaded, powerful word in this context, for John is in effect saying, “Everything I just told you—all the visions, all the prophecies, all the warnings, all the blessings—is absolutely true.” If this were not the case, then John would not dare express a desire for Jesus to return, lest John’s falsehood be exposed!
But John is telling the truth, and his Even so, come, Lord Jesus is similar to Paul’s “Maranatha” in 1 Corinthians 16:22. That is an Aramaic word meaning “Come, Lord.” Perhaps the greatest faith prayer a Christian can utter is to ask sincerely for Christ to come, for that means the one praying is ready to meet the Lord, master, and judge face-to-face (compare 2 Timothy 4:8).
What Do You Think?
Could you pray for Jesus to return right now without fear that He actually would? If not, why not?
How does 2 Peter 3:7–12 affect your willingness to pray this prayer?
C. Benediction (v. 21)
21. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
John offers a final blessing to the readers. This is comforting for the persecuted and fearful readers of the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3, for they are in dire need of God’s grace and mercy in their difficult situations. Likewise for us, this is a blessed word of calming peace. It assures us that God’s marvelous grace toward us is not just past or future. It is present and available now.
- Praying Maranatha
The return of Christ is a key theme of the book of Revelation. We joyously celebrate His first coming, His first “advent,” in the Christmas season. But daily we should also anticipate and pray for His return, His second “advent,” to take us home to be with Him forever. Today I did so by praying “Maranatha.” I am ready for Christ to come again. When I read the news of another mass shooting, another terrorist attack, or another outrage to my Christian conscience, I am ready for Christ to come again. Despite the efforts of people of good faith, the dark side of humanity seems an unquenchable source of evil. I am ready for Christ to return.
I don’t know exactly how His coming or our residence in the New Jerusalem will work. The closing chapters of Revelation give answers, but in all honesty, they raise questions as well. Yet I don’t need to know everything, and I am at peace with that. I am ready for Christ to come again.
Are you ready as well, or does part of your heart fear that you will be among those excluded from the holy city? Being able and willing to pray for Christ to return right now is a great test of one’s spiritual health, a test of one’s relationship with the Lord Jesus.
Practice the Maranatha prayer for a week. Pray it sincerely, in true faith. If you take this seriously, it will make a difference.
Father, thank You for promises both fulfilled and yet to be fulfilled. In this light, we pray, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!” Amen.
- Thought to Remember
Make the Alpha and Omega first and last in your life.