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Introduction to Alethea In Heart Ministries

The Revelation of John - Chapter XXII
Commentaries on the Entire Bible

By Rev. Henry Cowles
Professor of Church History and Prophesy at Oberlin College, and Main Editor of
The Oberlin Evangelist (responsible for giving us most of Finney's sermons).





The first five verses close the description of the New Jerusalem. According to all principles of propriety they should have been included in chap. 21.—The remainder of this chapter pertains to the conclusion of the whole book.

1. And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.

2. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

The best manuscripts omit the word "pure" before "river." This river imitates that of Ezek. 47: 1-12. The latter however comes forth from under the temple and really represents gospel blessings in the great millennial age, while this comes out from under the throne of God and the Lamb, representing in a corresponding manner the blessedness of the eternal heaven.—While in this New Jerusalem there is no more "sea"—that being a symbol of whatever is agitating, uncertain, tempestuous; there is a river, a precious oriental symbol of blessings forever flowing, naturally insuring perennial verdure, trees and shade unfailing, and exemption from thirst and barrenness—the sore evils of oriental tropical regions.—This tree of life and its various fruits come also from Ezek. 47 (see v. 12) where obviously we have the plural, "trees." So also here, there must be trees and not merely one tree, for if only one, how could it be on both sides of the river? The writer speaks of the tree of life there just as we would say of any given district. The palm-tree is there, or the pine, or the cedar—meaning that this variety of tree abounds there. The meaning seems to be that these trees lined either bank of the river between it and the streets which also ran parallel on each side—a scene of superlative beauty.—This "tree of life" as well as that of Ezekiel have their prototype in the primitive garden.

3. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him

4. And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads.

5. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.

"No more curse" appears in its thought in Zech. 14: 11; our received version being, "no more utter destruction." The sense is—No more visitations of divine displeasure; nothing that brings calamity or any physical evil.—The fact that God and the Lamb are there has been repeatedly implied; that their throne is there is the new point made here, heightening the glory of this heavenly world since it shows that this is no secondary heaven, fitted up as some have supposed in the new earth, i. e., in this world regenerated by fire, while the heaven of God's throne is still elsewhere and indefinitely higher and more glorious. Utterly unlike that system of things, this description associates the redeemed most closely and intimately, even in the locality of their residence, with the throne itself of God and of the Lamb.—"His [the Lamb's] servants shall serve him"—precisely how and in what sort of service is not said. That he has work for them to do in the great scheme of the last all-comprehensive economy of the universe, there can be no rational doubt. Is it not hinted at in the expressive words, "Ye are my witnesses?" If the "angels desire to look into these things" (of redemption) even now, may not the same angels desire to learn yet more; and the new-born angelic beings whom God may create in the ages to come—why should not they have something to learn which none in the created universe know so well as the redeemed themselves? A range of possible, nay probable, service opening in this line so widely and so gloriously, tempts me to follow it out and say—The gospel scheme has made stupendous and transcendent manifestations of God, both in the line of his mercy and of his justice; that these manifestations have in them a glorious moral power of priceless value for all the created minds of the universe—a power which the universe can not afford to lose—a power which the throne and moral government of God (speaking reverently) can not afford to lose or to let pass into forgetfulness, or in any way fall short of their utmost possible efficiency upon the universe of intelligent minds. Hence a demand upon his redeemed servants for service, long as the ages roll on—wide as the universe of intelligent beings. Who knows but this service—witnessing to such facts concerning God and the Lamb as they have in their rich experience, may be not only a joy but a positive moral power unto fresh love and adoration; a positive invigoration to their obedient life; a positive safeguard against ever falling before temptation's power—to the myriads whom God will duly create to people the yet empty worlds hung out in our sky and the yet unborn worlds which his creative hand may bring into being when the moral appliances are in readiness to make their existence a sure as well as a priceless blessing? For myself I can not regard these suppositions as either idle or irrational speculations. It would be easy to adduce many things from the Scriptures and, most of all, from the words of Jesus himself that bear strongly in support of these general views of the future responsibilities and services of those who have been "faithful over a few things" here. That the redeemed have service to render in behalf of their glorious Lord is one of the best things revealed of heaven. How could they endure a state in which they could do nothing to purpose to express their love and their gratitude to Him to whom they owe so much! As here this love and gratitude are best expressed by service which blesses others, which brings other souls to Jesus' feet; so there some form of service which goes out benevolently to bless others according to the well known heart of the loving Master, must be the perfection of the heavenly life. Let us thank his name beforehand for the prospect thereof!—"And they shall see his face." This indicates the most intimate and perfect knowledge—the most precious intimacy. They are not dwelling in the remote distance, too far away to see his loving eye, or to hear his inspiring voice, or to feel the very breath of his love; but they "see his face" as we see the face of a dear friend and find therein the fullest manifestations of love and sympathy possible in our present existence. Of course this symbol comes from our earthly experience. How can we expect this thought to be expressed otherwise?—Essentially the same sentiment appears in John's first epistle (3: 2): "We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." This gives us both the precious fact, and the most blessed moral result thereof in our heavenly culture.—"His name shall be in their foreheads"—the perpetual testimony that they are his. This refers tacitly to the case of the wicked persecutors who bore "the mark of the beast" in their foreheads and in their hands.—"They shall reign forever and ever"—as to which see my notes on 20: 4.

6. And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to skew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done.

7. Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.

Remarkably this book closes, repeating many of the same points which appear in the introduction.—The older and better manuscripts give us, instead of "The Lord God of the holy prophets," this: "The Lord God of the spirits of the prophets," i. e., he who controlled their prophetic communications; who gave them their messages as he now sent them by his angels. That God sent these messages, that he sent them by his angel, that they predicted events soon to transpire, were points that appear prominently in the introduction of the book. So too is the promise of blessings to those who keep, i. e., who remember, study and live upon the things herein said. The book had a definite and precious moral purpose, as I have often had occasion to repeat.—"Behold, I come quickly"—to visit these threatened judgments upon Jerusalem and upon Rome—to make the revelations of my justice and of my power which are vital to the proper setting up of my kingdom among men. (See notes on 1: 7, and 3: 11.)

8. And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things.

9. Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.

The original makes the first clause somewhat emphatic, thus: "It was I John who was hearing and seeing these things;" or thus: "I John was the one who was hearing and seeing," etc.—In regard to this offered worship and the reply of the angel, see 19: 10 and notes there. It should be specially noted that the Greek does not say or necessarily imply that this revealing angel represents himself as one of the prophets. What the Greek says is precisely this: "I am a fellow-servant of thyself and of thy brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book." I am only a servant—not, as you may have supposed, the very Master himself. I am doing a work common to the angels and to the prophets, viz., the revealing of future events from the Great God of the prophets.—On the question whether this revealing angel was the spirit of one of the old prophets, or one of those beings known in the scriptures as angels—"ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation" (Heb. 1: 14)—the utmost that can be said on this passage is that this language admits (perhaps equally well) either construction; but the analogy of the whole book goes solid for the opinion that this is one of the sinless angels. The term "angel" is used in this book outside of this passage scores of times—always in this special sense, a supra-mundane being, and never in any other.

10. And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.

Seal not these things—i. e., for future generations only to read; do not lay them over in safe keeping for the ages to come as words of no particular account to the men of your own times; for their fulfillment is close at hand. The vital and personal interest of these words is for the churches of Asia, now under the fires of persecution. Let them know that God hears their cries and sees their tears, and is almost ready to avenge their blood upon their guilty persecutors.—The injunction not to seal is a tacit allusion to the opposite direction given to Daniel (Dan. 8: 26, and 12: 4, 9), the words of whose prophecy referred to events onward into the times of the Syrian wars in the age of the Maccabees, some three hundred and sixty years distant. But the things foretold through John were not remote compared with those spoken through Daniel and measured by that standard, but were near at hand—a fact which peremptorily sets aside all those systems of interpretation which spread the staple events of John's prophecies over the whole range of the Christian age down to the millennium.

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.

The closest rendering of v. 11 which the genius of our language allows will be of this sort: "Let the unjust doer still act unjustly; let the filthy live filthily still; let the righteous man still practice righteousness, and the holy still live holily." The words are here at all because the author thinks of the moral effects, possible or actual, of the revelations he has made upon the men whose destiny they reveal. If the wicked persecutors and the filthy idolaters still repel every warning and persist in their iniquity, let them go on—to their destruction. So also let the righteous hold on steadfastly in their righteousness despite of persecution unto blood; for the retribution of both parties is close at hand. "I come quickly," I bring my reward for both friend and foe—"to every man as his work shall be."—Perhaps the passage has a shade of bearing of this sort:—Although the wicked should persist in their persecutions and abominations despite of these fearful warnings, yet let not the righteous be dismayed or be tempted to apostasy, but let them still abide in their integrity and wait for the hour of swift retribution—so near at hand!—The passage has been supposed by some to teach that death fixes the character and there fore the destiny of all men, bad or good, unchangeably. All I feel authorized to say as to the bearing of our passage upon this doctrine is that it seems to assume that the wicked men here thought of (the persecutors and idolaters who figure prominently in this book) will persist in their iniquity and therefore will meet their just doom. But the precise point asserted and the argument made must be construed as above—the demands of the context requiring this construction.—The "coming" contemplated in v. 12 is manifestly the retribution predicted in this book upon corrupt Judaism and idolatrous Paganism—both of which at the date of this book were historically near.

13. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.

The most reliable manuscripts reverse the order of the last two clauses, reading thus:—"The first and the last; the beginning and the end"—a change which does not essentially affect the sense.—The sentiment of these words becomes specially emphatic by their relation in these closing paragraphs. The Great Messiah, Creator of all worlds, the Author and Finisher of human salvation, seems to rise before us in the majesty of his being and of his glorious works to utter these last words of promise, denunciation and warning.

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.

Remarkably the Sinaitic and Alexandrine manuscripts give us! "Washed their robes," instead of "do his commandments." "Blessed are they who have washed their robes," etc., with probable allusion to 7: 14: "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb;" and to 1: 5: "Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood." It is not easy to account for such diversity in the manuscripts. The transcriber may have had in mind other kindred passages, and may have written from the thought in his mind rather than from the copy before him. In this case either reading is germain to the context and true to fact.—All such have right to the tree of life from which sinners, as Adam and Eve in Paradise, are excluded.—Without the city, howling like the undomesticated dogs around oriental cities, are men lost to virtue, useless to their race, accursed of God and of all the good; "sorcerers"—always denounced in the Scriptures; "whoremongers"—all the sensual, corrupt, debased, etc.—See a similar catalogue of the various classes of the wicked, in 21: 8, and the notes there. The doctrine of the passage is that broad and evermore true one—None are shut out from heaven save those who are unfit to enter; none sent down to hell save those whose spirit is of hell, whose hearts are base, who have made themselves only the more selfish and hardened under all the influences of this world of mercy.

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.

The precise sentiment with which the book opens reappears here near its close: "I Jesus have sent mine angel," etc.—The "root of David," follows the Hebrew usage of Isa. 11: 1, and Rom. 15: 12—the root-shoot—a growth from the root, equivalent to "offspring." This identifies the speaker as the very Messiah of ancient promise; the very Personage whose gospel work and triumphs stand out so conspicuously in that eleventh chapter of Isaiah from which the term "root of David" came.—The designation, "Morning Star," is specially pertinent in such a connection—the harbinger of glorious day; the promise and prophecy of light and glory to this world, otherwise all desolate!

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 tone of this verse considered in view of its place amid the scenes of this book is wonderfully rich and impressive. Think of the real authors standpoint and of the grand objects that lie within his range and ours. The "river of the water of life" is flowing before the eye; the joys of the redeemed have come down in their voices of song and alleluias of praise and triumph. Over against these there have been visions of the lost; the smoke of their torment arising forever and ever; the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone opening its horrid jaws to engulf for evermore the filthy, the abominable, whoremongers, idolaters; and not least, we have the grand issue of the great moral conflict of earth—victory for Zion and magnificent success to the gospel in subduing the world to Jesus—all significant of the grand truth that "the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head," and Satan be not only foiled but infinitely cursed for his antagonism to God and goodness, and all his followers with him. And now all these sublime realities standing embodied before us in speaking symbols, the voice of the inditing Spirit is heard—"Here is salvation for lost men: Come to these waters of life!" The "bride"—as if conscious of her high destiny and thrilled with the glory of her marriage union with the Lamb—lifts up her voice and cries, Come! And that the call may never lack voices to utter it and to send its summons round the globe, let him that heareth say, Come! And lest some sad, consciously guilty, despairing soul should say—"That invitation can not mean me"—it is added, Let him that is athirst, come! Last of all, to give the call the broadest possible scope, it is proclaimed, "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely!" Provided for all; offered to all; welcome to all;—none shall fail but those who rule themselves out—none save those who dash the brimming cup from their own lips; none but those who hate Jesus and love death!

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.

Fitly and most solemnly the book closes with admonitions against either adding or taking from the things herein written. Let them stand as the very words of God! Let them stand undiluted, unimpaired, unmodified; for how should man be wise above God! How should he dare to tone down the fearful threatenings of this book, or shift their application from the sinner of whom God has spoken?—While these visions thus apply in their full force to all intentional or careless change in these words either by adding or by subtracting, they have also a subordinate application to misconstructions and misinterpretations through prejudice or lack of diligent attention to the legitimate principles of prophetic Language. Most solemnly should all those who preach from this book and all who profess to expound it give heed to these admonitions. May the spirit of truth impress on all his servants a supreme regard for the integrity of these words and a solemn and wholesome fear of changing their significance to make them mean either more or less than what God has said and intended!—The textual corrections in these verses, suggested by the best authorities, are not of vital moment. In v. 18, instead of "Add unto these things," read "Add unto them"—i. e., the words above spoken of. In v. 19, instead of "book of life," they have "tree of life."

20. He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly: Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

The best authorities modify the text of this verse so that it reads in this simple way.—"He that testifieth these things saith, Verily I come quickly." [The prophet answers] "Amen; come Lord Jesus." Thus his full heart responds to the welcome assurance that the coming of the Lord Jesus in retribution upon both saint and sinner—the two great parties who appear in antagonism throughout this book—was then near at hand.

21. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

In the best authorities the apostolic benediction takes this simple form: "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all."—Thus this peerless book closes. Long have its sublime utterances and its grand predictions thrilled the hearts of men: more and more, as its true significance is more correctly evolved, may it be an effective power toward that great consummation of victory to Zion and her King which its symbols so magnificently foreshow.

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