Sermon: An Exhortation To Holy Living (Part 2): Revelation 22:6-21

Brothers and sisters, I am going to devote one more sermon after this one to the book of Revelation. I have three reasons which I’ll mention in order from most important and serious to least. One, I’m finding the conclusion to the book of Revelation to be very rich. What I thought could be covered in one or two sermons I’ve found to need three. Two, I’ve thought to myself, this may be the only time that I preach through Revelation, and this might be the only time that the saints at Emmaus hear a series on this book. We might as well take our time. And three, if we devote just one more sermon to the book of Revelation then that will make 66 sermons in the series. I thought this would appropriate given the symbolic nature of numbers in the book of Revelation and given that the key to understanding the symbolism of this book is to consider it in light of the rest of the scripture. As you know, there are 66 books in the Bible, and so there being 66 sermons in this series seemed appropriate. Of course, I make this last point with tongue in cheek.

Let us now give ourselves to the reading of God’s holy, inspired, inerrant, clear and authoritative word.

Sermon Text: Revelation 22:8-12

“And he said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.’ ‘And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.’ I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.’ And he said to me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.’ ‘Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’ Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. ‘I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” 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 desires take the water of life without price. I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” (Revelation 22:6–21, ESV)

Introduction

As I said last week, the conclusion to book of Revelation consists of a series of five exhortations or encouragements to live holy in response to what we have encountered in this book. The first is found in verses 6-7, the second in verses 8-10, the third in 11-12, the fourth in 13-17, and the fifth in 18-20.

We considered the first exhortation to holy living last week and it can be summed up by the words of Christ in verse 7, “Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (Revelation 22:7, ESV). The book of Revelation is to be kept. It was written to promote obedience to God and faithfulness in Christ Jesus to the end. Brothers and sisters, are you keeping the prophesies of this book? Are you living according to the truths that  have been revealed to us here? All of this was considered in more detail in the previous sermon.

Worship God Alone

If I were to sum up the second exhortation to holy living found in this conclusion it would be with the words, “worship God alone.” The book of Revelation reveals what it reveals in order to promote the true and right worship of God alone.

Stated negatively we might say that the book of Revelation from beginning to end is concerned to combat idolatry. Idolatry is the worship of created things as opposed to the Creator of all things. And idolatry it is a problem, not only for the unbelieving, but also for those who have faith in Christ. Even true Christians are tempted to commit idolatry. We are prone to bow down to things that are not God. Sometimes we may be tempted to literally bow, but oftentimes we are tempted to bow to idols of the hearts and mind. We are prone to love created things supremely instead of God who is the Creator of all things. We are prone to trust in created things, to hope in created things, to make created things our source of contentment and joy. This, brothers and sisters, is the sin of idolatry, and the scriptures forbid it.

The first of the ten commandments is “You shall have no other gods before me.” This does not mean, you shall have no other god’s above me (but you may have other gods below me that come after me). No, it means that we shall have no other gods at all – no other gods should be set up by us in front of God, or before his face. This is the meaning of the word “before”.  And then the second commandment is, “‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Deuteronomy 5:7–8, ESV). This is what men and women are prone to do. We are prone to worship (to attribute ultimate worth) to created things, when in fact only God is worthy to be worshipped.

The trouble with idolatry is twofold.

One, the idols that we erect for ourselves, whether they be physical and visible or invisible and in the heart, cannot deliver. You trust in them, you set your hope upon them, you expect them to bring you lasting joy and contentment, but they cannot deliver. No created thing is worthy of our worship. No created thing – neither angels nor men nor things crafted of wood and stone – is worthy of worship, for they are not God and they are incapable of meeting our deepest needs and expectations. You heap up expectations upon these idols of yours, but they quickly crumble under the pressure. When you bow down before that statue and pray to it you expect it to hear and to answer, but it does not hear you. It cannot see you. And even if it could, it does not have the strength to help you in your time of need. It is a deaf thing. It is a mute thing. It is an impotent thing. It is not the Creator, but is a part of creation. It is not worthy to be worshipped.

I doubt that many of you are struggling with idolatry of this kind – the actual carving of and bowing down before an image. But I know that you are struggling with idolatry of another kind, that is, idolatry of the heart.

How easy it is for us to look to created things and to worship them in the heart and mind. Your natural impulse will be to deny that you do this, but I would urge you to think more deeply. Men and women the world over worship  health, prosperity, and their possessions. They live for these things. They make them their aim and they are undone if they lack them. Men and women worship government – they put their hope in it and despair when it is not as they think it should be. Men and women worship angels and dead relatives when they pray to them and expect them to answer. We are prone to worship friends, and family, our spouses and children, the church, or some religious leader within. We attribute to them undue worth. How easy it is to love these things supremely. How easy it is to begin to hope and to trust in these things ultimately. We pile expectations upon these created things. We expect them to come through for us, but they soon crumble under the pressure, for they are not God. They are not able to deliver. They are not worthy or worship. Only God is to be worshipped.

Idolatry of the heart can be a tricky thing. It is easy to justify it or to explain it away, saying, but aren’t these things important? Aren’t they a blessing from God and to be enjoyed? Shouldn’t I invest in my health and seek to build wealth and to proser? Shouldn’t we be involved in our government given that God has instituted it for the common good? And isn’t it right that we honor the dead? And are not Angels real – ministering spirits created by God? And what should we say of our friends and family, our spouses and our children? Don’t the scriptures command us to love these people fervently and from the heart? And should we not also love the church and honor those who minister within it?

Brothers and sisters, all of this true. And you know very well that this is not idolatry. For it is right that these created things be given their proper place. But you also know how quickly these created things can turn into idols of the heart. They turn to idols when you make them central and supreme. They turn to idols when you set them on the throne of your heart. They turn to idols when they become the things that you trust in, hope in, find ultimate satisfaction in, and therefore serve.

The second problem with idolatry is the obvious one. It keeps us from the worship of the one true God, Creator of Heaven and earth, for which we are made. And unlike the idols that we make for ourselves, he can deliver. He does hear and see and he has power to act. Nothing can thwart his purposes. And he does love you in Christ Jesus. Idolatry is a great folly in that it is a chasing after empty things and a forsaking of the one who is worthy.

I belabor the point because I have grown convinced that idolatry is a problem for the people of God today. It is something that tempts all of us, and if it present within the heart of the Christian it is very destructive. Idolatry will consume the one who professes faith in Christ if it goes unchecked.

One question you should ask is, is this principle of idolatry in the heart biblical? That the scriptures forbid bowing down to physical idols is clear. But some might object saying, it goes to far to say that idolatry is a sin that can be committed in the heart. 

Many scriptures text in the Old Testament and New could be appealed to to prove that there are idols of the heart. Listen, for example, to the way that Paul speaks in Ephesians 5:5. He says, “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5, ESV). Paul equates the sin of covetousness with the sin of idolatry. Covetousness is a sin of the heart. It involves looking at what another person has and wanting it for yourself. Covetous can lead to external sins – theft, adultery, lies and murder – but it is a sin of the heart. And Paul calls it idolatry. To covet is to look at a created thing and to say in the heart, I must have it. To covet is to look at a created thing – a person, a possession, or a position and to say in the heart, if only I had that then I would be satisfied! Paul says, this is a form of idolatry. You cannot see the idolatrous act, but it resides invisible within the heart.  In Colossians 3:5 Paul exhorts Christians, saying, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5, ESV).

This is what I am now urging you to do. To identify the idols of your heart and to put them to death. Dash them to pieces, metaphorically speaking. Throw them to the ground, and worship God alone. May you love him supremely, place all of your hope in him, trust in him, and give him the glory that he alone deserves.

Why do I say that this text is concerned to promote the worship of God and to warn against idolatry? Notice what happens in verses 8 through 10. John the Apostle, who is the “one who heard and saw these things”, when he “heard and saw them fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to [him], but [the angel] said to [him], ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.’ And he said to me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near’” (Revelation 22:8–10, ESV).

This event should sound familiar to you, for it is the second time that it has happened in the book of Revelation. Back in 19:10 we read the words of John, “Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10, ESV).

And so twice John stumbled in regard to the sin of idolatry. He, being overwhelmed with the glory of the angel and splendor of the vision delivered by him, fell down to worship him. And twice John was rebuked with the words, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers…” Never should we bow down to worship angels or men or anything in all creation, but God alone.

Why do you suppose that the book of Revelation concludes, not with one, but two instances of John himself slipping into the sin of idolatry? Is it not to show how easy it is for even the godly to stumble in this regard? We are prone to it, brothers and sisters.

Idolatry was warned against consistently in the letters to the seven churches. That God alone is worthy of worship was shown in the visions of chapters four and following. Also, that the things of this world, though seductive, are not worthy of our worship was also shown in these visions. But here at the conclusion of the book of Revelation we are reminded that the sin of idolatry is always at hand. How easy it is for us to stumble here and to bow, either literally or in the heart, before things that are not God as if they were God. Brothers and sisters, let us worship God alone.

The greatest remedy to idolatry is to remain active in the worship of the one true God. Yes, it good that we examine our hearts and ask, is there an idol there – is my heart covetous, etc. And if the answer be yes then we should throw that idol down. But even more helpful is this: let us remain active in the worship of the one true God.

Brothers and sisters, God has called us to worship him. And he has prescribed how he is to be worshiped. Do not break the Lord’s Day Sabbath, friends. Do not neglect the assembling of yourselves together on the Lord’s Day. Come to worship God. Come to pray to God. Come to hear his word. Come to feast upon Christ in the supper. But be sure to come with your hearts prepared and full of faith. There is no greater protection against the sin of idolatry than this – the active worship of God alone.

Let The Righteous Continue To Be Righteous

The third exhortation to holy living in this conclusion is found in verses 11 through 12 which says, “‘Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.’ ‘Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done’” (Revelation 22:11–12, ESV).

Here in these verses those who have been made righteous are commanded to do right, and those who have been made holy are commanded to be holy. Really, there is nothing difficult to understand about this. The difficult part to understand is found in the commanded (for that is what they are – commands)“let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy.” It sounds strange to hear the Lord command these things.

The key to understanding the meaning of this verse is to recognize that it is connected to the passage in Daniel chapter 12 which, in fact, stands behind much of what is said in this conclusion to the book of Revelation. Daniel 12 contains prophesies concerning the end of time, and it says, among other things, “Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand” (Daniel 12:10, ESV). The last days are described to Daniel as a time where the wicked will act wickedly and not understand whereas others will wash themselves and be refined. The description of the last days that we find in Daniel is turned into a command in Revelation 22 to indicate that the days described in Daniel have come. These are the last days. And by these I mean all of the days between Christ’s first and second comings (this is the way that the scriptures speak). And the book of Revelation is saying, let it be so.

These verses are not anti-evangelistic as if they meant, do not call the unrighteous and wicked to repentance. That cannot be what they mean for that would contradict the rest of scripture, not to mention other portions of the book of Revelation, including statements in the immediate context. Indeed, the church is to evangelize. Indeed, the gospel is to be preached to the unrighteous and they are to be urged to repent. The elect of God will repent in due time as the Spirit of God works. These verses are not anti-evangelistic. Instead, they reinforce what was said in Daniel concerning the last days. In the last days there will be wicked who will not listen to God’s word, and there will be the righteous who do hear who wash themselves in the blood of the Lamb. The presence of the wicked and unrighteous does not mean that God’s purposes are being thwarted.

It is not at all unfrequent for me to have conversations with Christians outside of this church. And it is interesting how often the conversation goes to the current state of the world once they find out that I am a Pastor. I don’t direct the conversation in this way, but others take it there. And it is often that I hear Christians say, “wow, the world is becoming a crazy place, isn’t it?” Or, “can you believe how sinful the world is?” etc. How I respond depends upon the setting and how much I want to invest into the conversation. But I always think the same thing, which is, why do you seem surprised? And, no, the world is not necessarily growing more sinful, but always has been! And, why do I see fear in your eyes as if things were somehow out of control?

Brothers and sisters, this is how things have been since Christ’s first coming, and even before. He himself warned that things would be this way. His Apostles also warned of it. This is why Paul wrote to Pastor Timothy, saying, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people” (2 Timothy 3:1–5, ESV). When Paul told Timothy that this is how things will be “in the last days”, he was not speaking of the future, but rather he was saying, “Timothy, do not be surprised when people are this way now”, for Timothy and Paul were living in the last days, as are we. The last days began with Christ first coming – his death, burial and resurrection – and will conclude when he returns. In theses last days the wicked will be wicked and the the righteous will be righteous. These things are not outside of God’s control, but he is accomplishing his purposes through them.

“‘Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy’”. Brothers and sisters, have you been made righteous through faith in Christ? Then do right! Have you been made holy by the blood of Christ? Then be holy. Do not presume upon the grace of God. Do not abuse it. Do not say to yourself, “my salvation is by the grace of God alone, received by faith alone, and is not dependent upon my works, therefore my sin does not matter.” If this is how you think then it is concerning. It either shows that you are very immature in Christ or that you have not been regenerated by the Spirit. Instead, we should expect the Christian to say, “because I have been declared righteous by the blood of Christ through faith in him, I will now do that which is right, and because I have been made holy, having been washed in the blood of Christ through faith in him, I will pursue holiness with all that is in me by the grace of God.” If this is the attitude of your heart then it is evidence that you are maturing in Christ and that the Spirit of God has indeed regenerated you, having renewed your mind, your will and your heart to make you able and willing to keeps God’s will.

“‘Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.’ ‘Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done’” (Revelation 22:11–12, ESV).

As I said in the previous sermon there is no problem at all with the words of Christ when he says, “Behold, I am coming soon…” Yes, over 1,900 years have passed from the time of the writing of this book to the present day. If taken to mean, “I am coming in a short amount of time”, then I suppose that the text would be problematic. But the thing being communicated here is that the return of Christ is near. It is the next thing that will happen in the history of God redemptive activities. When he comes, he will come suddenly and like a thief in the night. No, there will not be a distinguishable 7 year tribulation or a thousand year millennium that comes prior the return of Christ, the final judgment, and the new heavens and earth. Instead, these things are next. In that sense, they are near. This is to be understood in contrast to the words spoken to Daniel the prophet in Daniel 12 which indicated that, from his perspective the end of time was a long way off. The Christ still had to come, atonement still had to be made, then the last days. But now that the Christ has come and atonement has been made, the only thing left is the second coming and finishing of all things. These things are near to us.

When Christ comes he will, “bringing [his] recompense with [him], to repay each one for what he has done.” No, this is not teaching that Christians will be saved at the end of time by their works. That would contradict what has just been revealed in Revelation, that at the end of time humanity will be divided into two groups – those who’s names were written in the book of life before the creation of the world and those who’s names were not found in that book. Those not found in the book of life will be judged by what they had done, that is, by their deeds. Here we have a reminder of this fact – Christ will judge those not in Christ by what they have done, that is by their works and none will stand. They Christian will not endure this kind of judgement. But instead the one in Christ will be received based upon Christ’s works done on our behalf and received by faith.

Of course this does not take away the obligation for the Christian to live holy. The Christian is to live holy because he has been made holy. The Christian is to live right before God because she has been made right by him through faith in Christ. In the end it is true that “the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9–10, ESV). If this is you – if you are these things – then you ought not to expect to inherit the kingdom. But that is not to say that you inherit the kingdom by not being these things. No, you inherit the kingdom of God by grace alone through faith alone. And when God saves a sinner by his grace through faith and by the power of the Holy Spirit, he changes them so that they are no longer these things – sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers. The Christian may struggle with these sins, but he or she will not remain in them so as to be identified by them. That is what Paul goes on to say to the Corinthians: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11, ESV).

Conclusion

Brothers and sisters, I am glad that we are taking our time in this conclusion to the book of Revelation, for it is important that we hear these exhortations to holiness. It is good that you understand the book of Revelation. It is good that know sound doctrine. But please do not stop there. Worship God alone. Obey him. Pursue righteous and holiness. Remember that you are the bride of Christ. He is sanctifying you now, washing you with the water of the word so that he might present you to himself with spot or wrinkle or any such thing. Indeed, that is the aim of our ministry here, to “proclaim [Christ], warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28, ESV).

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"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

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