Sermon: A Strategy for Seeing (Part 2): Revelation 22:1-21


Friends, the New Testament scripture reading for today is Revelation 22:1-21. Remember that I will again be offering introductory remarks concerning the book of Revelation. Last Sunday I presented you with three of seven foundational principles that will aid us in our interpretation of this book. Today I will present you with the last four principles. Obviously I will not be teaching through Revelation 22:1-21 like I typically would. We will come back to this text months from now to deal with it more carefully. But I’d like to read it to you today to help orient our minds to the overall message of the book of Revelation. If you remember I did the same thing in the introductory sermon to our study through the Gospel of John – I started at the end so that we might better understand the beginning and the middle. Also, some of what is said in Revelation 22:1-21 will serve to support the four remaining principles for interpretation that I am about to present.

Let us give ourselves now to the reading of God’s holy word.

New Testament Reading: Revelation 22:1-21

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. 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 22:1–21, ESV)


Last week I presented three observations to help in our interpretation of the book of Revelation. Today I will present four more observations, which will bring the total to seven. I would like to devote one more sermon after this one to introductory matters, giving special attention to the structure of the book, with particular attention given to the presence of anticipation and repetition  (or recapitulation) in the book of Revelation.

I hope you are willing to stick with me through these introductory sermons. I see them as vital to a proper understanding of the book. This is unusual, I’ll admit it, to devote so much time to introductions, but it is needed.

There is danger here. The danger is that these sermons cease to be sermons and become lectures. My prayer is that they would not. My hope is these sermons would do more than disseminate   factual information, but that Christ would be exalted – that he would be held out before you, and that you would be urged to believe upon him – to love and adore him – to worship and obey. Yes, these sermons are heavily laden with information. But the information should serve to exalt Christ, and to set him on display as our Lord and Savior, our Champion King who has won the victory for us, who is worthy of all praise, who alone can be trusted for the forgiveness of sin and for life eternal.

So that is my goal: to continue to say what needs to be said to prepare us to properly understand the book of Revelation, but to exalt Christ along the way.

The three principles presented last week that should help us in our interpretation of Revelation were these: One, Revelation is given to reveal. We should expect the book to make things clear, not confusing. Two, Revelation is a book to be seen. It contains reports of visions which are to be interpreted symbolically, not literally. And three, numbers count in the book of Revelation. Most of the numbers in this book have a symbolic force to them.

Here are four more observations that should help us to approach the book appropriately:

Revelation Makes Sense Only in Light of the Old Testament

One, understand that the book of Revelation makes sense only in light of the Old Testament. To read the book of Revelation by itself without the Old Testament in view is an exercise in futility. It is the Old Testament that serves as a kind of key which helps us to understand the overall message of the book, particularly it’s symbols.

Understand, first of all, that the book of Revelation is the climax – the high point, the conclusion of – all biblical prophesy. The book is not disconnected from the prophesies that came before, but is intimately related to them, bringing those past prophesies to a conclusion, showing how they have been fulfilled by Christ at his first coming and how they will be fulfilled by him at his second coming. The prophesies in the book of Revelation are the climax of Biblical prophesy. But if it is the climax of all prophesy, it must be connected to the prophecies that have come before, and should be considered with what came before ever in mind.

Revelation reveals how things will be for the people of God who live in the last days (remember that the “last days” are the days between Christ’s first coming and second coming – these are the last days). The book of Revelation speaks of final things – the events that will bring human history as we know it to a close are described to us here. Notice that Revelation also brings the cannon of scripture to a close. It is the last book of the Bible. Genesis is listed first because it reveals to us what happened in the beginning. Revelation is positioned last because it brings the message of scripture to a climax and to a conclusion.  And as the climax of biblical prophesy the book manages to “[draw] together images that pervade Old Testament prophetic visions and [brings] them to fulfillment” (Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, 12).

The point I really want you to understand is that there is an organic, intimate, and intense connection that exists between the Old Testament scriptures and Revelation. To miss this point is to be hopelessly lost in your interpretation of the book. We must consider Revelation in it’s canonical context (how it is related to the other books of the Bible) and it’s redemptive historical context (how what is communicated in it is related to God’s redeeming activities) if we are to understand it  correctly. Context matters. Immediate context; canonical context; redemptive historical context. They all matter.

If you have something wrong with your eye and you go to the doctor, the doctor is going to examine your eye, but he will surely leave your eye where it is and consider it in it’s context, set in it’s proper place, and connected to the rest of the human body. If, in his zeal for examining the eye, he pulls it out of it’s setting, he will surely do more harm than good.

Strange illustration, I know. But this is what many have done with the book of Revelation. In their excitement they have yanked the book from it’s canonical and redemptive historical setting and have tried to examine it on it’s own. They’ve done more harm than good. They’ve left us blind to the true meaning of the book. We must allow the book to remain in it’s proper setting in relation to the other books of the Bible and in relation to God’s redeeming activities in human history.

So what are some examples of the connections that exist between Revelation and the Old Testament?

For one, every time John is caught up and is shown a vision of the glory of God we should remember that these experiences corresponds to the experiences of the Old Testament prophets. John is given a glimpse of the glory of God (Rev. 1, 10) in much the same way that Daniel and Ezekiel saw the glory of God, being commissioned to carry the message received to the people of God (Ezek. 1; Dan. 9-10).

When we come to Revelation 13 we will see a great and ferocious beast rising up out of the sea. It is important to notice that this beast is a composite of the four beasts described to us in Daniel 7. After we recognize this fact we must work to interpret the beast of Revelation 13 with the beasts of Daniel 7 in mind. The visions are not the same, but they are clearly connected. And the differences are as important as the similarities.

See also that two witnesses of Revelation 11 are the two olive trees of Zechariah 4.

“The woes of judgment that fall on the harlot Babylon in Revelation 18 echo those that fell on Israel’s ancient oppressors, Tyre (Ezekiel 27) and Babylon (Jer. 51; Isa. 48)” (Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, 12).

Quoting Dr. Dennis Johnson: “Revelation’s symbolic vocabulary is drawn not only from the thesaurus of the prophetic literature but also from other parts of the Old Testament” (Johnson, 13).

For example, the tree of life reappears at the consummation of all things (Rev. 2:7; 22:2).

Quoting Johnson again: “The ancient serpent who’s murderous lie seduced the woman and plunged the world into floods of misery (Gen. 3:1) is seen again, waging war against the woman, her son, and her other children – but this time his doom is sure and his time is short (Rev. 12; 20)” (Johnson, 13).

“The plagues that stuck ancient Israel’s Egyptian oppressors (Exod. 7-12) strike the church’s persecutors (Rev. 8:7, 10, 12, 9:3; 11:6; 16:13), so the church’s exodus-deliverance is celebrated with the song of Moses and of the Lamb (compare Rev. 15:3 with Exod. 15).

“Although exact Old Testament quotations in Revelation are rare, allusions to Old Testament imagery are everywhere: Elijah and his nemesis Jezebel; Balaam, the prophet who masterminded the subduction of Israel; God’s temple, served by his kingdom of priests, offering incense prayers on the alter, from which the fire of judgment falls, as on Sodom and Gomorrah; Isreal, the Messiah’s mother; Israel, the Lord’s bride; Israel’s twelve tribes, armed for holy war; God’s winepress of wrath; the water of life, offered free of charge; Jerusalem, the city of God” (Johnson, 13).

These are but a few examples of how Revelation takes up Old Testament images and themes and uses them to communicate to us things that are true for the people of God living in these last days.

But consider this. Quoting Johnson again: “God does not cut and paste Old Testament images, unchanged, into the texture of John’s visions. While remaining recognizable, they are modified and recombined into new configurations – as we would expect, since the sacrifice and resurrection of the Lamb have brought the warfare of the ages to a new phase and theater of oppressions. We dare not tackle the symbolism of Revelation with immersing our minds in the rich imagery of the Od Testament, but also will pay attention to the transformation that these ancient pictures undergo as they are used to express the impending, climactic victory of the kingdom of God and of his Christ” (Johnson, 13).

Do you want to grow in your understanding of Revelation? Then one thing you must do is read the Old Testament, for the images and themes found there are picked up in the book of Revelation, advanced, and brought to a conclusion. Revelation and the Old Testament are organically, intricately, and intensely connected.

Friends, Revelation makes sense only in light of the Old Testament.

Revelation Concerns What Must Soon Take Place

Two, do not forget that Revelation concerns what must soon take place. And remember that the “soon” is from the vantage point of the 90 A.D. reader, not ours.

I will not spend too much time here given that this has already been discussed. But consider again Revelation 1:1 and 1:3: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place… Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:1,3, ESV). And lest we make the mistake of thinking that this only refers to what is said in the first few chapters of the book we should remember that the same claim is made at the end of the book. In 22:6-7 we read,“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’” (Revelation 22:6–7, ESV).

Some might reply saying, “but here in 22:7 it is Jesus who says ‘I am coming soon’, and he has not yet come though nearly 2,000 years have passed.” And I agree that he has not come in a consummate sense. He has not come in a full and final sense. His “second coming” is still yet in our future, no doubt. But that his not the only way the book of Revelation speaks of Christ “coming”.

Turn with me to Revelation 2:5. There Jesus is speaking to the church at Ephesus, confronting her weaknesses. And look at how he warned that 90 A.D. church. He spoke to them saying, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5, ESV)

Look also at 2:16. This time Jesus is confronting the church at Pergamum concerning the false teaching they were allowing in their midst. And what did Jesus say to that 90 A.D. church? “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.” (Revelation 2:16, ESV)

The point is this: not every reference to Christ “coming” has the final, consummate, second coming of Christ in view. That event is yet in our future. And that event has not happened quickly from the vantage point of the 90 A.D. audience. But Christ “came quickly” to them in another sense, for he is constantly present with his church, walking in our midst. He is forever coming to us. He brings his judgment even now. He brings encouragement. He brings strength. He wars against false teachers with the sword of his mouth even now. In that sense, Christ has already come, and he will continue to come, “bringing [his] recompense with [him], to repay each one for what he has done” (Revelation 22:12, ESV).

This is a massively important theme in Revelation, and the rest of the New Testament for that matter. Christ has already come, but he has not yet come in fullness. The evil one has already been defeated, but he has not yet been defeated in a full and final way. We already live with Christ being united to him by faith, but we have not yet enjoyed the fulness of our life in Christ – that is yet future to us. The kingdom if Christ is here already, but it is not yet here in fulness. Already… not yet. Christ has come to his churches already, but not yet in the full, final, and consummate sense. We long to see that day. And the people of God say, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20, ESV).

The “already… not yet” principle is helpful in understanding some of what Revelation has to say. What is clear – and this is our focus today – is that the book of Revelation concerns things that would soon take place from the vantage point of the original 90 A.D. audience. 1:1, 1;3, and 22:6-7 state it directly, as we have seen.

But the principle is greatly magnified when we compare what is said in Revelation concerning the nearness of the events described in the book to what was said to Daniel who prophesied from the year 605 B.C. onward.

Daniel saw visions, as you know. And those visions symbolized things that would take place in human history. The visions that Daniel saw and the visions that John saw, which are recorded for us in Revelation, are indeed similar.  But listen to what God had to say to Daniel about the timing of the events that were symbolized in the visions he saw.

In Daniel 8:26 Daniel was told, “The vision of the evenings and the mornings that has been told is true, but seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now” (Daniel 8:26, ESV). In Daniel 12:9 we read, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end” (Daniel 12:9, ESV). In other words, “the events that were symbolized before you will not happen soon, but will happen many years from now.” Indeed about 600 years would pass before the Messiah who was symbolized before Daniel would appear. And again in Daniel 12:4 we read, “But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end” (Daniel 12:4, ESV).

Concerning Daniel’s visions God said, “not yet”, “it’s a long ways off”, “seal it up, for the time is not yet”. But when we come to Revelation we see that seals are not applied to the document, but opened.  In fact in Revelation 22:10 the angel says to John, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (Revelation 22:10, ESV).

Clearly the meaning is this. The things that Daniel saw – the historical realities that were a long way off from his 605 B.C. perspective – are here now in 90 A.D. Of course the “already… not yet” principle applies to some of these things. But what is clear is that the book of Revelation describes things, not only in our future, but in our past, present, and future. The vast majority of the historical realities portrayed in Revelation were near to the 90 A.D. audience who first received the book from John’s hand. The exception are the final and full second coming of Christ, the bodily resurrection, the final judgment, and the new the heavens and new earth.

Revelation concerns what must soon take place.

Revelation is For a Church Under Attack

Three, it is vital for us to remember that Revelation is written for a church under attack.

Friends, the church is always under attack. The attack takes many different forms. But God’s people are always under attack, being pressured and tempted to give their worship and allegiance to people and powers other than the one true God. Sometimes the attack is blatant and obvious taking the form of physical persecution. Sometimes it is through the promulgation of false teaching that the attack comes. At others times the attack comes by way of prosperity and comfort. The enemies tactics are varied – he is a very cunning; very sly indeed.

We may be tempted to think that the only real attack experienced by the church comes in the form of physical persecution, but this would be a deadly assumption to make. This assumption would leave us blind to a great many of the schemes of the evil one. What is the end goal of he evil one? Is it not to persuade men and women to turn from Christ and bow before him instead? It is true that one way of the way he accomplishes this is through the threat of physical persecution. But may I suggest to you that there are other powerful tactics used by the evil one to entice men and women to bow the knew before him instead of the living God. Does he not also use the pleasures and passions of this world to entice men and women? Does he not inspire false religion? Does he not distort the true gospel, tempting men and women to believe in a false gospel? Does he not promote dead, lifeless, legalistic religion, seeking to persuade men and women to trust in their own religious works instead of the Christ who has earned salvation for us, who has paid for our sins, who gives his righteousness to all who believe upon him (“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9, ESV).) Let us not be so foolish to believe that it is only the church that experiences persecution that is under attack. May suggest to you that the evil was has done much damage to the church in America today through false teaching and by enticing the church to chase after the pleasures and comforts of this life.

We we finally come to the letter to the seven churches in Revelation 1-3 we will see that those original churches were being attacked and tempted in a variety of ways.

Later in the book we will be introduced to four main figures who together oppose God and his purposes – the beast, the false prophet, the harlot, and the dragon who empowers these three. The beast represents worldly powers that often persecute. The false prophet represents those who promote false religion. The harlot represents the seductiveness of this world. These three form a kind of false Trinity, and they are used by the dragon, who is the devil, to draw men and women away from worshipping the one true God who eternally exists in three persons – Father, Word, and Spirit.

Friends, the church is under constant assault from these three.

The Victory Belongs to God and to His Christ

But what does Revelation show us? It shows us that God us on the throne. He protects, he keeps, he sustains, and he has won the victory. We are victorious in God and in his Christ.

And that is the fourth thing to remember about the message of the book of Revelation: The victory belongs to God and to his Christ.

By the end the book we will see the four enemies of God – the beast, the false prophet, the harlot, and the dragon that uses and empowers them – finally and fully judged.

For example listen to Revelation 20:7-10:

“And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Revelation 20:7–10, ESV)

And who has won the victory over these powerful foes of ours? The Lamb has won the victory, friends. He has won the victory through his life, death, burial, and resurrection. He reigns in victory now.  And will bring that victory to a full conclusion at his second coming.

“Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:20–25, ESV)


Friends, the book of Revelation communicates the gospel. It proclaims good news to us that God has defeated the fierce enemies that threaten us. And it calls us to see those enemies for what they are. They are enemies! Their end is death and distraction. They promise pleasure. They promise life. But they will not deliver. Only the Triune God can deliver. Life is found in him and in the Christ whom he has sent. The book of Revelation compels us to abandon all hope in these counterfeits, and to trust in Christ alone. He alone is worthy of worship. And it is in the worship of him that we find what is best for us – life to full. Believe upon Christ, friends. And if you do believe in him, then stop toying around with the things of this world seeking comfort and security in them. They’ll never deliver. They’ll only bring destruction. Stop placing your hope in political powers. Stop giving an ear to false gospels. Stop indulging the appetites of the flesh. Worship God alone, and approach him through faith in Christ alone, who is the Savior of the world. Amen.

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