Come, Lord Jesus!
16 “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.” 17 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. 18 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, 19 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. 20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! 21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.
Many have loved watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In terms of theatrical awards, most successful in Peter Jackson’s trilogy was Return of the King—eleven Oscars, Best Director, Best Picture, bringing more than $1.1 billion.
But one thing people question is whether it had too many endings. Does it end with Frodo and Sam on Mount Doom? Or with the everyone jumping on the bed as the Fellowship reunites? Maybe it’s when they crown Aragorn? Nope, it must be when Sam marries Rosie. Nope, Frodo must finish Bilbo’s book. Now some are off to the Grey Havens. When’s this thing going to end? The point, though, is that Peter Jackson had lots to tie up. Many things that, if left undone, wouldn’t have made the movie what it is.
The book of Revelation is also a story with many endings. Will it end with the New Heaven and New Earth? No. Why didn’t it end with 22:5, “for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever”? Or what about verse 6: “These words are trustworthy and true”? Nope. Surely it’s verse 7 then: “Behold, I am coming soon.” Nope, it just keeps going. We get about nine more snippets to close out the book.
But within this multi-layered ending, we’re reminded of this book’s purpose. We’re reminded how this prophecy comes as a letter. It ends just like a letter: “the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.” And like other letters in Scripture, it serves a pastoral purpose. These things aren’t written merely to teach you about the end; they’re written to keep you persevering until the end. Jesus’ triumph, pictures of the New Heavens and Earth—they’re all serving your present endurance.
When it comes to verses 16-21, I see four ways to determine whether you’re hearing and responding to the message of Revelation rightly…
Know that Jesus Is the True King
First, if you’re hearing and responding to Revelation rightly, then you will acknowledge that Jesus is the true King of all. In verse 16, Jesus reiterates the ultimate authority behind Revelation. Verse 16 says, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches.” And why should we listen to Jesus? He continues, “I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
What does it mean for Jesus to be the root and descendent of David? “Root” comes from Isaiah 11:1. You may recall that God chops down the nation like a lumberjack chops down a forest. And all that remains are stumps. Then, as you’re looking out over this leveled forest, Isaiah 11:1 says, “there shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” Jesse was King David’s father, and for a branch to come from his roots was for a descendent to come. This descendent was supposed to sit on the throne and bring God’s kingdom on earth.
Isaiah 11:2 tells us about that King: “The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear”—meaning, he’s not given over to bribes or hearsay. “But with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth…he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.”
His rule even creates a new world. Isaiah 11:6, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them…They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain…” This king reverses the curse and makes the world into a new Eden. Even better, he makes the entire earth the Lord’s sanctuary: “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea”—Isaiah 11:9.
In Revelation 22:16, Jesus self-identifies as this King in David’s line. When he says, “I am the root of David,” he’s saying, “I am the King with true wisdom, righteousness, power, and authority.” Jesus is the one to rule and renew all things. That’s been the message of Revelation the whole time. Go back to 5:5 and this Jesus is the Lion of Judah, the Root of David; but he has conquered as the Lamb; and it’s through his sacrificial death and victorious resurrection that he conquers and saves.
Jesus also identifies himself as the bright morning star. This title goes back to a prophecy in Numbers 24:17. God forced Balaam to prophecy blessing over Israel; and included in that prophecy are these words: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.”
Where else is there a promise for one who will crush the head of evil? The seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15, right? Mike helped us connect some of those dots at the Maundy Thursday service. The seed of the woman would crush the Serpent’s head. Using that same imagery, Balaam’s prophecy foresees a star, a ruler, a king. He will rise out of Israel and crush the enemies of God’s people. Jesus is saying, “I am that King! I’m rising like a bright morning star, and the glory of my reign will prevail.”
What does that mean for the words of Revelation? It means that every word carries the King’s authority. We can’t read this word and treat it lightly. Earlier this week, a brother was sharing how he was discussing Christianity with a family member. This other family member wasn’t a Christian. He also couldn’t understand why the others were so unyieldingly committed to Scripture. The brother responded by saying, “This is what it means to bow the knee to Jesus.” The family member objected, “Bow the knee? Who does that? Who even talks like that anymore?!”
We were all bent that way at one time…until God overcame our resistance, until God did away with our bias and opened our eyes to the truth. Once you know that Jesus is the true King, you can’t help but bow to his authority. You can’t help but submit the whole of yourself to following his ways. That’s how Jesus’ identity should affect us when read this book. It’s a message from the true King who’s coming to crush evil and establish his reign. We don’t sit over this book as much as it sits over us.
The first step in understanding this book is not grabbing a commentary—though that might prove useful. It’s not acquainting yourself with apocalyptic genre—though that also has its place. The first step in understanding this book—and really any book in Scripture—is humbling yourself before the authority of King Jesus. Do you sit before God’s word that way? “Jesus, you are King of all. Let your will be done. Make my heart submissive to your commands.” If you’re hearing Revelation rightly, then you will acknowledge that Jesus is the true King.
Long for Jesus in his Future Kingdom
Second, if you’re hearing Revelation rightly, then you will also long for Jesus and look for satisfaction in his kingdom. Notice the first two lines of verse 17: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’” Some have taken this to mean the Spirit and the Church are pleading with outsiders to come. The window for repentance is still open. So, “Come sinners, all of you. Come in faith to Christ.”
But I see these first two pleas differently. Already, Jesus has twice said, “I am coming soon!”—verse 7 and verse 12. Then in verse 20 he says it again, “Surely I am coming soon.” And the church responds, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” So, I take these first two pleas as pleas for Jesus to return.
Within Revelation’s story, we’ve encountered the Spirit before. Multiple times we’re told that John is “in the Spirit” when he receives this prophecy. Jesus has revealed the plan for his kingdom through the Spirit, and now the Spirit himself says, “Come! Make it happen!” He’s also the Spirit who empowers the church in Revelation—the churches might be lampstands, but the Spirit is their light. That same Spirit has ignited a passion in the Bride of Christ to long for Jesus’ coming such that his prayers also become their prayers. With the Spirit the Bride also says, “Come!”
That’s within the narrative itself. But what about you? What about the hearers of this book like yourself? It says, “And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’” Who are the ones who hear? Those who hear are those who remain open to the words God has spoken. They’re not like others who stop their ears from hearing. They’re not like those who push the truth away. They welcome God’s testimony about Jesus. When you welcome this book’s testimony about Jesus, your longings will become more like the Spirit’s longings. The more you soak in this prophecy, the more you will become like the ideal Bride who echoes the Spirit’s longings for Jesus to complete his work. Is that your longing? Does your heart cry in prayer, “Lord Jesus, come! Bring your kingdom!”?
Notice the other pleas as well. Verse 17: “And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” We discussed this before in 21:7—to be thirsty means you’re desperate for God and come to him for life. But this idea of taking the water of life without price comes from Isaiah 55:1.
Isaiah 55 closes a very important section. You might find a few rays of hope in Isaiah 1-39. But those chapters largely announce judgment. Once that judgment has passed, Isaiah 40 begins God’s message of “Comfort, comfort…” for his people. God is now working for their redemption. And Isaiah 55 stands as the climactic invitation from the God of comfort, who has opened the way to life.
It begins this way: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Now, to understand the invitation, we need to understand the imagery. Isaiah uses old covenant language to describe Israel’s pitiful spiritual condition.
For instance, Israel was completely dependent on the Lord to provide water in the Promised Land. If they obeyed the covenant, God supplied water; the land was plentiful. But if they rejected God’s covenant, the people suffered. To be “thirsty” was to be under God’s curse. That’s exactly how Isaiah portrays Israel in exile. Isaiah 1:30, the people give themselves to idols; so God says, “…you shall be like an oak whose leaf withers, and like a garden without water.” Or Isaiah 5:3—the people don’t regard the deeds of the Lord; so he says, “Therefore my people go into exile for lack of knowledge; their honored men go hungry, and their multitude is parched with thirst.”
And when he speaks of those without money, we can go back in Isaiah 44:6 and learn why they have no money. They work hard, get paid in silver, and then they weigh out the silver for the blacksmith to fashion them an idol. They’ve bankrupted themselves on chasing idols. God is inviting these kinds of people—desperately thirsty covenant breakers, spiritually bankrupt idolaters. God invites them to come and nourish themselves in a new relationship with himself. For God to invite the “thirsty” to the waters was for God to say their curse is removed.
The lingering question, of course, is how the most holy God could invite such covenant breakers and idolaters so freely to himself? Isn’t there a price to pay for the sin? Doesn’t the covenant spell out all kinds of punishment for sin? Yes. But when we read Isaiah 55 in its broader context, we find that someone else paid the price. God paid the penalty for their idolatry by crushing the Suffering Servant in their place. Isaiah 53:5 says this: “he [the Servant] was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” The guilt we incurred for sin must be punished. The Lord’s solution was to place the punishment we deserved on the Servant. Our entry comes at his cost.
And not only that, the Servant rises from the dead to give the people he died for his righteousness. Listen now to Isaiah 53:10, “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.” How’s he going to see his offspring, if the Lord has crushed him? How’s the will of the Lord going to prosper in his hand, if the Servant gives himself up as an offering? That’s only possible by resurrection. In resurrection he shall see, he shall prosper.
Then comes the righteousness: “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong.”
That’s how God can say, “Come without money and without price!”—through the death and resurrection of God’s Servant. Jesus pays it all. For those who come to the Lord as their drink, their sustenance, their life, God will satisfy them totally with his presence. What about you? Are you thirsty? Have you sought the world’s satisfaction and found yourself empty? Do you feel your own need for drink from the waters of God’s life? Do long to be truly satisfied with fullness of life? Then don’t hesitate to come and enter the kingdom through Jesus. He paid your way into God’s presence. All who follow Jesus will drink and find themselves satisfied.
Honor Jesus’ Words in the Present
Third, if you’re hearing Revelation rightly, then you will also honor Jesus’ words in the present. Listen to Jesus’ warning in verse 18: “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.”
Some have said these words speak to the entirety of Scripture—that nobody should add to or take away from the sixty-six books of the Christian canon; and perhaps these words support that idea indirectly. But if we’re judging by the immediate context, “the book of this prophecy” refers to Revelation alone. The other issue is what Jesus means by “adding” and “taking away.” At minimum it means altering the message that Jesus intends the church to hear. But it’s more than just adding or removing words.
Consider first John’s first-century setting. In John’s circle, you might say there’s a war of words happening—true prophecy versus false prophecy. John speaks true prophecy. His words come directly from Jesus who is true. But 2:2 spoke of false apostles troubling the Ephesian church. Then in 2:14, others were holding to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before Israel. Then we also heard of Jezebel in 2:20. She was a prophetess “teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and eat food sacrificed to idols.”
In other words, John’s prophecy addresses a setting where some teachers were making room for Christianity and idolatry to coexist in the church. Teachers were making room for Christianity and immorality to coexist in the church. In that way, these false prophets were either “adding to” or “taking away from” what God says to the church.
Consider also where this warning appears elsewhere in Scripture. Take Deuteronomy 4:2, for example. “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you. Your eyes have seen what the LORD did at Baal-peor, for the LORD your God destroyed from among you all…who followed the Baal of Peor.” Deuteronomy 12:32 is another and it too comes in a context of God’s warning about idolatry: “You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.”
What’s the steady pattern? It’s more than just adding or removing words from a text. It’s choosing a path that runs contrary to God’s message. It’s acting as if God has said something different than what he has actually revealed.
It’d be like the Hindu man who once told me how much he loved Jesus Christ and how much he loved the Gospels. But once I pressed further, it became apparent that he loved Jesus along with the countless other gods. He was adding to what God has revealed—or perhaps taking away the exclusive claims of Jesus. Others will do this when they are happy to embrace God’s love but hesitate to affirm God’s wrath. Others will accept what Jesus says about love, but not when love means accountability to Jesus’ word. Others want the prosperity of the kingdom but not in any way that calls them to take up a cross. Others have been tolerating teachers that say it’s okay to be Christian and self-identify as gay. There are also those who claim Jesus, but only insofar as his kingdom is wrapped in red, white, and blue.
All these are examples of adding to or taking away from what God has revealed in this prophecy. Jesus’ warning is clear: we do so to our own peril. Instead, we must honor his words in the way we live now. When Revelation paints a picture of Babylon and says, “Come out of her my people,” we listen and follow. When it says, “Fear God and give him glory,” we worship Jesus. When Revelation discloses God’s purpose to destroy idolators, we repent from idolatry in our lives. We must honor Jesus’ words in life, or we haven’t really heard his message rightly.
Rest in Jesus’ Grace for Endurance
One final point—if you’re hearing the message of Revelation rightly, then you will rest in Jesus’ grace for endurance. Throughout Revelation, you find words like tribulation, endurance, trial.[i] You hear appeals like, “Hold fast” and “Be faithful unto death.”[ii] You also hear cries from God’s people, “How long, O Lord?”[iii] Again, Revelation isn’t written to a comfortable church. It’s written to a church in tribulation. It’s for those wearied by the world’s persistent evil. How, then, will you make it? How will you be able to keep the words of the prophecy of this book?
Verse 21 has our answer: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.” Grace has to do with God’s unmerited favor toward sinners at Christ’s expense. Grace is never something that can be earned, worked for, even after you’re a Christian. It’s God’s free and extravagant generosity in Christ toward undeserving sinners. In 1:4, the source of all grace is God the Trinity. There, grace had to do with God’s ongoing presence with his people in redemption. It had to do with the Spirit building God’s kingdom in the face of opposition. It had to do with Jesus dying to make us a kingdom and priesthood to God.
Now John tells us how that same grace from God the Trinity will go with you. What a week it has been for us, church. We have mourned. We have asked, “How much longer, O Lord?” The future looks very different now for the family. Others of you have grown weary with struggles at home. For others it’s challenges in your marriage or at work. A few of you are looking for jobs and don’t know what the future holds. Others of you are working hard, serving faithfully, and you’re just tired.
Listen, with Jesus, God will give you the grace necessary to finish the race. He will give grace for every trial you face. Every tough job you encounter at work, God will supply you with grace to do it well and unto the Lord. Every grace necessary to raise children, every grace to pursue peace with others in the church, every grace to mature in Christ-likeness, every grace to resist temptation—the Lord will come through for you. For every future day there will be more grace for you. You can count on the Lord’s grace when you go home today, when you go to work tomorrow, or to class, or to the hospital for that next scan. His grace will be there when you go to the next funeral, or when you’re trying to do life after the funeral. Grace isn’t just a past experience. Grace is your future confidence every day. For those in Christ, the Lord has inexhaustible grace.
That’s what he means by “the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you all.” He’s confident that grace didn’t just come to them in Christ; grace will also go with them in Christ. John Newton got it right in the third stanza of his famous hymn, “Amazing Grace,” “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, / I have already come; / ‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, / And grace will lead me home.” Or, to quote from one of the newer songs by City Alight: “Let praise rise up and overflow / My song resound forever / For grace will see me welcomed home / To walk beside my Savior.”
[i] E.g., Rev 1:9; 2:2, 19; 3:10.
[ii] Rev 2:10; 3:11; cf. 13:10; 14:12.
[iii] Rev 6:9-11.
other sermons in this series