************ Sermon on Revelation 22:18-21 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 11, 2010
"Badly Needed Grace"
Did you hear the last verse of our Scripture reading this morning? "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen" (Rev 22:21).
On this Lord's Supper Sunday, I want you to know this is badly needed grace. This is badly needed grace for me a sinner. And, this is badly needed grace for you a sinner.
I want to raise two points: first, why the grace is so badly needed; second, I want to look at the grace itself.
I The Reason for Grace
A Let's start by listening carefully to what is said in verses 18 & 19:
(Rev 22:18-19) I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. (19) And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.I want to observe with you, that these verses have both a broad and a narrow meaning. The broad meaning is found in the Belgic Confession of Faith which uses these verses to warn us against adding to or taking away from the Bible. But this passage also has a narrower meaning – as we will discover this morning.
Let's start by asking some question. Who is speaking here? Verse 20 tells us: The One Who is coming soon. The One Who is coming quickly. In other words, Jesus. Jesus is the One Who "testifies to these things."
Some of you, I am sure, have a red-letter Bible. How come verses 18 & 19 are not in red? I have made clear before that I don't like red-letter editions of the Bible. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, some Christians foolishly end up thinking that the words of Jesus are more important than any other part of the Bible; however, all of the Bible, not just the words of Jesus, are holy and inspired. Second, we don't have the actual words of Jesus; Jesus spoke Aramaic, the New Testament is written in Greek, and our Bibles are English translations. Third, the original Greek manuscripts do not have red-letter editions. Fourth, in some places the editors of our English translations have to make a judgment call as to what was said by Jesus. Here, in verses 18 & 19, they almost always make a wrong judgment because it is Jesus Who is speaking.
B What, exactly, is Jesus saying in verses 18 & 19? What is He warning against? Well, what phrase does John use four times? Four times, John says "this book." "This book, this book, this book, this book." John warns against tampering with the contents of "this book." To which book is he referring? He is referring to the Revelation. Curses and plagues on anyone who tampers with the words of the Revelation. Curses and plagues on anyone who adds to or takes away from the words of the prophecy of this book.
It should not surprise us that John ends "this book" the same way he starts "this book." He starts this book with images and phrases from the Old Testament (Rev 1:1-5 references Dan 2; Zech 4,14; Ps 40; Is 40; Mal 3). He ends this book with images and phrases from the Old Testament. Remember what I said is one of the keys to understanding the Revelation: you need to know the Old Testament. Verses 18 & 19 are taken directly from Deuteronomy:
(Deut 4:2) Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.
(Deut 12:32) See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it. (Cf Prov 30:6)
(Deut 29:20) All the curses written in this book will fall upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven.
A good rule of Bible interpretation is that Old Testament passages do not change meaning when they are quoted in the New Testament. They might have a fuller meaning, they might have a deeper meaning, yet their meaning should be essentially the same. Therefore, we need to ask what John's quote from Deuteronomy 4, 12, and 29 means in its original context.
Deuteronomy 4, 12, and 29 warn against false prophets, idolatry, and compromise with evil. Specifically, they warn against the sins of Balaam and Balak. Do you remember this story? Balak was king of Moab. Balaam was a false prophet. King Balak hired Balaam to curse the children of Israel as they made their way across the wilderness and to Moab. God warned Balaam through divination, an angel, and a talking donkey not to put a curse on the people. So, when Balaam overlooked the camp of Israel he was not able to curse; instead, he blessed; five times he blessed.
Plan number one did not work. Plan number one did not succeed in cursing Israel. It was Balaam who suggested plan number two to King Balak (Num 31:16; Rev 2:14). Do you remember this plan? The leaders of Moab sent young, pretty women – heathen women who did not know or serve Jehovah – to the camp of Israel. These young, pretty women got the attention of the Israelite men and slept with them. They also invited the Israelites to sacrifice to their heathen gods; actually these worship services held in honor of their heathen gods involved not only sacrifice but also sexual orgies.
Here is the worst part of the plan: Balaam suggested to the children of Israel that it was okay to do this. You are not abandoning your faith in God by worshiping Baal. And, in the name of worship, it is not wrong to engage in sexual activity with the young women of Moab. You can worship both God and Baal. There is room for both. Pluralism is the name of the game. Be inclusive rather than exclusive. So, take some of our pagan daughters and worship Baal with them. Give us some of your Jewish boys. Compromise just a little bit and we will all get along.
What is the ultimate result of following Balaam's suggestions? The Israelites broke the seventh commandment – you shall not commit adultery. Israel broke the first commandment – you shall have no other gods. Israel broke the second commandment – you shall not bow down to or worship an idol.
What is the result of following Balaam's suggestions? Israel took away from the Word of God and Israel added to the Word of God. Israel did exactly what Moses told them not to do in Deuteronomy 4:2 and 12:32 (cf Prov 30:6). Therefore, the curses of God promised by Moses in Deuteronomy 29 fell upon them.
C Fast forward almost 1500 years. Instead of Moses, it is John. Instead of the children of Israel, it is the churches of Asia Minor. Instead of Moab, it is Rome. Instead of Balaam, it is a woman called "Jezebel" (Rev 2:20f) and a group known as the "Nicolaitans" (Rev 2:14f). What is the number one temptation faced by the churches to whom John wrote – the seven churches of Asia Minor representing all the churches of Asia Minor? To make compromises with idolatry. To engage in pagan worship and sexual immorality as part of the trade guild. They were told it is okay to worship both Jehovah God and the gods of the trade guilds. They were told to make a few compromises so you can live and work and provide for your family, so we can all get along and work together.
What was the result of doing this? The Asia Minor churches added to and took away from the words of "this book."
Fast forward another 1500 years. Instead of the Apostle John, it is Luther and Calvin. Instead of the churches of Asia Minor, it is the Roman Catholic Church. Instead of Rome, it is Germany and France and Holland and Italy. Instead of Jezebel and the Nicolaitans, it is Tetzel and various popes. Again, the issue is compromise and idolatry, the issue is adding to and taking away from the words of "this book."
Fast forward another 500 years. Instead of Calvin and Luther, it is our own Pastor. Instead of the Roman Catholic Church, it is Trinity United Reformed Church. Instead of Germany and France and Holland and Italy, it is America. Instead of Tetzel and various popes, it is most of the modern church with its feel-good Christianity, the prosperity-Gospel, and seeker-driven worship. Once again, the issue is compromise and idolatry, the issue is adding to and taking away from the words of "this book."
What is the sin that God hates most? Isn't it idolatry? Isn't this the sin with which we struggle most? Isn't this our biggest snare? Remember what John Calvin said? He said our hearts are idol factories. We are always busy making idols.
"Hold it," you might say. "I don't bow before a statue. I don't prostrate myself before an idol." We may not have idols of wood and gold, but we still do have idols: money, sex, pleasure, weekends, work, bikes, computers, ourselves; our hearts are so fallen that we are even able to turn the Bible and organized religion into an idol.
Do you still disagree that idolatry is your problem? What is the first and greatest commandment? "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Mt 22:37-38). Is this what you do? Is love for God the most important thing in your life? Does love for God shape every aspect of your life? Does love for God define the atmosphere of your home? Does love for God determine your approach to work and business, to money and material possessions? Does love for God determine the TV programs you watch, the music to which you listen, the recreation in which you are involved? Does love for God determine how you act on a date or when you are out with your friends? Does love for God determine your relationship with people who are not believers? If your answer to any of these questions is "No" or "Maybe," then you have an idol problem.
It is not a question of whether you have an idol. Rather, it is a question of what idol do you have? Has lust gotten the better of you? Or, pride? Or, anger? Is your life controlled by alcohol, tobacco, or drugs? Are you a prisoner of your addictions? Is money too important to you? Is work the idol before which you bow? Have you made compromises with the Babylons of this world?
Do you have an idol? Of course you have! And, of course I have. Which means – like Israel – we have added to and we have taken away from the words of the prophecy of this book. Therefore, we deserve the plagues – the awful plagues – described in this book. Therefore, we don't deserve to share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
On this Lord's Supper Sunday, let's face the truth about ourselves: we deserve judgment, we deserve condemnation, we deserve plagues. And, we don't deserve the tree of life and the holy city.
II Amazing Grace
A Why should we listen to John's warning? Why should we pay careful attention to what he says? Why should we listen to his warning against idolatry, false prophets, and compromise? Verse 20 tells us:
(Rev 22:20) He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Jesus is coming soon. Jesus is coming quickly. Therefore, listen to His warning. Because eternity is at stake. Because the tree of life is at stake. Because life in the holy city, the New Jerusalem, is at stake.
B Here is the dreadful news of the Gospel – we cannot do anything to save ourselves from our idols or from compromises with evil or from false prophets. Or, to put it more bluntly, we cannot save ourselves. Period. On our own, we are lost, totally lost. On our own, we erect our idols, compromise with evil, and follow false prophets. We really don't deserve the tree of life and the holy city.
We can't do anything to save ourselves. But God can! God can do something. And, God does do something to save us from idolatry and compromise and false prophets.
What does God do? Listen to John's final words – and here we come to the good news of the Gospel:
(Rev 22:21) The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen.God's response to our sin and idolatry and compromises – as Christians – is grace. Amazing grace. Beautiful grace. Irresistible grace. Grace that forgives. Grace that allows us to endure. Grace that makes us come, again and again, to Jesus to drink from the fountain of the water of life.
What is grace? In grace we get what we do not deserve. We get what we have not earned. We get what we have not merited. We deserve the plagues of this book. By grace we get, instead, the tree of life and the holy city.
It is grace that we see at the Lord's Table this morning. We see the bread and the wine/grape juice, we taste them, and – by faith – we partake of the crucified body and shed blood of Jesus Christ. God did not have to send Jesus. God did not have to send Jesus to make Himself nothing, to take the very nature of a servant, to be made in human likeness, to humble Himself and become obedient to death – even death on a cross! God did not have to do any of this. But He did! Why? So we could be saved by grace. So Jesus could take our punishment and we could receive His life.
So, we have come to the end. And, what a way to end the letter: with a warning and with an undeserved reward.
Don't ever forget the warning about adding to or taking away from the words of this book, my brothers and sisters. And, never stop marveling about God's amazing grace.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page