Revelation-Part 55

By: Dr. Robert Thomas; ©2003
This final article in the series on the Book of Revelation discusses the warnings given in Revelation 22:18-19, and John’s response in verses 20-21.


The Closing Words of Jesus—Part 2

Our discussion of the last words of Jesus, begun last month, continues in this our final lesson on the great book of Revelation. Revelation 22:18-21 may be surveyed under two headings, the warnings (Rev. 22:18-19) and John’s response (22:20-21).

The Warnings

Immediately following the invitations issued in Revelation 22:17, Jesus continues with an extended statement about the authority and finality of the prophecy of the entire book: “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and out of the holy city, which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19).

No small amount of controversy has accompanied discussions of these two verses. The severity of the warnings they contain has caused some to say that they are uncharacteristic of John, the writer of the book. The doubters say that someone added the words later to ensure that the book would gain a place in the New Testament canon. This claim and other questions raised about the two verses have suggested that they are spurious and did not appear in the book as John wrote it. Yet all challenges to the genuineness of the two warnings fail. No manuscript of Revelation yet discovered supports the absence of verses 18 and 19 from the book. In ancient times the book never circulated without them.

Another suggestion has been that John, not Jesus, is the source of the warnings. Though 22:6-21 is characterized by several changes of speakers and though speakers are not always clearly identified, it is next to impossible to see John as the speaker in verses 18 and 19. Never in the book does he use an emphatic ego (the Greek word for “I”) to refer to himself as is found in verse 18. Furthermore, nowhere else in the Epilogue or even in the whole book does John use such an authoritative tone as is found in these two verses.

The verses must be a continuation of Jesus’ words, begun probably as early as Revelation 22:12, as suggested in last month’s study. Only He has the authority to give such a warning. Besides this, “the one who testifies” these things in verse 20, corresponding to the “I testify” of verse 18 and the “to testify” of verse 16, clearly refers to Jesus. Only Jesus is a fitting speaker in light of the solemnity of the injunctions in verses 18-19.

The substance of the two verses undoubtedly alludes to Deuteronomy 4:2 where God in­structs Moses, “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it.” Do adding and taking away in Revelation’s warnings refer to the readers’ willingness to obey the book’s practical lessons as was the case with Moses’ warning? No, because the immediate context in Revelation does not relate to obeying Revelation’s injunctions. Chapter 22 pertains to the substance of the book, and so the warnings therein pertain to not allowing it to be altered in any way.

Another understanding of the warnings sees them as addressed to any person who was tomake copies of Revelation. That the ancients gave very close attention to copying the words of Scripture accurately is very true, but that interpretation will not fit these warnings. The warnings specifically address “the one who hears” (22:18), not “the one who copies.” Copying is not the central issue at this point.

The remaining possibility is to understand the warnings as addressed to teachers in the churches to whom the book is addressed. The warnings were a prophetic protest against spuri­ous revelations that circulated through false teachers and false prophets in the name of the apostles. Jesus had warned earlier about the false prophetess Jezebel (Rev. 2:20) in the church at Thyatira. He had commended the church at Ephesus for exposing false apostles (Rev. 2:2). At the time, churches in area of the seven churches needed that kind of warning because of problems created by a multiplication of prophets, mostly false, who were vying for attention. First John 4:1 reflects this problem, as do 2 John 10-11 and 3 John 9-10 which indicate that John’s prophetic office was under challenge. Not regarding apostolic doctrine as a body of authoritative teaching was a tendency contemporary to the writing of Revelation.

Since the apostles were direct appointees of Jesus Himself, Jesus is concerned about any attempted supplementation to or subtraction from the prophetic revelation He has given John in this book. Revelation 22:18-19 heads off any attempt to add or subtract from the book’s content through deliberate falsification or distortions of its teaching. The warnings were bound to be unpopular with Jezebel and her followers (2:20ff.), the propagators of Nicolaitanism (2:6, 15), those at Thyatira who had embraced “the deep things of Satan” (2:24), and the Jewish slander­ers at Philadelphia (3:9).

The warnings have another important application. Jesus’ use of the “canonization-formula” of Deuteronomy 4:1ff show that He through the writer John was forbidding any further use of the gift of New Testament prophecy. As the Deuteronomy passage came to apply to the whole Old Testament canon, its use here has the same implications for the New Testament canon. In other words, the ongoing process of divine revelation has no more room for inspired messages. The comprehensive scope of Revelation’s coverage from the last decade of the first century A.D. all the way to the eternal state automatically applies the warning to anyone who would claim to speak through the gift of prophecy throughout that period. Such would intrude into the forbidden domain. Whatever an alleged prophet might say would be an addition to or a subtraction from Jesus’ prophecy through John. Therefore, Revelation as the final book of the Bible is also the concluding product of New Testament prophecy. Anyone who claims to prophesy in the name of Christ, thereby failing to heed these warnings will remain on earth to suffer consequences of “the plagues written in this book” (22:18) and will have his part taken away from the tree of life and the holy city (22:19).

John’s Response

John identifies the speaker of verses 12-19 as Jesus by speaking of “the one who testifies these things” (22:20). “These things” refers directly to vv. 12-19, but indirectly and ultimately to the whole book of Revelation. He quotes Jesus’ words, “I will come soon” (22:20), again as he did in 22:12, but this time prefixing Jesus’ promise with Jesus’ affirmation of “yes.” As the “yes” in the book’s theme verse of Revelation 1:7, the affirmation of 22:20 reaffirms certainty of the imminence of Christ’s return (see also the promise of 22:7). His return will be in swift retribution to His adversaries (see 2:5, 16) and in swift benefit to the faithful (see 3:11). The next epoch of world history will experience the control of the Lord Jesus Christ as He has promised.

John adds his own “amen” to Jesus’ promise, thereby expressing His absolute faith in the fulfillment of that promise. Then he adds his own personal invitation of “come.” John longed for the arrival of Jesus, this time addressing Him as “the Lord Jesus,” a title he uses in Revelation only here and in 22:21. His use of “Lord” acknowledges Jesus’ deity just as Paul does through use of the same title in 1 Corinthians 16:22. In that Corinthians passage Paul uses the Greek transliteration of the Aramaic maran atha, which means “the Lord comes,” clearly the watchword of the early church. The early church longed for His future appearing.

John closes Revelation on the note of transforming grace that enables Christians to be faith­ful to Christ: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all” (22:21). Such a benediction is unusual at the close of an apocalyptic writing such as Revelation, but is quite fitting as a conclusion to an epistolary work to be read publicly in the churches. The words appropriately recall God’s gra­cious provision for all His people.

Revelation has often been the object of derision to the point that anyone studying the book has become an object of contempt by others. In spite of such negativity, the book stands as a very coherent, cohesive, logical, and well-organized part of Holy Scripture.

As pointed out in our beginning lesson on the Epilogue, the section has three emphases: (1) a confirmation of the genuineness of the prophecy (vv. 6-7, 8-9, 16, 18-19), (2) a focus on the imminence of Jesus’ return (vv. 6-7, 10, 12, 20), and (3) a warning to the unfit and an invitation to the fit to enter the city (vv. 11-12, 15, 17-19). I want to thank those friends who have joined us in the study of all or part of Revelation. My prayer for you is that you will heed “what the Spirit says to the churches,” and join with those who will eventually enter the new Jerusalem. I urge you to trust Christ and become His loyal follower if you have not done so already. I also invite you to join us as we continue our study of prophecy in Paul’s two epistles to the Thessalonians next month, the Lord willing. These two “eschatological” epistles have much to add to our under­standing of God’s plan for the future.

Note: For more details about Jesus’ two final warnings and John’s response, see my discus­sion in Revelation 8–22 (Moody Press, 1995), pages 513-523. To order this volume, you may contact Grace Books International at (800) GRACE15 or


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