Beyond the Lectionary Text: Revelation 22:7-21
by Bill Sytsma
Between the years 2000 and 2015, one of the noticeable trends in television programming was the increasing number of reality shows that featured home remodeling projects. Each show had its own unique spin on the same theme of renewing an old home or space. “Trading Spaces” focused on sprucing up a single room over two days. “Flip or Flop” followed a realtor who would purchase distressed homes, renovate them, and attempt to sell them for a profit. “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” would send a family away for a week while their team of contractors would take over the house and radically renovate it in a short period of time. “My Big Family Renovation” was an eight episode series that chronicled the efforts of a family with five children as they moved into a 100-year-old farmhouse and renovated it.
These shows appealed to people with a variety of interests. If you enjoyed home décor, construction projects, or real estate investment; these types of shows could hold your attention. These types of shows became so popular, that they became a primary genre that helped establish an entire television network (HGTV).
One of the reasons this type of programming has such a broad appeal is that it creates a sense of the sense of wonder. As you watch, your eagerness rises as you anticipate seeing the transformation of the old house into something new. You find yourself trying to imagine what the finished product will look like, and you hope that the image in your mind is reasonably close to the actual completed project. You cannot keep yourself from critiquing the choices of colors or the materials for the flooring. You imagine the kind of changes you would make if you were in charge of renovating the space. When the project is completed, you are often surprised, as you realize that you could not have imagined the new space emerging from the space you saw in the opening scenes of the program.
When we read the book of Revelation, there is a sense of wonder and awe. God has drawn a reassuring picture for his people who are living under the threat of persecution. They are eager for Christ to return and make everything right. They are confident in God’s power to bring justice, but they grow tired of waiting. Earlier in John’s vision (Revelation 6:10) those who had been martyred for their faith cried out to God, “How long?” They wanted justice. They wanted God to renew His creation and set things right. They wanted to see the completion of the renovation that they were anticipating.
The vision in Chapters 4-22 takes a long time to unfold. The final revealing of God’s finished work seems to dramatically unfold. The reader expects that the revelation will be complete when the seventh seal is opened (chapters 4-8), but they find out that there are seven trumpet calls before the revelation will be complete. Once the seven trumpet calls are completed (chapters 8-11), the reader sees a great battle scene that concludes with seven bowls of wrath that are God’s judgments being poured out (chapters 15-16).
Those who are waiting for God’s promises to be completed seem to face one delay after another. They have grown eager. They have waited. Their patience is going to pay off.
In Revelation 22:7-12, John’s vision has come to a conclusion. He has seen a long series of events that led to the judgment of the nations and the New Jerusalem. God has made everything new. The final periscope in the Bible is John’s brief reflection on all that he has seen in his vision.
Coming Soon: Four times in this text (vss. 7, 10, 12, 20), we see the assurance that the time is near. Jesus is coming soon. These words are spoken to give hope to people who have waited for a long time. They want their suffering to end. They are tired of corrupt pagan rulers persecuting them for their faith. They want all to be set right. The final word does not give a specific time frame, but says, “soon.”
Overwhelming Vision: In response to this lengthy vision, John has a desire to worship. As a seasoned apostle, John would know that he should only worship God. The reprimand that he should not worship an angel (v. 9) indicates the influence the vision had on John. It was an overwhelming vision.
Comfort and Warning: The coming of Jesus is both good news and bad news. For those who are loyal to Christ, His return marks the end of their suffering. The book of Revelation is meant to be a book that brings comfort. People who have suffered injustice and have been victims of systematic evil are eager for radical change. As John receives this vision while in exile, and tells of this vision to Christ’s followers who live with the threat of persecution, the violent images of the vision in Revelation mean that God is going to change the status quo. Christ’s followers will be able to enter the new city (v. 14), and their longings will be satisfied (v. 17).
For those, however, who are opposed to Christ, His return will bring judgment. They will not be allowed to enter the city (v. 15). When this warning in read in light of the kinds of horrors that are seen as God’s vision unfolded, the message is a powerful warning.
The book of Revelation can seem like a frightening vision of the future. It is filled with violent images and bloody battles. The kinds of trying times that are foretold hardly seem to be a comforting message.
Many who read the message of Revelation today are not accustomed to being victims of oppression without any hope of justice. Some who read the message of Revelation may even enjoy the status quo, and the message that everything will change is unsettling, rather than comforting. If your retirement plan is fully funded, your health insurance includes dental coverage, and you know the difference between a cappuccino and a latte; it might be hard to imagine the kind of injustice that makes a person rejoice at the thought of a God who will pour out bowls of wrath upon creation.
Contemporary Christians who are satisfied with the status quo may need to have their image of God’s Kingdom challenged. If your vision of God’s Kingdom is too closely tied to your socioeconomic and cultural realities, your vision may be too small. God’s people should not be satisfied with the status quo in a world that is stained by sin.
John’s vision in Revelation tells us that Jesus is coming. He will renew creation. We struggle to imagine what that will look like, because we are accustomed to a world that has been corrupted by sin. A world that has never been corrupted by sin would not need doctors, since there would be no disease. There would be no police officers, because there would be no crime. We would not need security systems for our homes or cars. We would not need to purchase insurance, because there would be no disasters. Our vision of creation is so intertwined with the corruption of sin, that we might become unsettled by a vision of everything being new.
The coming of Jesus will root out all corruption. Creation will be restored. God’s people will be rewarded. Evil will receive its justified consequences.
We are eager to see what the final results of God’s plans will look like. We probably do not have the ability to envision it clearly, but we trust. Christ reassures that His people will be protected through the tribulation, and that they will receive rewards. The image may not be clear to us today, but we can trust in the One who is designing and completing the renovation. We are waiting for the final unveiling.
John has seen it, and he cannot wait. He says, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Bill Sytsma is the pastor of New Life CRC, Highland, IN.