Uniform Lesson for August 28, 2022
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Revelation 22:10-21
We wrap up our series on “Partners in a New Creation” with the final words of the Bible. John concludes his revelation with an open scroll, a final word about works and gifts, and a concluding warning about addition and subtraction. It’s a fitting way to end the summer’s study, and a provocative way to get on with God’s business. Yes, the final words are “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” But isn’t the reign of Jesus trying to break in here and now — on our streets, along our rivers and in the towns and communities in which we live? Yes, God needs prophets like John. But don’t prophets need partners — to put their words into our actions?
Don’t seal it up
Though John leaned on Daniel for much of his method and message, there is one place where they diverge. Daniel was commanded to seal up his words and keep them secret until the time when they would appropriately be revealed (Daniel 8 and 12). This makes sense for a prophet who claimed to be writing in one time (during the Babylonian exile) about events to happen 400 years later (second century BCE). These words needed to wait until the context for which they were intended, lest they be misconstrued and misapplied.
John’s goal was different. He has just declared an imminent reality (new home, new city, new river) in order to inspire courageous witness in what remained of the day. John wanted this prophecy to remain open, so that his readers could carry his words into actions — now, in the present. John, according to Brian Blount in Revelation: A Commentary, is “offering a declaration of reality (indicative) as lure to motivate this ethical appeal (implicit imperative). John pictures the future in such a way that he hopes will either entice or frighten hearers and readers into making the appropriate decision to line up behind the lordship of God and the Lamb.” These words are meant to be read and lived, not placed on the shelf!
Works and wash
This open-ended prophecy leads to a peculiar command for all of us who are called to be partners in God’s new creation. As the angel commanded the book to remain unsealed, he now commands the evildoer to still do evil, and the righteous to still do right (v. 11). It seems to be a strange way with which to end a book that is a summons to witness. But, as Blount also says, it may be like the parent who cries out to a recalcitrant child: “Keep it up! Hear!”. Or, given the upcoming list of sorcerers and fornicators (v. 15), it may be a reminder that the determination of who’s in and who’s out is not ours to call. It reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares, where the master commands the servants to “let both of them grow together until the harvest” (Matthew 13:29), lest we uproot some of the wheat with the weeds. Some things are God’s business, and not ours.
Nevertheless, we’re left to wrestle with two truths. On the one hand, Jesus declares that he will repay “according to everyone’s work” (v. 12) — especially the work of faithful witness during trying times. On the other hand, the waters of life are given as a gift (v. 17), to everyone who “washes their robes” (v. 14) in the blood of the Lamb. The righteousness toward which the book of John summons us is grounded in the faithful witness of Jesus but requires the faithful response of Jesus’ followers. There’s a both/and to the revelation of John, which is what partnership is all about. God’s new creation is guaranteed and on the way. Therefore, let’s get working and witnessing toward what God is about to do — with and for us!
No adding or subtracting
One of the deep ironies regarding the book of Revelation is the way it has been used. Repeatedly, down through the centuries, this book has been used as a way of declaring who’s on God’s side and who’s not. It has become a guidebook for who gets into heaven and who gets sent to the eternal fires. It becomes a way of congratulating folks who talk about Jesus from folk who don’t. Readers add or subtract as they sit and watch the events of our world.
Could we flip this at the end? If Jesus is coming soon, don’t we want to do anything and everything in our power to get our homes and our cities and our rivers ready for his arrival? Let’s leave to God the things that are God’s, and commit ourselves to those things – large and small – that are ours.
How do you hear “Amen” as a call to action?