By Mark Scott
On this first day of Advent we consider the last passage of the Bible. God had the first word (Genesis 1:3), and he will get the last word (Revelation 22:20). Our lessons this month have gone to great length to describe the Holy City. Words fail us to describe its beauty. Sometimes the beauty of that city and the beauty of the present Christian experience can be captured by contrasts.
Wrong and Right
With an odd imperative, the angel, who had been speaking with John, commanded that the one who does wrong (does injustice) should keep on doing injustice. The vile person (one who is filthy or impure) should keep on being impure. This command is said tongue-in-cheek. It’s not as if God desires this, but sometimes people go willfully so far away from God that all God can do is to give them over to what they think they want (Romans 1:24-27; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12). Hell is reserved for people who want their own way. On the other hand, the angel commanded that the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy. As the world finds itself in a moral free fall, the righteous behavior of believers will make the contrast with darkness very evident (John 3:19-21). Righteous behavior will be rewarded. Jesus will be bringing that reward with him when he comes soon.
Biblically there is a sense in which we are saved by grace but judged by works. This sounds odd in light of passages such as Galatians 2:16, but faith must be real and genuine. Christ’s rewards come to the saved-by-grace-through-faith-for-good-works people. And we can take that truth to the bank because it comes from the great I Am—who is identified as the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
In and Out
Jesus himself continued to speak in the rest of our text. He contrasted those who come in to the eternal city and those who are on the outside. A beatitude is attached to those who wash their robes (a symbol of conversion). These people have the right (authority) to eat from the tree of life (Genesis 2:9). They have access to the city.
In contrast are those on the outside. They are labeled in six ways: They are called dogs (a symbol that can refer to vileness, impurity, greediness, Judaizers, or false teachers). They are people who practice magic arts (pharmaceuticals), who are sexually immoral (the English word “pornography”), who are murderers, idolaters, and they are the ones loving and doing falsehood. If Revelation is truly the “tale of two cities,” the contrast between those cities could not be clearer.
Come and Go
The God who went looking for Adam when he had sinned (Genesis 3:9) is a God of invitation. Right up to the last minute he will invite people to come to him (Isaiah 55:1; Matthew 11:28). Is there a sweeter word to hear than “Come”? The Holy Spirit says, “Come.” The church (bride) says, “Come.” The one who hears (heeds and obeys) says, “Come.” Just like Jesus invited the woman at the well to drink the living water (John 4:10), so anyone who is willing can have the free gift of the water of life (salvation).
But “come” is not the only thing God says. To the person who tampers with the prophetic word, God says, “Go.” God’s love demands that he give a warning to anyone who would add (place or put) or subtract (send away or forgive) from the scroll (book). The plagues described in Revelation are truly terrible. To miss out on the tree of life and the Holy City would be unspeakable. God’s love and justice demand that he say to some, go. God is a gentleman of the highest order. He will not bring in a person to Heaven who does not want to come. He respects human autonomy.
The Bible ends with a promise (I am coming soon), an affirmation of “so be it” (Amen), a request (Come, Lord Jesus), and a wish for all (The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.). The Bible is a word of grace from the beginning and a book where the God of that grace will have the last word.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.