Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 22:18–21

Revelation 22:18–21
I testify to the one who hears the words of the prophecy contained in this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. 19 And if anyone takes away from the words of this book of prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book. 20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! 21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.
(NET Bible)

The message must stand!

My grandmother and my mother’s siblings treated me like royalty! (Hey, the first child/grandchild/nephew gets the best of everything!) When we rode in the car — a stick-shift for those who recognize the term — I could sit anywhere except the driver’s seat.

Then one afternoon I decided to see what would happen if I reached across the front floor with my foot and stepped on the gas while we were moving down the street. For a while after that a cloud hid the sunshine in my young life. Some things you cannot do!

Since Jesus was the speaker in 22:16 and also in 22:20, he is the probable speaker in verses 22:18–19. In addressing the one who hears (22:18), he speaks to a large audience that should include us.

The warnings from Jesus to anyone who would dare to add to or subtract from the words of the Apocalypse amount to punishment in the lake of fire (22:18–19). As suggested in the questions above, this punishment is similar to warnings in the covenants God had with Israel (Deut. 4:2); the integrity of the words was crucial so that any person would know exactly how to keep the covenant. I keep italicizing words to point out that the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit right down to the very words chosen by God to express his revelation (2 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 4:12; 2 Pet. 1:21). It is no accident that the devil added and subtracted words when discussing God’s command with Eve (Gen. 3).

But who would add to or subtract from the words? While no explicit answer is given to that question, we do know that they will not be living in the New Jerusalem or eating from the tree of life. Whatever they may have claimed about themselves, their decisions receive the lake of fire.

In 22:20a, Jesus affirms for the final time that he is indeed coming soon. John joyfully responds in 22:20b, and the grammatical form implies the obvious — there is advantage to John (and us) for Jesus to come soon. But if the coming of Jesus is good for the church, it also closes the opportunity for unbelievers to bring their thirst to the one with living water. As Grant Osborne points out, “The coming of Christ is both a promise and a warning, and it provides a fitting conclusion to John’s book.”[1]

Grace in the promise and the warning

When the wicked fall into the lake of fire, it will happen in spite of God’s gracious warnings. God even sent his Son to die for the sins of the world in demonstration of his love for the lost (John 3:16). But certain people would have none of it, preferring the immediate rewards of the world.

When the righteous enter the splendor of Eden, it will happen because of the grace and truth embodied in Jesus Christ. He did everything to make it possible. All we had to do was accept his merciful gift and wait for the time when God will reveal the wonders he has prepared for us.

The grace of God in Jesus Christ is one thing we cannot live without! “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.” (Rev. 22:21). Amen!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 798.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!