Last Words Matter!
Hello, church. Whether you are right in front of me or whether you are viewing this through the livestream, I am excited to be with all of you as we continue to worship the Lord Jesus, no matter where we are.
Today is our Revelation wrap-up, and the question that I have had in my brain for a couple of weeks working through this, how in the world can you get your arms all the way around Revelation and tie it up at the end? It’s taken us a year to work through it. It’s a little bit of a daunting task. But I want to do my best to get us caught up from the beginning of the book until where we are now. In Revelation 22, John finds himself at the end of his spirit-empowered heavenly vision. By now, this friend of Jesus, John, he has got to be exhausted and overwhelmed as he stands apart with his angel guide. But here at the end of Revelation, it’s not just John and the angel. There’s another character who steps in and interacts with them, and that is the Lion and the Lamb, the lamp and the light of the new heavens and new earth. Jesus joins John and the angel for the last words of the prophecy — the conclusion of the letter, the final thoughts in the book.
Those who have persevered and heard the words of this prophecy are probably as exhausted as John. Maybe you, like me, have your mind melted after this stunning image of Jesus we find in Revelation 1. The messages to the seven churches of Asia echo throughout history to churches all over the world. And their message? Conquer. Persevere. Stay in Jesus. Don’t give up. The future is better than you can imagine. The blessings and warnings in chapters 2-3 are as potent for us as they were for the churches and Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. We are these churches with all their successes and failures. The words of this prophecy resound in our ears across the ages. And what did we hear from the book? Compelling descriptions of Jesus that made us see him for all he is. Thundering warnings and judgments that were housed in bowls and vials and trumpets, that simultaneously caution and encourage us. Loud angels shouted their messages over and over while their heavenly brothers flew with three sets of wings singing songs, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” We heard cries from saints under the throne that asked the very same question we ask today. “How long? How long O Lord, till you return?” The angels and the saints join with these crazy creatures in worship services with brand new songs, modeling for the church what worship can and should be.
So, now we find John. Maybe he’s even panting for breath, unable to take in any more information. And we get to stand with him, the loud angel, and Jesus, and hear the last words of this book. Pretend John is whispering the words so that you really lean in. It’s as if you have to cock your head and put your hand up to your ear so that you are caught by every last word in Revelation because their placement in the book doesn’t make them incidental words. Last words are rarely incidental words. Think of the final thing, parents, you said to your child before you sent them off to school for the first time. Or the boyfriend sitting there writing the letter, trying to cram every last thought about his girlfriend into that letter. Or the son asked to give a eulogy at his father’s funeral. Last words matter. John and Jesus give us these last words. So, let’s listen as Tim Wadsworth reads the last words of Revelation.
“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.”
So, what are the last words of Revelation? Listen. Jesus is coming. Grace. Listen. Jesus is coming. Grace. Tell your ears to listen. Tell your soul, Jesus is coming. Tell your heart, grace. Listen. Jesus is coming. Grace.
Listen. “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book.” If you’ve heard the words of Revelation today, and if you’ve been with us the whole time and have heard all the words of Revelation, then you are now under John’s warning. Listen. Be warned. Last words are sometimes warning words.
When my son Max first got his driver’s license, I remember the first time he got into the car and drove off on his own. Before he left, I’m sure I looked at him and said things like, “Don’t goof off. Turn off the radio. Put your phone away. Hands on the steering wheel. Think about what you’re doing. Don’t speed. Wear your seat belt.” And probably 10 other things that only caused the kid more tension as he was going to drive for the first time. Excitement for my son to drive, that excitement voiced itself in serious warning.
We find ourselves in tension oddly here at the end of this letter, because if we go back to chapter one, we’re told we’re blessed. Happy is he who hears the words of this book. And now at the end, John is like, “Listen. Be warned about the words of this book.” John warns us: don’t mess around with this prophecy. Don’t mess with the content of Revelation. The prophecy is what it is. The book is complete. No one else is an editor, and there are no other contributors. No one is an editor of Revelation, and no one is another contributor to Revelation. Don’t add words, don’t remove words. And we can see this because, John, in a one sentence paragraph over and over, talks about the content of the book. This prophecy, in this book, the words, they matter. Don’t mess with them. As a guy named Kistemaker writes,
“God utters a warning that is comparable to a copyright notice in a modern book.”
First page of a book, copyright notice. Leave it the way it is. Or think of it this way. If you’ve ever watched a movie at home, the very first thing that comes up is the FBI warning. Use it only this way. In a very similar way, that’s what John and God are doing here at the end of Revelation. Listen. Don’t mess with the book. Why? Why do this at the end of the book? And what I want to present to you is five reasons from the book itself that seem to be why John would give us this warning at the end. I’m going to go through these really quickly so just kind of hang in. Why not mess with the book? Why does it matter?
First, God gave these words to Jesus. God gave these words to Jesus. Revelation 1:1 says, “the revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him.” The contents of this prophecy are God-given.
Second, Jesus sent an angel to deliver these words to John. So, once Jesus got them, he made it known by sending his angel to his servant, John. The contents of this prophecy then are Jesus-sent and angel-delivered.
Third, God commanded John to write these words down. Over and over in the book we see this refrain. “Write down what you see.” “Write therefore what you see.” To each of the letters to the seven churches in chapters 2-3 it all begins with the word, “and write this down.” Twice God actually gives John quotes. Write this down. The contents of this prophecy are God commanded.
Fourth, God declares his word trustworthy and true. So, if God gave it to Jesus, Jesus gave it to an angel, an angel gave it to John, and God commanded John what to write down, now, God says all of that is as trustworthy as I am. This prophecy is as trustworthy as the character of God.
Fifth, and interestingly to me, God’s people need these words. Twice — and it bookends the entire letter, at the very beginning of the book and then in chapter 22 of the book — God says, “these words are given.” He tells us the reason why. Why? So “his servants may know what must soon take place.” We need these words as God gave them to us. The contents of this prophecy are God’s gift to his people. It’s as if as we read the book, we get to step into the actual mind of God and know things about the past, the present, and the future all at once.
John isn’t some nerd who’s just trying to protect each word. John isn’t trying to scare people that if you memorize Revelation and you say a verse wrong, you’re in big trouble. That’s not what he’s doing. John is highlighting that the source of Revelation is God and God gave us a gift and it’s complete. And if you ignore this warning, you do so at your own peril. Whether you add or subtract, the penalty is severe. The curses of this book fall upon you, and you are rejected from being part of God’s people in God’s place.
Editing the contents of Revelation is basically choosing to reject the best and receive the worst. If you edit it, you are rejecting the best and receiving the worst. You reject the best, the blessings of this book. Happy is he who reads and understands the words of this prophecy. You reject that if you want to change it up. You are rejecting the best. The book is all about God dwelling with his people. And you’re saying, “No.” You receive the worst, the plagues of this book, and they are not pretty. And even more so, the absence of God. Last words. Warning words. Listen.
John then transitions in his final words from warning to encouragement, from caution to a commitment.
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
Encouragement. Jesus is coming. Jesus is coming soon.
I encourage you, if you weren’t here or you missed it, to back up to May 24 and listen to a sermon that Peter preached on this phrase that’s used three times in chapter 22, “Behold, I am coming soon.” Peter gave us five lenses through which to kind of look at that statement. How do we deal with that statement? So, I’m not going to go there this morning. What I want to share with you is actually what God did in my heart through that sermon and talk about this phrase. So, I’m going to wrestle in front of you with the question I’ve been asking myself. What causes me to doubt Jesus’ promise to return? I’m talking about me here. What causes me to doubt? So, I’m going to offer these for my heart, and I hope they serve you.
First, what I consider to be delay causes doubt. The more time that passes, the more I question the return, quite frankly. But my problem here is that I’m interpreting Jesus’ return through a stopwatch. What I mean by that is, when Jesus says in Revelation, “I am coming soon.” It’s as if Ryan’s brain pulls out a stopwatch and goes, “All right,” click. And then I start watching that hand turn. And the more seconds and minutes and hours and days and months and years and decades and millennia that pass, the more I’m like, “I don’t know. Really?” Jesus isn’t a sprinter in a race. The return of Jesus isn’t like a standardized test with a specific time limit. The return of Jesus in the Bible doesn’t have a time limit at all.
My wife, Rebecca, and I … My wife, Rebecca, just celebrated her 50th birthday on Friday. So, shout out. So, if you know our family, and some of you in here do, we operate really well with structure, time limits and structure. It’s just, good or bad, like it or not, it is who we are. I’m sure at some point in life that has helped some of our friends and I’m sure at other times we are really annoying people, all right? But that’s who we are. So, as a family, we’re so used to structure that when it gets pulled out from underneath us, we can actually begin to doubt each other. You’ll have these moments where someone will say something like, “I thought you were coming to pick me up right after work.” Well, I am coming to pick you up right after work. I got a little delayed and so that’s why I’m here right now. But I’m here right after work. “I thought you were picking me up at 10:00. It’s 10:15.” Well, there was an accident on the way, and I got delayed. Our children, especially when they were younger, because we live structured, didn’t really understand that sometimes there were good reasons for delay. The delay caused them to doubt our arrival. Will they pick me up from school? Will they get me to my friend’s party on time? Delay triggers doubt. John, in another one of his letters, calls his readers “dear children.” So, using John’s voice, I say to myself in response, “Ryan, dear child, don’t put Jesus on a stopwatch. Don’t doubt the return because of delay.” Instead of a stopwatch, let’s grab a pair of binoculars and start scanning the horizon. Let’s look and be ready for the return of Jesus. He’s coming. After all, he promised he would, and all of his promises are true. The Bible actually names Jesus that all of his promises are yes and amen. Jesus will fulfill his promise even when I interpret it through delay. That’s one reason I doubt.
Second, I do have more than one, I’m sorry. Second, the cares of this world cause me to doubt the return. Or, if I’m even a little bit more honest, cares of today actually compete with my desire for Jesus to return. I give more of my energy to enjoying today and everything that I have than actually even thinking about a future with Jesus. I really enjoy my life. I have a good life in pretty much every way. God has been so kind to me. If you know me, I love to enjoy life. But I’m actually starting to think I enjoy it so much that the future with Jesus is really just an add-on rather than the goal. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying life. Love Jesus and love your life. But if my passion for today eclipses my passion to be face to face with Jesus in a new heaven and new earth forever, then I might be missing something. Connected to that, doubt arrives for me because my view of the future, especially because of how I grew up, is so weak. If the new heavens and new earth and being with Jesus is just kind of one long extended, boring worship service. Okay, yay. But that’s not the picture that Revelation paints. That’s not what heaven is.
Heaven is us with Jesus in a real place in real glorified bodies doing real things like rebuilding culture and Eden the way it was supposed to be. God looking, saying, “I created all of this wild world of elements. Come with me. Let’s create this.” I’m in! I’m in on that. Boring worship service, not as much. If my view of the future is weak, then why do I even bother thinking about it? Why does it matter? If I don’t really long for the picture of Revelation, delay won’t bug me a bit, because I don’t really have any passion or expectation that it’s going to be anything good. Friends, quite frankly, it’s not that I always doubt, it’s just that I lack desire.
I doubt the return because I put Jesus on a stopwatch. I doubt the return because there’s both beauty and trouble in this world that take up most of the energy of my mind. I doubt the return of Jesus because heaven sometimes just doesn’t really sound that cool. And I doubt the return of Jesus because at times I don’t really have a desire for him to come back. I wrestled with putting it that bluntly because I’m a pastor. But this is what God’s done in my heart through Peter’s sermon a couple of weeks ago. So, even pastors get preached to, and God works in their hearts, too. And this is why, for me, Revelation is now so important to me. And I see connections to Revelation all through the Bible, even in weird books like Nehemiah, which we’re going to talk about in the fall. I need to see Jesus and the future rightly so that I can think of them radically. I don’t want to just be correct about Jesus. I want to be wild about Jesus. Big difference. So, those are my struggles. Maybe some of you resonate with me. Maybe some of you have your own.
And for all of us, no matter how churchy this is about to sound, the real question that we have to wrestle with is, what do you think about Christ Jesus? What do you think about him? If you see him through the lens of the Bible, then being face to face with him will consume you. And when I say consume you, I’m not saying you’re going to reach this perfect bar right away and be great. What I’m telling you is that as you get to know who Jesus is more and more through the pictures that are painted about him in the Scriptures, then you’re going to be consumed with, “I want to see him. I want to be with him. Yeah, this world’s great. Yeah, the beach is cool (and it really is) but compared to Jesus and forever in this world that I get to exist in with him, the beach is lame!”
John, and he is so passionate about Jesus, John even challenges me in this moment with my doubts. Why? Because John throws in his own little editorial after he quotes Jesus. He quotes Jesus. Jesus is the one who says, “Surely I am coming soon.” John throws in, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” Amen. Our Jewish brothers and sisters who read this letter originally vocalized amens throughout their history as part of their culture. An amen was, “I agree. What you just said is true. What you just said is valid.” Amen. Yes, amen. Let it be so. Amen. Truth. John’s amen here after Jesus’ promise is pregnant with anticipation. He can’t wait. And it’s as if John is encouraging himself in his own words. “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! Yes, what you just said is true.” He’s encouraging the seven churches that originally read this. “Hey, you guys that I’m writing to, he’s coming soon.” He’s encouraging us today. Amen. Come soon. Do it. Come back. We believe you. John, in that one amen is communicating back to Jesus, “Your promise is faithful. It’s true. It’s trustworthy. It’s rock solid. Come back.”
What do we say now when the idea of Jesus returning comes up? How do we respond? “Oh, I’m sure he is at some point. Maybe he’ll come back in my kids’ lifetime. For some of us it might be, I’ve grown up in church, so I know the correct answer to this, Ryan, and I’m now going to say that correctly. Here is the answer, “Yes, he is coming soon.” Are we attempting, are we putting ourselves in the place to be on the edge of our seat about the return of Jesus? Because I think it’s a choice. I think it’s a little bit of work. Are we on our tiptoes going, “Please, please come. Amen. You said you would. Amen. Come soon.”
You know, by comparison, I thought about my life. I’ve got several things that I could “amen” really, really quickly. Amen. Come vacation. Three weeks away from yesterday, just saying. Amen. Come weekend. There are some weekends where I’m just ready for a weekend. Amen. Come Belgium. I want to visit Belgium someday. I think I’d be really cool. Amen. Come kids’ dreams coming true. That’s a big one for me this year. I want my kids’ dreams to come true. My son wants to be a pilot. Amen. Let that happen. I agree with that. Amen. Come easier financial life. Amen. Come great hangouts with best friends. Amen. Come any type of adventure. Amen. Insert whatever it is in your life that you know right now, just like me, you could quickly “Amen.”
Friends, I want an “amen” on my lips anytime someone mentions the return of Jesus. If I become a loud “amen-er” during the middle of worship moving forward after this, you all just put up with me. Because any song that has to do with the return of Jesus, you might get a Ferguson amen. Why? Because that’s the way I want to live. You said it. You promised. You’re coming soon. Amen. Come, Jesus. I believe you. I need to grow here. So, I threw my doubts in front of you, and I threw the truth in front of you of how I’m battling that. I want to grow. How about you? Will you grow with me? I hope so.
John’s final words: Listen. Jesus is coming. And now, grace. Grace. When was the last time you received a hand-written, delivered letter? I’m talking old school. Nobody really goes out to the mailbox anymore to get correspondence. You go out to get bills. You go out to get credit card … where you’re approved for an $80 million credit card at 28% interest. Go ahead and grab a hold of that, and junk mail. That’s the only reason we go to our mailboxes anymore. Revelation, don’t forget, is John’s handwritten letter. This letter was delivered and copied and transferred and maintained. Imagine reading this off of travel-stained, worn out scrolls. Or even better, imagine a church gathering where your leader gets up with scrolls under his arms and says, “Hey, we have a word from the Lord from John,” and just starts reading 22 chapters of the book of Revelation. In a sense, we’re culturally unaware of the power of a letter. We’ve kind of lost it.
In elementary school, I don’t know if they do this anymore, maybe you were taught the parts of a letter — where you put the address and the greeting and the body. And then right before the signature, there’s this thing called the “complimentary close,” which is a fancy way of saying “the way you end the letter.” We put things in there like “Sincerely,” or “Regards,” “With love,” “Your friend,” and then you sign it. Or if we went to church it up a bit, make ourselves sound really Christian, we’ll do “for his glory,” “in his name,” something like that at the end. With letters that you’ve received, how much time do you spend on the complimentary close? When your friend wrote you a letter, and they say “Your friend,” at the end, do you look at that part and go, “Your friend, that’s awesome!” Or do you basically just ignore it completely and read the body of the letter?
I tell you all this because we cannot ignore the last words of John’s last words. “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” Why can’t we ignore that? Well, to answer that, maybe we should ask the question, why would we ignore it? We may ignore it because it sounds, for those of us who grew up in church or for those of us who have read the Bible some, you might have heard a phrase like that a couple of times in the New Testament. A guy named Paul wrote a lot of letters in the New Testament, and that’s the way he ends it. And then John ends a letter that way. And there are a couple of other letters that end similarly. They sound similar in how they end. So, maybe you can just say, “Yeah, this is the complimentary close.” It’s just the end. That’s what they did back then. That’s how they closed it out. So, we could not spend time there.
My question is this, what if John and Paul literally meant what they said? Are you tracking with me? I know this may be weird. But what if John in his brain, as he was writing, literally had the belief that, “When I say the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen,” that what happened was the grace of the Lord Jesus was with all. Amen. And if we can wrestle with that for a moment and wonder, John’s dealing out grace here. He’s giving away Jesus’ benefit or favor. Grace is God’s undeserved, energetic power that lets us live the way he wants us to live. God gives us this power to do what he wants us to do. We receive this benefit we don’t deserve. And we’re familiar with grace in life in different ways.
In January, the last meal I was able to share with my dad, we were at a barbecue restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina. The waiter found out that my dad loves cherry pie, and so he brought my dad two of their fried cherry pies free. He just put it in front of him and said, “Hey, I hope you enjoy it.” Grace. Kindness that we didn’t deserve. If someone acts unkindly, or they’re mean to you, and you are kind in response, grace. You’ve given them benefit or favor they didn’t deserve. And we could go on and on with a list of these things, and they’re all great. All that type of grace is great. But even at their best, they’re weak grace. Why? Because the source of the grace is limited. The waiter with my dad only has a certain amount of cherry pies that he can give away. It’s grace, but it’s limited grace.
John says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.” So, this thought struck me and maybe all of you, this is obvious to everybody else, and this is my first time, but I love this. Have you ever thought that it’s odd that John is giving away grace that isn’t even his? Who does he think he is?
I actually think that a lot of church people nowadays would feel very awkward making statements like that. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you, brother, in the midst of what you’re going through. That sounds so weird and churchy. John is just like, “Oh, no, I’m giving it away. I’m giving it away, and it’s all on you people.” The grace of the Lord Jesus. The source of this grace is unlimited. Think of how Jesus is described in Revelation. He’s the Lion and the Lamb and the lamp and the light and the scroll opener. He’s equal to the one who is seated on the throne. He’s the beginning and the end. The first and the last. He is the one who was and is and is to come. That’s where we’re getting our grace from. That’s where we get our undeserved energetic power. We get it from the God of all grace, as it says in 1 Peter 5. God has a monopoly on all grace, and John is just giving it away to us. “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.”
I think the end of this letter and the end of Paul’s letters are some of the most bold, audacious, and brave statements in the Bible. I’m going to give the grace of Jesus away. The source of grace determines the power of grace. We don’t have feeble grace extended to us. God’s grace is generous. And the best word that I could come up with for me is God’s grace is gritty. It has grit to it. It’s got energizing power in the midst of a lot of different situations in life. It’s grace that can handle everything.
After 22 chapters, after 11,952 words, John ends and blesses each reader with grace. So, whatever else happens at the end of this letter, you know one thing. You need grace. You need grace to hear the words of this letter. You need grace to understand the words of this letter. And you need grace to do the words of this letter. And John gives it to you. So, admit you need it. And I don’t think most of us are kind of, “I don’t need grace. I’m anti-grace.” It’s that we don’t think about it. God, I need grace to make it today, to parent today, to work today, to get my schoolwork done today. I need your power today. And then, have the guts (if I could put it that way) to receive it. Let’s actually believe this last statement of Revelation is true and that we can be receivers of the grace of the Lord Jesus. And then live out of that grace.
Listen. Jesus is coming. Grace.
Church, we’ve heard Revelation, and we are both blessed and warned. Jesus is coming. I hope an amen is swift on your lips, and I hope you will help me grow to have an amen swift on mine.
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”
Let’s pray. Let us receive grace, Father. Energize us to do what you’ve called us to do today. Encourage our hearts to believe your promise, even in the midst of a crazy, wild cultural moment right now. You are greater. Your grace is enough for us. We pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.