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Revelation 22: Eternal recompense

Unsplash/Javier Miranda
Unsplash/Javier Miranda

Dr. Howard A. Kelly, a distinguished physician and committed Christian, stood as one of the original four founding professors of the Johns Hopkins Hospital School of Medicine upon its establishment in 1893.

During his tenure as a medical student, Kelly’s resolve to pursue his studies led him to undertake various endeavors to meet his financial needs. Among these efforts, he would sell books during the summer months. One particular day, parched from his endeavors, he sought refreshment at a nearby farmhouse. Welcomed by a young girl who offered him water, he gratefully accepted, only to be pleasantly surprised when she instead presented him with a glass of milk, the coolness of which revived his spirits.

As years elapsed, Kelly completed his medical education and ascended to the esteemed position of chief surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital. It was during this period that a destitute and gravely ill woman was admitted under his care. Recognizing her dire circumstances, Kelly ensured she received the utmost attention, providing her with a private room and dedicated nursing care. Through meticulous surgical intervention and attentive postoperative care, the woman’s health steadily improved.

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Upon her recovery, the head nurse conveyed the news of her discharge, a moment of elation tinged with apprehension at the anticipated financial burden of her treatment. Requesting the invoice, the woman braced herself for the impending expenses. To her astonishment, as she perused the bill, her eyes fell upon a remarkable notation at the bottom:

“Paid in full with one glass of milk! Howard A. Kelly, M.D.”

Dr. Howard A. Kelly’s story echoes Jesus’ promise to his disciples that even the smallest act, such as offering a cup of water in his name, will not go unrewarded (Mark 9:41). It is this same sentiment that is reiterated by Jesus in the last verses of the book of Revelation. Herein the Lord promises to return and bring with him a reward for every action of heart-felt service given in his name. Just as the woman’s small deed was ultimately recognized and more than generously rewarded, so it will be for everyone who faithfully awaits the Savior’s return in faith and perseverance. Here is what the Bible says:

Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Blessed are those who wash their robes. They will be permitted to enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life. Outside the city are the dogs — the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idol worshipers, and all who love to live a lie (Revelation 22:12-15).

In the book of Revelation alone, Jesus admonishes three times: “I am coming soon.” (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20).  The concept of Christ’s imminent return, however, is mentioned throughout the New Testament, though not necessarily in the same words. For instance, in Matthew 24:44, Jesus says, “You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” This echoes the idea of viewing the Lord’s return as near at hand, though the language, “I am coming soon”  is not used.

In biblical literature, repetition is often used to highlight the importance of a particular message or event. This is especially the case when something is repeated three times in the same chapter — the repetition is meant to heighten its emotional and spiritual resonance. Encapsulated within this trinity of proclamations are all the implications of its great significance: hope, comfort, accountability, urgency, motivation to share the Gospel, a call to obedience, and an encouragement to remain faithful.

There is a story about a traveler in Switzerland who came upon a beautiful villa on the shores of a lake, far from the beaten path of most tourists. An aged gardener who cared for the villa was always glad to see visitors. He had lived alone there for many years.

“How often does the owner of the villa come to see you?” asked the traveler. “Not very often. It’s been several years since his last visit,” responded the caretaker.

“But,” said the traveler, “you have everything in such perfect order. It’s so clean and well-landscaped, with everything flourishing. It looks as if you were expecting your master to show up tomorrow!”

“Oh, no,” said the old man, “I’m expecting him to come today! He may very well be here at any moment, and so I must be ready with everything in order.”

This is what it means to live in the light of Christ’s imminent return.

Jesus also mentions that when he comes again his reward will be with him. Some Christians mistakenly see working for the Lord in the hope of gaining rewards as something unspiritual, even carnal. Yet, in Matthew 6:20, the Lord Jesus encouraged storing up treasures in heaven rather than on earth, highlighting the wisdom of laying up for oneself heavenly rewards which are imperishable and eternal.

Many years ago, when I first gave my heart to Christ and began attending church regularly, I encountered a profound little poem taped to the door of a Sunday School room. Its words have since held a firm grip on my life. It read:

“Everything in this life will soon be past.
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Regrettably, many individuals have their priorities inverted. They invest all their energies and resources in the fleeting pursuits of this present life, forgetting that none of their possessions can be carried beyond. At best, these things are temporal. It’s only through our service to the Lord that we make investments in the eternal. Faithful and sacrificial investments in the Kingdom of God provide interest rates that are not only perpetual and enduring but are far greater than anything that might be attained in this life.

On whose word do we have this promise of eternal reward? It is not based on the pledges of some highly acclaimed individuals like Elon Musk, Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos, or Mark Zuckerburg. The assurance given is not grounded on the authority of a government agency, or a financial, academic, or religious institution. No, their surety comes from him whose credentials are unmatched anywhere in the universe — the one who is the “Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (vs. 12).

Again, there is a trinity of proclamations (Revelation 1:8; 1:11; 22:13): expressions of our Lord’s eternal nature, divine authority, and preeminence. The great truth revealed is that Christ is the central figure of Revelation and God’s entire redemptive plan (Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; 48:12; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 13:8). Each in some manner expresses Christ’s deity.

The proofs for the deity of Jesus are too voluminous to miss for anyone possessing intellectual honesty. Counted among them would be his miracles, his fulfillment of prophecies, his wisdom, insight, and moral teachings, his claims to be the Messiah, his acceptance of worship, his bodily resurrection from the dead, his impact on history, and the millions of people who have testified to being transformed by his message and presence.

As the evangelist of yesteryear, William Biederwolf once claimed: “A man who can read the New Testament and not see that Christ claims to be more than a man, can look all over the sky at high noon on a cloudless day and not see the sun.” The conclusion is clear: Jesus is God. No one in human history compares to Him, because He isn’t just a man.

The King James Version is a wonderful and blessed translation. It translates verse “Blessed are they that do his commandments.” Nevertheless, this can be confusing for some people because it isn’t by our works, or by commandment-keeping that we attain or earn the right to the Tree of Life. In Titus 3:5, the apostle Paul writes: “He [Christ] saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.” Other translations such as the New International Version, the English Standard Version, the New American Standard Bible, the Revised Standard Version, and the New Living Translation, all translate the verse: “Blessed are those who wash their robes.”

The passage is a reference to being washed in the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb of God. The point being emphasized is our own responsibility in the experience of salvation. What Christ has done for the redemption of humanity, his life, death, and resurrection, must be personally applied. Salvation is not simply a mental assent to certain facts about Jesus. One can be filthy and unfit to sit at the dinner table and know everything about how soap and water cleanses, but unless that person applies the soap and water and washes, they will never be clean.

Those who would partake of the Tree of Life and enter through the gates of God’s eternal city must choose to throw themselves entirely upon the grace of God in Christ. There is no other way (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). They must receive Christ, believe on Him from the heart, personally turn to him for forgiveness, and experience his life-altering power, which empowers one to desire and love God’s commandments.

No others will get into Heaven, everyone else will be left outside of the city. This strong warning is reminiscent of the multitudes that heard Noah, a preacher of righteousness. God spared Noah and his family from his coming wrath, but the unbelieving who mocked the message were left outside of the Ark (A Type of Christ) and perished in God’s judgment of the great flood (2 Peter 2:5). In a parable, Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to 10 virgins waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom. When the bridegroom arrived, those who were prepared entered into the wedding feast, but the foolish virgins who were unprepared were shut out (Matthew 25:10-12).

The list of those barred from the Tree of Life and the city is said to be, “the dogs – the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, murderers, idolators, and those who love to live a lie” (vs. 15). This is not meant to be understood as an exhaustive list, but to broadly characterize the masses who are damned.

  • Dogs – the unregenerate, who like scavenging canines, instinctively prefer the unclean, feed upon carrion, and find rummaging through the garbage of life pleasurable. Dogs sicken themselves by consuming corruption, then they vomit it out, but love it so much return to eat the vomit (2 Peter 2:22). The unsaved live this way. Though some are more aware of it than others, they love what is impure and spiritually squalid.
  • Sorcerers – The Greek word used for “sorcerers” is “pharmakeus,” which is related to the word “pharmakeia.” This word is connected to the modern English word “pharmacy.” The immediate application of the word is a reference to witchcraft or occult practices. The wider application of the word is to warn against mind-altering substances that can open an unseen portal to demonic spirits who possess and enslave, dragging individuals into Hell. Drug abuse is an offshoot of sorcery and it is one of the most powerful weapons of the devil to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). As sad as their plight may be, those who practice the use and sale of illicit drugs will not be permitted into Heaven.
  • Sexually immoral – people who are sexually active outside of marriage between one man and one woman. This would include casual sex, hookups, one-night stands, extramarital affairs, prostitution, polygamy, polyamory, heterosexual cohabitation, as well as same-sex relations in its many expressions. The souls of those who choose to live in this fashion are in jeopardy of being barred from entering God’s eternal home.
  • Murderers – people who directly commit the act of murder or have purposely and unlawfully taken the life of another person. Indirect acts of murder are more comprehensive in definition and can include leading people into forms of dissipation, that destroy them in the end. When people are unwilling or neglectful in doing what is right and it results in the loss of life, it can be a form of murder. There is also the spirit of murder that many live with every day. Jesus warned when someone’s heart long harbors bitterness, anger, and hate towards another, that individual will fare no better at the judgment than the person’s hands gory with human blood (Matthew 5:21-22).
  • Idolators – people who worship or serve idols, false gods, or anything other than the true God. Idolatry involves giving devotion, reverence, or worship to something created rather than to the Creator. Not many people today worship a graven image as many of the ancients did, but large swaths of the population worship things like nature, health, sports, science, academia, pleasure, celebrity, and wealth. People whose lives are consumed by such and fail to give God his rightful place as Sovereign will not enter God’s Kingdom.
  • All Who Love to Live a Lie – people who embrace and engage in deceitful behavior or falsehoods. This includes individuals who habitually lie, deceive others, or live dishonest lives. They deceive themselves or others about their actions, beliefs, or intentions, leading to a lifestyle of falsehood and deceit. This can include politicians, con artists, false spiritual leaders, internet trolls and hoaxers, corporate fraudsters, and media manipulators. This could also be legitimately applied to people who hold woke ideologies about gender and sexuality, cancel culture involving misinformation and mob mentality, or the practice of certain forms of identity politics. These too are those who “love to live a lie.”

People who live this way — people who habitually operate through life in this manner — people who are characterized by this kind of behavior — will not have any right to the Tree of Life — neither shall they ever walk through one of the gates of the eternal city of God. They shall be forever banned, shut out, to burn in Gehenna, the dump outside of the city.

These words are absolutely true and unchangeable. Some will scoff at them but every word will come to pass. They will come to pass because the One who said them is the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, and his word never fails.

How wondrously happy are those whose garments have been cleansed in the blood of the Lamb; they will find passage through the gates of the radiant city of light and joyously celebrate together their right to partake of the Tree of Life’s miraculous properties of immortality.

The earnest anticipation of Christ’s return instills unwavering trust. Believing and obeying the prophecies of Revelation fosters a simple and steadfast faith and serves as a stabilizing force amid life’s worst circumstances. Better still, it inspires a profound hope, as stated in I John 3:3, that compels the followers of Jesus to purify themselves in emulation of their Savior. Aspiring to reflect the Lord’s image is the ultimate aspiration for those eagerly awaiting his return.

“Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all according to their deeds,” says Jesus.

It’s impossible to know exactly when the Lord Jesus will come again, but we can know with complete certainty that he will return. Hebrews chapter 10 and verse 37 reaffirm Revelation chapter 22, verses 12 through 15:

“For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay” (Hebrews 10:37).

Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He was a pastor for twenty years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.

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