Dear radio friends,
The believing child of God considers the Scriptures to be sufficient to guide him in all matters of doctrine and of life. Last week we saw that from II Timothy 3:16 , where we read that the Scriptures are sufficient to make the child of God wise unto salvation through faith in Christ. We were told, moreover, that those Scriptures are sufficient to govern us in all of our life — areas of faith (they were profitable for doctrine), and areas of life (for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness).
This week the passage we consider speaks also of the sufficiency of Scripture, that is, of its being enough (we need nothing more). It does so by teaching that Scripture is the complete revelation of God. It is enough because there is no more. The word that we consider today is found in Revelation 22:18, 19 : “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”
At the outset, it is important that we understand that these words are not simply the words of John as he writes by inspiration. We have here the direct words of Christ to John, which John wrote down. In other words, the “I” who testifies these things in verse 18 is not John assuring the people of God that God will do this, but it is Jesus Christ Himself. That is clear especially from verse 20: “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly.” The church then prays, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
That is also clear from the fact that throughout the chapter Jesus has spoken directly, and John has written down what Jesus spoke. When the “I” through the chapter is John, he makes it clear, as he does, for instance, in verse 8: “And I John saw these things and heard them.”
The “I” of our text, therefore, is Jesus Christ. Because it is Jesus Christ speaking, the child of God understands how serious the warning is. Now, even if it were only John speaking or writing by inspiration, we would still understand the warning to be very serious. But it is Jesus Christ Himself saying to the church, basically, “the revelation I have given you is all you need — nothing more and nothing less. And to him who looks for more or takes away from what has been given, there will be judgment.”
That prohibition applies, first of all, to the book of Revelation. “I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book.” It is, first of all, the book of Revelation that Jesus has in mind. The book of Revelation is a book that Jesus Christ revealed to John the apostle on the Isle of Patmos. It set forth all that would characterize the history of the New Testament. Not, of course, by telling us that at such-and-such a date this would happen, and on another date that would happen. But in the book of Revelation Jesus gives the church, through the apostle John, the broad picture of what will characterize the New Testament as He, Jesus Christ, governs all things at the right hand of God to realize the decree and the purposes of God. We have in the book of Revelation a complete picture, therefore, of the history of the New Testament. So Jesus is saying to the church as regards the history of the New Testament and everything that will be true of the church in the world: “Until I return, this is all you need to know, nothing more. But you need to know all of this, nothing less.”
But the words apply also to all of Scripture. We do not say that merely because these words are found at the very end of Scripture. That is, in God’s providence, true. At the very end of Scripture, the fourth and third-to-the last verses of all Scripture, we have a warning against adding to or taking from the plagues written in the book. Interesting, but not the main reason why we say the words apply to all of Scripture. The reason they do is that Scripture is an organic unity. Scripture, with all its different parts, is basically one organism, one entity. It is the one entity of the revelation of God to His church. And what underscores that all of Scripture — even though made up of different books, even though written by different human instruments — is really one organic whole is the fact that all of Scripture speaks of the salvation God has prepared for us in Jesus Christ. From the moment the promise was given to Adam and Eve (the promise of a seed who would save them) till the time Christ came, and then also in the New Testament (in the writings of the apostles), this is the one theme that prevails throughout: the salvation God has prepared for us in Christ.
…all of Scripture speaks of the salvation
God has prepared for us in Jesus Christ.
Historically, the book of Revelation was the last development of that theme. The book was written much later than any of the other New Testament books. It was the last book written. But the point is that this is all that the church needed to know about the salvation Christ would come to bring. Added to the book of Revelation, all the prophets of the Old Testament, the epistles of the New Testament, the gospels, the history — all of that, but nothing more — is the revelation of God to us in Jesus Christ. Do we mean that we now fully comprehend God, that God has exhaustively revealed Himself? No, but everything we need to know about salvation has been given in Scripture and finished with the giving of the book of Revelation.
The proof that the book of Revelation must be the end of the revelation of God is that it was written by the last living apostle, and it was the last of his books that we know of and have determined to be canonical. The Scriptures were written by the apostles and prophets. The prophets are dead; the apostles are dead except John. And now, in his old age, he writes this book.
The text that we have before us contains a prohibition against, in the first place, adding to, and in the second place, taking from the words of the prophecy of Scripture, including the book of Revelation — a twofold prohibition. We may not add to, first of all. No man may say, “God has given me a new revelation. In order to be saved, you have to hear what I say, because Scripture won’t tell you enough.” Or, no man may say, “Before I came along, the church thought she understood Scripture, but she never had the true and complete meaning.” That may not be done. No man may add to this revelation.
And yet, we know that such has happened throughout the New Testament history. Men have arisen, especially with regard to doctrines of the last times and the coming of Jesus Christ, and have said, “I have found the way to predict the moment of Christ’s coming. I have found the way to understand all of Scripture.” Men have said, “Here is a new doctrine that the church must believe: Mary was sinless and perpetually a virgin.” No man may say, “The Spirit has given me new insights that the church has never had.” These ideas, though prevalent, are wrong. And it is Jesus Christ who shows clearly that they are wrong. “If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.”
The reason why no man may add to these things is that Scripture is sufficient. Nothing more is necessary for faith and for life. You say, “Then what of the saints who were alive before Scripture was completed? Did they not have enough of the revelation?” The answer is: They did have enough. They had that central teaching of Scripture yet: Salvation in Jesus Christ alone. To illustrate that, Paul, writing to the Galatians in chapter 1, rebukes them for having begun to listen to other men who teach a doctrine contrary to the doctrines that Paul preached. And he says to the Galatians, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (vv. 6-9). Paul’s point is, the gospel is sufficient.
Why is Scripture sufficient? Because Scripture sets forth the gospel of God. That is the faith of the church of Jesus Christ and it is the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself in our text: No man may add. The gospel is sufficient — and the gospel has been fully revealed in Scripture.
The second part of the prohibition is: Taking from the words of this book of prophecy. No man may say, “God has told me that certain parts of this book or that book or of Scripture are not important or are not true.” Yet, how often that happens today. So soon as we buy into the idea that Scripture is really the word of man, we can throw parts out. Then we have “taken away from the words of the book of this prophecy.” So soon as we decide that we can revise the Scripture and write a Scripture that applies only to teens or a Scripture that applies only to women, we either have, or at least have come very close to, taking away from the words of the book of this prophecy. So soon as we say, “There are parts of Scripture that no longer apply to the church today — the Old Testament does not, or parts of the prophecies regarding the coming of Christ do not apply because they were already fulfilled — then we have taken away from the words of the book of this prophecy.
And you know that that same thing happens today, too. The warning is timely! Many people today will condone the sins in which they live by saying, “But that Scripture doesn’t apply.”
Why may not anyone take away from the words of this book? The reason for that part of the prohibition is that Scripture is verbally inspired, that is, it is word-for-word the Word of God. The exact words that God wanted the church of Jesus Christ to understand, He saw to it that they were written by holy men who were moved by the Holy Spirit. To subtract from the words of Scripture or the doctrines of Scripture is to deny that Scripture is word-for-word the Word of God. It is to call God a liar. It is to deny that God knows best what we must know for faith and salvation. Therefore, Christ forbids any to do that.
Notice how severe a judgment Christ pronounces on those who do what the text prohibits. “If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” A severe judgment!
To subtract from the words of Scripture
or the doctrines of Scripture
is to deny that Scripture is word-for-word
the Word of God.
The plagues that are written in the book are dreadful plagues. They are plagues that come upon those whom God hates, on whom He sends His wrath. They are not plagues that will come upon the people of God for whom Christ died, for He bore all our plagues by His death on the cross. But they are plagues that are reserved for the wicked.
One’s part in the book of life and one’s part in the holy city refer also to the salvation that God promises in this book. But when God says, “God shall take away his part out of the book of life and out of the holy city,” we must understand how severe the judgment is. It is the judgment of eternal death. Such a one who takes away from the words of this book will not be brought to heaven.
Now, notice that God says, “these will be taken away from him.” Some would say, on the basis of that wording, “Look, that means that some are saved for a time and then, at one point in time, they commit a sin on the basis of which God says to them, ‘You are no longer saved. While I had thought you would come to heaven and I intended to take you there, now you must go to hell.’” Let us not understand the text that way. Though it is true that the book of life is the book of those whose names from all eternity were chosen to salvation in Christ; though it is true that the holy city is the new Jerusalem, the heavenly church perfected at the time of the coming of Christ and, therefore, to be in the book of life and to be in the holy city is to be saved and to enjoy salvation; when God says that He will take away his part out of them, He does not mean that such a one enjoyed salvation for a time but will enjoy it no longer. Rather, He is speaking of one who, from our human viewpoint and from outward appearances, appeared to be a child of God. This is a member of the church on earth who takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy. This is, perhaps, the minister in your pulpit who no longer preaches the truth and yet, being in the church and a minister, it appears that he surely will be in heaven. This is, perhaps, the Sunday School teacher or the teacher in the Christian day school, confessing to be a child of God and a Christian, who nevertheless teaches what is contrary to the Word of God. Appearing outwardly to be a child of God because such a one is a member of the church on earth and because such a one makes an outward confession to believe Scripture, nevertheless, such a one will not be allowed entrance into the kingdom of God. Though it appears that they will be saved, God will take away the part that they appear to have. And, in doing that, He will make manifest that all along He had ordained such a one to everlasting destruction.
That they are worthy of that destruction and that this judgment, though severe, is just is also underscored in the text. First of all, it is underscored by the wording of the text, which shows that the punishment fits the crime. “If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life.” The punishment fits the crime.
But what also shows that this punishment is just is the fact that to tamper with the Word of God is to show hatred of God Himself. We might not always think that of a person who teaches us false doctrine. We might think that he does so in all sincerity. But God speaks here as one who knows the motives and the hearts. And He says, “Tamper with My Word? You show you hate Me. And I will visit your just punishment upon you.”
Do not think, dear radio listeners, that this will not certainly come to pass. For, in speaking this judgment, Jesus testifies of the certainty: “I testify,” He says. He bears witness. And He bears witness to that which God has told Him. It is Jesus, who knows the council of God, who knows whose names are written in the book of Life, who died for the salvation of the chosen children of God, who knows who are saved and who are not. And knowing that, Jesus says, “I testify — this is what God shalldo.” Therefore, dear radio listeners, take this warning to heart.
For whom is the warning intended? It is not only for the teachers and the preachers. Certainly these must obey it and their judgment will be all the greater if we do what Christ forbids here, for by their teaching others false doctrines they lead others astray. But Jesus testifies not just to those in important positions in the church. He says, “I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book.” Every person must take this warning to heart.
As we do so, we must confess up front that we have sinned in the way that Christ prohibits us here. We have sometimes had ideas that go beyond Scripture. We have, perhaps, at one time in our life thought that a part of Scripture did not apply to us. And if we acknowledge that sin and repent of it, then the punishment that God speaks of here will come upon (and did come upon) Christ for you and for me, so that we ought to repent of our sin and find forgiveness in Christ. But doing that, we must take the warning to heart. Any man who willfully, without repenting, adds to the words of this book or takes from the words of this book will surely enjoy the severe judgment of God.
Understanding that, what can we do but pray.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, keep us from doing what is here forbidden. By Thy grace, keep us faithful to Thee. Cause us to bow before Thy Word. Take from us the curses that we deserve and add to us the blessings that Christ earned that at His coming we be found ready and faithful and waiting. For Christ’s sake, Amen.