12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
18 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, 19 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.
20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. 
One of the striking things we noticed about the close, or epilogue of the Apocalypse is that it ends the way it began in the prologue, giving us a clear understanding of its scope and purpose. In 1:18-19 we heard Jesus tell John, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.” The scope of Christ’s message involves the immediate increasing persecution of the congregations of Roman Asia by regional authorities in John’s present time and of all the church throughout the rest of the present age. Christ’s purpose is to show how such oppression fits into God’s plan to redeem a people with whom he will dwell for eternity. In presenting this series of prophetic visions to John, Messiah Jesus is commanding his people to hold fast to their eternal inheritance by worshipping him rather than idols and the demons behind them.
Verse 12 reads, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.” Three times in this epilogue, Jesus promises he is coming soon (7, 12, 20). And yet we are over 1,900 years past the time John recorded these promises. So, what did Jesus mean by soon? In 16:15 Jesus said, “I am coming as a thief.” Peter uses the same expression as we will shortly read. But the word “soon” here cannot be translated as “suddenly” or “unexpectedly.” Those things are true of his coming. But here “soon” is temporal. It describes a short period of time. So what do we do with that 1,900 years later?
First, we should consider that the visions John sees depict the next events to happen on the prophetic calendar. The coming of the last great judgment and blessing from Christ are near because there are no great redemptive events in between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension and his final coming. God decreed his great covenant of redemption before he spoke even a quark of the universe into existence. Before there was an earth, God determined to create it as a stage upon which he would glorify himself through the devil’s rebellion, Adam’s fall, Abram’s call, Moses’ leadership, the giving of his perfect law to Israel as his unique people, the raising up of David as the messianic type and shadow of the eternal Messiah, Jesus’ incarnation, earthly ministry and cross work, resurrection, and ascension to eternal Messianic rule, and the formation of the New Covenant church from every tribe and tongue and nation. All those things have taken place from eternity past and in our earthly time and space. Only the final judgment and blessing remain. In light of God’s eternal purposes, Christ’ return is soon.
Paul wrote to the Ephesian congregation John would later pastor that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” He taught the same thing in Col. 3:1. John, here in Rev. 20:4, gives us a vision of the saints who have died in Christ presently being seated upon thrones judging and reigning with Messiah. So, since our earthly lives are brief, we who trust into Christ shall begin to receive even more of these great promises when we pass through this world to the present heaven and into Jesus’ presence. In that sense as well, Jesus’ promises are soon for us. We have Christ in us, the hope of glory, here in the already. But we will have more of him and more of his glory soon. Still, that is more us going to Christ in our deaths than him coming into this world for blessing and judgment.
Also, John gives us several pictures of the judgments God is already executing upon the earth-dwellers – those who reject God in Christ Jesus in favor of idols. In the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments we see God unleashing sickness, natural disasters, economic woes, and the entire demonic realm upon the earth-dwellers in the same way he unleashed plagues upon Egypt. All these judgments serve as warnings of the great final judgment to come. Like the plagues of Egypt, they serve mainly to further harden the hearts of the earth-dwellers, but also to call pre-believers to flee to Christ. For those 1st-century believers, those judgment-plagues were coming soon to Rome and her allies even as they continue in our present world.
Another way Jesus fulfills his promise to come soon is found in his assurances of blessing and judgment to the Asian churches under Roman persecution. Jesus warned the Pergamum congregation that he would come to make war on their false teachers spreading idolatry (2:16). “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”  Christ warned John’s congregation in Ephesus he would come to them in judgment if they did not rekindle their love for him (2:5). “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”  To Philadelphia he promised in 3:10, “I am coming soon” to “keep you from the hour of trial.” These promises don’t necessarily refer to his second coming as much as his sovereign rule over his congregations and his works of judgment and blessing among them through the Holy Spirit.
Still, the more common context of Christ’s coming in the Apocalypse is not his special work among his congregations, but his final return in judgment and blessing to consummate all things to himself and inaugurate the eternal age. We weigh Jesus’ promise to come soon in light of Peter’s urging us to think of God’s perspective of time and eternity (2 Pt. 3:8-13):
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 
Christ wants his people of every generation to anticipate his coming at any time so that they continue overcoming the world, the flesh, and the devil. He wants us to see his coming as imminent, so we understand how weak and transient is the power of idols to grant us our self-defined happiness.
As “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1), this book has shown Messiah reigning over his church, encouraging and defending his persecuted people, destroying his enemies, and shining his glory upon the church triumphant in the new earth. It’s fitting that Messiah opens the book with direct testimony and closes the book with direct testimony. He promises he’s coming soon. He promises he is “bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.”
Some teachers enlist this statement as proof that Jesus plans to show up with a giant sack of merit badges to hand out for all the super-Christians to wear on their white robes. Consequently, if you don’t want to be embarrassed by your lack of merit badges you better get busy doing extraordinary works right now to earn your recognition in the hereafter. But Jesus’ statement is an allusion to Isa. 40:10 (LXX), “Behold, the Lord comes with strength.… Behold, his reward is with him, and the work before him.” The promised “reward” doesn’t speak to anything God’s people deserve but refers to God’s freely giving the blessings of salvation to his trusting people and (implicitly) his judgment to the idol-worshippers. Isa. 40:10 explains the “good news” announced in verse 9 announced as a result of God’s pardoning of sins in 40:2. Verse 14 reads, “Or who has first given to him, and it will be recompensed to him again?” (and further confirmed from the combined quotation of Isa. 40:13–14 and Job 41:11 in Rom. 11:34–35). Also, “reward” and “work” in Isa. 62:11 are further descriptions of the announcement to Israel that “your salvation comes.” Further, Rev. 11:18b where the same Greek word translated “reward” (μισθός) refers only to the “reward” that God gives to all his people at the end of time.
The reward Christ offers his people is salvation. He is able to give this reward because he is “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” In 1:8 and 21:6 it is presumably the voice of God the Father we hear claiming the title the Alpha and the Omega and the Beginning and the End. These titles are colors of the Old Covenant used to refer to YHWH alone. But now, in demonstration of his own co-equal deity with the Father, Messiah Jesus uses the same titles. You may recall the literary term for these polar opposites is a mirism. It refers not only to the opposites, but to everything in between. Christ’s sovereign presence at and over the beginning of creation and over the end of creation show that he is also present at and sovereign over all events in between. The emphasis of the mirism here at the end of the book underscores Christ’s divine ability to conclude history at his coming.
Christ’s presence and power over all the history of the cosmos makes him the faithful last judge and the confidence and hope of those persecuted for their worship of him alone. Since he is present at history’s end, he is the goal to which his people aspire. St Author of Hebrews wrote to a persecuted church:
…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 
The saints’ perseverance, their overcoming, is pictured as them constantly washing their robes – imagery drawn from 7:14 where the angel showed John the saints of the present heaven as, “they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed [past tense] their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Here Christ’s benediction is in the present active tense: “Blessed are those who are washing their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.” The emphasis is still on the worthiness of the Lion-Lamb to save by the power of his blood. Yet, the tense change indicates a command to be continually washing one’s self in Christ’s sacrifice.
This continued purification John took up later in his final sermon:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  …everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 
So, in 19:7-8 we read that the “bride made herself ready” so that “it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure….” “Persevering includes the idea of an enduring hope for Christ’s final appearing despite trials. The direct link in 16:15 between Christ’s statement ‘I am coming as a thief’ and the conditional pronouncement of a ‘blessing’ on ‘the one who watches and keeps his garments’ suggests this idea, since the same link is found here with respect to the ‘quickness’ of the coming (cf. 22:7, 12, 20; Luke 12:35, 39–40).”
Those who keep on washing their robes shall have access to the Tree of Life. The placement of this blessing at the end of the book shows us the centrality of the doctrine of atonement in biblical faith. It’s an idea that seems barbaric to modern Western culture – the necessity of blood to satisfy God’s wrath against sin. But Christ is pictured as the Lamb in this book precisely because only the perfect blood of the perfect Lamb, fully God and fully man, can perfectly atone for mankind’s condition of sin. The very heart of the gospel message is the blood of Christ, received by trust as the cleansing from sin that produces the holiness without which no one may dwell in God’s presence. Only those who confess their sin, come to the cross of Christ where his blood was shed, and receive forgiveness of sin may enter into his presence in the garden-temple of the new earth. In the Apocalypse our cleansing is symbolized by entering through the gates of the New Jerusalem and by having access to the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:22; Rev. 2:7; 22:2, 14, 19).
With this seventh and final benediction of Revelation, which is to be realized in the eternal state, our inheritance is now complete (seven being the number of perfection or completion). What this means is that all those who dwell in the New Jerusalem, the new heavenly earth, will receive all of those things promised to them by God. We will freely enter the holy city. We will freely eat from the tree of life.
Even as God’s elect receive their eternal inheritance in Jesus Christ, those whose names are not written in the Book of Life now face the ultimate covenant curse–eternal punishment. Jesus now speaks directly to the fate of those who freely and willfully reject the salvation he has offered to all. “15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”  Revelation 21:8 and 21:27 also had lists describing the outlanders condemned to the lake of fire. All three lists conclude with the same description: liars. Here, it’s “everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” These are the make believers who love church but don’t love Jesus. They come to worship themselves by being entertained, by having their ears tickled with false doctrines of a false god who loves everyone and wants them all to be happy by having all their wishes come true. They come to manipulate rather than minister. They come fishing for clients for their latest multi-level marketing scheme, or for voters for their political agenda. They come because they find the ritual comforting.
For whatever reason you have come this morning, we’re glad you’re here. But if you’re not here to receive Jesus’ divine service to you, then you will not, cannot enter into eternal fellowship with Father, Son, and Spirit in the garden-temple of the new heavenly earth. You cannot enter because you have not washed your robes in the blood of the Lamb. That blood is so effective, so powerful, there is no sin it cannot wash clean. Rick Phillips, in his commentary on this section of Revelation 22, tells the story of Lutheran minister Henry Gerecke who was assigned as chaplain to the Nazi war criminals of Nuremberg. One of the convicted prisoners awaiting execution was Joachim Von Ribbentrop, Adolf Hitler’s foreign minister who had helped plot Hitler’s many foreign policy deceptions.
The faithful chaplain believed that while all these convicts yet lived, they had the opportunity to turn to Christ and receive forgiveness of sins. He met with them individually and held the divine service weekly for those willing to attend. Rather than stay in their cells, many attended. After a few weeks of faithful preaching eight men professed trust into Christ. Among them were Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, chief of German Armed Forces; Fritz Sauckel, Head of Labor Supply (a nice title for slave-master); and, Wilhelm Frick, Minister of the Interior who oversaw a reign of terror that targeted many Christians. At first, Von Ribbentrop heaped scorn and abuse upon the chaplain. But God’s Spirit, through God’s Word, opened Ribbentrop’s ears to hear.
The morning came when a group of prisoners were taken from their cells to be hanged. Ribbentrop was the first and Gerecke walked with him to the gallows. With the noose over his head and Gerecke by his side, Von Ribbentrop gave his simple testimony. “I place all my confidence in the Lamb who made atonement for my sins. May God have mercy on my soul.”
Anyone, no matter the gravity of their sins, can be forgiven to stand spotless before the throne of God and the Lamb. The Lamb’s blood fully washes all who come to him in repentance and trust. Before he returns to judge every soul in perfect truth and righteousness, Jesus offers his last testimony:
Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.
We invite you to come to the fountain that is Christ and find life in him this morning.
Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant…. 
 Phillips, 678.
 See: Phillips, 689-691.
 Beale, 1137.
 Beale, 1138.
 Trans. mine. Emphasis added.
 Beale, 1139.
 Phillips, 692.
 Phillips, 693-94.
 Id. Quoting, Dan Stephens, War and Grace: Short Biographies from the World Wars (Darlington, UK: Evangelical Press, 2005), 253-71.