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Does Rev. 22 Really Say “The End” for the Whole Bible?

Question:

Does the warning against “adding or subtracting from the words of this prophecy” in Revelation 22:18–19 really apply to the whole Bible? Or is it just for the book of Revelation? My friend thinks it closes out the Bible, but that doesn’t sound right, because the verse says “the words of this prophecy.” Is the verse being taken out of context?

Answer:

I agree with you on this: Scripture passages must be considered in context! But I support your friend’s conclusion. The short answer is that prophecy forms a single, large picture in Scripture. The Revelation is the final piece. When God clearly says “The End” in Revelation 22, there is nowhere in Revelation or any other book that can accept changes.

The “question beneath the question” is: Do you view the Scripture as a unified presentation of truth, or do you read it as a collection of writings that intersect on the same theme? I believe Scripture presents itself as a complete body of teaching. Let’s briefly review three points.

What is Scripture?

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (1 Tim. 3:16–17).

God used many interesting individuals to write the Scripture texts, but their words are His communication to us. The Old Testament was complete and recognized as Scripture by the Jews when the Lord Jesus came to earth, and He upheld it as authoritative. He quoted frequently from various books, sometimes identifying authors but often referring to passages as simply “Scripture” (e.g. Mark 12:10; Luke 4:21; John 7:38, 10:35, 13:18, 17:12).

He sometimes used the common Jewish expression “the Law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12, 11:13, 22:40; Luke 16:16, 24:44) which any Jew understood to mean the complete writings of the Old Testament.1 These were also recognized as Scripture by the apostles and early Christians, including Paul who was trained in Judaism as a Pharisee (Acts 22:3, Phlp. 3:5) and quoted the Old Testament extensively in his letters. Peter, in turn, was already putting Paul’s ongoing writings as equal to those same Scriptures when he wrote his encouragements to the dispersed Jewish Christians (2 Pet. 3:16–18).

When later church councils were held to discuss the canon of Scripture, they spent much time reviewing the available writings to ensure that the complete Scripture, and not more or less, was being upheld. But these did not invent the “official” Bible as skeptics sometimes claim. God’s faithful followers were already using its contents.2

So, we have the first reason why Revelation 22 is the conclusion of Scripture. The Bible was inspired by a single Author, and He tells us He has finished writing His book.

What About Prophecy?

“For the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets. The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken; who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:7–8).

God does not owe us an explanation for His activity, but He is pleased to tell us about the coming, and kingdom, of the Lord Jesus Christ. Many future events are described in prophecy. A sign in the natural world or in human affairs is often fulfilled immediately and confirms that the prophet was sent by God. More events or activities related to the coming of Christ are then fulfilled later.

But each prophecy is one piece of a large picture. Peter summarized it as follows:

“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Pet. 1:19–21).

Peter compares prophecy to a lamp that just brightens the path forward until the sunrise occurs. He also says that no prophecy comes from an individual interpretation of that prophecy.3 So, none of these revelations can be understood in isolation from each other, and only their fulfillment—Christ revealed—gives full light on the subject.

Note that Revelation is particularly connected to the main themes of Daniel in the Old Testament. In Daniel, the prophet was twice told to “seal up the vision…and shut the book” because the time of fulfillment was very distant (Dan. 8:26, 12:4). But in Revelation 22:10, now we read “do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.” Daniel finished writing out his visions and figuratively “closed the book” leaving many unanswered questions. Nearly six centuries passed before John was given his vision, but God seamlessly took up the same subject and completed it.

We now have a second reason why Revelation 22 should be read as the conclusion of new revelations: prophecy is a unified picture from a common author. Revelation 22’s final comment regarding “the words of the prophecy” concludes the picture God has described.

What is Revelation Showing Us?

The third reason why someone might miss the significance of Revelation 22 is that they have not carefully studied the book of Revelation! That study is beyond our scope here but a brief outline may help. Notice that Revelation opens by stating this is “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:1). He is the source and focus of prophecy (compare Rev. 19:10), so anyone who alters that message is in a precarious position. 

We soon learn John was rejected by the world “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 1:9) and “was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10). So, John represents the godly believer at every time in church history. As an apostle, John also represents the full span of this church-on-earth period. The church testimony was established on Christ through apostolic teaching and continues on that basis until the rapture (Eph. 2:19–22).

In a vision, the Lord gives John a message for seven local churches located in Asia Minor (Rev. 2–3). These seven assemblies were present in those cities. But their local conditions also give a prophetic picture of the general conditions the church on earth would go through historically, and is still passing through today, until its home-call when the Lord calls all believers, dead and living, into His presence through resurrection (1 Thess. 4:13–18).

Corresponding to that, John is next called into heaven by a “voice…speaking to me like a trumpet” (Rev. 4:1). He sees many people worshiping Christ around His heavenly throne (Rev. 4–5), and from that point forward his view is always from heaven. The earth then enters the awful tribulation judgments (Rev. 6–18), described briefly in the Old Testament and briefly again in the New Testament (e.g. Matt. 24). These are detailed here and include other prophetic comments about the context and actors. The tribulation is completed and closed before the marriage supper of the Lamb occurs (Rev. 19).

The millennial kingdom, spoken about in detail in the Old Testament, is described briefly here (Rev. 20:1–6), followed by final judgments upon Satan, and then upon all unbelievers at the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:7–15). Last of all, the new heaven and new earth are introduced (Rev. 21–22:5). The book then issues a closing summary (Rev. 22.6–21), with the warning not to add or subtract.

Now, think about that sequence.  It begins with the last living apostle at the beginning of the church-on-earth, and ends with the eternal state of the new heaven and new earth. It provides a timeline order for future events between those two. Clearly, this book is the full conclusion of God’s grand picture. There is no place to add or subtract from the Revelation without altering Scripture as a whole.

Summary

That was a long response, so let me summarize my three points:

  1. Scripture is a unified, complete book from one primary author – God (2 Tim. 3:16). God has closed His book in Revelation 22.
  1. Within Scripture, prophecy is a unified, complete picture. God has finished describing that picture and says so in Revelation 22.
  1. Within prophecy, Revelation is the final chapter that begins with the presentation of Christ and the church-on-earth today. It then fills in all missing details from the present age to the final, eternal state. Revelation 22 confirms that this is the conclusion of the picture.

The difficulties of interpreting the Revelation have led to divergent views, but I believe the one described here is consistent with Scripture and prophecy. Even if you don’t agree with my outline of Revelation, I hope the Scriptural and prophetic contexts will convince you to study Revelation with the understanding that the full context has been provided. To add or subtract in any part of Scripture would be a serious error.

Does that seem reasonable? Do you still have thoughts or questions about this response? Post them in the comments section below! The Patterns of Truth team would like to hear your concerns.


Endnotes

1.  I am told by other Bible commentators that the expression “the Law and the prophets” follows a common Jewish figure of speech. To describe something expansive a person would list the first thing and the last. The audience would understand the speaker also meant “and everything in between.” So, “the Law and the prophets” covers all recognized Jewish Scriptures, not just a handful of books. Another figure like this is found in Gen. 2–3, the “knowledge of good and evil,” implying full comprehension of all possible knowledge. This figurative use of “good and evil” appears a few more times in the Bible. A third is “alpha and omega,” the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, used twice in Revelation (1:8,11; 22:13). There, the figurative use is clearly defined. It shows that the same construction was intended and could be understood in another language. We do something similar in modern English with expressions such as “everything from A to Z.”

2.  Some questions about the biblical canon were difficult, of course. For a summary of the compiling of Biblical canon, and why it excludes the Deuterocanonical books (Apocrypha) in particular, reference this helpful FAQ from the publishers of the Blue Letter Bible.

3.  Translations differ a bit on 1 Peter 1:20 but I suggest reviewing the Darby (DBY): “[the scope of] no prophecy of Scripture is had from its own particular interpretation”. The emphasis is not on how an individual person might interpret it, but rather, that no individual prophecy can be understood if it is separated from the context of all other prophecies.


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