“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done. “ Revelation 22:12 This is one of those curious verses in Scripture that seems to be out of sync with the great theme of the Bible that we are saved by grace alone.
At first reading we might receive the impression the verse is saying that when Christ comes each person shall receive his recompense according to his or her individual works or deeds. Some people take the verse to mean that we are saved by grace but how we express or work out our salvation is the true measure of our faith and thus the impetus for how God judges.
While it is true that a born again Christian will manifest fruit of the Spirit, it is not true that our spiritual life counts as merit with God. In other words, I am saved by grace alone and the life I live is always a result of my salvation, never a reason for it.
So, if salvation is not what is being spoken of in Revelation 22:12 what is John getting at? First of all we need to remember an important rule of exegesis and that is never ask what does this passage mean to me, but instead what does it mean to those people that it was addressed to in its historical setting.
John wrote Revelation while he was a prisoner on the Island of Patmos off the coast of modern day Turkey. The context for the book was the persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96). He called himself, “August,” “Savior,” “Lord” and even “God” and if anyone would not worship him he would have him beheaded.
He built statues throughout his Empire and required citizens to offer sacrifices as evidence of their loyalty to him. Christians throughout Asia Minor refused to turn their back on the one true God and stood firm against the persecution. The result was loss of property, economic boycott, arrest and for many, death.
In the midst of this persecution the churches of Asia Minor (the seven churches of Revelation) received encouragement to stand tall for Jesus regardless of the cost through John’s letter that we know as Revelation. In verses like Chapter 6:9-11 John pictures the martyred crying out to God for vengeance and judgment against those who have persecuted them.
With this background let us look at Revelation 22:12 once again. Jesus is encouraging the persecuted Christians that are facing a death sentence under Emperor Domitian to stay true to Him. He is telling them that Jesus is returning soon and He will reward everyone who stands firm against the death decrees of Domitian. This is what they have done. They have stayed loyal when self-preservation has told them to give in and worship the Emperor.
Only when we understand what the text means to the people that it was written to can we then look at its application for us. In countries like Syria and Iraq radical groups like ISIS continue Domitian’s demonic activities by cutting the heads off of Christians and enslaving many others. Jesus calls out to them, just as He did to the people of John’s time, that they will receive recompense for staying true to God through the trials and persecutions.
Instead of seeing the verse as an admonition to do good works in order to be saved the verse is simply saying that those who stay true to Christ through hard times are guaranteed of their place in Heaven.
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* Please remember our brothers and sisters in Christ who are subjected to persecution for their faith in Christ our Lord and Saviour. Go to http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ for more on the persecuted church