I attended a church once where the pastor was finishing a series on the book of Revelation which he had started a year prior. He was on the last chapter of Revelation, Revelation 22, and it was his last sermon in the series. The sermon began wonderfully. I sat there thinking that I really hated the fact that I had missed all the other 47 sermons (forty-seven!).
In any case, the pastor arrived at Revelation 22:14 and things took a turn for the worse: “Blessed are those who do His commandments, THAT THEY MAY HAVE THE RIGHT TO THE TREE OF LIFE, AND MAY ENTER THROUGH THE GATES INTO THE CITY” (Rev. 22:14, NKJV).
At this moment, the pastor began to do what I call “The Ultimate No-No”: he began to butcher the biblical text. “This passage has nothing to do with losing one’s salvation. We believe in the Doctrine of Eternal Security: that is, that once you are saved, you are eternally sealed in the Lord’s hands and nothing can take you out or remove you from Him.”
It was unbelievable! Rev. 22:14 says that those who “do His commandments” will “have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.” How then, can this passage mean anything other than what it says?
An even bigger question is, “Why do we come to passages like this and just REWRITE them?” That is what we seem to be doing when we come to passages like this and say, “It doesn’t mean what it says.” It almost feels like at times that believers can be “theologically relativist,” when they come to passages like this and deny that the words here convey real meaning. Is it possible that the Lord, who is Truth (John 14:6), would intentionally deceive us? I believe not.
Let’s look at Revelation 22:14. First off, let me make it clear that unbelievers do not have a share in the Tree of Life, so the passage is not referring to those who “were never saved to begin with.” Secondly, the passage itself refers to “those who do His commandments,” which does not refer to unbelievers (since they do not keep the Lord’s commands). Next, the purpose of keeping the commandments is so one may enjoy the privileges listed in this verse.
Another great point in verse 14 is that only those who do His commandments will enter in. This echoes Paul’s words in Romans that “not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, BUT THE DOERS OF THE LAW WILL BE JUSTIFIED” (Rom. 2:13). James tells us “But BE DOERS OF THE WORD, and not hearers only, DECEIVING YOURSELVES” (James 1:22). When James tells the scattered believers to be doers and not just hearers, he is saying that one can easily just hear the Word and believe he or she will be saved in the end---only to discover that his or her faith is not justified without works (2:24). So the Lord’s words in Revelation 22:14 are a recurring biblical theme, especially throughout the New Testament.
To find out what this verse means, we must probe deeper into the verse itself. So what does “the tree of life” stand for? Is it literal, or figurative? The tree of life is literal. See Genesis 2:
“And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. THE TREE OF LIFE WAS ALSO IN THE MIDST OF THE GARDEN, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:9, NKJV).
But, beyond the fact that the tree of life was in the Garden, what was important about the tree of life?
“Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of THE TREE OF LIFE, and eat, AND LIVE FOREVER—“ (Genesis 3:22)
So eating from the tree of life caused one to “live forever.” So the Tree of Life is the “tree that gives life,” life eternal. So if the one who keeps the Lord’s commandments will receive the right to take of the tree of life, then this means that the doer of the Word will receive eternal life.
Why should this scare us believers? Why is it that we should become afraid of verses like this and throw up a doctrinal teaching (Eternal Security) that is rather questionable in the history of the church? If a doctrinal teaching twists the verse and its meaning such that we have to look at the verse say “those who keep the commandments will have eternal life” (paraphrase), and we respond, “No, this is not what it says,” then isn’t this a good indicator that the doctrine is wrong and not the plain reading of Scripture??? Reading Revelation 22:14 in this manner is like reading John 3:16 and saying, “Even though the verse says those who believe in Christ will have eternal life, I don’t believe this verse really means what it says. It says something else.” How strange does this sound?
Back to the service I attended. The moment the pastor got to this verse, he lifted up the Doctrine of Eternal Security. What’s so sad is that he interpreted a verse with a doctrine that was invented by John Calvin, and used Calvin’s doctrine to interpret Revelation 22:14 instead of using the Scriptures to do so. As believers, we have become our own worst enemy when we use human doctrines to interpret Scripture---and not the other way around...