“Now I, John, saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. Then he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that, for I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God” (Revelation 22: 8, 9).
Seeing the splendor and glory of the kingdom John was overwhelmed and fell at the feet of the heavenly messenger. This provoked the first of a series of final warnings whose importance is underlined by the fact that they are among the final impressions that God wants to leave us with in Revelation and in the whole Bible.
Perhaps most critical is the admonition that we are not to worship anyone or anything besides God. To human logic and experience it seems reasonable to try to more effectively get Jesus’ attention by appealing to His friends, His mother or to the angels who surround Him. But there is not the slightest hint of worship being directed to the 24 elders, the four living creatures or the “angels around the throne” (Revelation 5: 11). To the contrary, they emphatically insist, “Worship God!”
That this is a difficult lesson to learn is shown both by the nearly one billion Catholics and Orthodox who worship the saints (in spite of the clear scriptural prohibition)<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> as well as by the fact that John had to be told twice not to do this himself—Here in chapter 22 and in chapter 19. When the angel messenger implied that John was invited to “the marriage supper of the Lamb,” he “fell at his feet to worship him. But he [the angel] said to [John], ‘Do not that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!” (Revelation 19:10). It is Satan and his cohorts who want worship for themselves—“The world…worshiped the dragon…and they worshiped the beast…As many as would not worship the image of the beast [were] to be killed” (Revelation 13:3,4,15). When we direct our worship to anything or anyone that is created we spoil the love relationship that our Creator wants to have with His creatures.
“And he said to me, ‘Do not seal the sayings of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand” (Revelation 22:10). The second warning is directed to John and to other religious teachers who would follow him. Revelation is a difficult book, and the natural tendency is to “seal the sayings” by teaching that the prophecies are too difficult to understand or have no relevance to us today. But this is a sure way to miss the blessing that God has prepared for us—“Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein” (Revelation 1:3). Religious leaders who do not feel that they have a full or complete understanding of Revelation should not be afraid to encourage their “flock” to study for themselves. We can trust the Holy Spirit to teach us what we need.
Finally there is a warning for each one who reads the Book of Revelation. “For I testify to every man that hears the words of the prophecy of this book, if anyone shall add to these things, God shall add to him the plagues that are written in this book. And if anyone 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” (Revelation 22: 18, 19).
No doubt this verse has discouraged would-be “editors” of Revelation through the centuries, who would like to change the book to make it say what they wanted it to say. But notice that the warning is “to every man that hears the words of the prophecy of this book.” There is a risk involved in understanding the prophecies of Revelation. As long as they are obscure and controversial they are simply food for religious argument and speculation. But when the meaning of Revelation becomes clear, it is obvious that its messages call for radical change. This may involve the change of long-held doctrinal positions or even church affiliation. But at an even more basic level, Revelation calls for a change of life. Luke-warm spiritual indifference is shown to be seductive but fatal (Revelation 3:16). So is the legalistic complacency that assumes that "Jesus has taken care of my sins through His sacrifice, so I don’t really have to worry about obedience." In contrast, Revelation presents “those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12).
One of the most prominent themes of Revelation is that God is calling a great multitude to come out of spiritual Babylon. But the experience of God's chosen people who were captives in Babylon is very instructive. When the Persians conquered the Babylonians, King Cyrus freed the Israelites to return to Israel, but most of them chose to stay.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> In Babylon they had a comfortable, prosperous life, in contrast to the rigors of returning and rebuilding the ruins of their ancestral homeland. After so long in the land of captivity their friends, families and businesses were in Babylon, and it seemed like too much of a sacrifice to leave. This is the danger for those who “hear the words of the prophecy of this book.” The easy, comfortable course of action is to “add to these things” or “take away from the words of the book,” in other words, to pick and choose the parts of the message of Revelation that allow me to stay as I am. But this is fatal. “If anyone shall add to these things, God shall add to him the plagues that are written in this book. And if anyone shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”
Continue to next section: NOW IS THE TIME
<![if !supportFootnotes]>  <![endif]> Orthodox and Catholics insist that they do not worship saints or angels, but rather venerate and honor them. But they bow before them (Greek proskineo), which is exactly the kind of worship that is prohibited and condemned both in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:5) and in Revelation (Revelation 9:20, 13:8,12,15, 14:11, 19:10, 22:8,9). Of the 60 times that this word is used in the New Testament, all refer either to worship of God and Jesus or to false worship.
<![if !supportFootnotes]>  <![endif]> See Ezra 2, especially verses 64,65.