“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, 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” (Revelation 22:18–19 ESV).
What a stern warning to end this book of prophecy! And what a stern warning to end the collection of books we call the “New Testament.”
We realize the order of books in the Bible was not given to us by God – in fact, the order we use in our English Bibles of the “Old Testament” is different from the order that the Jews had. Our New Testament order of books and letters starts with Jesus (the Gospels), proceeds through the history of God’s people (Acts) and then has the letters, largely written by apostles. The letters begin with Paul’s letter and are arranged in order of length, with Romans being the longest and Philemon being the shortest (those with “sequels” are kept together). But it seems that Revelation has always been placed at the end of our collection.
This warning is something we find throughout God’s word: at the beginning of the Torah, in the middle, and at the end.
Before Israel entered into the Promised Land, Moses told the new generation of Israelites what God expected of them. Twice he emphasized to them the need to not add to God’s word or take away from it.
“You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2). “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32).
Even in the Proverbs, a book of wisdom for living, we find this same emphasis: “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:5-6).
And, of course, the warning at the end of John’s “Revelation.” Although it speaks specifically about “the words of the prophecy of this book,” the principle is not a new one. It is found throughout the pages of scriptures. Don’t add to what God has revealed; don’t take away from God’s words. It is difficult not to understand these words.
Why would someone wish to add to any section of scripture? Why would anyone want to remove anything from scripture? The reason people would want to do this is that they don’t like what it says. Perhaps they feel it is too restrictive. Or maybe they think it is not restrictive enough. Sadly, people often want God’s word to reflect their thinking and what they want rather than change their lives to be in step with God’s word.
When you think about it, isn’t it quite arrogant to think that we know better than God? God, who knows everything and created us, knows what is best for us. Like children, we may not always see the wisdom in what God has revealed, but if we want to be with him for eternity, we need to listen to him.
May we learn to trust God more. May our lives better reflect Jesus, remembering that he said to the Father when facing death, “Not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
Rather than trying to conform God to us, let’s conform our lives to what he has revealed. Don’t tamper with God’s word.
Readings for next week:
This is a catch-up week if you are following our readings. Next week we will begin reading Judges.