Thirty-nine books labeled Old Testament and twenty-seven books labeled New Testament are what make up that precious book we know as the Bible. But how do we know Scripture ended with Revelation? Stephen gives us age-old insight into that age-old question.
No Sequel in Sight
Is the Bible that you hold in your hand, missing anything? Is there a book missing? Is there a sequel needed to finish it off? Or to ask it another way, is the Bible a finished book?
Writing to the church in Ephesus, Paul said, For you are the household of God – in other words, the church is likened to a building – you are the household of God having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone in whom the whole building being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:19-21)
In other words, the Apostles and prophets built the foundation of the redeemed house, and after them the foundation was completed with Jesus Christ as the corner stone.
The writer of Hebrews also prepared the church to understand that the Bible would be completed with the last word of the apostles as he wrote in chapter 1 that in these last days (the church age) God has spoken to us in the Person of His Son (Hebrews 1:2).
By revelation, God spoke to the prophets and apostles and by inspiration, God spoke through them. / Normal L. Geisler & William E. Nix, From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible (Moody Press, 1974), p. 12
In chapter 2 of Hebrews, we’re informed that the apostolic community would be the mouthpiece of Christ, delivering to the church the word of God in these last days.
Over these past 19 centuries, Jesus Christ has been building the superstructure of His church which is pictured as both a bride and a building.
In other words, for the last 1900 years we have not been waiting for another word from God to add to the foundation of the church.
And He clearly tells us that the provision of inspired scripture as the foundation of the church would be through the apostles.
The little letter from the Apostle Jude which appears just before the Book of Revelation points to the apostles of Jesus Christ as having delivered once for all the content of our faith and gospel.
By the way, this is why Paul so clearly defended his apostleship.
Only the Apostles had the right to deliver the final words of God’s New Testament to the church.
And John is the last living Apostle and his Revelation becomes the last, inspired, God-breathed scripture.
What that means is that John is about to add the last block to the foundation of the church of which Jesus Christ and none other is the corner stone!
And since Revelation describes the entire sweep of history from the close of the apostolic age to the eternal state of Heaven and Hell, any alteration or addition would be an alteration of Scripture. / John MacArthur, Revelation: Volume 2 (Moody Press, 2000), p. 310
One New Testament Greek scholar put it this way – [this Book of Revelation] projects from John’s lifetime all the way into the eternal state. So any type of prophetic utterance would intrude into the domain of this coverage and constitute an addition to or subtraction from Revelation’s content. So the final book of the Bible is also the concluding product of New Testament prophecy. It also marks the close of the New Testament since the prophetic gift was the divinely chosen means for communicating the inspired books of the canon of scripture. / Robert L. Thomas, Revelation: Volume 2 (Moody Press, 1995), p. 517
So John is about to deliver a warning, not only to would-be prophets, but for the church to refuse anything that challenged the divine authority, accuracy and finality of this Book. / Ibid
How serious is this issue? How important is it to God that His word is now closed?
Let’s find out as we pick up our study in Revelation 22 and verse 18. I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book; if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; 19. And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.
I’d say that’s pretty serious!
The last apostle, writing the last book in the timeline of inspired scriptures, says for this book – and effectively then, by its placement in history as the last word from the last Apostle – this Bible is closed.
In other words, the Bible is an open book, but it is not an open ended book.
And this Revelation of God clearly comes to an end with a warning label attached.
“Don’t tamper with the text.”
By the way, this warning isn’t against misunderstanding scripture – especially the Book of Revelation. Aren’t you glad about that?
John isn’t saying here that if you study the Book of Revelation and you end up a pretribulationalist – that is, you believe the rapture is going to happen – pre – prior to the tribulation – if you’re a pretribulationalist you get into heaven; but if you’re a postribulationalist – who believes the church is taken up after the tribulation – well, if you believe that and you’re wrong, you won’t go to heaven.
That isn’t what John is saying.
Postribulationalists who believe the gospel of Christ get to go to heaven too – in fact, they’re gonna go earlier than they thought.
And not one of them will be complaining.
John isn’t talking about misunderstanding prophetic timelines or verses of scripture by born again students of God’s word who love the gospel of Jesus Christ.
He, and every other Apostle, is warning about those who would purposefully distort the gospel – claiming to have a “new word from God” which effectively restructures the gospel and redefines the words of scripture.
Whether it’s Joseph Smith who claimed to be a prophet with another Testament of Christ; which denies the singular embodiment of deity in Christ; which also claims that God was once a man and that every man can one day become a god . . . this is the restructuring of the gospel and the redefining of Biblical terms.
Add to that Mohammed’s Koran which states Jesus didn’t die on the cross, but Judas died while Jesus was taken up into Heaven; that Christ was nothing more or less than a prophet of God; that He was not God in the flesh – equal with the Father, deserving of our worship.
While Islam and Mormonism as 2 examples out of dozens try to align themselves with scripture, they are forced to redefine and reorient the clear meaning of scripture and thus become another gospel.
Add to the list Mary Baker Eddy or the Baghavad Gita or the religious writings of Confucius or the tenets of the Buddha which by the way had reached Mediterranean around the same time as Paul began preaching the gospel of Christ.
That’s why Paul warns in Galatians 1, If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you’ve already received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9)
In other words, when Paul was preaching the gospel of God who came in the flesh, died on a cross for the salvation of sinners and in His resurrection authenticate His exclusive claim as God the Son and the seed of David – when Paul was preaching that gospel, there were already other gospels being preached.
And so it is not surprising that you get to the end of God’s revelation – literally the end of the biblos – the book; the Bible – and you discover that the Book of Revelation opens with a blessing for everyone who reads it and hears it and keeps it and it ends with a warning and a curse for anyone who tampers with it. / John Phillips, Exploring Revelation (Loizeaux Brothesr, 1991). p. 264
John delivers two very clear warnings in verses 18 and 19 . . .
- The first is a Warning against Addition
Let’s take a closer look at verse 18. I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book; if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book.
In other words, if you think the unbelievers had it bad on earth during the Tribulation, the plagues of the Tribulation are nothing compared to the horrors of hell and eternal suffering.
Obviously then, we’re talking about a heaven or hell issue.
John is saying that if you add to the text of God’s revealed word what you believe is equal to and additionally significant to God’s word, you will experience the tortures of hell.
What does John mean?
Well, if you think of God’s revelation as a straight line, you have the opening lines from Moses in Genesis leading to the Old Testament prophets and poets, leading up to Christ and His apostles who then deliver the truth that takes you all the way to the end of the world.
So you can imagine a straight line from the beginning of creation in Genesis to the creation of a new heaven and earth in Revelation.
Which means then that God’s word, from the first Book to the last Book, encompasses all of time from beginning to end; so, you have in the Book you hold in your lap, God’s completed revelation from the beginning of time to the end of time as we know it.
What that means then is that anyone who tries to insert themselves into the line of Biblical prophets or poets – or anyone who tries to attach themselves to the end of the line after the Apostles and says, “I have something new” needs to be turned off by the church and warned by the church.
There is nothing missing in the Bible and there is no coming sequel to the Bible.
Now if you’ve noticed, we are surrounded by a proliferation of all kinds of cults and winds of doctrine which are sweeping the world, most of them based on someone who claims to speak for God, claiming to have divine illumination and authority. / Henry M. Morris, The Revelation Record (Tyndale House, 1986), p. 485
And every one of them that I have ever heard about or studied at length or only briefly never really denies the Bible – or the existence of Jesus Christ.
They just redefine the Bible and they redefine the person of Christ and then restructure the plain meaning of the text of the Bible.
And in so doing, they do have to do one of two things – add to the Bible or take away.
Adding and subtracting from the revealed word of God brought about the downfall of mankind then, and it’s still destroying lives today.
And it’s the original deception. The fall of man in the Garden involved Eve adding to the words of God – “we can’t even touch the tree,” and Satan subtracting from the words of God – God didn’t say that!
So, here’s the warning: don’t tamper with the words of God . . . don’t tamper with the text . . . don’t rewrite the word.
There is no sequel in sight!
Now in our generation there has been an explosion of interest in other gospel accounts, supposedly, known as the Gnostic Gospels. People wanna know why these books were left out of the Bible.
Great question. Why were the Gospel of Judas, the Gospel of Mary; the Gospel of Thomas; the Gospel of Phillip; the Gospel of Truth and about 45 more left out?
The Gnostic Gospels were written some time after the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were accepted by the believing community as genuinely written by Apostles under the guidance of the Holy Spirit of God.
Many of the Gnostic Gospels were written in the 3rd and 4th centuries – even up to the 8th century as obvious counterattacks to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The word Gnostic comes from the Greek word, gnosis – which means “knowledge”. These individuals used the word to refer to hidden knowledge that was available only to the enlightened. The Gnostics believed they were in tune with special spiritual, mystical experiences with God’s Spirit that gave them further revelation. / Lutzer, p. 21
These Gnostic gospels clearly preached another gospel. For starters, Jesus wasn’t God incarnate and He wasn’t born of a virgin; He was an interesting man who started a following.
One church leader by the name of Irenaeus wrote in AD 180 that the Gnostic Gospel of Judas was well known to him and that it was fictitious history. Even the casual reader would have questions about the Gospel of Judas because the hero turns out to be, not Jesus, but guess who? Judas.
The Gnostics believed that since flesh was evil, God could never become flesh without becoming evil. Thus, Christ could not be God in the flesh. Further, the Gnostic writings or gospels almost all denied the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Much like Islam to this day, the Gnostics didn’t believe that it was Jesus who died on the cross, but a substitute.
In fact, these secret gospels, rejected by the church, supposedly taught that Jesus married one of his female disciples, Mary Magdalene.
What’s interesting is to read the Gnostic quotes regarding Jesus’ marriage . . . not one verse in all of the Gnostic gospels actually says that Jesus got married to Mary Magdalene, but the Gospel of Phillip, which comes the closest to it, says that Jesus kissed her, taught her more carefully and even loved her more than any of the other disciples. / U.S. News & World Report, Mysteries of Faith: Secrets of Christianity, Special Edition: 2010, p. 48
Of course, this is all that the world of skeptics needed to let their imaginations go wild and reach all sorts of conclusions that even these spurious gospels never clearly taught.
I like the way one evangelical scholar defined these skeptics and the conclusions they draw without evidence when he wrote, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a camel in disguise. So, since there is no biblical evidence that Jesus was married, multiple biblical indications that He was not married and no extra biblical or historical texts confirming He was married, He must have been married incognito.
Let me encourage you, you don’t have to be an expert in Gnostic writings – just compare what you see on the History Channel – a great supporter of Gnosticism and Animal Planet – a determined proponent of atheistic evolutionism – and your typical magazine in the store; and toss in the best-selling books like The Da Vinci Code and the Lost Symbol by Dan Brown – all you have to do is just compare what you see and hear and read to the Biblical Gospels which were held in reverence by the early church and you’ll be able to see they are different gospels, contrary to the ones received and preached by the apostles.
But why are the Gnostic writings so popular today? Time Magazine, oddly enough, put their finger on it when they wrote, “These writings (Gnostic gospels) are feeding America’s ever sharpening appetite for mystical spirituality.” / Ibid, p. 36
In other words, our culture wants some sort of religious experience outside the restrictions of the Bible.
Another author said that there is a lot of interest today in these lost gospels – these secret books – why? – because many people are simply looking for another way of being a Christian. / Ibid. p. 24
They want to be a Christian without Christ.
And do these Gnostic gospels fit the spirit of our times of what?!
Erwin Lutzer wrote not too long ago, about hearing a pastor in Chicago telling his large congregation on Christmas Sunday, “What do we do with the account of the shepherds, stars and wise men . . . do we have to believe that these events happened? No, we do not have to. What matters is the spirit of Christmas.” Lutzer added, “The Gnostics would have loved that.”
Ibid, p. 111
What about best-selling author Dan Brown and others, like the ones in the latest U.S. News and World Report, special 2010 edition entitled, The Secrets of Christianity.
What a title by the way . . . Christianity has secrets?
C’mon, everyone of us knows that Christians can’t keep secrets!
Well, evidently we can . . . in fact, there are some major secrets we’ve evidently really needed to keep hidden.
One of the most damaging supposed secrets of Christianity has gained popularity in the last few years is that the New Testament Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were selected at the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century by church leaders who wanted to suppress the truth that Jesus was just a man, and after his death, his band of disciples were led by his closest disciple, and His widow, Mary Magdalene.
That would be a disaster should it ever get out, right?
And so, The Da Vinci Code states as fact that the Emperor Constantine commissioned and personally financed a new Bible in the fourth century which omitted the Gnostic gospels that revealed Christ was a mortal man with a wife named Mary Magdalene.
And he called the Bishops to come to this Council where they voted to keep only the Gospels that characterized Jesus as godlike – Matthew, Mar, Luke and John.
And when the council voted for which of the gospels to keep, the vote was a really close vote. It was a cliff hanger.
Now what this secret means, of course, is that the doctrine of Christ’s deity was decided in by the church, but even then, it barely got a majority vote by the Council of Nicaea.
And what this also means then is that Christianity as we understand it from the scriptures, is really a fourth century creation – made up by male chauvinists who voted into existence a religion they fabricated because they didn’t want a woman leading the church.
And when they voted, it was a very close vote.
There’s a kernel of truth in this supposed secret, but it’s surrounded by a pack of lies.
Unfortunately Dan Brown in his Da Vinci Code began his book, which I read by the way, with a statement that what he was writing was the truth.
He wrote some interesting fiction, but he is a really bad church historian.
The Council of Nicaea never once brought up the issue of Gnostic writings. And they never voted on which Gospels to include in the Bible. In fact, in all the historical records of that council, which were very thoroughly kept, there’s not one word about which books were inspired and which books were not. They didn’t even discuss the canon of scripture.
The council of Nicaea collected 318 bishops to settle the issue of Christ’s deity in the year 325 AD. That much is true.
But they convened, not because they were confused about Christ’s deity, but because of the growing popularity of a man named Arius.
Who was teaching that Christ was not fully God and that He had a created beginning. Arius was teaching that Christ was like God the Father, but not equal, in divine essence with God the Father.
By the way, you can easily see that Arius would become the forerunner of many cults that persist to this day.
Well, the Council of Nicaea condemned Arius as a heretic and created the Nicaean Creed to defend Biblical truth and it read in part (and I quote), “Christ is very God of very God . . . being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.”
In other words, Christ was deity, equal to the God the Father and the Creator of everything.
Now, was this something these 318 Bishops came up with 250 years after the Apostles wrote their inspired texts, or does the Nicaean creed sound somewhat familiar with Philippians chapter 2 where Paul the Apostle wrote, Although He (Christ) existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped – that is held onto – but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, being made in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-6).
Does the idea that Christ is the creator by whom all things were made sound original with the Council of Nicaea, or does it sound like Colossians chapter 1, where the Apostle wrote, “Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation – wait – firstborn sounds like He had a beginning – the word is prototokos (prwtotokoV) which means “before/above” and refers to His preexistence. / Fritz Rienecker/Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Regency, 1976), p. 567
Paul is saying that Christ is superior to and eternally existing before creation – which by the way, Christ would have to have been in order for Paul’s next phrase to make any sense – which the Council of Nicaea wrote into their creed, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible . . . He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17)
And one more thing; when the Council voted, it wasn’t, as Dan Brown said in the Da Vinci Code, a relatively close vote. What actually happened was that out of 318 Bishops, only 2 voted against it. / Ibid, p. 8
That’s not exactly a cliff hanger.
316 to 2 – in the Baptist church that would be considered unanimous . . . in fact, that would be considered miraculous!
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Council of Nicaea did not decide that Christ was God in the flesh and then hide all the other gospels away that proved otherwise as they promoted the four gospels that supported their decision.
The Council simply put into creedal form, defending what the Apostles had already taught and what the church had already believed for the past 250 years.
What was that council facing? The same thing the church is facing today; the persistent attempts by the forces of hell and fallen humanity to add to the truth of scripture.
And so John comes to the end of his Revelation with a serious warning against addition.
Don’t add to this gospel . . . there is no new prophet to come . . . and there is no sequel.
Listen dear Flock, be careful if what you’re reading is contrary to, or in addition to the truth we have already, once for all received (Jude chapter 1, verse 3)
Don’t be gullible . . . think critically.
Be immediately alerted to anyone who says they believe this book is the word of God but it is not the last word from God.
In every generation there are new versions of the heresy of Arius:
- that God isn’t Jesus Christ in the flesh;
- that Jesus Christ is not the final word;
- that Jesus Christ is merely mortal, but given deity as an honor for faithful living;
- that other prophets have equal standing with Jesus Christ;
- that the Apostles need new replacements today;
- that revelation didn’t cease with the closing of the Bible;
- that the church needs new blocks of truth added to the foundation of the prophets and apostles;
- that Jesus Christ isn’t the only corner stone to this building of our faith . . . there’s someone after Him or someone who is yet to come.
So John adds a warning label against addition – and that includes anyone claiming to be from God, or someone claiming to be God – as the Antichrist will claim during the Tribulation.
There is a second warning . . . not only are we warned against addition, we are given a severe warning against omission.
- A Warning against Omission
Look at verse 19. And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.
He isn’t suggesting that you can lose your salvation; in fact, he’s describing someone who will see his opportunity to eternal life taken away because of his unbelief.
You can pick up the play on words here – the one who adds has added to him the plagues. The one who omits is omitted from enjoying life in heaven. / Kendell H. Easley, Holman New Testament Commentary: Revelation (Holman, 1998), p. 424
The tragedy of unbelief throughout history can be summarized by these two warnings.
The cults and isms of our world add to the scriptures and the liberal world of unbelievers take away from the scriptures. / Morris, p. 486
According to this text, both are regarded as actions that determine a destiny apart from the glory of God and the beauty of heaven.
Listen to the warning; we do not sit as editors and redactors and presume to change or rearrange or edit out the words of scripture.
We do not sit in judgment upon the scriptures, the scriptures judge us. / George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Eerdmans, 1972), p. 296
The prophets and apostles delivered the word of God and John, the last of these, writing the last record of them, closes the Book as he adds the last block to the foundation of our faith.
Nothing more is to be added and nothing can be removed – to remove part of the foundation of scripture would eventually lead to the collapse of the whole.
In fact, the integrity of scripture is destroyed in either direction. Either God left something out that man needs to add, or man takes something out that God put in there.
Either way, the integrity of God’s character and the sufficiency of scripture are destroyed.
That’s why the warning of future judgment is given for either adding or omitting the sacred words of God.
Both judgments are the same condemnation described with two different effects. You suffer the torments and plagues of hell and you are barred from the city of God – the golden city of God’s eternal glory with its orchards of trees bearing the fruit of eternal life – all of that is forever beyond your grasp.
Which means it’s a greater condemnation than Adam and Eve who were exiled from the Garden of Eden and the tree of Life. In their disobedience they added to the words of God and also denied the words of God – but Adam and Eve were redeemed.
The first animal sacrifices took place by the hand of God Himself and he clothed Adam and Eve in this act of atonement.
But here in Revelation it’s a different ending – at the end of human history as we know it, no one who dies in their unbelief can have their eternal destiny somehow reversed.
John informs us in chapter 20 that they will be judged and condemned
It’s really rather clear . . . Do you want to miss heaven and go to hell?
Then take the last verse of this Bible, the last word, and after that last word, change the last period to a comma and say, I’ve got some new revelation that you’re gonna need to know; or I’m gonna follow a new gospel that has come to light.
Or take a pair of scissors and cut away, like the Jesus Seminar who convened several years ago. Their stated purpose was to “change the way people think about Jesus – they wanted a Jesus who speaks to things that concern modern society like feminism, multiculturalism and political correctness.” (end quote) / Erwin Lutzer, Seven Reasons You Can Trust The Bible, p. 114
After studying the Gospels, they concluded that only about 18% of the words ascribed to Christ were actually spoken by Him. Which means 82% of it, Christ never said . . . so they cut it out.
They met on a later occasion and dissected the Lord’s Prayer, deciding that the only words Jesus actually said in that prayer were the words, “Our Father.”
I’m surprised they agreed on the word, “Father”!
John delivers the warning so clearly that you’ve gotta play grammatical gymnastics to make the Bible mean something other than what it clearly means.
Don’t tamper with the truth of God’s word.
Don’t be guilty of addition or omission.
One author put it this way with great clarity when he wrote, It is all or nothing. We are not to add to God’s word as though it is insufficient and we are not to take one word away from it as though it is irrelevant or unreliable or unimportant. There is nothing new! There is nothing less! There is nothing else but the word of God as it is! The last word has been written. The full stop has been added. God has drawn a line at the bottom of the page and that is it. There will be no further disclosure from heaven; there will be no appendix.” / Sam Gordon, Worthy is the Lamb: A Walk Through Revelation (Ambassador, 2000), p. 454
And I might add, there is no sequel in sight!
By the way, there are many liberals today and unbelieving skeptics who would say the Bible is a collection of books, decided upon by leaders in the church 100’s of years after the Apostles wrote their letters.
Another lie . . . even if it’s a best seller, it’s still a lie.
The truth is, by the time Athanasius, a godly church leader listed these 27 books in an Easter letter, dated in the late fourth century the church had already affirmed these same 27 letters and had been calling them The New Testament for over 100 years.
In fact, 200 years earlier – just 80 years after the death of John the Apostle, a church leader named Irenaeus wrote of the Apostolic letters that had been circulating and affirmed by the local churches (and I quote), “The church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, carefully preserves it. For the churches that have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything differently nor do those of Spain, nor those in Gaul (France), nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world . . . nor will any one of the rulers in the churches however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these.”
The church didn’t create the Bible . . . it recognized the Bible.
Like a jeweler who discovers a diamond; he does not make it a diamond . . . he merely affirms what it already is.
For those of us who recognize what this Book is – because our eyes have been opened by Christ; and we believe its doctrines and in its Divine Author, we stand shoulder to shoulder with Christians down through the centuries who do not fear this last warning of John – we won’t add or subtract . . . but may that be the way we live, even now:
- to delight in this book;
- to defer to its divine authority over our lives;
- to defend its Author;
- to discover its truths and promises;
- and deliver to others its gospel;
- and to depend upon it for our strength and direction.
To live so that it is indeed a lamp unto our feet and a light to our pathway (Psalm 119:105).
A veteran pastor used to come to my Bible college and preach in chapel every so often . . . he was known for beginning or ending his sermons with a poem on the Bible.
That made a lasting mark on my spirit. And I close our study with the same:
We've travelled together,
My Bible and I,
Through all kinds of weather,
With smile or with sigh!
In sorrow or sunshine,
In tempest or calm!
Thy friendship unchanging,
My lamp and my song.
We've travelled together,
My Bible and I,
When life has grown weary,
And death even nigh!
But all through the darkness
Of mist or of wrong,
I found here a solace,
A prayer and a song.
So now who shall part us,
My Bible and I?
Shall "isms" or "schisms"
Or "new lights" who try?
Ah, no, my dear Bible,
Exponent of light!
Thou sword of the spirit,
Put error to flight!
And still through life's journey,
Until my last sigh,
We'll travel together,
My Bible and I.