The verses all around this passage tell about godliness. Each teaches that theme relying on some aspect of the future to urge men and women on toward good behavior. The next two verses do not diverge from that message.
14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. (Revelation 22:14–ESV)
Wash their robes?
When I came to this passage to prepare it for class, I worked through a paragraph or two on people being good. The point I was crafting related to the importance of living well, being righteous. After all, people washing robes was easy to connect to doing good deeds.
Then I came to the second phrase of this verse which added another word: right. The verse says that people who did the washing were given a right to partake of the tree of life. Further, they were able to enter the city by the gates, meaning they were authorized personnel.
Red flags should begin to wave when you read this for it begins to toy with a theme termed in modern Christian parlance called works-based-salvation. “Do enough good deeds, and you get into heaven,” is what that is saying. That resonates with people, but it violates a core theme of Christianity, taught by Jesus himself when he said, “No man comes to the Father except through me.1”
I let those red flags wave in my brain for a few minutes while I tried to unravel the idea of washing and rights. Was there a way to connect personal deeds to the right? Could I join my actions to heaven entry?
In my mind, the answer to these questions was not ambiguous. It was no. So, I deleted the first bit I wrote and moved in another direction. The other direction came by asking the question: “Where did the people wash their robes?” Not in the water of repentance and good deeds, my first conceptualization, but rather in the blood of Jesus. Then my mind said, “Aha! Yes, that fits” and all the pieces fell into place.
This passage is not saying, “Be good and get into heaven.” It is saying, “Wash yourselves in the blood of the Lamb. His death atoned for our sins and gave us the right to enter the kingdom of God.” Under those God-given terms, we can use the term right or rights.
Probe for proper perception2
When the scriptures do not seem to jive with your understanding of the bigger picture try another approach. Maybe it is like taking shingles off of your roof. You have to gently lift them up and probe for the nails. “Hmm, is it here?” you ask, and then check. “Nope, then what about over here?” Maybe you check and find that the shingle is not stuck in that spot either, and you go on to yet another location. “Here? Ahh, yes, there it is.” In goes the pry-bar, gentle goes the prying, out comes the nail and the shingle is yours.
That is an excellent approach to the scriptures as well. Probably along the way you will make some mistakes. God is very good at leading us to the right conclusions. He is gracious when we make mistakes. In his time he will illuminate the proper thing. So, see how I approach scriptures? It works rather well and finding the little (or big) pearls is encouraging. Sharing them on this blog and in the class is also encouraging. That is how God teaches and then spreads his teaching.
Who does not enter the kingdom?
Verse 15 tells us this.
15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. (Revelation 22:15–ESV)
Outside of God’s kingdom are those who have not washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. Do not miss the Bible’s characterization of inside and outside. It is not usually religious people or the books they are proponents of which say all roads lead to heaven. The Bible is no outlier here. There is a road that does not lead to God’s kingdom a list of whom includes: sorcerers, the sexually immoral, murderers, idol worshipers, as well as those who are masters of deceit and specialists in the lying arts.
Do not forget that some Christians do some of these things. If you are one of them, confess those sins to God and leave them behind. When you see these things in others pray for them. God may guide you to direct them away from their sins. Be careful that you do not become ensnared by the same tendencies. Also be careful that you do not judge them for things you do not struggle with. We all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. We all must wash our robes in the blood of Jesus Christ. After washing in the blood we need to live the way he has demonstrated in the scriptures and tells us through our consciences.