The Right to the Tree of Life
September 15th, 1963 @ 8:15 AM
THE RIGHT TO THE TREE OF LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-15-63 8:15 a.m.
In the service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, this is the pastor bringing the early morning message entitled The Last Beatitude, or They That Have Right to the Tree of Life. In our preaching through the Bible these many years, we have come to the Revelation and in preaching through the Revelation to the last few verses. Our text this morning is Revelation 22:14, and if you would like to take your Bible, you can easily follow through the sermon of this early morning hour. Revelation 22:14: “Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” That is the reading of the Textus Receptus, a translation of which we call the King James Version, the Authorized Version.
What John actually wrote was this: “Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” You have a tremendous alteration of the original manuscript when you change plunontes tas stola—now you ought to recognize that: a stolē, stolē: the Greek word for a garment, a robe, is stolē. And you took the word bodily into the English language: plunō ta stolē, “washing their robes.” A scribe changed it to poieō autas entolas, “doing His commandments” [Revelation 22:14].
The first Greek testament was published by Erasmus, a Renaissance scholar, in 1516. For over three hundred years that Textus Receptus was the standard for all translations and for all editions of the Greek New Testament. It’s not a bad text. It is eminently fine. It is eminently correct. It is not heretical. It is true to the spirit of the authors, the apostles who wrote this New Testament.
But, as you know, there were no printing presses in the ages ago, and the Scriptures were transcribed by hand. Scribes copied this manuscript, and other scribes copied this one, and other scribes copied this one, and on, and on, and on through the hundreds of years; the New Testament was transcribed by copyists, using a manuscript to write another manuscript, to make a copy of that manuscript through the centuries.
When Erasmus, this Renaissance scholar, gathered together those manuscripts to publish the first edition of the Greek New Testament, the original New Testament, he used three manuscripts; one that had been copied in the tenth century, one that had been copied in the twelfth century, and mainly and mostly a minuscule, a cursive, a running handwriting manuscript that had been copied in the fifteenth century. So when I hold in my hand the Textus Receptus, I have a Greek New Testament that was copied, and copied, and copied, and copied.
And what I hold in my hand is the manuscript copied in the tenth century, again in the twelfth century, and mostly in the fifteenth century. Those were the finest that Erasmus had when he published the New Testament in 1516. In the more than four hundred years since Erasmus published that text, we have discovered many, many, many, many other manuscripts.
And as we have discovered them, we have discovered them that were written, that were copied earlier, and earlier, and earlier, and earlier until now we have manuscripts that go back to the time when the New Testament books were first placed together. The beginning of this kind of a book that you have was in the preaching of the Christian apostles and evangelists. Until that time, a book was a roll, a scroll rolled up, but it took time to unroll a scroll and find a text.
Those first Christian preachers took the scroll and cut it up into leaves, and bound the leaves at the back, so that they could easily find the text. And that kind of a book is called a “codex.” Those early Greek manuscripts are codices, and they are written in large uncial writing. The word “uncial” refers to those large square capital letters. A cursive writing, a running hand, called a “minuscule” in a manuscript, was not invented, discovered, until the seventh century. So your great old manuscripts of the New Testament were written in great uncial letters and were codexes.
Now, three of those are especially and particularly famous, and all important to a student of the Word of God. They are called by alphabetical numbers. There is Codex A, Alexandrinus, it was written in the 400s. It is in the British Museum. It was copied in Alexandria, and it has all of the New Testament, with the exception of a very few verses. Codex B is Codex Guelferbytanus. It is in the Vatican library. It is the oldest codex that we have and was written in the early 300s AD. It has all of the New Testament except that the last part, beginning at Hebrews 9:13, has been lost.
The other great codex is Codex Aleph. That’s the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet; aleph, beth, gimel—aleph, Codex Aleph; that’s Codex Sinaiticus. It was discovered by Tischendorf; belonged to the Russian government, and the Bolshevik government sold it to the British Museum for $500,000.
I have gone to the British Museum. I have looked upon that great Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Aleph, Sinaiticus. Not only do we have these tremendous codices, but in the Greek manuscripts we have more than 32 papyrii; we have 170 of those great uncials. We have 2,320 minuscule, manuscripts written after the seventh century in a running hand. We have over 1,561 lectionaries; that is, they would take portions of the text and make a lesson on it. That gives us a total of 4,083 manuscripts in Greek of this New Testament. Beside that there are more than 8,000 Latin versions. There are more than 1,000 other versions.
So when we study the text of this Greek New Testament, we have more than 13,083 manuscripts to compare. Now that is an astonishing and an amazing thing when you remember there is only one manuscript of the great Roman historian the Annals of Tacitus, and there is only one Greek manuscript of Greek Anthology.
By comparing these thousands and thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament, it is easy to see where a scribe interpolated, where he emended, where he changed the text. By comparing those thousands of manuscripts, you can see where the scribe changed a little thing here, put in a little exclamation there, or left out a little thing there. For example, by comparing those Greek manuscripts, it is easy to see that the Book of Mark closed at the eighth verse of the sixteenth chapter [Matthew 16:8], and the end of Mark has been lost. Nobody knows how Mark ended his Gospel. There were many scribes who tried to end it; and one of those endings you will find in the Textus Receptus, which is translated into the Authorized Version in the English language.
But the ending of Mark is not a part of Mark at all, it’s not a part of the New Testament at all; it’s not the inspired Word of God at all. For example, whoever that scribe was that tried to end Mark wrote down here, “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them” [Mark 16:18]. That’s not the Word of God. That’s sheer unadulterated superstition. That’s idiocy. That’s why those people in the mountains of Kentucky, who take up serpents and go through all of those incantations, that’s why it is foolishness. By watching these texts and comparing these texts, it is easy to see where a scribe tried to add something, or conclude something, or emend something.
Another one you have here––there are very few of them––another one you have here is in the fifth chapter of the Book of John, the fourth verse. A scribe wrote on the side of a manuscript an explanation, an explanation that he heard of how it is that the Gihon spring filled up at certain times. Now there’s a perfectly physical phenomenon. That thing does the same today; you can go over there and watch it. It gathers water in those subterraneous caverns until it overflows. But this scribe had heard a story, so he wrote this by the side of the text: “For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had” [Acts 5:4]. Now that’s not a part of the Bible; a scribe wrote that on the side, and then the next scribe thought that the previous scribe had left it out and stuck it in there having left it out, so he put it in the text. And it came down to the Textus Receptus, and so was translated into the Authorized Version of the Bible.
Another one you have––and this is the last one we will refer to––there was a Trinitarian, a good man, and what he says is all right, but it’s not in the Bible. In the fifth chapter of the first letter of John, John said, “There are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one” [1 John 5:8]. So a scribe, in copying one of those manuscripts, he wrote in also: “And there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” [1 John 5:7]. Now there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s very fine. But it isn’t in the Bible. It’s not a part of the Word of God.
Now when I turn to Revelation 22:14, there was a scribe who was making a new manuscript. He was copying the New Testament. And when he came to Revelation 22:14, it read, “Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” And when that scribe read that, written by the sainted apostle John, he said, “Why, no man can enter into the holy city just by trusting Jesus. No man can be saved just by believing in the Lord. No man could have a right to the tree of life just by looking in faith to Jesus and washing his robes in the blood of the Lamb. He’s got to do more than that. He’s got to keep the commandments. He must obey the law. He must observe all of these things that are written in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.” So he changed it from “Blessed are they that wash their robes,” plunontes tas stolas, and he changed it to “that do His commandments,” poientes tas entolas, “that they may have the right to the tree of life” [Revelation 22:14]. Isn’t that an amazing thing?
Somehow there is a tendency in all mankind to believe that we have to achieve our salvation by personal merit, by works, and practically all of Christendom and practically all of the churches have followed that heresy. “I can’t be saved by trusting the Lord. I must be saved by trusting the Lord, and”—then some of them say, “and I must also be baptized. I can’t be saved just looking in faith to Jesus. I must look in faith to Him, and I must be also baptized if I’m going to be saved.”
There are those who say, “I must be saved by trusting in the Lord Jesus and by doing good works. I must support the poor, I must be charitable, I must be,” on and on and on. Others say, “You cannot be saved just by trusting Jesus. You must be saved by trusting Jesus and by being baptized and keeping the Lord’s Supper,” as some of them call it, “observing the mass,” and on and on and on. In a thousand ways does that doctrine of a man’s merit achieving his salvation find expression.
But is that the Word of God? Is that what the Scriptures say? How is a man saved? And how is it that his sins are forgiven? How is it? And here’s a Greek word that is a mighty word: “Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have exousia,” translated here, “right” [Revelation 22:14]. You’ll find that exact word exousian in John 1:12:
He came unto His own, His own received Him not. But unto them that received Him, to them gave He the exousian, the right, the power, the prerogative, the privilege of trusting, believing in His name, of being called the children of God, even to them that trust and that believe in His name.
Now that’s that word here. Who are those that have the right and the privilege to come to the tree of life, to walk in God’s holy city? Who are they? The Book says, “they that have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb” [Revelation 22:14]; no works on our part, no merit on our part, no justification on our part, just pleading the goodness, and the favor, and the mercy, and the forgiveness, and the remembrance of God.
Now, is that what the Book says? Let’s turn to it and see, in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Turn to Psalm 51. This is the psalm of David after his great and grievous sin [2 Samuel 11:1-27]. How does he take his case to the Lord, having sinned? Does he do penance? Does he try to bribe God with some kind of earthly and human reward? What does a man do with his sins? Look at David as he cries:
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out, O God, my transgressions. Wash me, wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me, cleanse me, O Lord, from my sin.
Look at verse 16 and verse 17: “For Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: Thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” [Psalm 51:16-17].
How does God forgive our sins? By trying to make up, by trying to do better, by trying to do penance, by trying to bribe God with the reward of our good deeds? Never! Our sins are forgiven in the grace and mercy of God alone [Ephesians 1:7]. If You wanted a sacrifice, I’d bring it. If You wanted a burnt offering, I’d offer it. But this is the sacrifice and the burnt offering and the whole desire of God: that a man turn in his heart and ask the forgiveness and the mercy of God [Psalm 51:16-17].
Once again, in the Old Testament, turn to Isaiah 55; Isaiah 55. How is it that God invites to salvation? “Ho,” he cries, Isaiah 55, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” [Isaiah 55:1]. Verse 3, “Incline your ear, and come unto Me: hear, and your soul shall live” [Isaiah 55:3]. Come, come, come! No price, no merit; just come, just as you are, come. Without money, without price, “Incline your ear, and come unto Me; hear, and your soul shall live” [Isaiah 55:1, 3].
We turn now to the New Testament. Turn to Romans 4; Romans 4: “If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory” [Romans 4:2], to boast, to say, “Look what I have done: I have gained my salvation by my own goodness and by my own works.” If Abraham were justified by works, by what he did, he has whereof to boast, “Look what I did; I did it!” “But not before God” [Romans 4:2], for God knew him, and the secret recesses of a man’s heart are always such. And you’d be ashamed if they were put on a screen here and the people could see them.
There’s not the finest, purest, sweetest daughter in this congregation today, if I were to put on a screen here all the secret things of your life and your heart, you would blush and find some exit, fall through the floor, anything. “If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory”; see what I did? He could boast of what he did. But he couldn’t do it before God [Romans 4:2], for God knows him just like God knows you.
Well then, how was Abraham justified, the father of the faithful? [Romans 4:16]. What saith the Scripture? Look at it. Third verse: “What saith the Scripture? Abraham trusted God,” Abraham leaned on the arm of God:
Abraham believed in the mercy of God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
If I work for my salvation, then when I am given it, it’s nothing but what God ought to do. He pays me my wages. He owes it to me. It’s a debt that God has to pay if I work for it. It’s not of grace, for grace is a bestowal of something for which you haven’t worked. “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” [Romans 4:5].
Turn once again to Ephesians, second chapter; Ephesians, second chapter, verse 8 and 9: “For by grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” [Ephesians 2:8-9]. It’s a gift of God; not of works, lest any man should say, “I did it. Look at me. I achieved it myself.”
Just once more, turn to Titus, chapter 3. Turn to Titus, chapter 3: “Not by works of righteousness,” verse 5, Titus 3:5, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” How does a man come to God? And how is he saved? “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration” [Titus 3:5].
Turn to Revelation chapter 7. Turn to Revelation chapter 7. This washing, this cleansing of God, turn to Revelation 7:13: “And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, Who are these arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, I do not know”—I never saw the multitude before—”and he said unto me, These are they who came out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” [Revelation 7:13-14].
And in the fourteenth chapter of the Revelation, all 144,000 are right there [Revelation 14:1-8]. Not thirteen thousand, not a 139,999; but all 144,000 who had washed their robes are with the Lord on Mount Zion. “These are they who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” [Revelation 7:14].
Now turn to my text, Revelation 22:14. This is what John wrote: “Blessed are they that wash their robes,” that trust in Jesus, that look in faith to Him, asking Him for forgiveness and mercy. John didn’t write, “Blessed are they that do good, and that pay their debts, and that are honest, and that are virtuous, and that are clean, and that obey the commandments.” All of these things we do because of what God has done for us.
But we don’t do those things in order to find forgiveness of sin and a right of entrance into the city of God. All the good works we do are out of hearts of love and gratitude for what God has done for us, but no man earns his way by doing these good things, by being baptized, by joining the church, by observing the Lord’s Supper, by being an honest and an upright citizen. No man earns his way into heaven by doing good works. “Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city” [Revelation 22:14].
That was why we had the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts. While Paul and Barnabas were preaching that a man could be saved by trusting Jesus [Acts 13:38-39], why, those Pharisees, the sect of the Pharisees that belonged to the church at Jerusalem who had been converted, and been baptized, and belonged to the church at Jerusalem but were still legalists, Pharisees, they came down to Antioch and said, “You can’t be saved. Why, you heathen, you, you came right out of idolatry into the faith of Jesus. You can’t be saved. You’ve got to keep the law of Moses” [Acts 15:1, 5]. And Paul and Barnabas said, “You do not have to keep the law of Moses in order to be saved. All you have to do to be saved is to trust in Jesus, looking to Jesus” [Acts 15:2]. And that was why they had the Jerusalem Conference in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 15:2, 6-29].
And that was why the great Reformation. Climbing up the Scala Santa, the sacred—so-called—sacred stairway, in Rome, which is right in front of St. John Lateran’s Church, supposed to be the stairway that Jesus walked up when He went into Pilate’s judgment hall—while Martin Luther, a monk, was climbing on his knees––and they climbed that stairway day and night, day and night, for the centuries––while Martin Luther was climbing that stairway on his knees, halfway up he suddenly stopped. There came a ringing verse out of Habakkuk, and out of Romans, and out of Galatians, and out of Hebrews that struck a fire in his soul [Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38]. The verse was this: “The just, those that are justified by God, shall live by faith, and not by works!”
Martin Luther stood up. He turned around. He walked down those steps. He went to Wittenberg, and he nailed his ninety-five theses on the wall, on the door of the church; and the Reformation had begun. It’s been that same conflict through the ages. “Is a man saved by his own merit, by doing good, and penance, or is a man saved by trusting in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus? [Acts 13:38-39; Galatians 3:2]. What washes a man’s sins away?” [Acts 22:16; Revelation 1:5].
You have that conflict written there in that text, when the scribe changed it [Revelation 22:14]. I want to illustrate it, and then I’m through. Do you remember the story of Naaman? He was a great man, but a leper, and he went down to the prophet in Samaria to be healed of his leprosy, and he came in the pride of life and the flesh [2 Kings 5:1-14].
He came with his horses, and with his chariots, and with his silver, and his gold, and his changes of raiment, and he drove up majestically in the presence of the house of Elisha the prophet of God to be healed of his leprosy in some grand and marvelous and noble way! [2 Kings 5:5-9]. Elisha didn’t even come out to see him. He sent Gehazi his servant out there, and said, “Go tell Naaman to wash in the Jordan seven times, and his flesh will come again like the flesh of a little child, and he will be clean” [2 Kings 5:10].
And Naaman was wroth [2 Kings 5:11-12], and insulted: “Great man, me, Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, never lost a battle in my life, and he doesn’t even come out to see me, and he doesn’t give me some great assignment, and he doesn’t call,” and oh, go through all those pyrotechnics, turned his chariot toward Damascus, and went riding away in a fury. That’s what the Bible says. And while he was driving that chariot home in a fury, still a leper, one of his servants put his hand on the arm of Naaman, and he said:
My father, my father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great and mighty thing, wouldest thou not have done it? If the prophet had said, Go conquer Media, if the prophet had said, Bring me a hundred thousand pounds or talents of gold, if he would have bid thee do some great and mighty thing, wouldest thou not have done it? How much rather then, when he says, Wash, wash and be clean?
[2 Kings 5:13]
Naaman pulled up those fiery steeds and turned them back around, went down into the muddy Jordan, dipped himself seven times, and when he had washed the seventh time, his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean [2 Kings 5:14]. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration” [Titus 3:5]. Wash and be clean [Revelation 7:14; 2 Kings 5:10]. Look and live [John 3:14-15; Numbers 21:8-9]. Believe and be saved [Acts 16:30-31].
Then the rest of our lives praise Jesus for what He hath done for us. Not of me, but of Him; nothing of me, all of Him. What’s the great theme of the chorus of the Revelation? “Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, to Him be glory, and honor, and dominion, forever and ever. Amen, amen” [Revelation 1:5-6]. My text: “Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have right to the tree of life, and enter through the gates into the city” [Revelation 22:14]. O blessed, blessed Jesus.
That’s the gospel. That’s the Book. Now we’re going to sing a beautiful hymn of the atoning sacrifice of our Lord. And while we sing the hymn, “There’s a Fountain Filled with Blood,” and while we sing the hymn, somebody give his heart to Jesus today, somebody put his life in the fellowship of our dear church, on the first note of the first stanza, come and stand by me. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.