The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. (22:17)
There are two distinct invitations in this verse, delineated by the two exclamations, “Come.” The first part of the verse is a prayer addressed to Christ; the second part is an invitation addressed to sinners. The first part calls for Christ to come; the second part is the last call for sinners to come to faith in Christ.
To Jesus’ promise of His imminent return (vv. 7, 12, 20), the Holy Spirit, the third Member of the Trinity responds, “Come.” The text does not specify why the Spirit especially desires Jesus to return, but the rest of Scripture suggests both a negative and a positive reason.
Negatively, men and women throughout history have continually rejected, ignored, and denied Christ. They have mocked and blasphemed the work of the Spirit (Matt. 12:31), whose ministry is to point them to Christ (John 15:26; 16:8). Speaking of the wicked sinners before the Flood, God said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years” (Gen. 6:3). The stubborn, stiff-necked, hard-hearted Israelites provoked the Spirit repeatedly during their forty years of wilderness wandering (Heb. 3:7–8)—something they would continue to do throughout their history (cf. Neh. 9:30; Isa. 63:10; Acts 7:51). The sinful world’s blasphemous rejection of Jesus Christ will reach its apex during the Tribulation. That seven-year period will see Satan promote to power the two most vile and evil blasphemers who will ever live: the beast (Antichrist) and the false prophet. To those two wretched, demon-possessed sinners will go the dubious honor of being the first people cast into the final hell, the lake of fire (19:20).
Throughout the long, dark centuries of mankind’s sin and rebellion, the Spirit has worked to bring about conviction and repentance (cf. John 16:8–11). So when the Lord Jesus Christ says He is coming, the long-suffering, grieved, blasphemed Holy Spirit echoes, “Come.” He pleads with Christ to return, subdue His enemies, judge sinners, and end the Spirit’s long battle to produce conviction in stubborn, hard-hearted sinners.
On the positive side, it is the desire and ministry of the Spirit to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ (John 16:14). But the last view the world had of Jesus was of Him on a cross between two criminals, rejected, despised, and mocked. The Spirit longs to see His fellow Member of the Trinity exalted in beauty, splendor, power, and majesty. That will happen when Christ returns in triumph at His second coming.
The Holy Spirit is not the only one who longs for Christ’s return. Echoing His plea for Christ to come is the bride (the church; see the discussion of 19:7 in chap. 14 of this volume). Throughout the centuries, God’s people have waited for, prayed for, hoped for, and watched for Christ’s return. They are weary of the battle against sin and long to see Jesus Christ exalted, glorified, and honored. They long for Him to return and take them to heaven to live with Him forever (John 14:3; 1 Thess. 4:17). They long for the day when their perishable, mortal bodies will be transformed into their imperishable, immortal resurrection bodies (1 Cor. 15:53–54). They know that in that glorious day there will be no more sorrow, no more tears, no more crying, no more pain, and no more death. Rebellion will be swiftly dealt with; God and the Lamb will be glorified and will reign forever over the new heaven and the new earth.
Believers are, in the words of Paul, those “who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). It is incongruous for someone to claim to love Jesus Christ and not long for His return. Believers are destined for eternal fellowship with Him, and the anticipation of that fellowship should be their chief joy. The church will never be satisfied until it is presented to God “in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:27).
The second use of the exclamation “Come” signals a change in perspective. The invitation is no longer for Christ to return, but for sinners to come to saving faith in Him. The phrase let the one who hears say, “Come” invites those who hear the Spirit and the bride to join with them in calling for Christ’s return. Obviously, they cannot do so until they come to faith in Him; only the redeemed can truly long for Him to appear. The implicit warning is not to be like those who “having ears, do … not hear” (Mark 8:18; cf. Deut. 29:4; Jer. 5:21; 6:10; Ezek. 12:2). The one who hears with faith and believes is the one who will be saved, because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Hearing is often associated with obedience in Scripture (e.g., Matt. 7:24; Luke 6:47; 8:21; 11:28; John 5:24; 18:37). Those who hear and obey the gospel will join with the Spirit and the bride in calling for the return of Jesus Christ, because they desire His glory—and their own deliverance from sin’s presence—in the realm of perfect holiness.
The one who hears is further defined as the one who is thirsty. Thirst is a familiar biblical metaphor picturing the strong sense of spiritual need that is a prerequisite for repentance. In Isaiah God calls “every one who thirsts [to] come to the waters” of salvation (Isa. 55:1). Jesus pronounced those “blessed … who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6). In John 7:37 He gave the invitation, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink,” while earlier in Revelation He promised, “I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost” (21:6; cf. Ps. 107:9; John 4:14; 6:35).
Adding another dimension to the invitation, John writes let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. That unlimited invitation is typical of the broad, sweeping, gracious offers of salvation made in Scripture (cf. Isa. 45:22; 55:1; Matt. 11:28; John 3:15–16). It also illustrates the biblical truth that salvation involves both God’s sovereign choice (cf. John 6:44) and human volition. God saves sinners, but only those who recognize their need and repent. The water of life (or the washing of regeneration, Titus 3:5) is offered without cost (cf. Isa. 55:1) to the sinner because Jesus paid the price for it through His sacrificial death on the cross (Rom. 3:24). God freely offers the water of life to those whose hearts are thirsty for forgiveness, whose minds are thirsty for truth, and whose souls are thirsty for Him.
17 The first two sentences in this verse are not an evangelistic appeal but express the yearning of the Holy Spirit and the “bride” (the whole church; cf. 21:9) for the return of Christ. In v. 20, John gives us the Lord Jesus’ answer: “Yes, I am coming soon.” Those who hear (“him who hears”)—the members of the local congregations in John’s time—join in the invitation for Christ to return. Then, any in the congregations who are not yet followers of Jesus are invited to come and take the water of life as a free gift (dōrean, “freely,” GK 1562; cf. 21:6; Ro 3:24). On the water of life, cf. 21:6; 22:1; also, for the liturgical and eucharistic use of this verse, see comments at v. 20.
An invitation (v. 17)
At this moment, it is not too late to receive Christ. He is the ‘water of life’ (John 4:13–14; 7:37–38) of which we may freely take. The Spirit of God and the bride of Christ (the church) unite their voices to say to the sinner, ‘Come!’ The individual who hears and heeds this invitation is invited again—this time to join his or her voice with the Spirit and the church and to say to those who are still outside of Christ, ‘Come!’ Come and drink freely! The only condition is to be thirsty. Thirsty for forgiveness! Thirsty for right standing with God! Thirsty for eternal life in heaven! If you are thirsty, come and drink!
22:17 / The believing community, along with the Spirit of the Risen Christ, issues the invitation, Come!, but to whom? The options are essentially three: (1) to the unbelieving world as an “altar call” (Mounce, Revelation, p. 395); (2) to Christ as a petition (Beasley-Murray, Revelation, pp. 343–44); or (3) to those believers whose intended response to Revelation is greater devotion to Christ. The second option makes best sense of the immediate context, which is focused by the oracle from the Risen Christ, “I am coming soon” (22:7, 12, 20). The bride is the embattled church, whose petition logically arises from a context of social repression and spiritual struggle: Come back here, Christ, and the sooner the better! The Spirit participates in this request as the church’s Paraclete, given by God to bring comfort in Christ’s absence (cf. John 14:18), However, this option does not explain the concluding invitation directed toward those who need grace, not comfort.
While we have argued that John’s composition does not intend to conceal the gospel from the unbelieving world and at points even purposes its conversion, his audience is the church. In this light, then, the first option does not make sense of Revelation’s epistolary setting: John’s benediction is given to an audience of Christian congregations. Further, the Johannine idea of the Spirit limits its realm to the believing community (cf. John 14:16–17); it is not clear, then, why John would have the Spirit invite Christ to return as part of an evangelistic program.
The concluding invitation, whoever is thirsty … take the free gift of the water of life, is not to introduce the unbeliever to God’s justifying grace (contra Beasley-Murray, Revelation, p. 345), but rather is meant for those readers who are in need of God’s sanctifying grace. It is for the rededication of believers rather than for the conversion of the lost.
This interplay between the invitation for Christ to return to earth and for the immature believer to return to God is similar to what we find in the nt book of James. The imminence of the Lord’s parousia (James 5:7–9) provides incentive to bring back those believers who “wander from the truth” (James 5:19), since they will be saved from the eschatological consequences of “a multitude of sins” (James 5:20). Likewise, John’s invitation envisions a promise, especially for those immature believers who have given in to the temptations and fictions of the anti-Christian kingdom: the waters of eternal life, the gift of a gracious God, will flow over those believers who return to God.
22:17. This verse is without question the most evangelistic text in the entire book. Ultimately, many wicked people will refuse to repent. In the end unrepentant sinners will be banished outside the city (v. 15). Now opportunity still remains for the world’s people to come to Christ. The four invitations are addressed to the world, not the churches. (Some suggest that the first two “comes” are directed to Christ, requesting his Second Coming, but al1 four invitations are better understood as proclaimed to the world.)
The Spirit and the bride are those who together make evangelism possible. The bride is the church, corporately and individually, witnessing about her Bridegroom through lifestyle and lips. The Spirit is certainly the Holy Spirit, who is responsible to “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). Without the bride’s witness the Spirit is voiceless; without the Spirit’s witness, the bride is powerless. Thus, together these two join in urging the world to come to salvation in Christ.
Only the one who hears the gospel and has responded in faith can summon others to share in that salvation. Thus, the second come stands to remind all who have heard the good news that they are responsible to invite others to Christ. The only person who can respond to the gospel is one who is thirsty—aware of a need for eternal life. Some have well noted that part of the task of evangelism is to make people spiritually thirsty. By God’s grace whoever becomes aware of a need is welcome: let him come. During his earthly ministry Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:37–38).
This leads directly to the fourth invitation to whoever wishes. Although the language is of the River of Life to be found in New Jerusalem (5:1), one may now, at any time during earthly life, take the free gift of the water of life (Isa. 55:1). The glories of heaven will not be fully enjoyed until the consummation, yet every person who hears and comes to Jesus will begin enjoying heavenly benefits immediately.
17. “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who is thirsty come, and let the one who desires take freely of the water of life.”
Jesus appears to be the speaker and now announces that the response to his words comes from two sources, namely, the Holy Spirit and the church on earth. These two continue to utter their appeal for Jesus’ return with a request in the present tense that signifies “Carry out your plan in history with a view toward your coming.” The call for the coming of the Lord is repeated in verse 20 as the last petition in the Apocalypse, “Amen, come Lord Jesus.” The Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of the bridegroom; and this Spirit has his abode in the bride, that is, the church. Hence, at the powerful urging of the Spirit, the church expresses her longing for the return of Christ, her bridegroom. Not only the organic body of the church but also every individual believer who obediently responds to the prompting of the Spirit articulates this yearning. The invitation “Come!” occurs twice to stress urgency.
However, the third invitation, “Let the one who is thirsty come,” is not addressed to Christ but to the people as a call to come to him. This causes confusion, especially as the last exhortation, “Let the one who desires take freely of the water of life,” is also an evangelistic address. This inconsistency can be solved when we interpret the double meaning of the verb to come. First, the church at worship and at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper petitions Christ to return (Maranatha; see Didache 10.6). Next, at the same time the church extends to everyone the invitation to come to Christ. Writing about the coming of the Lord, Peter instructs his readers to live holy and godly lives “as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (2 Pet. 3:12a), thus indicating that God’s people have a part in shortening the time before Jesus’ return. Addressing the crowd after healing the crippled beggar, Peter told the people to repent in order to hasten the coming of Christ (Acts 3:19–21). Similarly about a.d. 300, a Jewish rabbi wrote, “If the Israelites were to repent for one day, then the Son of David [the Messiah] would come.” This means that church must bring the gospel to the world, lead people to faith and repentance, and fill the house of God. Then the end will come and Christ will return.
Everyone who desires to drink from the water of life may freely come and take. There is an Old Testament invitation, recorded in Isaiah 55:1, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost” (see also John 7:37; Rev. 21:6).
 Johnson, A. F. (2006). Revelation. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 788–789). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.