“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter into the gates of the city.” Revelation 22:14
Wash Their Robes – Is God really interested in laundry day? Do we really have to clean our clothes before we can enter into His gates? If you translate the Greek word for word, that’s what you’ll conclude but it hardly makes any sense. The expression is a Hebrew idiom. If you want to have the right to the tree of life, then you better know what this Hebrew idiom really says.
There are two important ideas in this verse. They are both about clothing. The end of the book of Revelation is a glorious account of victory. God’s plan culminates in the renewed heaven and earth. The triumphant bridegroom approaches the gates of the celestial city. All of this is foretold in Isaiah 62 and 63. His raiment is dipped in blood signifying His defeat of the enemies of God. This blood will not be washed off. It is the evidence of His victory. There is a second group of waiting citizens, those who will enter with the triumphant King. They are instructed to wash their garments. That imagery comes from a much older text. It’s found in Leviticus 16:26-28.
If you read the texts about the sacrificial procedures, you will find a lot of information about clothing. However, the usual texts require the person to be ritually washed before the holy clothing is put on. Only on two occasions are the clothes to be washed and both have to do with carrying sin away from the camp. The first is about the scapegoat. The person who takes the scapegoat out of the camp, thereby symbolically removing sin from the congregation, must wash his clothes before he can return. Likewise, the person who carries the skins of the sin offering outside the camp must wash his clothes before he can return. On both occasions, the symbolic removal of sin and the things associated with the sin offering require an act of purification before returning to the congregation. When John uses this imagery, he points us to the removal of the telltale signs of the sin sacrifice before we enter into the gates of the city.
Many Christian commentaries suggest that this is an allusion to the atoning work of Yeshua. They submit that His death on the cross is the vehicle by which we are cleansed. Washed in His blood, we are ritually pure and able to enter. But the text is active, not passive. It does not say “Blessed are those whose clothes have been washed.” It says that the blessed are the ones who washed their own clothes. Certainly this cannot be the atonement provided by the Messiah since we have no part in earning what is a free gift. Our part comes in obedience after salvation. If we focus on the active tense of this verse, we realize that washing our own robes is a metaphor for obeying the instructions given by God for approaching Him. In particular, this metaphor reveals the need for those who have put off sinful behavior to clean the residue from their lives before coming into the Lord’s presence. How is that accomplished? By keeping His instructions.
Who will have the right to the tree of life? Who will enter through the gates of the city? Those who have washed themselves of the stink of sin. Their guilt has been removed by Yeshua, but until they have cleaned up according to the torah, they cannot come back into the congregation. They carry the residue of the sin offering. It is removed by obedience. From beginning to end, Scripture teaches obedience. Are you prepared to enter?
Topical Index: Obedience