He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. (Rev 22:11 kjv)
What does this verse mean? Is God really telling us that if we’re unjust, we should continue to be unjust? From other parts of Scripture, we know that that is not God’s will. He always delivers the ultimatum through His law: the soul who sins is the one who shall die. Repent or perish. God doesn’t want people to persist in error. That’s why He tells us to be vigilant against false doctrine and to guard ourselves from error.
The following verse bears this out: “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” (Rev 22:12 kjv) This says that both the righteous (that is, those with faith) and the unbelieving will both be judged according to their actions — the good according to the good imputed to them in Christ, the unbelieving for their lack of faith which would have sanctified all their works. (See Matthew 25:31-46 for more.) So God can’t want people to carry on in unrighteousness.
So what is the meaning of this passage?
A clue might be in the way it’s laid out. Whether a person’s course in life is currently righteous or wicked, just or unjust, the Lord bids him to continue it. God doesn’t force anybody to change; instead, He tells them the final outcome of their rebellious ways or He instructs them in the good way, the way that pleases Him. God does overcome willful human resistance when He converts someone and brings them from death to life, but that’s a different matter than we’re talking about here. God doesn’t approach things the way we do. He doesn’t try to talk us into anything or force us to do anything. He doesn’t coerce; He proclaims and that proclaiming does what it promises. It hardens and condemns the sinner and it quickens and absolves the child of God. God doesn’t argue or coax, because He doesn’t need to. His Word does it all. Consider the previous verse:
And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand. (Rev 22:10 kjv)
God purposefully instructs St. John not to seal up the words of the book, because He wants everyone to be able to read them. He purposefully broadcasts His Word and makes it available to all. It’s free, it’s available, and no one can say, “I didn’t know! I never heard.” On the Last Day people will protest in vain that God never told them what He wanted them to know. “Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.” (Rom 10:18 kjv)
Part of the answer of what this verse means involves human nature. People often cling to their mistaken ways and their wrong views and ideas even in the face of better knowledge or testimony — sometimes because of the better knowledge or testimony. Point out where someone is wrong, and they may cling even more tenaciously to it, especially if it’s a deeply held or emotionally fraught topic for them. So God very wisely does not police us or dragoon us into doing the right thing. Instead, at a time of His own choosing, and under circumstances that He chooses, He works on them through His powerful Word and cracks their stony hearts to turn them from darkness to light. Thus God gets the glory when it is seen what He has done, despite all their resistance and spite. “Is not my Word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Jer 23:29 kjv) So we do not compel anyone to believe or to follow the right path, because that’s not possible anyway. Instead, we say what God’s Word says and trust that He will work through His Word to accomplish what glorifies Him.
The question you have to ask yourself is this: Am I among the just or the unjust? Is what I do truly righteous and pleasing to God? Don’t be too quick to answer. It’s possible to fool yourself and think you’re serving God when you’re really servicing an organization, to think that you’re supporting the Lord’s work when you’re only a cog in someone else’s machine, to think you’re teaching God’s Word when you are actively enshrining the opinions and commands of men. So examine yourself in the brilliant piercing light of God’s holy Word, and do not shy away from what it shows you — nor spurn the comfort and consolation it offers you in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the One about whom all Scripture was written down. What kind of person are you, in the light of Revelation 22:11?
Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. (Rom 14:22 kjv)