Revelation 22

Chapter 22

v1-5: It seems John can’t see detail from his vantage point so the angel shows him the “river of the water of life” – picking up that flowing from Eden and Ezekiel’s temple with life for the world. Again, its purity and the wonder of the place is noted by it being as “clear as crystal.” It flows from the place of God’s power and rule, showing its source is in his will and the atoning work of the Lamb. And it flows down the middle of the great street (mentioned above), presumably for easy access to all walking there and because it is the centre of the city. On each side and fed by the river is “the tree of life.” Although one is mentioned, we presume it is many trees aligning the river. Now access to the tree Adam and his descendants were barred from is regained. It’s 12 crops of fruit alludes to being sufficient for all God’s people (12 tribes), but the focus is on availability throughout the year. There is never a season when this fruit can’t be eaten. And “the leaves” are for the healing of the nations. Interesting it is not the fruit. Perhaps it is simply that leaves were used in healing. It’s not impossible that pain and suffering will be theoretically possible in the new creation, but held at bay as people access the fruit of the tree. But the language is sure figurative above all else. The point is that sickness, aging and death will be no more, because “no longer will there be any curse.” The fall of Adam will have been dealt with.
     If we hadn’t already picked it up, we now focus on God’s rule. He and the Lamb will “be in the city.” The Lamb will be visible as the Lord Jesus, and the Father perhaps in the glorious light which might emanating from the throne, or maybe manifesting himself forever in the image of the ancient of days or the vision of 4v2-3. The presence of the forever embodied Christ again implies a literal fulfilling of the vision in an actual city as he must be located somewhere. The city is therefore the seat and centre of God’s rule of the universe. The kingdom has come on earth as it was in heaven. The “he” picks up the oneness of Father and Son. And it is there, in the city that they will be served by the redeemed. If a literal city this doesn’t mean there will be no venturing out in service, but that it is from the throne in the city that they will be served (1) as kings (v5), reigning over the new creation (5v10), and (2) as priests (v4), offering themselves in that role and in caring for the city and wider creation as Adam and Eve were to care for Eden and the priests were to care for the temple.
     And what intimacy. What was once reserved only for Moses will now be the experience of all – face to face communion with God. No more curtain. No more barred access. No more distance. The name on the forehead alludes to 3v12 as a sign of belonging to God and this city, contrasting 13v17 where unbelievers bear the name of the beast. But there is more to it. The High Priest had “holy to the LORD” engraved on the front of his turban for when he entered the most holy place as a sign that he was bearing Israel’s guilt so they could be acceptable to God (Ex 28v36-38). The name on the forehead therefore signifies that all God’s people then will have High Priestly access, having been made fully acceptable “in” Christ as their High Priest.
     Once more we read there will be no more night, and so no more need of light, lamp or sun, because the brilliance of God’s glory will be their light. This is about more than luminescence. There will be no more of the evil or threat that night signifies, because God’s glory will have driven away all darkness and lit everything up in goodness. And it is in this context that we as the redeemed will “reign forever and ever” (3v21). In the context of the Eden imagery this denotes our fulfilling the role for which we were originally intended. As a great multitude we will then fill the earth, and subdue it in a way that truly images God (1v26-28). The current creation groans with its thorns, thistles, floods, famines and earthquakes, longing for its “liberation from decay” when brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Gen 3, Mat 13v8, Rom 8v20). It seems at its renewal something of the fabric of creation will therefore change so it is no longer subject to decay. However a tendency to disorderliness may remain, requiring a human hand just as Eden did before the fall (Gen 2v5ff). If so, it is the rule of God’s children as vice-regents under the second Adam who will ensure it flourishes to its full potential, and who will organize themselves as the sort of godly society the prophets spoke of (Is 65v17ff). If we have already exercised our God-given creativity to the point we have with exploration to the depths of the sea and the heights of the solar system, who knows what technology we might develop and what discoveries we might make when sinless and immortal – all to the glory and praise of God.

22v6-21 The conclusion

v6-7: Its been a fantastical vision. So John’s angelic guide speaks again to affirm that it is all true. “Trustworthy” says more, stressing we can rely on it by responding as it urges us to. The angel is sent from God who rules as Lord and who inspired the prophets – so the book is in the same category as his word. And the reason is to “show” or reveal to his servants (you and I as believers) what must “soon” take place. We have seen this “soon” is prophetic, implying not that they should arrive within a few years of the vision, but that the church is in the last days between the two advents of Christ, so the end of history is always near and could come in any generation. Then as if a voice of one listening in, Jesus himself speaks in immediate support of this, affirming he is “coming” soon, and that joy from God is to be found in keeping the words of the book.
     v8: John now affirms the trustworthiness. He didn’t make it all up. He heard and saw these things. The nature of visions is that what is perceived is as if actually seen or heard. He describes his response on doing so was to fall down to worship the angel, overwhelmed by the wonder of it all. It might be he mistook the angel for Jesus. It might be that it was just an act of someone in awe of a mighty being. Either way, the angel is very aware that only God is worthy and so charges him not to do that, as the angel is only a “fellow servant” to John and his “fellow prophets” – which seems to be a description of the apostles or Christian preachers, and with all believers who are defined as “those who keep the words of this book” by their perseverance. It is astonishing to think that we serve alongside angels. But we should not miss the point. We are to worship God for what he is doing, for his coming justice, salvation and vindication of his purposes and people.
     v10-11: The implication is then spelled out. As a prophet John is not to seal up the prophecy so it is not known, as “the time is near.” This contrasts Daniel 12v4 where Daniel is told to seal up his until the end. The point is that the time of “the end” has arrived with the ascension of Christ. So the events outlined in Daniel 12 are prophetically “near.” Perhaps the two destinies of Daniel 12v2 are in mind in what follows. The sense is of the angel saying, let those who choose to do wrong as vile people, continue in that and face the just consequences, and let those who choose to do right as holy people, continue or persevere in that and receive all that is promised. This shouldn’t be read as telling people not to repent, or as implying a fatalism in which none can. It’s a rhetorical device reassuring the faithful that God governs all, reminding them that the wicked are not better off as they will be punished, and urging the righteous to continue as they are in certain hope of what is to come. We have seen they are those who are “holy” because they are set-apart for God’s service as his kingdom of priests.
   v12-13: These truths are confirmed as Jesus interjects again. “Look” he says, “I am coming soon” – the prophetic soon of immanence in the light of eternity. And when he comes he will recompense everyone for what is revealed in the books of deeds. Moreover, he will do so as the beginning and end of history – the one who is sovereign over all and who will therefore ensure these things come to fruition. What encouragement as world leaders presume to govern people’s destinies.
     v14-15: Again, we see the two responses. Those who wash their robes (as we’ve seen, in the “blood of the lamb”) and so make their tainted deeds clean in God’s sight – they will have “the right” to tree of life, implying a certain legal right to the inheritance of everlasting paradise in Eden rebooted (2v7). They will therefore enter the city gates because their names are written in “the book of life” – becoming part of the new Jerusalem being prepared to descend to earth. But “outside” the city are the wicked. “Dogs” is a metaphor in scripture for people as despised, beast-like, and concerned with none but themselves. The sins of magic, sexual immorality, murder, idolatry and falsehood are mentioned. These are sins associate with the beast in Revelation, and may here be listed to describe false-believers who turn from Christ to worship the things of the state, and so don’t endure. It is these sins that will mark them. The “outside” here cannot be outside in the new creation (as 21v24-26) but ultimate exclusion from that new creation as the place from which the city can be accessed (21v27). In other words, it is a reference to hell or the lake of fire. These verses should cause us to examine ourselves.
     v16: More affirmation of the trustworthiness of what we’ve studied. These are the words of Jesus. It is his angel that has testified on his command. And not primarily for the world, but for the churches – those first and foremost in chapters 1-3. The purpose of the book is their endurance. Jesus identifies himself as the “root” and “descendent” of David. The former probably refers to the latter, portraying Jesus as a shoot of a new kingly tree in which the world can find shade (5v5, Is 11v1, 10). As such he is also “the bright morning star” (2v28, Num 24v17) ,who heralds a new dawn – here that of the world to come. He is the one who both brings it about and achieves access to it through his blood. In every sense we are dependent on him.
     v17: The focus of this verse needs consideration. “The Spirit” representing perhaps God’s intercessory presence through his people, and “the bride” representing the church, both say “come.” The immediate context is that they are calling those who have read but not yet responded to “come” as Isaiah 55 outlines, and receive the “water of life” that is the Spirit of God, and all for free through Christ. This seems confirmed by the fact that “the one who hears” is urged to take up the call, contrasting those who haven’t yet been enabled to. The book is therefore ending on a somewhat evangelistic note, urging those caught up in the tribulations of history but who thirst for the life God gives, to receive it.
     v18: the final note, however, is one of warning. Again it stresses the truth of what’s been read. Those who “hear” are not to add or take from the words of the prophecy contained in Revelation. It’s a striking affirmation of the trustworthiness of scripture down to the individual words of prophecy. Those who add to the words of this book are warned that its plagues will be added to them, and those who take from them, that their share in everlasting life and the new Jerusalem will be removed. Obviously, we’ve seen the names written in the book of life to be fixed. But the point is again rhetorical. It is unbelievers who miss out on the life to come and suffer the “plagues” of torment in this life. And so those who add to or take from the book are being portrayed as those who have turned from the faith and so from the blessings they once presumed were theirs. Today, a whole number of Christians and even ministers will dismiss the warnings of judgment within the book, or extend salvation to pretty much all. This is a stark warning to them, that such distortion implies they have turned from Christ himself.
     v20: The focus of the book is affirmed at its conclusion. As we have suggested throughout it is a book about the end and how that should encourage us in the present. It’s focus is the day of wrath leading up to and encompassing the return of Christ and inauguration of the age to come. And the one who has testified to it all through his angel reassures us in whatever we suffer, that he is “surely” coming “soon” – that from the perspective of God’s purposes in history, the tribulations of history will soon pass and be superseded by a glory that is incomparable by comparison (Rom 8v17). And John replies “Amen” (truly), “come Lord Jesus – our prayer of longing in trials that this will indeed take place “soon.”

     v21: John ends as Paul so often does, with a prayer for “grace” to be with all his readers. It’s fitting, as it is grace that enables all this. God’s free favour chooses the names for the book of life, and washes clean those who look to the Lamb. It is grace that therefore saves and keeps his people for eternal life. And so we can affirm the final “Amen.” May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with us all.