Scripture text for this study: Revelation 22
Review of Revelation 21
Our two posts on Revelation 21 (Part 1 and Part 2) were written in 2010, so this post is very much overdue. In our study of Rev. 21, we saw how John drew heavily on the Old Testament to depict with rich symbolism the glories of this present, everlasting new covenant age. John also echoed many spiritual truths taught elsewhere in the New Testament, which the writers of those epistles proclaimed to be existing realities in their own day. Revelation 21 is not as much about prophecies fulfilled in the past, as it is about ongoing spiritual realities that are being lived out by God’s people to this very day.
For the body of Christ, Revelation 21 is a beautiful portrayal of God’s relationship with His new covenant people. It’s also part of our manual on how the Church is to walk in spiritual victory and advance God’s ever-expanding kingdom on this earth. When John was told that he would be shown “the bride, the Lamb’s wife,” he is actually shown a city called New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:9-10), which John vividly describes for his readers, lacing his words with all kinds of Biblical symbolism. Unlike the Jerusalem that went up in flames (Matthew 22:7; Rev. 17:16, 18:8-9, 18:18), New Jerusalem is a city with no temple, “for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (verse 22). It’s a city illuminated by the glory of God, where “the Lamb is its light” (verse 23; see also John 8:12).
New Jerusalem is not a cube-shaped city that God’s people will one day live in, but God’s people are New Jerusalem. This is not the only passage of Scripture where a physical structure is used to describe God’s people. God’s people are also described as a holy structure in Ephesians 2:19-22, and both structures are built on the foundation of the apostles (Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:14).
Introduction to Revelation 22
These themes continue as we move into Revelation 22, the final chapter of this book. The beginning of the chapter continues John’s description of the city of God, the new Jerusalem. After that Jesus recaps, through John, what He had already promised earlier in the book, particularly the nearness of His promise to come in judgment. Before we get into a verse-by-verse study of this chapter, let’s review again the very helpful structural outline that Steve Gregg presents on page 492 of his book, “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary).” He shows that Revelation 21:1-8 outlines the remainder of the book of Revelation (21:9 – 22:19):
|CONTENT||In Verses 1-8||In the Remainder|
|New Jerusalem||Verse 2||21:9-21|
|God dwells among men||Verse 3||21:22-27|
|Renewal of the world||Verse 5a||22:1-5|
|“These words are true and faithful”||Verse 5b||22:6-10|
|Work completed: “I am Alpha and Omega”||Verse 6a||22:11-15|
|Final blessing: water of life to all who thirst||Verses 6b – verse 7||22:16-17|
|Final curse upon the rebellious||Verse 8||22:18-19|
Verse 1: In the first five verses of Revelation 22, John’s vision of the city of God, New Jerusalem, comes to a conclusion. In verse 1, John sees “a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.”
Who is the angel who shows John this river? This question takes us back to Revelation 21:9 where the one speaking to John is “one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues.” This same angel takes John to see “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” In Revelation 17:1, we saw that an angel, fitting the exact same description, took John to see “the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters.” According to Steve Gregg (p. 493), this connection “provides a structural link, deliberately placing the harlot in juxtaposition with the bride,” New Jerusalem. In this way, John contrasts two women in the same way that the apostle Paul does in Galatians 4:21-31, where he portrays one woman in slavery representing the old covenant and another free woman representing the new covenant.
John’s vision of the river of life flowing through the new Jerusalem is very similar to Zechariah’s vision at the time of the day of the Lord: “And in that day it shall be that living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and half of them toward the western sea; In both summer and winter it shall occur” (Zechariah 14:8). While some teach that this is future and will literally occur in Jerusalem (i.e. in the Middle East), it’s also possible — and I believe correct — to see that Zechariah received a vision of New Jerusalem, Christ’s bride. John’s vision here is also reminiscent of statements that Jesus made about Himself:
“Jesus answered and said to [the woman at the well], ‘Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life‘” (John 4:13-14).
“On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water‘” (John 7:37-38).
Verse 2: John is told that “the leaves of the tree” of life were “for the healing of the nations“:
“In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
John’s vision is remarkably similar to Ezekiel’s vision of a river flowing from the threshold of the temple (Ezekiel 47:1-12).
“When I returned, there, along the bank of the river, were very many trees on one side and the other. Then he said to me: ‘This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed. And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live...’ Along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees used for food; their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine” (Ezekiel 47:7-9, 12).
Duncan McKenzie, author of “The Antichrist and the Second Coming,” makes the following observation about these passages and their parallel nature (Duncan’s entire article is very much worth reading):
“In Ezekiel, the prophet is told that the city is the dwelling place of God with his people (43:7; 48:35), which parallels what John is told about the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:3). The respective cities both have twelve gates with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel inscribed on them (Ezek. 48:30-34; Rev. 21:12-13). The Temple in Ezekiel has healing waters that flow out of it (Ezek. 47:1-11); there are trees on both sides of the river that have leaves for food and healing (v. 12). This parallels Revelation where the river of life flows from the throne of God and the Lamb in the New Jerusalem; the tree of life is on both sides of the river, it has leaves for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:1-2).”
Duncan McKenzie, “Revelation’s Parallel Use of the Sequence of Ezekiel: Part Two”
This picture, and this language, speaks to our present setting here on earth, where the nations of the world are in need of healing and where all kinds of immorality still exists outside of God’s city (verse 15). So one way of applying this text is to ask questions like these: Is Syria in need of healing today? Is Nigeria in need of healing today? Is Indonesia in need of healing today? Is America in need of healing today? The church, the body of Christ, is a channel of the living waters of Christ, and we are equipped with the healing that the nations need. As members of the body of Christ, we have been given the responsibility and the grace to link arms with one another and work together to see the nations healed by the living water of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Steve Gregg (p. 499) discusses the various ways that this text is understood:
The purpose of the leaves of the tree is…said to be for the healing of the nations (verse 2), but the question intrudes itself, what nations? If we take this to mean that humanity in the new creation will be organized into discreet political nations, then these are matters of which we have little or no additional information.
On the other hand, if nations be understood simply in the sense of “the Gentiles,” then it may simply be a reference to the church saints of Gentile extraction in the holy city. Weidner considers the reference to be to “the converted Gentiles who are among the glorified saints.” This view seems to enjoy the favor of most expositors, including Milligan:
“It is impossible to think that the nations here spoken of have yet to be converted. They have already entered the New Jerusalem, and that they are healed can signify no more than this, than they are kept in constant soundness of health by what is here administered to them.”
Taken, however, as a symbolic picture of the New Covenant blessings in the present age, the leaves of the tree could refer simply to the fact that as the gospel advances, the kingdom, like a mustard tree (Matthew 13:31-32), or a cedar tree (Ezekiel 17:22-23), spreads its branches, providing all nations a place of refuge and healing under the shadow of its leaves (cf. Ezekiel 31:4-6; Daniel 4:11-12).
John’s reference to “the tree of life” takes us back to Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, and to the tree of life that was there (Genesis 2:9, 3:22-24):
“And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9).
“Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’— therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:22-24).
The outcome of eating from the tree of life would be eternal life. In Jesus, eternal life is freely available for those who trust in Him. In Revelation 22, in New Jerusalem, the tree of life is available for everyone in the city of God, bearing fruit 12 months each year. In the Garden of Eden there was one tree of life, but in New Jerusalem there is a tree of life “on either side of the river.” The Jamieson-Fausett-Brown Bible Commentary (1882) said this about the correlation between Genesis 2-3 and Revelation 22:
“How striking it is that, as in the beginning we found Adam and Eve, his bride, in innocence in Paradise, then tempted by the serpent, and driven from the tree of life, and from the pleasant waters of Eden, yet not without a promise of a Redeemer who should crush the serpent; so at the close, the old serpent cast out for ever by the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, who appears with His Bride, the Church, in a better Paradise, and amidst better waters (Rev. 22:1): the tree of life also is there with all its healing properties, not guarded with a flaming sword, but open to all who overcome (Rev. 2:7), and there is no more curse.”
Verse 3: John writes, “And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.” Is this another reference to the Garden of Eden, and the curses spoken over the serpent and over humanity (Genesis 3:14-24)? Is this a reference to the curse of the law, which was removed in Christ (Galatians 3:10-13)? Kenneth Gentry points out that many Bible scholars see Zechariah 14:11 (“The people shall dwell in [Jerusalem]; and no longer shall there be utter destruction, but Jerusalem shall be safely inhabited“) as the background for John’s statement, and says “we see John’s backdrop from correspondences within the two passages:
|Zechariah 14||Contextual Correspondences||Revelation 21-22|
|14:2, 4, 8, 10-12, 14, 16-17, 21||“Jerusalem”||21:2, 10, 14-15, 18-19, 21, 23; 22:14, 19|
|14:6-7||Alteration of patterns of light, day, night||21:24-25; 22:5|
|14:8a||Living water source in Jerusalem||22:1, 17|
|14:8b||No problem of seasons causing death||22:2|
|14:11||Absence of anathema; katathema||22:3|
|14:14||Glory of nations received within||21:24, 26; see also Isaiah 60:5-14|
|14:16||Nations positively influenced||21:24|
|14:17-18||Outsiders in negative condition||21:27; 22:15|
Gentry goes on to say:
Note the strong similarity between the two statements in Greek:
Zec 14:11: kai anathema ouk estai eti
Rev 22:3: kai pan katathema ouk estai eti
…We should note that John immediately parallels with his katathema statement a comment that intentionally contrasts with it. And by doing so he underscores the objective, concrete matters involved. I will provide a woodenly literal translation of 22:3, then the Greek text, to show the parallel:
And every cursed person will not be [there] any longer (22:3a)
And the throne of God and of the Lamb in it will be (22:3b)
Note the parallel in Greek:
kai pan katathema ouk estai eti (22:3a)
kai ho thronos tou theou kai tou arniou en autç estai (22:3b)
Clearly 22:3b speaks of location, not existence; the same should be true of 22:3a. John means that accursed persons are absent, not that the curse no longer exists…
Consider that at the end of his external tour of the new Jerusalem he learns that certain persons will forever be excluded from the new Jerusalem: “and nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27). Thus, now as he looks inside the new Jerusalem, he can happily report that this is true: “every cursed person will not be there” (22:3a). This truth is so important that he states it once again at 22:15: “Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.”
…In Rev 22:3 John is encouraging the followers of the Lamb who have been abused by the religious leadership of Israel — either directly at their hands or at the hands of their compatriot minions, or indirectly by their influence with the Romans to spark persecution of the Christians. They must understand that those who have tormented them and cast them out of their communion (Mt 10:16–18, 21; 23:34; Jn 9:22, 34–35; 12:42; 16:2; 1Th 2:15) or brought charges against them to the Roman authorities (Ac 17:7; Rev 2:9–10) are themselves “accursed” and will not be allowed into the new Jerusalem. Christianity will not be extinguished through the efforts of the Jews (or the Romans). In fact, the tables will be turned against the [unbelieving] Jews: “the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out” (Mt 8:12; cp. 22:13) as God establishes the new, final redemptive order. Rather than rule by the corrupt “kings of the land,” the new Jerusalem will be ruled from the throne of the Lamb (22:1, 3).
Kenneth Gentry, Supplement #18 – Absence of Curse in the New Creation, Revelation 22
Verse 4: John writes, “They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.” This is a fulfillment of the promise Jesus made to the church in Philadelphia: “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name” (Revelation 3:11-12). In our studies of Revelation 7 and Revelation 14, we also saw that God sealed the foreheads of His servants with His name. In contrast, those who followed the beast had his mark, his name, or the number of his name on their right hands or foreheads (Rev. 13:15-17).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also promised that it would be the pure in heart who would see God (Matthew 5:8). Kurt Simmons gives his take on the significance of Rev. 22:4.
“The fall brought man’s banishment from the presence and fellowship of his Creator; man was driven from the garden; he was estranged from God and became an exile in the earth… Even in the temple, God was in the Holy of Holies, separate and removed from the worshipper. None could approach except through the sprinkling of blood and the appointed mediator. The stranger that drew nigh was put to death. However, the veil of separation was rent in twain in the cross of Christ (Matt. 27:51); man can now boldly enter into that which is within the veil, made faultless before his presence by the blood of Christ (Heb. 6:19; 10:19-22; Jude 24). We are no longer servants, but have attained the adoption of sons, are become heirs of the King, and enjoy a ‘face to face’ relationship with God through Christ.”
Kurt Simmons, “Exposition of Revelation 20-22,” source
Verse 5: John writes, “There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.” In Rev. 21 we already saw that Jesus is the light in New Jerusalem, the city of God: “The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light” (verse 23). This also lines up with other statements made by the prophets, as well as those made by the writers of the gospel accounts and epistles in the New Testament:
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you… The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; But the Lord will be to you an everlasting light, and your God your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, nor shall your moon withdraw itself; For the Lord will be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended” (Isaiah 60:1, 19-20).
“Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3).
“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).
“Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life‘” (John 8:12).
“And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light“ (Romans 13:11-12).
“But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night… But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness” (I Thessalonians 5:1-5).
In part 2, we will continue examining Revelation 22, beginning with verse 6.
All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.