Monday, January 20, 2020

A Forever Home Pt. 3-Revelation 22:1-7

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve toured the forever home awaiting God’s people in Revelation 21 (examining the exterior, size, materials used, and highlights of the New Jerusalem in Heaven). This week we follow John as the tour of heaven concludes and are ushered to the gardens of the eternal state (after all, what is dream home without a great backyard?). It is here, in Revelation 22:1-7, that we will observe the final two components of John’s description of heaven. What we will learn about the end today will help us make sense of the story God has been writing from the very beginning. This passage will also encourage use to, with urgency, share the hope of glory that is found in heaven with those who believe that this world is all that there really is.

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1. What is Witnessed-22:1-5

a. A Future and Better Eden-22:1-3

After touring the forever home for God’s people, John’s tour guide takes this apostle “around back” to explore the gardens—a restored/regained Eden. In this new Eden, John reports, “then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb in the middle of its street” (22:1-2a). While there is no longer any sea in the new heavens and the new earth (see 21:1), there is, as this passage reveals, a river. In Genesis 2:10, a river “flowed from Eden” to “water the garden” (see Gen. 2:9). Also, in Ezekiel 47:1-12, a river was said to flow from south of the altar in the renewed temple, turning everything it touches fresh, even salt water, so that living creatures and fish flourish (see Zech. 14:8). Both contexts point to the life-giving power of the river and this serves as the foundation for the point made in Revelation 22. As this life-giving river is “coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb,” this passage reveals that the sole Provider and Sustainer of life is God himself. That God and the Lamb provide life is consistent with what has been said of God elsewhere in the Book of Revelation (Osborne, Revelation, 769).

Revelation 7:17-“for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life,…”

Revelation 21:6-“Then He said to me, ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.’”

The presence of this river “clear as crystal” would have proven especially meaningful to the original context. Though we might take for granted the access we have to clean drinking water today, then, as in much of the third world currently, this was not something that many can always count on. Water is life in a very literal sense, and so too will this prove to be the case with the pure/unpolluted spring that flows in heaven. Something of the significance/prominence of this water feature is suggested by the river’s placement “in the middle of” the street that has was already described in Revelation 21:18-27.

A prominent river was also present in Genesis 2:10. There, a river “flowed from Eden” to “water the garden.” However, in Genesis, “life was restricted to the “tree of life” (see Gen. 2:9; 3:22-24) (Osborne, Revelation, 769). This is why Adam and Eve must be expelled from Eden following the fall—so that they no longer have access to this tree of life and live forever. However, this story is not the only background provided for the presence of this tree here in Revelation. Throughout Proverbs, the “tree of life” calls to mind blessings (Prov. 3:18), “the fruit of righteousness” (Prov. 11:30), “a longing fulfilled” (Prov. 13:12), and the “tongue that brings healing” (Prov. 15:4). Therefore, sustaining life and blessing is not only witnessed in the river flowing from the Creator and Sustainer of all life (God on his throne), but it is highlighted by the reemergence of the tree of life—a shrub that hasn’t been available since the Garden of Eden.

This tree is especially significant as its fruit, twelve in kind, is always in season (yielding fruit every month) in the eternal state. The perpetual fruit-bearing that will take place in heaven epitomizes the transformation of the normal seasons/cycles of seedtime and harvest (Wilson, ZIBBC, 370). The fruit of this tree in connection with the river already mentioned hearkens back to Ezekiel 47:12 where the temple stream has “fruit trees of all kinds” growing “on both banks of the river.”

While the ongoing supply of fruit provides consistent nourishment, “the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (22:2c). This is yet another allusion to Ezekiel 47:12.

Ezekiel 47:12-“By the river on its bank, on one side and on the other, will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither and their fruit will not fail. They will bear every month because their water flows from the sanctuary, and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.”

In Ezekiel’s context, it is the nation of Israel that is healed. However, here, in this greater tree, it is the healing of the nations that is provided for in this powerful plant. Make no mistake, at this late hour and context in the Book of Revelation, nothing present on the earth will need healing of any kind. Instead, these leaves portray the healing of the world that has already occurred.

The final life-giving element present in this future Eden is the absence of the curse—“there will no longer be any curse,” (22:3a). When Adan and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, a curse came upon humanity and the created order (see Gen. 3:1-19). The effects of that curse are finally and forever reversed here in Revelation (Wilson, ZIBBC, 370). While the tree of life is conspicuously present, the once prohibited tree of the knowledge of good and evil is conspicuously absent.

In many ways, the Bible reads as one big story that occurs between two trees (in Genesis and Revelation) with Calvary’s tree standing in the middle. In order to enjoy the tree of life in the end (Rev. 22:1-3), one must escape the curse introduced by Adam and Eve who ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the beginning (Gen. 3). This only comes by embracing in faith the one who hung on a tree to provide salvation for you and me (Gal. 3:13). 

Galatians 3:13-“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hands on a tree’…”

The presence of the restored Eden as described here means that all who are in Christ can expect to enjoy lasting life with no curse forever in heaven.

b. A Most Wonderful Service-22:3b

In addition to a restored Eden, John beholds a most wonderful service. This service is rendered to the one most deserving. Here, in 22:3, he is identified by means of his throne—“and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it,…” (22:3b). Once again, the close proximity and association of God and the Lamb illustrates their shared divinity and equality in the Godhead.

Those who will be serving the one on the throne are introduced next: “and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads,…” (22:3c-4). The term “bond-servants” (douloV) is used frequently in the New Testament to describe followers of Christ who have been purchased out of their slavery to sin and were given freedom to follow Jesus. Servitude to Christ is not oppressive, but the way of abundant and lasting life. Here, in fact, the verb “serve” means “to perform religious rites as part of worship” (Louw & Nida) and comes from the same word used in Romans 12:1.

Romans 12:1-“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (emphasis added).

Revelation indicates that just as God’s people will be enjoying a restored Eden, they will also be serving their Lord in worship.

c. A Brightest Glory-22:5a-b

Highlighted earlier in the description of the New Jerusalem (see Rev. 21:18-27—especially 21:5), John also beholds a bright glory—“And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun because the Lord God will illumine them” (22:5). If the open gates introduced in Revelation 21 demonstrate the absence of any threat in heaven, the bright light of God and the acuity of its luminosity demonstrates the absence of any evil (or darkness). While in this world of darkness, light must come from the sun or from lamps, in the eternal world of light, the presence of God will fill eternity with his glory. While in this world the saints must bear the light of God in areas of spiritual darkness, in heaven, God’s light comes directly from his person (Osborne, Revelation, 775).  

d. The Reign of God’s People-22:5c-“…and they will reign forever and ever,…”

One final visual observation made by the tour guide in this passage is the reign of God’s people—“and they will reign forever and ever” (22:5c). That believers will rule a future domain alongside Christ is prophesied in 2 Timothy 2:11-12 when it says “Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.” This prophesy is fulfilled in Revelation 22 as God’s people share in Christ’s inheritance of a new world and along with that share in the dominion of it.

This is also, in some ways, a return to the beginning. After all, Adam and Eve were called to exercise dominion over the planet. When sin entered the world, this became exceedingly difficult. Ever since sin entered the picture, when dominion was exercised, it was imperfect, short-lived, or even corrupt. However, now that sin is completely gone in a newly created world, the redeemed are free to do what they were originally designed for—ruling the planet God created for them uninhibited and unencumbered.

From the vantage point of the garden surrounding the New Jerusalem, one can see that in heaven there will be a restored Eden in which God's people will serve the Lord perfectly, enjoying the light of his glory and the rule of a remade world. However, in addition to all of this visual stimulation, there are some things that are spoken in the remaining verses of this context that deserve special attention.  

2. What is Said-22:6-7

Verses 6-7 almost serve as a conclusion of the tour that has been in process since 21:1. These verses also lead to the final messages of the book (in 22:8ff). First, the declaration of verse 6 suggests that readers can trust that what they have read in the description of the new heavens and new earth, the New Jerusalem, and surrounding area—“and he said to me, ‘These words are faithful and true,’…” (22:6a). This is, in fact, the third time that the angel has said as much in the closing chapters of Revelation (see 19:9 and 21:5).

Not only should the reader trust that these phenomena are real based on the confirming and repeated declaration of their being “faithful and true,” but they can also hold fast to the fact that what John has recorded is not a product of his own imagination or creativity. Instead, it has been given to him in a unique way—“and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon take place” (22:6b). This revelation is, in other words, from God’s own mind (source), delivered through an angelic medium (agent), to his servants (the recipients), John being one of them. What is interesting here is that God is not only supervising this revelation from the front end as its source, but on the back end as the supervisor of the spirit/mind of the prophets used to record it—“and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets.” He is not just the creator of the message, but he is involved in its recording.

2 Peter 1:21-“For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

On the tail end of the conclusion to this tour, the divine author of this revelation intimates something of the urgency associated with what has been shared—“and behold, I am coming quickly” (22:7a). In other words, in the mind of God, heaven is closer than we might think. For Him it is just around the corner and as good as already here.

With this in mind, he utters the sixth beatitude of the Book of Revelation—a blessing—“Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book” (22:7b). Because Jesus’ return, the judgment of the world, and the coming heaven described here are just around the corner, the speaker encourages recipients of this revelation to embrace it and follow it before it is too late. Those who heed this message will inevitably find Christ—the Savior of the world. Those who place their faith in Him, having heeded the word of his prophecy, are blessed—i.e. will one day enjoy and inhabit the heaven they read about in these pages.

So What?

I’m not sure what captures your imagination most about our coming forever home—its size/shape, the brilliance of the building materials, the presence of the river and tree of life, the brightness of God’s glory, or all of the above—but it is my prayer that it does create within each one of us a sense of awe and wonder—awe and wonder that the things of this current world cannot produce. However, rather than enjoy this awe and wonder privately, it is also my prayer that we would share the awe and wonder with those around us. As God’s people who await these things in the end, we must be about the business of carrying the light of the gospel into the corners of darkness that are all around us and draw attention to the one who hung on the tree for the sins of the world. After all, only those who heed the words of this prophecy are called blessed. However, as Paul wonders, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Rom. 10:14). As we strive to be more heavenly-minded this year than we have ever been before, may this tour of our forever home create within us both a confident hope for things to come and a conspicuous witness before those all around us

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