Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 22:1-5

Revelation 22:1-5

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life water as clear as crystal pouring out from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2 flowing down the middle of the city’s main street. On each side of the river is the tree of life producing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month of the year. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations. 3 And there will no longer be any curse, and the throne of God and the Lamb will be in the city. His servants will worship him, 4 and they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 Night will be no more, and they will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will shine on them, and they will reign forever and ever.
(NET Bible)

New Jerusalem as the final Eden

One of my favorite images from a lifetime ago was a painting called Break Time, showing a dusty cowboy drinking his fill of cold water after a long days work was done. Whatever image refreshes you, it cannot describe the refreshment we will have in the final Eden. Are you ready for that break time?

Just as we saw New Jerusalem presented as the Holy of Holies in Revelation 21, so the section 22:1-5 portrays New Jerusalem as the final Eden. Both Genesis 2 and Ezekiel 47:1-12 provide the background to the vision.

Grant Osborne describes the water of 22:1 when he says, This life-giving water . . . is also emphasized in John 4:10-14 (Jesus as the living water) and 7:3739 (the Holy Spirit as streams of living water).[1] Just as water is crucial to life, so these living waters sustain us throughout eternity. The source of this water is God and the Lamb (21:1). Can you imagine how it tastes?

One of the striking features of the water of life (22:1) is its total accessibility as it flows down the middle of the citys main street (22:2). As with the water, so with the food; the tree of life lines both banks of the river and provides twelve kinds of fruit (22:2). That much is plain, but 22:2b presents a familiar issue: who are these nations and why do they need healing by the leaves of the tree?

Commentators strain to explain — unconvincingly — that this healing has already taken place prior to the descending of the New Jerusalem. Such healing would, by that theory, apply to the nations of the old earth. Greg Beale[2] asks whether the trees leaves will continue to heal throughout eternity and answers no because there is nothing to heal. Ben Witherington[3] says it is the saints memories of the old world that need healing, but Isaiah 65:17 says otherwise!

I have already presented my view that the newly created earth has nations in it (see discussion of 21:24-26). These are the nations that will need the healing God here provides. Like all spiritual healing, it comes from God and is based on what Christ has done.

When Adam failed to guard Eden (Gen. 2:15 and Gen. 3:6) from the incursion of Satan, the result of the sin which ensued was both death and a curse (Gen. 3:14-19). Adam and Eve were forcibly expelled from Eden (Gen. 3:23) and an angel was set to guard the entry. The New Jerusalem, presented as the final Eden, is amply guarded by angels at the gates (21:12), and no evil may enter there (21:27).

In place of the tree of knowledge and the tree of life at the center of the former Eden (Gen. 2:9), we find the throne of God and the Lamb (22:3). Instead of Adam and Eve hiding from God, we have a picture of unbroken fellowship between God and his redeemed people (22:4-5). Even though the delegated rulership of Adam and Eve over the old earth (Gen. 1:28) was shattered, now the saints reign forever on a new earth (22:5) with Christ.

That is a sight better than a cold drink after a hard day!

Beauty, refreshment and fulfillment

In our fallen world, some people do immoral things to live a life full of comforts for a short time. But a life lived for God will result in experiencing the best food, drink and companions in the most beautiful setting, forever. Oh, did I mention that you get to live with God?

Through Isaiah the prophet, God says: Why pay money for something that will not nourish you? Why spend your hard-earned money on something that will not satisfy? Listen carefully to me and eat what is nourishing! Enjoy fine food! (Isa. 55:2).

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 769.

[2] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 1108.

[3] Ben Witherington III, Revelation, The New Cambridge Bible Commentary (New York: Cambridge University Press) 272.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 21:22-27

Revelation 21:22-27

Now I saw no temple in the city, because the Lord God the All-Powerful and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God lights it up, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will bring their grandeur into it. 25 Its gates will never be closed during the day (and there will be no night there). 26 They will bring the grandeur and the wealth of the nations into it, 27 but nothing ritually unclean will ever enter into it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or practices falsehood, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
(NET Bible)

Keep your eye on the ball!

Jesus said: I am the light of the world. The one who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (John 8:12). We have often understood this statement to refer to the gospel by having it mean light of salvation. But could Jesus have been telling us about the life we will live with him in eternity?

Grant Osborne[1] notes that most Jewish literature on the New Jerusalem puts the temple at its center, as in Ezekiel 40-48. But the flaw in that thinking is that the rationale for the temple was as a place for the people to encounter God. But in Revelation 21 we find that God physically resides among his people (Rev. 21:3), and the entire city has been made into a Holy of Holies (21:6).[2]

As John continues to contrast the holy city with the present age, he says the city needs no sun and moon due to the illumination provided by the radiance of God in Jesus, the Lamb (21:23).

Rev. 21:24-26 is very challenging for all commentators. Craig Keener explains: The image of the conversion of the nations (21:24) is a problematic one if pressed on a literal level against other images in Revelation. One possibility is that God creates new peoples for his saints to rule, but because this is not stated, commentators have rarely proposed it.[3] This rarely proposed idea is exactly the solution that I advocate to resolve this mystery.

The key problem is that the phrase kings of the earth (21:24) has uniformly served as a reference to those who will persecute the saints, gather with the beast, oppose the second coming of Christ, and then probably rise in rebellion when Satan leads the nations against the camp of the saints at the end of Christs earthly rule (see 16:14; 17:2; 17:18; 18:3; 18:9; 19:19; 20:8). So, it is sufficiently difficult to see these wicked kings coming to the New Jerusalem to worship — in the new heaven and new earth — that a few interpreters have said they were brought back from the lake of fire and converted! That idea is so contrary to the theology of both Revelation and the entire New Testament that it has gained no support.

The alternative is to take God more seriously: For look, I am ready to create new heavens and a new earth! The former ones will not be remembered; no one will think about them anymore (Isa. 65:17 ). I suggest that in this new creation there is no fall into sin and the result is the worship of God in Jerusalem by the leaders from nations around the newly created world.

This potential solution is far more complex than the usual fuzzy view of eternal life that most Christians hold. It may not express the actual course of events, but no viable alternative to the mystery of the kings of the earth in 21:24-26 has been proposed.[4]

No matter what God will show to be the solution to these questions, the nations will flock to the light of the Lamb, and those whose names are in the book of life (21:17) will see it all!

Jesus Christ is the focal point of the new world!

It is so difficult for us to imagine the new heaven and earth. As I write, the sun is shining and an electric light illumines my work area, but in the New Jerusalem the light from the Lambs presence will bathe every activity. Perhaps the biggest difference in the world-to-come is that it will focus far more attention and activity on Jesus than our fallen world does.

Jesus said to his enemies: I am going away, and you will look for me but will die in your sin. Where I am going you cannot come. (John 8:21). Rejoice that every Christian can come where Jesus is going!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 759.

[2] Osborne, Revelation, 759.

[3] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 505.

[4] John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966) 327, and Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Rev. Ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997) 397, adopt certain parts of the literal view I have expressed, but they back away in different ways. G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 1098, retreats into symbolism, as usual. Osborne, Revelation, 762-763, discusses the issue but presents no credible resolution.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 21:15-19a

Revelation 21:15-19a

The angel who spoke to me had a golden measuring rod with which to measure the city and its foundation stones and wall. 16 Now the city is laid out as a square, its length and width the same. He measured the city with the measuring rod at fourteen hundred miles (its length and width and height are equal). 17 He also measured its wall, one hundred forty-four cubits according to human measurement, which is also the angel’s. 18 The city’s wall is made of jasper and the city is pure gold, like transparent glass. 19 The foundations of the city’s wall are decorated with every kind of precious stone.
(NET Bible)

A city like no other

Suppose I told you that you could have anything you want. What would you put on the list?Now — would you trade those things for the things God is going to provide you freely in his eternal city?

The information given about the New Jerusalem is not comprehensive, but it suffices to demonstrate that the city of God is a real place that we will call home. No clouds, no harps, no fuzzy, out-of-focus scenes to make it seem like a storage bin for cotton balls.

The first thing John emphasizes about the specifics is the cubic shape of the city (21:16). Grant Osborne explains the significance when he says, The cube shape matches the shape of the Holy of Holies (20 cubits each direction, 1 Kings 6:20; 2 Chron. 3:8-9).[1] No barrier exists between sacred and secular. NT scholar Ben Witherington says, The whole city is a holy temple, for God is with his people throughout the city and they are his temple.[2]

The city is immense by any current measure, but our calculation of its size depends on the measure assumed for the Greek word stadion, which the standard lexicon defines as: a measure of distance of about 192 meters.[3] Using that value, I calculate a cube with dimensions of 1432 miles. The use of different values for this measure — the ancient world was not big on universal standardization — explains how NET says fourteen hundred miles (21:16) while the New American Standard Bible says fifteen hundred miles. Your mileage may vary. :)

As you can imagine, a city whose dimensions are approximately the distance from Dallas to San Francisco can hold a vast number of redeemed people in an environment that defies description. But commentators are not comfortable with such a size, and most suggest the numbers are symbolic. Perhaps they are, but no one seems to think the number of gates or foundations is symbolic, so there has to be some subjectivity involved in these pronouncements of what is symbolic. I see no reason to discount the vast size of the holy city.

That the wall is so tiny compared to the city (21:17) demonstrates that it is merely decorative, not functional. The city in which the All-Powerful dwells does not even bother to shut its gates (21:25).

Who needs Camelot?

Gods promises are never empty! Abraham received promises from God and yet he remained a wandering sojourner, living in a tent all his life. The author of Hebrews says of Abraham: For he was looking forward to the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Heb. 11:10). Since Abraham will also live in the New Jerusalem, will not his expectation be more than satisfied?

We find it so easy to have cynical, earth-bound thoughts. But Jesus said, This is impossible for mere humans, but not for God; all things are possible for God (Mark 10:27). When God is creating our reward, there is no limit to what it may be!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 753.

[2] Ben Witherington III, Revelation, The New Cambridge Bible Commentary (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003) 268.

[3] BDAG-3, stadion, (a measure of distance of about 192 meters), q.v.