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 day’s 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 7:37–39 (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 city’s 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 tree’s 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 in Week 9, Day 5). 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 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. 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 Christ’s 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 Lamb’s 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. 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?

God’s 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. 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.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 21:9-14

Revelation 21:9-14

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven final plagues came and spoke to me, saying, Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb! 10 So he took me away in the Spirit to a huge, majestic mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. 11 The city possesses the glory of God; its brilliance is like a precious jewel, like a stone of crystal-clear jasper. 12 It has a massive, high wall with twelve gates, with twelve angels at the gates, and the names of the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel are written on the gates. 13 There are three gates on the east side, three gates on the north side, three gates on the south side and three gates on the west side. 14 The wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
(NET Bible)

New Jerusalem as the holiest place: introduction

I challenge you to examine what the world considers glorious. Just walk through a large bookstore and glance at the covers of a hundred magazines.If that is the pinnacle of human achievement, then I say we must search for true glory somewhere else. What do you think?

Grant Osborne[1] points out the significant fact that Revelation 21:9-22:5 can be divided into three sections: the first describes the prostitute of Babylon (17:1-19:5); the second describes the end of history and final judgment (19:6-21:8); the third describes the wife of the Lamb (21:9-22:5).

Verses 17:1-3 strongly contrast with 21:9-10. The personal choice between the prostitute of Babylon and the wife of the Lamb is a real-time conflict of allegiance for the seven churches in Johns day and it extends to us today.

To continue the comparison, John describes the adornment of the prostitute (17:4; 18:16-17a) and contrasts it with the beauty of the bride (21:11). The adornment of the prostitute was stripped away in a single hour but the beauty of the bridewill endure for eternity. The beauty of the New Jerusalem flows from the glory of God (21:11), where glory should probably be translated as radiance or splendor.[2] The beauty of the holy city is the beauty of God, and that has no limit!

The presence of a massive city wall is slightly surprising since all enemies have been vanquished. But if the wall does not represent safety, it does again delineate the basic difference between outside and inside. Consider that 22:15 says, Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the sexually immoral, and the murderers, and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood! Angels stand at each gate (21:12) — reminding us of the angels who guarded the way into Eden (Gen. 3:24) — and the gates and foundation bear the names of the twelve tribes and twelve apostles to remind us that both believing Israel and the church belong within.

I expect that this more nuanced view of the new heaven and new earth will sound odd to you. Craig Keener[3] explains that Western Christendom has inherited an allegorical view of heaven [think of clouds with winged angels playing harps] from the philosophical views of some early interpreters. Instead, we should consider what the Bible says the scene will actually be, both inside and outside:

For just as the new heavens and the new earth I am about to make will remain standing before me, says the Lord, so your descendants and your name will remain. From one month to the next and from one Sabbath to the next, all people will come to worship me, says the Lord. They will go out and observe the corpses of those who rebelled against me, for the maggots that eat them will not die, and the fire that consumes them will not die out. All people will find the sight abhorrent.
(Isa. 66:22-24).

Live inside the New Jerusalem!

As you can tell, living inside the New Jerusalem is our aspiration. The one who makes it possible is the Lamb, a name for Jesus that occurs seven times from 21:9-22:3. It is the sacrificial death of Jesus on our behalf that makes our life in New Jerusalem possible. There is no other way!

The author of the book of Hebrews encourages us to think like the heroes of faith who lived before us: They aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Heb. 11:16). You have a treat in store — true glory!

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) 745.

[2] BDAG-3, doxa, radiance, splendor, q.v.

[3] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 502.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 21:1–4

Revelation 21:1–4
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist, and the sea existed no more. 2 And I saw the holy city — the new Jerusalem —  descending out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more — or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.”
(NET Bible)

The new heaven and the new earth

Some ideas die hard. In the early 20th century, many people believed an idea from Émile Coué, a French psychologist, who said, “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” Many thought the world was on the same track. But after World War I killed 16 million people and the influenza pandemic of 1918 killed at least 50 million people, such opinions soured.

Yet in 2007 a serious book was published with the title The Improving State of the World, again advancing the world-is-getting-better-and-better idea. Will humanity create heaven on earth?

Revelation 21:1-6 offers a summary of everything that will follow, and then verses 7-8 tell us how we must live in light of these things. The summary will “then be expanded in two directions, first viewing the Holy City as an eternal Holy of Holies (21:9–27) and then as a new Eden (22:1–5).”[1]

Here is a fact that some people do not accept easily: the new heaven and new earth are brought to us by God (21:2), not by humanity! The idea that humanity will save itself and transform the world into paradise is a lie! The beast took over the concept and presented his rule as the key.

The next development is a dramatic announcement from the throne of God (21:3–4) — “Look!” (21:3). The news deserving of such fanfare is that God will once again dwell among his people, but with some major differences compared to his past sojourns: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (21:4, ESV). Recall that the first time God lived among his people (Exodus & Numbers) an entire, unbelieving, rebellious generation, except for Joshua and Caleb, died in the wilderness without seeing the Promised Land. Yet, even in the midst of national sin during the later years of the Israelite kingdom, God promised a new heaven and new earth: “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isa. 65:17, NIV 2011).

The second time God lived among his people was when Jesus came to live among us. John 1:14 uses the same verb for “took up residence among us” that we find in Rev. 21:3 “will live among them”; this verb is only found in John’s Gospel and Revelation. Jesus and his disciples experienced great opposition, suffering and even death.

Of course, it is not accurate to say that God did not continue to dwell with his people after Jesus ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9). Jesus revealed to his disciples that after leaving them he would send the Holy Spirit to reside with them and live within them forever (John 14:15–17). The presence of the Spirit was unseen yet absolutely real.

But the dwelling of God with his people in the New Jerusalem will be personal, lasting and free from the suffering and opposition that characterized the first heaven and earth. The quality of life will be so far beyond our experience as to be quite beyond our conception. “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9, ESV).

Your forever-home!

Lots of people attempt to prepare for retirement, but it is costly. The only retirement worth having requires you to give your life to Jesus in return for eternity in splendor with God.

Jesus made promises to those who love him. One of the greatest is this one: “There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going away to make ready a place for you. And if I go and make ready a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be too.” (John 14:2-3). Nothing beats that!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. 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) 727.