The division of chapters here is rather unfortunate. There is no line of cleavage in the thought at this point. The division should have been made between the fifth and sixth verses. The first five verses of this chapter goes on to describe that "home of the soul."
V:1. John saw the river of water of life proceeding out of the throne of God and the Lamb. No sea there, symbol of restlessness and turmoil, but a river, symbol of springing verdure, refreshment, and perennial life.
V:2. On either side of the river the tree of life. The word tree is used generically, — many trees of the species, on either side of the river. In Eden there was a "tree of life" from which man was excluded for his sin, a cherubim and a flaming sword guarding the way to it. Here in the last chapter of the Scriptures, when the story of redemption is completed, and the last act in the drama staged, we come again to that tree of life. Thus Genesis is linked with Revelation, and Eden with heaven, and the unity of the Biblical story disclosed.
Vs3-5. "And there shall be no more curse; but the throne of God and the Lamb shall be in it." Sin is gone, and where there is no sin, there is no curse. "The throne of God and the Lamb" — singular number, one throne.
"And they shall see his face." The supreme blessedness of heaven is to look on the divine face. John further wrote, "And when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."
"And they shall reign forever and ever." As the word "they" has been repeatedly used in these verses to designate the saints, I take it in the same meaning in this clause, — another indication that the place where the saints reign is heaven. This closes the visions of the book of Revelation. The verses that follow are a conclusion to the book and bear much similarity to the introduction in the first chapter.
Here we leave the Apocalyptical features of the book and return from our excursion into the post-resurrection state, and take our place again at the historical standpoint where John began to write.
The first chapter should be Revelation -read in connection with these closing verses to catch their real significance.
This sixth verse is almost a duplicate of the first verse of the book, showing that we are looking at the whole revelation from the outlook of the starting point, — a fit method of conclusion.
Both state that this book is a revelation from God, communicated by his angel "to show unto his servants the things that must shortly be done." That was the prologue, it is also the conclusion, and it brings us back to the historical setting. John was writing these things to the churches of Asia with particular reference to their condition of suffering and jeopardy. In the beginning and the end he tells them that these things must shortly come to pass. The events predicted in this book were just beginning to break upon the church of that day, hence they were things that "must shortly be done."
Verse seven begins, "Behold I come quickly." It is an entire misconception to apply these words to the event technically known as Christ"s second personal coming, as so many do in these days. The last chapter like the first has its standpoint among the churches of the first century. Christ, through John, is warning them of the storm about to break upon their heads, and "behold I come quickly" has evident reference to those judgments to which, in their day, they stood in close proximity, — the judgments of their persecutors described in the early part of the book. Only by arbitrarily wresting such expressions from the close-woven texture of the book can they be made to refer to some event long future to John and still future to our own age. He who grasps in one comprehensive conception the whole book, with its related details, will not commit such an error of interpretation. Verse seven ends with these words: "Blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book," almost an exact duplicate of chapter one, verse three.
V:8. "And I John saw these things and heard them," bringing in again the human author of the book and reminding us of his place and time in the story.
V:10. "Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book." These words were not to be left in obscurity, but to be read, and made known to the churches of John"s day, "for the time is at hand," These were things that vitally concerned them, then and there, they were written for their encouragment, to gird them in the conflict. They were not therefore to be sealed up but immediately circulated and proclaimed.
The careful reader will observe that these expressions have very definite reference to the purpose of this book, and therefore to its contents and interpretation. He who weighs them duly will be little inclined to assign the bulk of this book to a Tribulation, thousands of years distant from the writer and the persons addressed.
V:11,12. "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still." If the wicked persists in his wickedness, refuses all warnings, and resists all the exhortations that are so plentifully scattered through this book, and which reach him through other channels, let him go on to his doom, for his doom will overtake him soon.
But let the holy be holy still, not recanting his faith nor repudiating his allegiance to his Lord even in persecution and death, for, "Behold I come quickly;" I will punish the transgressor, and reward the faithful. The faithful will not have to wait long for vindication, and the wicked will not long escape the justice he deserves.
Verse sixteen tells us: "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches." This is exactly parallel to the statements of the first chapter where John was sent to bear these messages to the seven churches of Asia. It is fair to assume that the churches of the first chapter and the churches of the last chapter are the same, and thus we cannot escape the historical viewpoint.
But all God"s warnings are mingled with mercy, and he calls even the sinner, whose doom he threatens, to come and enjoy his grace. And he makes his invitation so broad that none can exclude himself from the call: "The Spirit
Mercy to the last, even when doom hangs over their heads. Back from the jaws of death and the stroke of judgment, Christ calls men to come and receive his mercy and drink of the water of life. This book, so full of judgments and the smoke of torment from the lake of fire, does not leave the reader with only such visions in his mind. The grace of God, and the mercy of God shines out grandly amid them all. "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely."
Vs18,19. The book draws to a close with a solemn warning neither to add to these words of God nor to take from them. Both these tendencies are prominent in the world today. A great host of interpreters are expert users of Jehoiakim"s pen-knife, and an equal number on the other hand are reading into the Scriptures what isn"t there. One evil is as bad as the other; and all alike should give due heed to the solemn admonitions of this closing word. The word of God must have honest treatment, delivered from the ruthlessness of cutters and slashers, and as well from the inoculations of allegorical and mystical interpreters. He who adds to, and he who takes away, are equally guilty.
V:20. "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly." And John responds: "Amen, Even Song of Solomon, come. Lord Jesus."
This coming has, in my humble judgment, no reference to the technical second personal coming of Christ, else it would not be described as "quickly," and as something which in John"s day "must shortly come to pass."
We believe that Christ will come again, we believe that coming will be personal, but we submit that it is an inaccurate and unscholarly piece of interpretation to apply these passages in Revelation to that event. But the "coming quickly" evidently referred to events in John"s immediate foreground, and which concerned the churches to which he addressed these words. True reverence for the Scriptures will seek to understand them in the meaning intended by the writer, and will seek to put upon them the construction that is evident and natural from the writer"s viewpoint. The wise expositor will hold fast to this sound rule of interpretation.
The judgment upon the Jewish and Roman persecutors, and the vindication of the persecuted saints most naturally fall in line with the significance of "coming quickly," and with John"s response: "Even so come, Lord Jesus."
Thus we close this book of The Revelation so full of solemn warnings, and dire judgments, fitted to fill us all with awe, and to strike fear into the heart of the impenitent sinner. But through all the thunder of doom and the smoke of judgment we read the lesson of hope and cheer. The loftiest optimism grows out of the study of these solemn scenes.
Who can miss the lesson that the enemies of God and of the church are doomed to fall; but that Christ"s cause is always and everywhere triumphant, that the omnipotent God is on the side of his church and no weapon formed against it shall prosper; but through all the revolutions and persecutions and dissolutions of earth and time he will bring it off triumphant and present it to himself a glorious church not having spot nor wrinkle nor any such thing. Every judgment recorded in the book of Revelation spells victory for the church of God, — and the end — the beatific destiny of the new Jerusalem where they shall be his people and he shall be their God.