The River of Water of Life and the Tree of Life
The description of the city continues to the end of verse 5 of this chapter. The city is blessed with a river of the water of life proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb (v. 1). Being clear as crystal, it speaks of the pure, unadulterated truth of the Word of God continually bringing its blessing of refreshment to the city by the power of the Holy Spirit. The city is the means of conveying that blessing to the renewed earth. God and the Lamb remain in absolute authority, an authority characterized by marvellous grace.
In the middle of the street, the place of activity, and on either side of the river was the tree of life (v. 2). In Genesis 2:9 we read of the tree of life in the middle of the garden of Eden, from which Adam and Eve never ate (Genesis 3:22), because they chose to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Being in the middle, the central place of attraction, the tree can only speak of Christ Himself. Being also on either side of the river shows that the blessings of the river-the living Word of God vitalized by the Holy Spirit-are inseparably connected with this blessed living Person.
The tree of life produces twelve types of fruit, one type of fruit borne every month of the year. Though the city is blessed by the presence of the tree of life itself, the fruit evidently is for the twelve tribes of Israel since its leaves are for the healing of the nations (Gentiles). Thus in Christ, Jews, Gentiles and the Church of God are all greatly blessed.
The curse being done away, all is unmixed blessing in the city. The throne of God and of the Lamb ensure perfect truth and righteousness, yet with perfect grace in administration (v. 3). During the thousand year reign (the Millennium) the curse of Genesis 3:17-19 is largely but not completely removed from the earth as Isaiah 65:17-25 declares. Note verse 20 in particular and also Zechariah 14:17-19. Only exceptional cases will call for a curse.
In the heavenly city,
service will have its important place (v. 3). Little is said as to the form of service in which we shall be privileged to engage. It will not be unpleasant labor, but devoted, delightful service in calm rest of soul. More wonderful still is the assurance that the Lord Jesus Himself will serve His beloved saints (Luke 12:37). Exodus 21:5-6 indicates that He will remain a servant forever.
"They shall see His face" (v. 4). In Exodus 33:23 God told Moses "My face shall not be seen." Today, by the living power of faith through the Holy Spirit, we see "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). Then, in the eternal city, we shall see Him face to face, eternally to behold His glory and beauty, our souls supremely satisfied. The reflection of His beauty will be in our own countenances. His name will be imprinted in our foreheads in contrast to the number of the Beast imprinted in the foreheads of the ungodly (Revelation 13:15-16). We will be delighted to be fully identified as His own property so that none can mistake the reflection of His own beauty in His redeemed saints. This should surely speak to us now, to encourage us to present to the world a clear confession of His name in both our words and ways.
The fact is repeated (v. 5) that there is no night there, no opportunity for evil to operate under cover of darkness or for times of dark, dismal experience. Artificial light will have no place-not even the light of the sun. The presence of the Lord God will give continual light, more satisfying than the sunshine when the fresh beauty of spring dispels the clouds and cold of a long winter. Those in the city shall reign, not only for the thousand years, but forever and ever. Theirs is an eternal identification with their Lord whose reign is eternal. However, we cannot forget that service is just as important an aspect of our lives as reigning: both will be in perfect balance in that day.
Prophecy Must Be Received as Truth
Verse 5 completes the marvellous presentation of prophecy as declared in this book. So amazing are the prophetic truths that one might well wonder how they can be true. Is there a possibility of doubt? Not in the slightest! The Lord Himself strongly affirms the faithfulness and truth of all that has been told to John (v. 6). It has been a message from the Lord God of the holy prophets, perfectly coinciding with His messages through the prophets from the beginning, but sent by an angel in the case of Revelation to show His servants the things that must shortly take place. This is a confirmation of Revelation 1:1, emphasizing the importance of the revelation of Jesus Christ.
A Closing Message
These are the words of the Lord Jesus Himself, conveyed by the angel. He adds the assurance, "Behold I am coming quickly" (v. 7). Mere impatience might not think this to be true, but faith absolutely believes it. Then it surely follows that there is greatest blessing for one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book. Keeping these words surely involves laying them to heart and acting in the light of their truth.
John is profoundly impressed with what he has seen and heard, and rightly so, but he makes the serious mistake of falling down before the feet of the messenger to worship him (v. 8). The angel immediately forbids this. Though he has brought God's message, he is not be treated as God. He is John's fellow-servant, a dependent creature, but one who keeps the truth which God has given. John must worship only God (v. 9). In Revelation 1:17 John is seen at the feet of the Lord Jesus and there his worship is fully received, for Christ is God, but no creature must dare to accept such adoration.
John is told in verse 10, "Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand." In Daniel 12:4, Daniel was told to "seal the book until the time of the end." Much that Daniel had written could not be understood when he wrote it: it was sealed so that Old Testament saints could not take it in. But of believers of this age it is said, "upon whom the ends of the ages have come" (1 Corinthians 10:11). Since it is the time of the ends of the ages, the accomplishment of these things is near, and nothing that John has written is to be sealed. Believers are intended to understand it and profit by it.
How solemn is verse 11! When the judgment is finished, there will be no more conversion. All will have formed their character. There will be no possibility of change. Whether unjust or filthy, whether righteous or holy, such will be the character that remains for eternity-the first two under judgment, the latter two in eternal blessing.
The words of the Lord Jesus again press on us that He is coming quickly (v. 12). The first time this was mentioned (v. 7) this was in connection with the blessing of those obedient to His Word. Now He adds that He has reward to give to all in accordance with the works of each. Not only is there present blessing in obedience, but there is future reward for every work that has been truly done for Christ's sake (1 Corinthians 3:14, Matthew 25:21, Luke 19:16-19). He gives us every incentive to live in truth for Himself.
Again in verse 13 the Lord affirms the truth as to His person. He is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He had no beginning: He is the beginning. He has no end: He is the end. If anyone objects by claiming that the same expression in Revelation 1:8 refers only to God Almighty and not to Christ, this objection is fully dismissed in the same chapter (vv. 10-13) when the One who speaks thus is "One like unto the Son of Man." Here also in Revelation 22:13 it is plainly the Lord Jesus (who is coming quickly) who speaks of Himself. He is the Almighty!
Verse 14 is correctly translated in the NASB: "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city." Revelation 7:14 spoke of a great Gentile company having "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." Such washing in the blood of the Lamb is absolutely essential to give one a right to the tree of life-a right to communion with the Lord Jesus Himself. Simply keeping His commandments can never give anyone that right. That in itself would be a form of law-keeping and could not wash away the contamination of sin. It is the blood of Christ that gives title to the enjoyment of His person (the tree of life) and to the inheritance (the city). After being so washed, however we are called upon to gladly be obedient to the Word of God.
In verse 15 we must again be reminded of the great contrast of the portion of unbelievers. Outside the city are dogs (those unclean in nature) and sorcerers (those deceived by evil spirits) and whoremongers (those sunk in moral corruption) and idolaters (those who give to the creature the place of the Creator) and whoever loves and makes a lie (those who have deliberately chosen falsehood rather than truth). These are totally outside the sphere of the grace of God which they have knowingly refused.
A Final Appealing Message
This book of Revelation has all the signs of a careful documentary which is confirmed with decisive finality in its last six verses. "I Jesus have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches" (v. 16). After all that has preceded this, only a callous, dishonest person could dare to suggest that the book is a forgery. The contrast between this and the fictional "Book of Mormon" (for instance) is greater than the height of heaven above the earth.
Again the Lord affirms the truth concerning His own person because this cannot be allowed to be a matter of indifference. He is "the root and offspring of David." Historical genealogical records prove Him to be the offspring of David (Matthew 1:1-16; Luke 3:23-38). He is a true Son of Man. But He also is the root of David. According to flesh He came from David, but David came from Him! This is a most important fact. He is Himself God over all, blessed forever (Romans 9:5). Both facts are true, whether or not we can understand how it is so.
He is also "the bright and morning star." The last chapter of the Old Testament speaks of Him as "the sun of righteousness" (Malachi 4:2) when announcing His appearing, His manifestation in power and glory to introduce the radiant thousand year reign. But the morning star rises shortly before the sun does. This star speaks of His coming to rapture the Church to heaven before the Tribulation, while the world is still in deep moral darkness before the rising of the Sun. How perfectly appropriate this is, for Israel and the world look for the sunrise of earthly blessing, but the portion of the Church is heavenly blessing with the Lord Jesus.
Because the Lord Jesus is the bright and morning star, "the Spirit and the bride say Come" (v. 17). The Holy Spirit dwelling in the bride, the Church, draws her heart to ardently desire and welcome the coming of the Lord. "And let the one who hears say Come." Everyone with open ears, every believer, is urged to join in this genuine desire for His coming. Then abruptly, as showing the great heart of the Lord Jesus, the word "come" is used differently in a sweet message of gospel grace, "Let him who thirsts come." Has the thirst of one man or woman been awakened by reading God's words? Then let him or her come to Christ from Whom he will find a wonderful welcome. Whether one thirsts or not, the last great invitation of Scripture is given for everyone who will respond: "Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely."
When the offer of pure grace is freely given, the solemn warning as to despising it must also be added because the stubborn rebellion of mankind is notoriously foolish. Many have dared to add figments of their own imagination to the sacred revelation of God in spite of the plain warning of verse 18 as well as earlier warnings such as Deuteronomy 4:2 and Proverbs 30:5, but this is a dishonest, insulting show of contempt for the God of absolute, eternal truth. It is no wonder that the judgment of these is so unsparingly dreadful. God will add to such the plagues written in the book. Consider such plagues as in Revelation 14:10, Revelation 20:15 and Revelation 22:15.
On the other hand, many have not hesitated to delete from Scripture things that they do not like, judging by their own narrow minds what is acceptable. They recognize that Scripture holds much valuable instruction, but they will not allow it to judge their sinful ways. A recent so-called "abridgement" of the Bible is a shocking example of the brazen defiance of men against their Creator. The promoters of this travesty seem insensible to the gross wickedness of what they have done and to the horror of God's judgment against them (v. 19). God will take away their part from the tree of life (NASB). Such will have no part in Christ Himself. "And from the holy city." Such will have no part in the inheritance. "And from the things which are written in this book." They forfeit all the blessings that are promised to the faithful in this book. A wise person would deeply fear to tamper with the Word of God, but "folly is joy to him who is destitute of discernment" (Proverbs 15:21).
For the third time in fifteen verses the Lord urges upon us the reality of His coming, "Surely I am coming quickly" (v. 20). This word had previously been connected with the blessing of obedience (v. 7) and with the promise of reward (v. 12). Now all is centered simply in His own blessed Person, the One who is coming. This awakens the glad response, "Even so, Come, Lord Jesus." Precious, marvellous, sweet anticipation!
The closing benediction of grace (v. 21) has often been contrasted to the closing words of the Old Testament, "lest I come and smite the earth with a curse" (Malachi 4:6). The Law of Moses could only bring a curse to Israel, but the Lord Jesus Christ has brought the great blessing of the grace of God. The last words of this great Revelation of Jesus Christ show His desire that all should share eternally in the sweetness of that grace. Thank God for all in whom that grace has wrought a response of thankful appreciation! Rather than a solemn curse deserved because of many sins, the result is blessing far beyond all that any person could ever have imagined. Well might the consideration of such a book fill every believer with unceasing, overflowing worship of the living God revealed in His blessed Son!