Revelation 22:1-5 June 13, 2021 Lord’s Day Worship Sean Higgins
The sermon starts around 15:10 in the audio file.
Revelation 22:1-5 Series: Centers and Circumferences #62
Have you ever wondered what in the world God wants you to do? Have you questioned what He made you to do, or what He wants with you? These are great things to think about, ground-floor, gut-level existence things. And it turns out the answers are in the Bible, on the very first page and onto the very last.
In the first chapter of Scripture God spoke the universe into being and, according to the details in chapter two, into that cosmos He formed man from the dust of the earth and planted man in a garden for him to work. Through that garden flowed a river, and in that garden was a tree called the “tree of life.” Genesis 1-2 are the only two chapters in God’s Word without sin tainting the story. In chapter three Adam fell, he and Eve and the serpent were judged and the ground was cursed. Adam and Eve lost “paradise,” the Greek word for Eden, and were prohibited from eating the fruit of the tree of life.
In the last chapter of Scripture God gives John a final angelic tour that finishes what began in chapter 21. Sin has been dealt with, either through the death and resurrection of the Lamb or in the lake of fire. Now sin is gone, and Paradise is back and better than Eden. The City-Bride, the New Jerusalem, has “tree(s) of life” lining the main street. The curse is lifted. Eden isn’t just regained, Eden has been reformed. She is new and improved. And in this Garden-City men will reign forever. Let us not grow weary of conquering, for in due season we will rule if we do not give up (compare Galatians 6:9).
Again, this is the last vision of Revelation, the last vision in the prophetic Word, the furthest vision of what eternal life will be like. It is inspired and inspiring, and, interestingly enough, in key ways it is more like the life we already seek to live than it’s not.
There are three parts to the vision.
The first chapter of God’s Word is about His good and gracious gifts (He kept creating good things and then presented them to His image-bearers), and the final chapter of God’s Word shows that His lavish and gracious provision is still inexhaustible.
> Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1–2)
The two main features are a river and a tree, both concerning life. The river of the water of life flows from the throne of God and flows down the main street in the city. It is bright, or better, clear as crystal, so pure and unpolluted. It isn’t bottled at the source, but it runs bountifully. That it comes from the throne means that its source is the Almighty Himself. Imagine an unending stream with no filth that only refreshes (quite a contrast to our figuratively unending social media streams).
There was a river flowing out of Eden to water the garden that divided four other rivers (Genesis 2:20), but this river is different. A similar picture in Ezekiel 47:12, with trees “on the banks, on both sides of the river,” always bearing fruit for food and with healing power in their leaves.
> And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.” (Ezekiel 47:12)
The river does have an analogy in the Holy Spirit, who Jesus said was like a spring of living water (John 7:37-39). But the comparison doesn’t mean that the river is the Spirit on the new earth. Perhaps an even better analogy is a less metaphorical reality of God as the fountain of living waters (Jeremiah 2:13).
In one way we are already invited to drink this water, Isaiah 55:1 and Revelation 22:17, along with John 7, but we will be satisfied by it in glory.
The tree of life was also in Genesis 2:9, a tree that Adam and Eve did have access to until they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Then God prohibited them from eating the fruit of life (Genesis 3:22), a gracious restriction that kept them from seeing so much of the disastrous consequences of their disobedience. The tree of life on the new earth is now available for fruit.
A couple things are striking about it. First is that it bears different sort of fruit, twelve kinds of fruit, so all “year,” even if it’s not exactly like our year as determined by sun and moon, which is a portrayal of perpetual harvest. Second is that there seems to be more than one. That the tree(s) is on either side of the river either means that the river branches into two around the tree, or more likely that there are trees on both banks of the river. This means that the tree of life could be a kind of tree, a species, so that it’s more than one. We might say, that field is full of pine, where pine functions as a collective singular.
> He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7)
Not only does the tree produce fruit but even its leaves are profitable, for the healing of the nations. Which nations are these and why do they need healing? As I said about the nations in Revelation 21:24-26, I believe that these are nations with kings who lived to the end of the thousand years and entered the new heaven and new earth.
No more need. No more pain, disease, or division.
When we think about the beginning of the human story we don’t get very far before there is sin and then a curse to deal with. At the end of the story the curse will be dealt with by God, and removed.
> No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. (Revelation 22:3–4)
This is what was lost, but more than that. Paradise isn’t merely regained, it is better.
Nothing accursed will be found, a state unknown for thousands of years, back to Genesis 3:17-18. Specifically the ground was cursed that Adam would have to work by the sweat of his nose, a struggle and then death.
We are slaves, δοῦλοι, addressed that way in Revelation 1:1. But His slaves will see his face. That we will see Him so directly means that we will be our fullest selves. As image-bearers, this has been our biggest struggle. It is one of the reasons that hearing His Word is so important, a reason for our worship liturgy. We behold God, and as we do so we are transferred from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). This is that greatest of glories.
We will worship, but that may not be the best way to understand. We will serve (KJV, NASB), and that is often in a cultic, worship context. Adam was placed in the garden “to work” it, a Hebrew word that is often translated by in Greek by λατρεύω which is the word used here in Revelation 22:3 (Osborne). The context here is in the new garden, as image-bearers, carrying out our duties to take care of the garden on behalf of God.
If there will be sweat, it will only be good sweat. No painful service, no backbreaking toil and being known for the sweat off the nose, and God’s name will be on their foreheads. We will have no questions about our identity, because there will be no barriers to our reflection and no disobedience visible to others. The “world” will know us, and we will know God (see 1 John 3:1-3).
They will see his face, compared to Moses who only got to see the backside because God Himself said, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). This is when the “agelong benediction” of Numbers 6 will be applied in full (Beale).
Seeing His face means worship and work without existential crisis, without identity questions￼, or disconnect from divine purpose. Our worship in stewarding the garden will be unhindered as our fellowship is unimpeded so our security will be unquestioned. Imagine what our callings will be! There will be no sermons necessary, so it seems like there’ll be a new line of work for me. We will not be tempted to live for ourselves. “The tie that binds them to the holy God operates in them unweakened from moment to moment” (Kuyper). The Creator and creature are exactly how they belong.
Earlier descriptions of the new earth have made this not new information, but we still pay attention to the repetition here, and to the connections, as we finish the view of what we’ll be doing.
> And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:5)
No darkness, no dirty deeds done in the dark, no evil hiding in the shadows, no oppression behind closed doors, no corruption on the underbelly. Instead, we’ll know all light all the time. We will have understanding, we will have fellowship, we will have authority. That authority won’t hurt anyone, won’t be abused.
We will reign forever and ever. We will finally rule, reign, have dominion as God blessed His image-bearers with in the beginning (Genesis 1:28). This will be a fruitful reign.
> The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. > > The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 2:26–27; 3:21)
Epilogue to come in verses 6-21.
The new creation, the City-Bride, the direct and uninterrupted fellowship with God, the water and tree of life, no more curse, this is the promise for all the saints who conquer. The Apocalypse has aimed at portraying this communion so that we would desire it, so that we would not be upset by the forces, even demonic forces, that would seek to ruin our joy and faith in the Lamb. Remember what He has done, remember what He has promised, and hold fast (see Revelation 2:13, 25, 3:11).
Everything from Revelation 4:1 until now has driven to this point. We have seen with John the telos of teloses. We can go no further until we are there. This is Eden reformed. Eternal life, eternal fellowship, eternal service, eternal rule is the last vision give to us. And behold, it will be very good (think Genesis 1:31).
There has been confusion, frustration, injustice, and troubles for going on 6000 years. It will not always be so. Don’t grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will know eternal rest and reign.
Someday, if there are sermons, they will be just the right length. Someday, if there are Mondays, we will look forward to them. Someday, and we can sure of this, our heavenly Father’s favor will be upon all His children without interference. The original benediction, the “agelong” benediction, was given to Moses for Aaron on behalf of the people of Israel by the LORD. It has been the most deeply desired blessing of God’s people for millennia, and it will be our experience for ages and ages.
> The LORD bless you and keep you; > the LORD make his face to shine upon you > and be gracious to you; > the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. > (Numbers 6:24–26, ESV)