By Robert L. Thomas
We come to the end of Intercalation #2 in Revelation 22:1-5, an intercalation that began in Revelation 21:9. This section describes the inner life of the new Jerusalem, particularly as pertains to citizens of the city and the new creation. New details about the city reveal its Paradise-like qualities, about which Jesus spoke earlier in His message to the overcomer in the church at Ephesus: “To the one who overcomes, I will grant to him to eat from the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7b). Genesis 2 furnishes a description of the original Paradise on earth. God is, of course, present in this “Paradise restored” as He was in the original, but additional distinguishing features of the restoration are the water of life, the tree of life, the absence of a curse, and the Lamb.
Genesis 3 describes man’s banishment from the original Paradise. Luke 23:43 tells of a restoration to it, and 2 Corinthians 12:2, 4 speaks of Paul’s vision of it. The above-cited promise to the Ephesian overcomer predicts the future enjoyment of it. Revelation 22:1-5 indicates that God’s redemption will return the new creation to a Garden-of-Eden state, which was the Creator’s original intention for humanity. Earlier sections of Intercalation #2 have told of the new Jerusalem’s visible splendor and relation to the nations of earth. At this point we learn about what nourishes and enriches the life of new-creation inhabitants and God’s slaves who live in the city.
The Water of Life (Rev. 22:1)
A pollution-free river in which flows the water of life is the first feature to greet John’s eyes (Rev. 22:1). This river recalls the one that flowed from the Garden of Eden and divided into four heads, one of which was the Euphrates (Gen. 2:10, 14). During the millennial kingdom such a river will mean refreshment (Zech. 14:8), when its source will be the temple-rock and its destination will be the Dead Sea, which it will convert into fresh water. In the new creation the physical properties of water will impart the spiritual life that this creation can portray only through the metaphor of water. These will be literal waters that are of such a nature and quality as to answer to the new Jerusalem to which they belong. Just as present-day earthlings have never known such a city, neither have they known such waters.
The river’s source is “the throne of God and of the Lamb.” Until now in Revelation, the prophet has always distinguished the Son from the Father who sits on the throne, but now they sit together on a throne. Joint occupancy of the throne is also the teaching in Revelation 3:21 and 22:3. Two persons sit on one throne, but they are not two separate entities. God is one (1 Tim. 2:5; Gal. 3:20), and the Father and the Son are one (John 10:30). The Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity, is not present in this scene. Finite man cannot grasp the truth of the infinite triune God.
The Tree of Life (Rev. 22:2)
“In the middle of her street and of the river on this side and on that [was] a tree of life producing twelve fruit, yielding its fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree [were] for the healing of the nations” (v. 2). The layout of the city thus described is somewhat of a puzzle because of several debatable grammatical issues. The best explanation appears to be that which pictures a river flowing down the middle of the city’s broad street with trees on each side of the river in the middle of the space between the street and each of the river banks.
“The tree of life” traces its history back to Genesis 2:9, when God placed it in the original Garden of Eden. Human disobedience barred Adam and Eve from further access to the tree (Gen. 3:22-24). During the period of no access, Scripture compares the tree to wisdom, the fruit of righteousness, and a soothing tongue (Prov. 3:18; 11:30; 15:4). In the eternal city, however, access will be restored along with even more privileges. The number of the Greek word for tree is singular, but generic in that it represents numerous trees, i.e., a forest of trees.
The forest will produce “twelve fruit,” possibly a twelvefold harvest of fruit—an abundant supply—or twelve kinds of fruit. It will be a month-by-month output. Seasonal bearing of fruit familiar in the old creation will be unknown in the new. The absence of the moon in the new creation (Rev. 21:23) is not inconsistent with the reckoning of the monthly harvest because the new creation can have a basis for calendar reckoning entirely different from the lunar calculation in the present creation.
The leaves of the tree will provide health-giving qualities for the nations. Such a benefit has caused some to view the words as applicable to the present era or the millennial kingdom of the future because of the absence of disease in the new creation. That reasoning is fallacious, however, since healing does not necessarily indicate the presence of disease any more than the wiping away of tears (21:4) implies that sorrow will exist in the new Jerusalem. The disease for which this healing provides belongs to the former creation and is no longer present in the new Jerusalem. “Healing” connotes a promoting of the health of the nations such as will be an ongoing service in the new creation, the nations being identified as in 21:24 discussed in last month’s column.
The Absence of the Curse (Rev. 22:3)
The curse imposed on mankind in Genesis 3 in connection with the denial of access to the tree of life will no longer impose its limitations. The new creation lifts the bane that doomed the old creation throughout its existence after the fall of man. A curse that for so long doomed humans also had its impact on the whole creation (see Rom. 8:20-22). Once and for all, that curse will be lifted.
No obstacle will remain to bar the residence of God among His people. “The throne of God and of the Lamb” will be in the city. The throne of Satan (Rev. 2:13) will no longer have a place in the world. Because of the presence of the throne of God and the Lamb, God’s slaves will serve Him. Note the singular “His” and “Him,” a grammatical point that verifies the unity of the God the Father and God the Son. The privilege of the city’s citizens will be to render priestly service to Him.
Closeness to and Reigning with God and the Lamb (Rev. 22:4-5)
Seeing the face of God (22:4) is anthropomorphic language, i.e., using human terms to express a supra human relationship. That is the best means available to express the essential goal of human existence. Viewing the glory of God is a limited privilege in the here and now, but barriers to that experience will disappear when the redeemed enter the bride-city. As John wrote in another place, “We shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2d).
Because of the unity of God and the Lamb, the “face” (singular) probably belongs to both. The same is true regarding the singular “name.” Having God’s name on one’s forehead is a privilege in the old creation as seen in Revelation 7:3 and 14:1, but Revelation 3:12, the promise to the overcomer in Philadelphia, anticipates the fruition of Christian hope described here.
The description of Paradise restored closes with a repeated reference to the illuminating effect of God’s presence and with a promise of an eternal reign for His slaves (22:5). “There will not be night any longer” repeats the parenthetical remark of 21:25, but in this case as foremost among privileges in the new order. “The Lord God will shine upon them” replaces the promise of illumination by His glory given in 21:23. That promised blessing recalls Numbers 6:25, “The Lord make His face to shine upon you.”
The climaxing privilege of God’s slaves is joining in the eternal reign of God. This is an extension of the promise of a thousand-year reign given earlier (20:4, 6) and coincides with the eternal reign of Christ (Rev. 11:15). The idea of slaves reigning over the new creation is a paradox, but it is God’s way of fulfilling His command for man to rule over all creatures (Gen. 1:26).
In the restored Paradise enjoyment of intimacy with God who created all of us picks up a theme that is amplified in Revelation 21:3: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they themselves will be His people, and God Himself will be with them, their God.” When traced to its ultimate source, the hunger of every person is for close fellowship with God. That is possible. It comes through trusting God’s Son who took the sins of humanity on Himself when on the cross of Calvary. God raised Him from the dead and will some day put Him on the throne to rule the world. Joining with Christ in that rule is a bonus that accompanies close companionship with God in the new creation to come.
Source: ATRI Journal