With this last chapter of Revelation John focuses again on Jesus and his centrality to all of God’s creation and redemption. A recording of this post will be available on the Shofar Durbanville YouTube channel.
The Bible begins and ends with the description of a paradise-garden in which there is a tree of life and a life-giving river. In this last chapter of John’s Apocalypse John shows how God’s restoration and renewal of all things is brought to a completion. In this final vision of the Revelation of Jesus Christ (1:1) we see the Gospel of God beautifully painted.
Jesus is life (22:1-5). Continuing with the scene of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21), John describes the the River of Life flowing from the throne room of God and the Lamb. The picture of the life-giving river alludes to Eden (Genesis 2:7-10) and Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 47:1-12). This River of Life flows in the middle of the street of this Holy City. On its banks are the Tree of Life, bearing fruit all-year long, with “it’s leaves for the healing of nations” (22:2; Ezekiel 47:7,12).
After Adam and Eve rebelled and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God removed them from the Garden “lest [they] stretch out [their] hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” in their fallen state (Genesis 3:22-24). But access to the Tree of Life is a sign that there is no more sin, no more darkness, “for the Lord God will be their light” (22:5) and those who dwell therein will forever reign. This garden-image is a powerful picture of Christ’s full redemption and restoration of mankind, where mankind will live in communion with God, to share in his life, and reign over his creation with goodness (Genesis 1:26-27). Here life is as it always should have been.
The symbolism is beautiful and meant to be both hopeful and instructive to the readers. Christ is the source of all light and life (John 1:4-5; 11:25; 14:6). The Life-giving River “which make glad the city of our God” (Psalm 36:8; 46:4) depicts the nature and work of the Holy Spirit – the “Spirit of Life” (Romans 8:2, 11) who satisfy believers to “never thirst again” (John 4:13; Isaiah 55:1), even to overflow with “rivers of living water” (John 7:38-39). The street in the Holy City is “the Highway of Holiness” (Isaiah 35:8), “the Way” of life Jesus taught of and made possible by his blood (Acts 24:14,22, cf Hebrews 10:19-20). The Tree of Life is the church, God’s redeemed creation who in turn is God’s redemptive gift to the world. It is the tree that grows from the Gospel seed (Matthew 13:31-32), who is planted next to the River of Life and therefore “yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither“ (Psalm 1:3; Jeremiah 17:7-8). And through the reigning of the Lamb and the nourishing of his Spirit the church now and forever reign in this life (Revelation 5:9-10; Romans 5:17).
Put together, the church are those renewed and sustained by the Spirit of God, who walks in the Way of Holiness as they submit to the reign of God and the Lamb. By drawing from the water of the Spirit the church bear fruit that gives life and healing to the nations, displacing evil. This is as much a picture of the church today as it points to Christ’s coming kingdom.
Jesus is the judge (22:12). Four times in this chapter John records the words that Jesus’ return is “soon”, and hears Christ’s admonition to “hear the words of this prophesy and keep it.” (22:7) The angelic warning about the end on the river-bank pictures a strong allusion to Daniel 12. But in contrast to Daniel who was told to “seal up” and “shut up” the prophesy “until the last days”, John is now told to “not seal up the prophesy, for the time us near” – implying the Day of the Lord, the day of Judgment is near (22:10; Daniel 12:4, 9). Alluding to Daniel’s vision (22:10; Daniel 12:10) the angel says:
“Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy,
[let] the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”
This does not imply that the time of grace is over. John writes that doing proceeds from being. In keeping with the rest of the prophesy to the seven churches, John urges believers that, if indeed they have been redeemed and sanctified by the Blood of the Lamb (5:9-10), then act in accordance with your standing. Since you are holy, do righteous deeds! Do not live in the filthy ways of Babylon, because Jesus is coming soon as judge, “to repay each one for what he has done” (22:12; Isaiah 40:10).
Jesus is goal (22:13). What will be the standard of the judgment? Christ Himself! In addition to being the Ever-living One (Alpha and Omega), the Sovereign One (First and Last in rank), Christ is also “the Beginning and the End“ (Greek telos) of all things – the origin and the purpose (or goal) of all creation. The goal of all mankind is “to conform to the image of His Son”, to resemble or reflect the image and reign of God (Romans 8:29, Genesis 1:26-27). The problem is that all have sinned and fall short of of His glory – that none resemble his nature and ways (Romans 3:23). When Christ’s comes to “repay each one for what he has done” (22:12), there will be “no one righteous”, none can stand on his own works (Romans 3:10). With the disciples we cry “Who then can be saved” in that Day (Matthew 19:25)?
Jesus the only hope (22:14). As he did in the recording of his gospel, John displays “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” as the only hope for the sinful world before a Holy Judge. “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates” (22:14). How have the redeemed washed their robes to gain entry into God’s New Creation?
“These with white robes… are the ones who… have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:13-14) These are saved from the wrath of God not by their own efforts, but by grace through faith in God’s mercy (Ephesians 2:8-9). These are the ones who trust not in their own ability or righteousness, but recognize their own shortcoming and trust in God’s Lamb who was slain as the propitiation for their sins (substitutionary sacrifice, 1 John 2:2). Truly, the just shall live by faith forever (Romans 1:17)!
One big message. From beginning to end the book of Revelation shows cohesiveness in form and message intended to encourage and exhort the church in its struggle against evil. The nature of Revelation is that of an apostolic letter (1:4, 11; 22:16, 21) from John to seven congregations, containing a prophesy from the Lord to his church (1:3; 22:7) in apocalyptic genre unveiling what is at work behind the suffering of the world and how it will end (1:1, 10; 21:6, 10). It’s central confession is that Jesus Christ is sovereign over both his church and the world, and that he is already at work to destroy evil on earth until he rids the world of all evil influence, even sin, death and Satan. Christ is among his church, and through the presence, prayers and patient endurance the saints participate in Christ’s conquest over evil, until he returns. It calls the church to remain faithful to its Lord, promising rewards in the share of His reign.
Bringing it home
This chapter reveals the Gospel of Christ in beautiful images. The renewed Garden City of God shows a world without evil, sustained by the life-giving presence of God. But also warns of the immanent judgment of Christ to a fallen world, because sinners cannot enter God’s renewed creation. Then it displays the amazing grace of God, who would slay the Heavenly Lamb to cleanse sinners through his blood, in order to reconcile a broken world to himself in love.
This gospel depiction reminds us of God’s amazing love and his unwavering justice. It calls me to consider my conduct in light of my being: have I repented of my sin to accept God’s is grace and submit to His Lordship? Then by the blood I have been made holy, and should act righteous. “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:6)
Moreover, this chapter displays the corporate reality of the nature and mission of the church in a beautiful way. We the church, redeemed and renewed by Christ, already share in His Life-Giving Spirit and walk in His Way, bear the fruit and the leaves for the healing of the nations. The church is the living witness of God’s coming kingdom. It calls me to consider my personal and communal witness: in which way can the world taste and see that the Lord is good? In which way does my life (personal or communal) bring healing to the nations? May the love, grace and justice of Christ be known in your life.
“Come, Lord Jesus!”