What an extraordinary experience John has had! And what a privilege to accompany him through this remarkable series of visions and experiences! As John’s account comes to a close there is one more feature of the new order he still has to see and then he has two final and important closing conversations: one with the angel and a second with the Lord.
1. The New Order
The angel was keen for John to see some additional features of the new order. The features the angel points out correlate closely with features in the Garden of Eden. The translators of the New International Version of the bible I’m using have inserted a heading: ‘Eden restored.’ That seems to describe this section of chapter 22 rather well. As we look at the bible as a whole we can’t help noticing that the story starts with God and his perfect creation and now ends with a restored order and a redeemed people. Eden is indeed restored.
The angel shows John a river: it’s ‘the river of the water of life.’ As we saw in the last chapter there is an offer to everyone of the water of life. This water of life is the gospel and it brings eternal life for all who accept it. You may remember that when Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well (in John 4) he offered her living water! This is the same water and it comes in a free flowing river. Its source is ‘the throne of God and the Lamb.’ It flows down the middle of the great street of the city. Perhaps this will be a reminder for all of eternity of God’s wonderful provision for mankind - perhaps we will drink from it every day in the New Jerusalem. Just as there was a river in both Eden and the New Jerusalem, there is a tree in The New Jerusalem that correlates with a tree in Eden: it’s the tree of life. This tree bears ‘twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.’ It seems that there will be a continuous supply of life giving fruit. Interestingly there is an aspect of time mentioned: the fruit comes every month. We’ve rather become accustomed to the idea that this new order will be without time but there seems to be some sense of time and certainly months. After the fall, mankind was denied access to the tree of life - but now in the New Jerusalem the tree of life and the river of life take centre stage and they are accessible. The leaves from the trees are for the ‘healing of the nations.’ Perhaps we ought to think of this as for the health of the nations. The mention of nations suggests that there will be political structure and groupings of people all ruled from the New Jerusalem. We will not sit around on clouds playing harps: there will be work to do! The angel states that ‘his servants will serve him.’ At least part of this will presumably involve the work of governing and ruling.
What else? ‘No longer will there be any curse.’ Again this likely looks back to Genesis. As a result of man’s sin, the soil was cursed: it would bring thorns and thistles and it would only provide crops through ‘painful toil.’ The woman was cursed in childbearing and her status with respect to Adam changed. Perhaps most importantly death was part of the curse. All of this will be gone. The curse on the soil will be lifted, the status of women will change and there will be no more death.
As mentioned above we will have work to do, someone called this ‘joyful activity,’ and surely this will be the case. In the course of this work we will ‘see his face.’ What a privilege! I remember a song that was frequently sung in my youth:
Face to face with Christ, my Saviour,
Face to face – what will it be,
When with rapture I behold him,
Jesus Christ who died for me.
Face to face I shall behold him,
Far beyond the starry sky;
Face to face in all his glory,
I shall meet him by and by!
Not only will we see his face, but we will bear his name on our faces: ‘They will see his face and his name will be on their foreheads.’ When Moses met God on the mountain, his face was radiant. It seems quite likely that as we see the face of the Lamb that our faces will be radiant too. This New Jerusalem will be a place of light as there will be no more night: there will be no more need of lamps or even the sun, as ‘the Lord God will give them light.’ Perhaps our radiant faces will contribute to the light in the New Jerusalem.
2. John and the angel
John is accompanied by an angel who turned to him and said ‘These words are trustworthy and true.’ I’ve read a few commentaries on Revelation as I’ve prepared these notes and I have to say that I’m beginning to think that the fewer commentaries one reads the better! I’m not against scholarship and the value of the work of godly men down the centuries, but I feel utterly in despair at some of the opinions I have read. It seems that some people are so wedded to a specific ‘line’ or system that they will totally ignore the words on the page and stand on their heads to make the words fit their favoured scheme. This is not to say that Revelation is an easy book, but let’s at least let the words speak without messing about with their meaning. I think the angel agrees – the words (double underline ‘words’) are trustworthy and true. Interestingly the angel remarked that he was sent by the ‘God who inspires the prophets.’ Yes, the words of the prophets are true too! If we debase the meaning of the words (as many sadly seem to do) we will be left with a garbled and corrupted message or no message at all.
I wonder if the Lord heard what the angel said and couldn’t help but chip in! ‘Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written on this scroll.’ This is a book that is to be read, it is a book that is to be understood by the words it contains, it is a book that is intended to do us good: if we mess with the words that benefit will be lost. Could the current and perhaps predominant trend in the church to undermine the words in Revelation (and elsewhere in scripture) explain why this book is seldom studied in the church these days?
The angel has spoken – trust the words. The Lord has spoken – keep the words. Now John speaks – the words describe what he ‘heard and saw’ with his own ears and eyes. I think they’re trying to tell us something! are we listening? John is again overcome by the enormity as he grasped what this is all about and spontaneously and without thinking fell down to worship at the feet of the angel with whom he spoke. ‘Don’t do that’ said the angel, but ….wait for it…do ‘keep the words of the scroll and worship God.’ The message is pretty clear don’t you think? But there’s more to come. You might remember that like John, Daniel was shown some pretty amazing things that pertained to ‘things to come.’ After observing one of the visions, Daniel was told to ‘seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future.’ But in contrast, John is specifically told not to seal up the words (there’s it is again! – it’s all about the words) of the prophecy ‘because the time is near.’ There is no event in the way before Jesus comes, the time is indeed near. Are you ready? If not, be careful. There will come a time when it will be too late. The angel said ‘Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile.’ It seems as though there will come a time when change is no longer possible – but right now change is possible. As we will see in the next (and final) section an offer is still held out to all, and that ‘all’, includes you and me.
3. A final word from Jesus
My wife kindly drives me to our local railway station each morning. If I have something particular to do that day her parting words will go something like this: ’Don’t forget to…’ When I arrive home the first words will be ‘did you remember to…’ If I am to remember my task, I must pay attention in the morning to her last words before I leave for the train. These last verses of chapter 22 (from verse 12) are the final words in the bible and the final words to us from the Lord himself. We will do well to pay particular attention!
There seem to be 4 particular messages in this final section.
a. The identity of the Lord
Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. This is a reminder of the statement in chapter 21. The Lord is beyond time and space, he is eternal – he knows the beginning from the end, we can rely on what he says. It seems to me that the ‘bible believing’ community of Christians has allowed a subtle undermining of God’s word as it relates to the beginning and end. If we get these parts of the bible wrong we miss the whole point of the bible’s message. It seems that Satan doesn’t want us to know how the problems in this world began and how they will end – and how he will come to his end!
Jesus also identifies himself as the Root and the offspring of David. Under the circumstances this is a surprising title to bring to our attention. It seems that Jesus wants to remind us that the promises made to Israel and King David are fulfilled in him. The promise of a king from the line of David is a key theme in the bible and we are reminded of it in this key closing section.
b. Jesus is coming and it will affect us all
In verse 12 we read ‘Look, I am coming soon.’ And again in verse 20 ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Jesus is coming of that there is no doubt, but his coming will have an impact of eternal importance. ‘My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.’ What we do matters. If we are believers we will have ‘washed our robes’ (and made them white in the blood of the lamb: Rev 7:14) – this will grant rights of access to the tree of life and to the New Jerusalem. Those who do not believe will be forever outside of the city (and consigned to the lake of fire we read of in the previous chapter). This couldn’t be any clearer but do we really have a choice? Isn’t our destiny all wrapped up before we are even born? Jesus’ next and penultimate message consigns that notion to the scrap heap!
c. There is an offer to all
Here’s verse 17: “The Spirit and the bride say ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come: and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” There is an invitation made through the Spirit, the church and ‘the one who hears.’ The invitation is directed to the one who is thirsty and the one who wishes. From time to time at Victoria Station in London a company will set up a stand to promote their new product. They will offer free samples to anyone who wishes to take them. The people handing out the samples don’t decide that some people are too respectable or too unrespectable to have one of their free samples: they are offered free to anyone who wants one. Jesus’ offer is the same: it’s open to ‘the one who wishes.’ The stakes are high: it’s the New Jerusalem or the lake of fire. We all must choose. I suspect that Jesus mentions this at this most important section of the bible firstly to encourage us in this church age to be faithful in offering the living water and secondly for anyone who hears to encourage them to accept it. What will you do?
d. A final warning
This final warning is about how we approach the interpretation of Revelation. I think we could summarise Jesus’ statement as follows: ‘don’t mess with the words of this prophecy.’ If you add words, you will suffer the plagues described in the prophecy and if you take words away you will be denied access to the tree of life and the Holy City. We can debate precisely what this means, but I think it’s pretty clear, if you want to mess with the words, you know what’s coming and it won’t be something to be desired. Don’t say that you weren’t warned!
The final words of Revelation are these:
He who testifies to these things says: “‘Yes I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.”
He is coming soon! We have been given a remarkable view of the events that will surround his coming and we have been told in no uncertain terms of the wonderful benefits that await those who have believed in the Lord Jesus and the unimaginable torment that awaits those who refuse to take the water of life. This book does us good, it motivates us to live right and to look forward to his coming and to use each day that we have to live for him and continuously offer the water of life. A response is required.