The River of Life; the Authenticity of the Book as a Revelation from God; and the Imminence of the Return of Jesus (Part 17)
The River of Life (22:1-5)
“1 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 2 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. 3 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. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 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”.
Chapter 22 starts with a powerful image of the Godhead, they exist as one entity, they cannot be separate from one another. They are the centre of the New Heaven and the New Earth, everything exists because they exist, and nothing would exist without them. The all-wise Father, “the ancient of days,” is on His throne, His plan for mankind has come full circle and has been completed. Jesus is referred to by John as the Lamb, as without His selfless humility, and self-sacrifice there would be no place for mankind on the New Earth; salvation for all mankind is in Him and through Him. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son in the form of a river, The Holy Spirit is not a dam, a stationary body, He moves, and flows out from the Throne, He is “the water of life,” that sustains life in the New Jerusalem.
Zechariah 14:8 records that during the Millennium Kingdom, “living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea (the Dead Sea) and half of them to the western sea (the Mediterranean Sea). It shall continue in summer as in winter”. Ezekiel 47 goes on to give more detail of this glorious river that will flow from Jerusalem, and how it will bring restoration and life to the region. However, this river is only a shadow of the reality that is the River of Life of the New Heaven, which is a far greater river with superior trees.
Also, it is here at the close of the Bible that we are reintroduced to the Tree of Life, which has not been mentioned in the Bible since Genesis 3, where Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. The Tree of Life was created by God, so that mankind by ingesting the fruit may attain the life force of God and sustain physical life. In the New Jerusalem the Garden of Eden is restored, all that was lost in the fall is redeemed by the Lamb; paradise is restored in the eternal state. John records that the Tree of Life is abundant, bearing fruit every month, not once a year. There seems to be not just one Tree of Life but many, they line both banks of the River of Life. The Tree of Life draws on the waters of the river that flows from the Throne of God and produces fruit, just as the believer who draws deeply of the presence of the Holy Spirit, will produce the fruit of the Spirit. Time as we know it will have ceased to exist in eternity, there will no longer be days, weeks, months, and years; also, there will no longer be seasons. So, the idea that the Tree of Life produces fruit monthly seems to be out of place in eternity; the explanation is that the tree is not seasonal, it will bear fruit continually. John is conveying the understanding that there will always be an abundance, a constant provision, there will never be a shortage. There will be no empty shelves, ration coupons, or long queues on the New Earth.
There are inevitably people who will query if believers will eat in heaven, as eating is a two-way process, something going in necessitates that some will need to go out! Believers will be in perfect bodies, energised by the Holy Spirit, they be able to eat if they want, but they will not have to, and having perfect bodies means that there will be no waste. The Gospels record the resurrected Jesus eating food with His disciples (Luke 24:41-43, John 21:12-14), plus Scripture indicates there will be the great celebration banquet in heaven after the rapture – the marriage supper (Revelation 19:9). It seems that the saints in heaven will eat for enjoyment and not out of necessity.
The leaves of the Tree of Life will be for “the healing of the nations,” confirming that there will be people from all different cultures represented in heaven. The Ancient Greek word Therapeian translated as “healing,” is the root word for the modern-day English word “therapy”, and may also be translated as care, attention, treatment and health-giving. There will no longer be sickness in heaven, so the “healing” of the leaves doesn’t imply illness. The leaves therefore will be to promote general health and wellbeing; the author of Psalm 1 puts it best, “Their leaves will never wither and whatever they do will prosper”.
With the creation of the New Heaven and a New Earth, and the old earth being consumed by fire, the effects of the post-Edenic curse (Gen. 3:14-19) will be totally gone forever. The centre piece of the city will be the throne of the Lamb, and the Church will rule and reign with Him. What we will do I have no Idea, but I am sure that an infinite God will have an infinite number of things for us to do.
Exodus 33:20 explains that mortal man cannot see the face of God and live, but in eternity there will be intimate face to face communication. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians foresaw our seeing God face to face: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I am also known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Where previously a person corrupted by sin could not face a Holy God, those in heaven will be pure of heart, cleansed of sin.
John goes on to record that all that are living in the New Jerusalem will have “his name… on their foreheads”. Revelation 13:16-18 records Satan attempting to have his seal in the form of the infamous 666 place on the foreheads of those who recognise the Antichrist as god. Satan counterfeits that which is of God; God places His seal on our foreheads, it is His seal of ownership and protection, we will forever be identified with Him.
The earth will no longer be a part of a solar system with the sun shinning by day, and the moon at night. There will be no need for artificial light, no street lamps lining the golden road, the light of the New Earth will be provided by God continually, and darkness will be banished from the earth. God’s reign will be forever.
The paradise of the New Earth will be greater than the paradise lost at the fall, The Enduring Word Commentary lists the perfection of the new paradise, a perfect end:
- No more curse – Perfect Restoration
- Throne in their midst – Perfect Administration
- Servants shall serve – Perfect Subordination
- Shall see His Face – Perfect Transformation
- Name on foreheads – Perfect Identification
- God is the light – Perfect Illumination
- Reigning forever – Perfect Exultation
Jesus Is Coming Soon (22:6-7)
“6 And he said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place’.7 ‘And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book’”.
Verses 6-21 form a conclusion to the book of Revelation; they emphasize two themes:
- The authenticity of the book as a revelation from God.
- The imminence of the return of Christ.
So, in verse 6 we see the Angel reinforcing an important truth to John, that everything he saw in Revelation will come to pass. Time stranded on an Island in the Aegean Sea has not caused John to become delusional, or driven him through boredom into fictional writing inspired by an overactive imagination. The content of the book must be interpreted as God’s revelation for mankind, of what is still to come. It should never be interpreted as an allegory (form of translation rooted in Greek philosophy) from which readers can find hidden meanings of their own concoction. It is an accurate description of events and persons that are yet to come.
Verse 7 gives a much-repeated warning in Scripture, that Jesus is returning soon! Now John recorded this statement over 1 900 years ago, so how are we to interpret this promise? There are Christians that believe Jesus will return at any moment, Scriptures that the supporter of the doctrine of imminence will use as evidence are:
- Matthew 24:42-44 and 1Thess. 5:2-4: which refer to the return of Jesus for the Church at the rapture as His coming “like a thief in the night.”
- Mark 13:33-37: is the parable where the servants are warned to be on the watch for the unexpected return of their master.
- Hebrews 10:37: where the author warns that Jesus will not delay.
- James 5:7-8 and 1 Peter 4:7: warn that the Lord’s coming is near.
- Revelation 3:11, 22:7 and 22:20: in these Scriptures Jesus continually encourages the Church by saying, “I am coming soon.”
Jesus wants His Church to be like the Jewish Bride longing for the call of the Bridegroom to join Him and travel to the wedding feast. The “blessed hope” of the Church is “the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). The analogy of the “thief in the night,” is clarified when one understands that a thief steals that which is valuable and there is a true sense of loss. Jesus, by using this symbolism, is underlying the loss the world will experience when that which is valuable, the Church, is raptured.
With regards to the scriptures announcing that the return of Jesus is near, this cannot be, as was stated earlier, it is now over 1 900 years since the Bible was completed. The idea that Jesus is coming soon cannot, then, be literally interpreted. James 5:8, which is used by the supporters of the doctrine of imminence that “the Lord’s coming is near,” actually starts with an admonition in verse 7 for believers to be patient regarding “the Lord’s coming,” saying that they should follow the example of the famer who “waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm”. James uses the analogy of the farmer waiting for the rains, as the rains match the Jewish feast days. The KJV refers to the rains as “the early and latter rain”. Just as the Jews had to wait patiently for their Messiah, who fulfilled the feast day prophecies of the spring rain, so will the Church have to wait for the return of Jesus who will fulfil the feast day prophecies of the autumn rain. The nearness of the Lord’s return must, therefore, be in relation to the whole period of prophecy. Genesis 3:15 holds the first prophecy that God gives, predicting that Satan will be defeated by Jesus. The Scripture prophecies that Satan will inflict a mortal wound, but his power will be broken by the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. Ultimately the serpent, Satan, will only be totally defeated at the end of the millennial period after he is released for a short while just before the end of the thousand years. When Daniel interprets the dream of Nebuchadnezzar (2:24-49), he reveals that Jesus will return to destroy all the nations of the earth and establish His Kingdom. So, what was distant to Adam and Daniel is now near. In comparison, the return of the Lord is soon and is in the process of being fulfilled.
Also, both Jesus and Paul give prerequisite events that must occur before the rapture can take place. The belief that the return of Jesus is imminent could not then be a reality. However, Scripture requires that the desire for the soon return of the Lord will be in the heart of the Bride who longs for His appearing.
I have continually found that evangelical churches today are avoiding prophecy, I have heard elders and pastors use excuses such as, that eschatology (the study of End Times) is too divisive, or that the concern of the Church is evangelism, not prophecy, or we do not have to worry about the Last Days as it will all pan out, Jesus is in control. These men ignore the fact that 28% of the Bible is prophecy, and that it is a key revelation of the true God. The Church is required to disciple new believers on all the scriptures, even two of the six foundation principles listed in Hebrews 6 are on eschatology – resurrection of the dead and Judgement. What bride ignores the preparations being made for their wedding day? It is my belief that Jesus is not going to return for His Bride until she cleans up her act in a number of areas. Jesus is going to draw a line in the sand and define his true Church. Those churches that support the doctrine of Replacement Theology for example, and the deceptive End Times theories the doctrine has spawned, will be on the wrong side of the line. The book of Revelation gives the promise of a blessing to those that read and attempt to understand the scriptures, first in chapter 1:3, and then again in verse 7 of the last chapter. John once again states that those who neglect the warnings of Revelation deprive themselves of the blessings it promises. The Bride of Christ is continually admonished to watch and pray, a person cannot do that if they do not spend time studying eschatology. How in the world can you keep “the words of the prophecy”, if you don’t know what these sayings are?
Many believers avoid Revelation, believing it too difficult to understand – even the great theologian John Calvin did not write a commentary on Revelation and would not preach a sermon on the book. I would suggest that because of his belief in the flawed doctrines of Replacement Theology, and Amillennialism, the ability to make sense of the book eluded him. If we must keep the sayings of the book of Revelation, then we must read and understand what they are. To do so accurately we need to understand that it is a book written by a Jew, who is grounded in the Old Covenant Word of God, and that he is writing about our Jewish Messiah, who will fulfill His covenant promises.
Do Not Seal Up the Words of the Prophecy (22:8-15)
“8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, 9 but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God’.10 And he said to me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy’.12 ‘Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’. 14 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. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood”.
Once more John, who having been elevated to heaven from the penal colony on Patmos, was overwhelmed by what he had seen and heard. The unfolding of God’s plan for mankind, the wonderous things that await the believer, is the extreme opposite to John’s life in a cave on a prison Island. So, John falls at the feet of the angel and worships him, as he did in Revelation 19:10, and once more the angel has to remind John that he too is a servant, and that John must direct his worship to God. This admonition by the angel should be heeded by all Roman Catholics, as the worship of Mary is the same error, and is taking away from God the worship that He deserves. Mary was a faithful servant of God, on the same level as John, she knew this, and on being told by the angel Gabriel that she is to give birth to the Messiah, she praises God “her saviour” (Luke 1:46-49). Mary knew she was a “daughter” of Adam, subject to sin; no created being should ever be worshipped, and that includes Mary.
The angel then proceeds to give an instruction that is directly opposite to the one given to Daniel! Why was Daniel told to seal the words of the prophecy given to him (Daniel 12:4), and John is told not to seal the words of prophecy that he received? The distinction between the two men is that Daniel is before the cross, and John is after the cross. Daniel was being shown visions of the End Time, but the words are “sealed” until the Last Days, when God will reveal their meaning. These prophecies gain clarity and insight only when revealed after the Lamb of God, who was slain for the sins of mankind. The book of Revelation given to John is an unveiling of God’s plan and purpose, and a study of what Daniel was told must be sealed. The book of Daniel is an important foundation for the understanding of the book of Revelation, to study Revelation without an in-depth knowledge of Daniel would result in incorrect assumptions being made, this study has continually made reference to Daniel’s prophecies. The instruction to John not to seal up the words of the prophecy given to him, is a warning to all pastors and elders that to not teach the prophecies within the book of Revelation is contravening a direct instruction from God – they are standing in defiance of a command of God, a dangerous place to be.
After the angel has told John not to seal the words of prophecy that he has been given, he goes on to say, “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy”. The book of Revelation contains an amazing amount of prophecy, starting in heaven with the opening of the seals, followed by the Trumpet and Bowl Judgements, the Antichrist and the False Prophet, the Returning King at Armageddon, the fulfilled promise of a Millennium Kingdom, the Great White Throne Judgement, which is then followed by either the Lake of Fire for the unrighteous, or the New Heaven and the New Earth for the believer. So, the angel is effectively stating that God has given mankind all he needs to know to make his choice, those hard of heart will have to face their destiny – there will be no second chance – they have been warned. The book of Revelation is a gift from a loving God to a sinful world, a detailed written account of what is before them, which carries an extremely serious call to repent, for the judgment of the unrighteous is very real and very near.
My statement in the above paragraph that there will be no second chances relates to the White Throne Judgement, when standing before the Great Judge, it will be too late to repent and ask for forgiveness. However, there will be a second chance for those who miss the rapture and live on to experience the Tribulation. So, telling everyone you meet about the good news of Jesus is required of all believers, but when they don’t listen to you, and then the rapture suddenly happens, those people who have been told about prophecy and the return of Jesus for His bride, will then remember every word you said to them about Jesus. End Times prophecy is a great method for evangelism, and the rapture is the greatest evangelical tool a Christian possesses. More people will begin immediately seeking the truth about Jesus at the rapture than at any other time in history. So, why is the Church so silent on the rapture? The answer is that Satan has muddied the waters of eschatology (study of End Times), and caused dissention – the root of that dissention is the doctrine of Replacement Theology that was birthed in the Catholic Church!
After the angel has told John not to seal the words of prophecy, he suddenly ceases speaking, and Jesus takes over with another warning that His return will be sudden, and that on His return He will have His “recompense” with Him. Now an explanation is required, as most Bible translation say that He will have His “reward” with Him, the ESV however says He will have His “recompense” with Him. The use of “recompense” is more accurate as it is a reward given in compensation; this could be for selfless work done for others in the name of Jesus, or for suffering caused by life changes made in service for Him. So, recompense is a better description of the rewards given by Jesus at the Bema Judgement seat. Paul describes the Bema Judgement when he writes, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
We have just covered the warning for the unbelievers of a coming judgement, now there is a warning for believers. Worldly Christians will receive next to nothing at the Bema Judgement, they will have focused on what they want for their lives, and then required that God help them attain it, this philosophy does not fit the definition of servant! Pride will also be a factor, as there are those believers who serve for the praises of men. Both these groups will have received their rewards on earth, and will receive wood, hay and straw at the Bema Judgement, which when tested by fire will leave them with a pile of ash as an eternal reward. All Christians would do well to heed the words of James, “Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?” (James 2:20).
Jesus starts the book of Revelation by introducing Himself as “the Alpha and the Omega,” and now He ends the book with the same claim. The first chapter and the last chapter carry the confirmation that He is the beginning and the end. Jesus for the last time uses the sacred name “I am” for Himself. The accurate interpretation of the name “I am” is “everything exists because I exist,” and so Jesus is confirming He is the beginning and the end, the eternal wise God, the Almighty! There is to be no doubt, Jesus is God!
The seventh and final blessing recorded in the book of Revelation is for those who are washed in the blood of the Lamb, a metaphor used to indicate those who are cleansed from sin because of their acceptance of Jesus as their Lord and Saviour (Ephesians 1:7). They are the only ones who will have access to the Tree of Life, and will be allowed entry to the New Jerusalem through the pearl gates.
The seven blessing recorded in the book of Revelation are:
- Revelation 1:3: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near”.
- Revelation 14:13: “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them’!”
- Revelation 16:15: “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”
- Revelation 19:9: “And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’. And he said to me, ‘These are the true words of God’”
- Revelation 20:6: “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years”.
- Revelation 22:7: “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
- Revelation 22: 14: “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”.
Jesus then gives a list of those who will not make it into the New Jerusalem:
- Dogs: In the Gospel period dogs existed in packs on the outskirts of societies, moving into the streets at night, they were scavengers seeking what they could tear to shreds and devour. Because of this, dogs were viewed with contempt by Jews as unclean beasts, and would imply that an individual was morally impure when used as an adjective.
- Sexually immoral: This refers to the promiscuous in society, the adulterers and fornicators.
- Sorcerer: In Scripture a sorcerer is a person who is involved with the black arts and occult, primarily with the goal of gaining the assistance, or control of demons.
- Murderers: Murder must be one of the most selfish acts a person can commit, taking the life of another for personal gain.
- Idolaters: Most people view idolatry as the worship of the images of false gods, but it includes material objects, and worldly activities when they are desired above a relationship with God.
- Liars: These are those that deceive others for their own gain.
This list is not a list of unforgivable sins, but rather a list of the activities of the proud, who persist in those types of behaviours that put self before others. It is exactly this type of individual who will refuse the Good News of the Gospel message as they love the world and are unable to become humble and repent.
A Last Invitation to Mankind, (22:16-21)
“16 ‘I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star’.17 The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come’. And let the one who hears say, ‘Come’. And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.20 He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon’. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.
The book of Revelation is a fascinating read, but as stated earlier many find the book daunting and even intimidating: The four horsemen of the apocalypse, prophets that call down fire from heaven, locusts with women’s hair and lions’ teeth from a bottomless pit, a woman and child being chased by a red dragon, and a beast with seven heads and ten horns, all can be a bit much for the average reader to take in. However, Jesus authenticates the entire book when He states that He has sent His messenger (angel) “to testify to you,” that all that is written with the book is true. An extremely important document for His Bride, the Church, to hold onto and believe in. Jesus then signs off on the veracity of Revelation by calling Himself “the Root of David”. Jesus is strongly tied to the symbolism of the olive tree (Messiah means “anointed one”), He is both “the root of David,” and “the branch of David” (Zech. 3:8; 6:12), He is the True Messiah, the fulfilment of Old Covenant prophecy.
Jesus then refers to Himself as “the bright morning star,” the star that is still present in the sky after the darkness of night has faded away. The message is that He is the first resurrected of the dead, it is a message of hope for believers that points to the new day that is about to unfold in Him. Jesus is both man and God, the hypostatic union, the Son of David and the resurrected Lord.
After validating His status as the true saviour and God, Jesus then extends a last Invitation to mankind, which reveals the great concern Jesus has for the lost. He ends the book of Revelation with a call for the spiritually thirsty to come and take the water of life; it is an open invitation to receive salvation from Him. This announcement is a last challenge for people to call on His name and be saved, for the time of Judgement is fast approaching, when there will be an accountability.
The last verses of the book of Revelation are a severe warning from Jesus not to tamper with God’s word. Scripture is filled with repeated warnings from God against corrupting His Word:
- “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them… And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life…” (Revelation 22:18).
- “Do not add to what I command you, and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2).
- “Do not go beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6).
- “Do not add to His word or He will rebuke you and prove you a liar.” (Proverbs 30:6).
The warning by Jesus is not a reference to Bible believing commentators of the Word who mistakenly translate some passage and inadvertently minimize it. The Lord’s warning here is addressed to those who engage in deliberate falsification or misinterpretation of Scripture, those who Paul denounces as peddlers of the Word of God, (2 Cor. 2:17). God will also hold accountable those who use man’s wisdom, man’s philosophies to interpret Scripture, they are taking that which God has ordained through the Hebraic culture and incorrectly interpreting it though Greek Philosophy, resulting in an interpreted meaning that is far from the truth.
A further important point is that this announcement by Jesus must imply that the book of Revelation can be read and understood, God would not place such a severe warming on a book that is too fanciful and mysterious to have a clear meaning.
The book of Revelation ends with an admonition being once more given for the Church to be ready and watchful for the Lord’s return, He is coming soon Church, be waiting and watching, as a Bride for her Bridegroom. All of creation waits expectantly for the Creator to return to establish His Kingdom on earth, and bring all things under His governance and rule.
Believers are called to guard or protect the book of Revelation – also to obey it. It calls believers to:
- Desire heaven
- To desire holiness
- To desire to see Christ vindicated and for Him to triumph over His enemies
- To desire the end of the curse
- To desire the glories of Christ’s earthly Kingdom
- To desire the New Heaven and the New Earth.
The book of Revelation calls believers to see God’s face, to see an end of the Babylonian Harlot and the corrupt commercial and political system, to look forward to a life of peace and happiness. Thus, the purpose of Revelation is not merely to satisfy the curiosity of believers about the future, but to reveal the glory of God’s Son and call believers to live godly, obedient lives in light of His soon return.