A. The interior of the New Jerusalem.
1. (1) A river flowing from the throne of God.
And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.
a. A pure river of water of life: Through the Old Testament, prophets used the picture of a river as a powerful expression of richness, provision, and peace (Isaiah 48:18, Zechariah 14:8, Ezekiel 47:1-9).
i. Or, as expressed by the Psalmist in Psalm 46:4-5: There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn.
ii. “One of the gladdest things on earth is water. There is nothing in all the world so precious to the eye and the imagination of the inhabitant of the dry, burning and thirsty East, as a plentiful supply of bright, pure, and living water.” (Seiss)
iii. Poole says that this point of this river is “To let us know, that in heaven there shall be no want of any thing that can make the saints happy.”
b. Clear as crystal: God’s provision in the New Jerusalem is described with pure, absolutely unpolluted waters. “Its waters are literal waters, of a nature and quality answering to that of the golden city to which they belong. Man on earth never knew such waters, as men on earth never knew such a city; but the city is a sublime reality.” (Seiss)
c. From the throne of God and of the Lamb: This river of provision comes right from God’s throne. Because it comes from God, it cannot be anything other than pure and abundant.
i. Ezekiel saw a glorious river (Ezekiel 47) flow down from the temple in Jerusalem and into the sea, but that river belongs to the millennial earth. It is perhaps the final preview of this heavenly river. This is a better river with better trees.
2. (2) The tree of life.
In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
a. The tree of life: The Bible begins with a tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24) which man was not allowed to eat from after the sin at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now we see the tree of life again.
i. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river: It’s a little hard to picture this heavenly landscaping. John may be describing a large street with a river flowing down the middle, and a large tree - or series of trees - that grows with roots on either side of the river.
ii. This is how John Walvoord sees it: “The visual picture presented is that the river of life flows down through the middle of the city, and the tree is large enough to span the river, so that the river is in the midst of the street, and the tree is on both sides of the river.” Others see that the word tree is a collective reference, speaking of rows of trees that stand on either side of the river. “The picture presented to the mind’s eye would appear to be that of a wide street, with a river flowing down the center, like some of the broader canals of Holland, with trees growing on either side, all of them of the same kind, all called the tree of life. I do not know how we can make the figure out in any other way.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Seeing the tree of life again points to a restoration of all things. “Now at last, almost at the end of the great drama of the Bible, man may return and legitimately enjoy the blessing which he was banished for illegitimately desiring.” (Preston/Hanson)
b. Each tree yielding its fruit every month: From all indications, this describes the world of the new heaven and the new earth, yet we are given a time indicator. Apparently, heaven will still mark time, but not be subject to it in the same way we are on this side of eternity.
i. Some people wonder if we will eat in heaven. The best answer is that we can eat, but will not have to. In His resurrection body, Jesus enjoyed food (Luke 24:41-43, John 21:12-14). Angels ate with Abraham (Genesis 18:6-8). The great heavenly “reunion” between Jesus and His people is described as a marriage supper (Revelation 19:9). Even though man fell by what he ate, God will still allow us to eat in heaven.
ii. “Like the golden table of showbread which ever stood in the ancient Tabernacle and Temple for the priests to eat, so the Tree of Life stands in all the golden streets of the New Jerusalem, with its monthly fruit for the immortal king-priests of heaven.” (Seiss)
c. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations: Why do the nations need healing? In the ancient Greek language, the word for healing can also mean “health-giving,” and this may be the sense here.
i. “The word for ‘healing’ is therapeian, from which the English word therapeutic is derived, almost directly transliterated from the Greek. Rather than meaning ‘healing,’ it should be understood as ‘health-giving,’ as the word in its root meaning has the idea of serving or ministering.” (Walvoord)
d. Are these pictures of heaven literal or symbolic? It may be that you can’t describe another dimension like heaven without using symbols, but they are symbols connected to their reality. What John saw may or may not be exactly like a river on earth, but when we see it we will also say, “That looks like a river.”
i. Even though this great chapter of the Bible tells us of heaven, we should think deeply about it and take in now what we can. “We do not suppose that a man is shooting at a target if he does not look that way; nor can we imagine that a man’s ambition is fixed on heaven if he has no heavenward thoughts or aspirations.” (Spurgeon)
3. (3-5) What it will be like and what the saints will do.
And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.
a. There shall be no more curse: In heaven, the curse is gone. Since the fall, man and creation have lived with the effect of the curse described in Genesis 3:16-19: sorrow and pain in childbirth for women, friction between the sexes, the necessity of hard and often futile work for man’s sustenance, and most of all death.
i. These aspects of the curse will even be present during the Millennium, though they will be greatly mitigated by the perfect rule of Jesus. Isaiah 65:20 shows us that it is still possible for a sinner to be accursed in the millennial earth. But in the new heaven and new earth they are done away with forever. Instead of the curse, the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it. That’s quite an exchange.
ii. The throne of God and of the Lamb: “Henceforth, eternal praises to his name, the throne of God is the throne of the Lamb. It is a throne of righteousness, but no less a throne of grace. There, on the throne of the Almighty, mercy reigns. According to the merit of the sacrifice and the virtue of the atonement all the statutes and decrees of the kingdom of heaven are issued. The altar and the throne have become identical. From that throne no fiery bolt can ever again be hurled against the believer, for it is the throne of the Lamb as well as the throne of God.” (Spurgeon)
b. His servants shall serve Him: Heaven will be a place of work and service for God’s people. However, this is a picture of the pure blessedness of service rather than arduous, curse-stained toil.
i. “Heaven is not a place of indolent leisure, but a place where service is done, centering on God.” (Morris)
c. They shall see His face: Heaven will be a place where God’s people see His face, a place of intimate, face to face fellowship with God. Moses was denied the privilege of seeing God face to face (Exodus 33:20-23), but everyone in heaven shall see His face.
i. They shall see His face: “By which I understand two things: first, that they shall literally and physically, with their risen bodies, actually look into the face of Jesus; and secondly, that spiritually their mental faculties shall be enlarged, so that they shall he enabled to look into the very heart, and soul, and character of Christ, so as to understand him, his work, his love, his all in all, as they never understood him before.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Because of Jesus, we can know something of the face of God right now: For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
iii. Yet, Paul also anticipated a greater fulfillment of our seeing the face of God: 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). In that day there will be nothing that obscures our vision of Jesus:
· We see Jesus clearly because sin is done away with
· We see Jesus clearly because care and worry are done away with
· We see Jesus clearly because idols are done away with
iv. This will be the greatest glory of heaven: to know God, to know Jesus, more intimately and wonderfully than we ever could on earth. “It is the chief blessing of heaven, the cream of heaven, the heaven of heaven, that the saints shall there see Jesus.” (Spurgeon)
v. “To look into the face of Christ signifies to be well acquainted with his person, his office, his character, his work. So the saints in heaven shall have more knowledge of Christ than the most advanced below. As one has said, the babe in Christ admitted to heaven discovers more of Christ in a single hour than is known by all the divines of the assemblies of the church on earth.” (Spurgeon)
d. His name shall be on their foreheads: Heaven will be a place where God’s people will forever be identified with their God, and there will never be any doubt that they belong to Him.
e. There shall be no more night there: Heaven will be a place where the darkness of this age will be forever gone. The light is not artificial, even from the sun - God Himself is the light.
f. They shall reign forever and ever: Heaven will be a place where God’s people enjoy an eternal reign, in contrast to the limited duration of the Millennium. It will never end.
i. “As the Bible opens with the story of ‘Paradise Lost,’ so it here closes with the story of ‘Paradise Regained.’” (Erdman) We see the return of Paradise in the ideas of a river, a tree of life, revocation of the curse, intimacy restored, and reigning resumed. It is a perfect consummation:
No more curse
Throne in their midst
Servants shall serve
Shall see His face
Name on foreheads
God is the light
B. Parting words.
1. (6-7) The angel and Jesus add words of verification
Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true.” And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place. Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
a. In these last few verses of the Book of Revelation, we hear parting words from a variety of persons. It isn’t always easy to know who is speaking, but the themes make sense no matter who speaks: verification, invitation, and warning.
b. These words are faithful and true: The angel that has shown these things to John declares reminds John that it isn’t too good to be true. John is assured that it is in fact faithful and true.
c. The things which must shortly take place . . . I am coming quickly! As John reminds us of the suddenness of these events, Jesus Himself breaks in with a reminder to all that He is coming quickly. Why does it seem that it has been so long? Was Jesus wrong here?
i. The word quickly in the ancient Greek isn’t exactly the same as our word for “quickly.” “The word ‘quickly’ might with accuracy be rendered ‘suddenly.’” (Morgan)
ii. Still, the early church expected Jesus’ return soon - were they just wrong, or did Jesus mislead them? Not at all; they were not wrong and they were not misled by Jesus. God wants to keep all generations expectant, watching, and ready for His return.
iii. We are not rushing towards a distant brink of the consummation of all things; we are running parallel along the edge of that brink, and have been since the time of the apostles. “Thus the time has always been at hand. The tension of imminence is endemic to that span of redemptive history lying between the cross and the parousia.” (Mounce)
d. Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book: This blessing reminds us that prophecy gives us a word to keep, not merely material for interesting discussions and debates. The main intent of prophecy is to lead us to trust and obey God, and apply His truth to the way we live.
2. (8-9) John is corrected for worshipping an angel a second time.
Now I, John, saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. Then he said to me, “See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”
a. I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel: As he did in Revelation 19:10, John is overwhelmed, and bows before an angel in worship. In the same way, the angel reminds John that only God is to be worshipped, and that they are both “players” on the same “team” - along with all who keep the words of this book.
i. No created being should ever be worshipped. This is in contrast with Jesus, who receives the worship of angels (Hebrews 1:6) and of men (Matthew 8:2, 14:33, John 9:38).
ii. “If it was wrong to worship this glorious heavenly messenger, in and through whom came forth the very voice of Jesus, how can it be right to worship and pray to the Virgin Mary, to whom is assigned no such dignity or office? The impulse and intention may be devout and good; but it is a great mistake.” (Seiss)
b. See that you do not do that: It is striking that even someone who has received all these visions may go astray. Supernatural visions and revelations do not mean that someone is correct in their doctrine, teaching, or practice.
3. (10-11) A warning is given, either by the same angel or by Jesus.
And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand. He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.”
a. Do not seal the words of this prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand: Because the time is at hand, and history now runs parallel to the brink of the consummation of all things, this book isn’t sealed. This is in contrast to Old Testament prophecy (Daniel 8:26); men seal the Book of Revelation in defiance of God’s command.
b. He who is unjust, let him be unjust still . . . he who is righteous, let him be righteous still: The thought here is probably “since Jesus is coming so suddenly, there won’t be time for change.” There will be no time for last minute repentance, but there is time now. If what you have read in Revelation hasn’t changed you, there isn’t much hope!
i. “It is the hopelessness of the final state of the wicked which is here pictured. The states of both the evil and the good are now fixed forever. There is no word here about a ‘second chance’ hereafter.” (Robertson)
ii. “If the warnings of this book are not sufficient, there is no more that God has to say.” (Walvoord)
4. (12-13) Jesus declares: I am coming quickly.
“And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”
a. And behold, I am coming quickly: We can never miss the note of urgency and warning in all what Jesus tells us about His coming. His message is always be ready! (Matthew 24:44)
b. My reward is with Me: If Jesus will give to everyone according to his work, does that mean we are saved by our works? No, but it does show that living faith will have works with it (James 2:20, Titus 3:8).
i. “It is the quality of a man’s life which provides the ultimate indication of what he really believes.” (Mounce)
c. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last: As an added incentive for us to do and be what is right, being ready for Jesus’ return, He reminds us just who He is. If we really know and understood who Jesus is, we will not have any trouble being ready for His return.
i. The term Alpha and Omega is “Applied to God in 1:8; 21:6; and here alone to Christ, crowning proof in this book of Christ’s deity.” (Robertson)
ii. The title the First and the Last is also irrefutable proof that Jesus is Yahweh, the Lord: I, the Lord, am the first; and with the last I am He.’” (Isaiah 41:4)
iii. These terms together mean that Jesus is the beginning, middle, and end for the Christian. “Preach orthodoxy, or any form of doxy; if you have left out Christ, there is no manna from heaven, no water from the rock, no refuge from the storm, no healing for the sick, no life for the dead. If you leave out Christ, you have left the sun out of the day, and the moon out of the night, you have left the waters out of the sea, and the foods out of the river, you have left the harvest out of the year, the soul out of the body, you have left joy out of heaven, yea, you have robbed all of its all. There is no gospel worth thinking of, much less worth proclaiming in Jehovah’s name, if Jesus be forgotten.” (Spurgeon)
5. (14-15) A blessing and a curse is pronounced by someone (perhaps John, perhaps the angel, perhaps Jesus Himself).
Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.
a. Blessed are those who do His commandments: Doing His commandments does not earn us eternal life, but it is evidence that we have been granted eternal life. Besides, there is an inherent blessing in doing His commandments, because they are good and right for us.
i. Regarding the phrase those who do His commandments some translations have those who have washed their robes instead. The difference is between two ancient Greek words:
HOIPLUNONTESTASSTOLAS (washed their robes) or
HOIPOIOUNTESTASENTOLAS (do His commandments)
ii. This is a good example of how a copyist’s error can cloud a text in rather minor ways, without effecting the essential meaning of the context.
b. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers: What about those outside? We shouldn’t think that outside the walls of heaven multitudes will throng, longing to get in. “The verse does not intend to teach that in the eternal state all manner of wicked men will be living just outside the heavenly city. It simply describes the future with the imagery of the present.” (Mounce)
i. Why does it say that all dogs will be outside? Is this is a refutation of the idea of “doggie heaven”? No, what is meant here is “Not literal dogs, but the morally impure . . . Dogs in the Oriental cities are scavengers and excite unspeakable contempt (Matthew 7:6; Philippians 3:2).” (Robertson)
6. (16) Jesus brings a word of verification.
“I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”
a. I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you: With these solemn words, Jesus authenticates the entire book. Much of the Book of Revelation is either fantastic or seems too good to be true, but it is all true.
i. “Thus the very God of all inspiration, and of all inspired men, reiterates and affirms the highest authority for all that is herein written. Either, then, this Book is nothing but a base and blasphemous forgery, unworthy of the slightest respect of men, and specially unworthy of a place in the Sacred Canon; or it is one of the most directly inspired and authoritative writings ever given.” (Seiss)
b. To testify to you these things in the churches: The Book of Revelation is written to the churches. This book is not a private affair, knowable only by an elite - it is for all believers. It’s also worth noting that this is the first reference to the church since the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3.
c. The Root and offspring of David: This is a precious Messianic title (Isaiah 11:1). It shows that Jesus is both the Creator of King David and His descendent. Jesus spoke to this same idea in Matthew 22:41-46.
d. Bright and Morning Star: This is another Messianic title from the Old Testament (Numbers 24:17) and the New Testament (Revelation 2:28). Just as the Morning Star (generally held to be the planet Venus) shines and welcomes the new day, so does Jesus.
i. “Christ, as the morning star, heralds the coming day in His role as the One who comes for he church in the rapture.” (Walvoord)
7. (17) The Spirit and the Bride say to all: Come!
And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.
a. The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” Is this an invitation to Jesus, asking Him to return? Or is it an invitation to those with a spiritual thirst to come to Jesus? Either sense is certainly true.
b. Who can come? Him who hears can come to Jesus, but they can’t come unless they hear. Him who thirsts can come to Jesus, but they can’t come unless they feel their thirst. Whoever desires can come, but they can’t come unless God works in their heart to desire Him.
i. So how do you know if God has worked in your heart? Go through a little checklist. Have you heard? Are you thirsty for God and eternal life? Do you want Him? Then come!
c. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely: This is an open invitation to receive salvation from Jesus. He will not exclude anyone who comes to Him. An invitation is both an opportunity and a responsibility. If we decline an invitation, we have only ourselves to blame.
i. “A similar invitation is extended in Isaiah 55:1. The invitation to come is an urgent command, for the day will arrive when it is too late to come. Now is the day of grace. The hour of judgment is impending.” (Walvoord)
d. Glory in the greatness of the invitation: whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely! Anyone who desires salvation in Jesus Christ can come to Him and take the water of life freely.
i. “I don’t understand all the Christian doctrine and theology” - come anyway, because it doesn’t say whoever understands, let him take the water of life freely.
ii. “I can’t repent the way that I should. My heart is hard and I can’t even weep over my sins or feel bad over them as I should” - come anyway, because it doesn’t say whoever feels, let him take the water of life freely.
iii. “I don’t know if I can live the Christian life the way that I should” - come anyway, because it doesn’t say whoever can, let him take the water of life freely.
iv. “I don’t know if I am worthy to live the Christian life” - come anyway, because it doesn’t say whoever is worthy, let him take the water of life freely.
v. “But mark thee, sinner, it says, ‘whosoever.’ What a big word that is! Whosoever! There is no standard height here. It is of any height and any size. Little sinners, big sinners, black sinners, fair sinners, sinners double dyed, old sinners, aggravated sinners, sinners who have committed every crime in the whole catalogue, - whosoever.” (Spurgeon)
vi. It is really this simple: do you desire Jesus and His salvation? Then come. Can you say, “Now, Lord, I desire to be saved, give me a new heart; I desire to give up my sins; I desire to be a Christian; I desire to believe and desire to obey. But I have no strength to do this. I have the desire, give me the power.” If this is your desire, then you are freely invited to come, if you are only willing. There is no barrier between you and Jesus except your stubborn will.
e. Let him take the water of life freely: When you desire, when you come, then you must take. All of this world’s religion can be summed up in the idea that you must bring something to give unto the gods. The essence of Christianity is summed up in the idea that God invites us to take the water of life freely. You can’t bring anything to save or justify or commend yourself before God, but you can take the salvation He offers.
f. It is fitting that this great invitation closes the Book of Revelation and the Bible. “All the prophets of the Bible, all the apostles of the Bible, all the threatenings of the Bible, all the promises of the Bible, gather themselves up, and focus themselves into this one burning ray, ‘Come to Jesus. Come, and take the water of life freely.’” (Spurgeon)
8. (18-19) Someone brings a warning - either Jesus, or an angel, or John.
For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
a. If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book: This is another section at the end of the Book of Revelation where it is hard to tell exactly who speaks. In most red-letter editions, these words are in black, indicating that the translators believe that these are not the words of Jesus. But there may be good reason to believe Jesus gave this warning.
i. “The solemnity of the injunction suggests that the speaker is Christ Himself.” (Mounce)
b. If anyone adds . . . if anyone takes away: This means that there is a high price to pay for tampering with the Book of Revelation specifically, and the Scriptures in general.
i. “What a solemn warning this is to critics who have tampered with this book and other portions of Scripture in arrogant self-confidence that they are equipped intellectually and spiritually to determine what is true and what is not true in the Word of God.” (Walvoord)
ii. This solemn promise also implies that the Book of Revelation can be understood. Why would God assign such a strong rebuke for the addition to or subtraction from a book that just painted big ideas in wild pictures, or if no one could really understand the book anyway?
iii. “Divines generally do further extend the sense of these two verses, considering this as the last portion of holy writ, not only placed last in our Bibles, but revealed and written last. They conceive these verses the seal of all canonical Scripture, and that God here denounces a curse to those who shall pretend any new revelations of his will . . . as also against all those who shall deny, corrupt, or deprave any part of them.” (Poole)
9. (20-21) Last words.
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
a. Surely I am coming quickly: To the very end, the Book of Revelation emphasizes readiness and watchfulness. If we miss this practical lesson from the Book of Revelation - the lesson of readiness - then we miss the essential message of the book.
i. If the statement “I am coming quickly” were not enough, Jesus puts emphasis on both sides - surely before and amen after. He wants us to be ready.
b. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! With this phrase, John uses an Aramaic expression that was well known in the ancient church: Maranatha!
i. The Book of Revelation concerns many prophetic events, but the book closes with John’s longing for the return of Jesus for His people - he wants the rapture of the church.
ii. “If the whole creation groans and travails together in pain for the manifestation of the sons of God, how much more those sons of God themselves!” (Seiss)
iii. “At the very close of the book is the confession that the answers to the problems of life do not lie in man’s ability to create a better world but in the return of the One whose sovereign power controls the course of human affairs.” (Mounce)
c. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen: The book (and the Bible) ends with a word of grace, and grace for all. Paul also used this phrase as a final word in some of his letters (1 Corinthians 16:23, 2 Corinthians 13:14, 1 Thessalonians 5:28, 2 Thessalonians 3:18). In 2 Thessalonians 3:17-18, Paul even indicated that this signature - no doubt written with his own hand - was a mark that the letter was genuinely from him.
i. “It is a good word for the close of this marvelous picture of God’s gracious provision for his people in earth and heaven.” (Robertson)
ii. “Whatever you may miss, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be always with you. In whatsoever points you or any of us may fail, may we never come short of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Spurgeon)
iii. The last verse of the Old Testament contains a curse: Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse (Malachi 4:6). Fittingly, the last words of the New Testament speak of grace, because grace describes God’s dealing with man on the basis of the New Covenant.
© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission