Description
John sees the river of life and the tree of life in the New Jerusalem. Revelation is then brought to a conclusion with multiple and repeated affirmations by Jesus, John and the angel, of its importance and reliability. Jesus also stresses repeatedly that he is coming soon.
Commentary
The River of Life
Verses 1 to 2 say, "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life – water as clear as crystal – pouring out from the throne of God and of the Lamb, flowing down the middle of the city’s main street. On each side of the river is the tree of life producing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month of the year. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations".

Ezekiel 47 gives a detailed description of the millennial river of life that flows out from under the threshold of the temple in millennial Jerusalem. It flows to the south of the altar, and then out towards the east and west. It gets deeper as it goes, and it flows east into the Dead Sea, making it fresh. It brings abundant life, both to the Dead Sea, and to the land on either side of the river. Fishermen will catch fish in the Dead Sea, and every kind of fruit-bearing tree will grow along the river's banks. They will bear fruit every month as a food source, and their leaves will be used for healing. The millennial river is mentioned in Psalm 46:4, Isaiah 33:21, Joel 3:18, and in Zechariah 14:8, which tells us it will also flow west to the Mediterranean Sea. Zechariah describes it as living water, using a term coined in Jeremiah 2:13 and 17:13, where Jeremiah calls God the spring of living water. In John 4:10 and 7:38, Jesus claimed to be this spring of living water, which will well up within whoever believes in him. In doing so, he was likening the Holy Spirit to the River of Life. In this present age, Jesus ministers as our divine Great High Priest in the heavenly temple, and the living water of the Holy Spirit flows out to us as we trust in him. The river of life is also a picture of Eden restored, as a river of life flowed out of Eden (Genesis 2:10).

Here in the New Jerusalem there is no temple, but the river flows out from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Effectively these are two thrones, with Jesus seated at the right hand of God the Father (Psalm 110:1).

John describes the tree of life on each side of the river, yielding a crop of fruit every month. His description gives the impression that it is a single tree on each side, bearing twelve kinds of fruit. However, in Ezekiel's millennial vision he says in Ezekiel 47:4, "I noticed a vast number of trees on the banks of the river, on both sides". And in verse 12, Ezekiel says, "On both sides of the river’s banks, every kind of tree will grow for food. Their leaves will not wither nor will their fruit fail, but they will bear fruit every month, because their water source flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing".

The millennial river flows out to east and west bringing life and healing to a world ravaged by world war and the Great Tribulation. Here in the New Jerusalem, there is no mention of the river flowing onto the new earth. This is another clue that the New Jerusalem and the new earth are physically separate. The new earth won't need healing or restoration. But the nations will. People won't suffer from physical illness (Isaiah 33:24), but perhaps they will still need emotional healing. The crops of fruit and leaves from the trees of life seem to be exported to the nations on the new earth. In turn, the nations bring their grandeur or produce into the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:24). So there is a two-way flow of produce.


No Curse
Verse 3a begins, "And there will no longer be any curse…"

In Genesis 3:14-19, after Adam and Eve sinned, God pronounced curses on Satan, on Eve, on Adam, and on the ground. The curse upon Satan and his seed is ultimately fulfilled and completed when Satan and the Antichrist are thrown into the lake of fire. Here in the eternal age, there is no longer any curse on men, or on women, or on the ground. God's solution to the fall of man is complete, and Eden is fully restored. The land will no longer produce weeds, and work will be pleasant rather than a painful toil. There will be no more death. As for women, Jesus taught that in the eternal age we will no longer marry or reproduce, but will be like the angels. So there will be no painful childbirth (Luke 20:35-36).


Intimate Relationship With God
Verses 3b to 4 say, "and the throne of God and the Lamb will be in the city. His servants will worship him, and they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads".

This is not a throne of judgment to be feared. Those whose names are found in the book of life and who make it through the judgment into the New Jerusalem will worship God and enjoy close relationship with him. In biblical times, no-one was pure and holy enough to see God's face and survive. But in the New Jerusalem all our imperfections will have been stripped away and we can see God's face.

The name of God on our foreheads identifies us as God's faithful followers. Similarly in Revelation 13, the mark of the beast on people's foreheads or arms identifies them as loyal followers of the Antichrist.


No more night
Verse 5 says, "Night will be no more, and they will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will shine on them, and they will reign forever and ever".

It is clear that there will be no night in the New Jerusalem. It appears this will also be the case on the new earth, although that is not entirely clear. See my commentary on Revelation 21:23-25.


Reigning with Christ Forever
In verse 5, the statement, "and they will reign forever and ever" refers to Christ's servants who worship him (v4). Revelation 20:4-6 implies that during the Millennium, only a select minority of Christians will reign with him. Those who have proved their faithfulness through martyrdom are especially highlighted. Here in the eternal age, presumably not everyone can reign with him and there will still be some selection criteria. But people are simply selected from those who worship him. In the Parable of the Minas (Luke 19:11-27), people are selected to rule according to their ability and faithfulness of service.


A Final Reminder
Verse 6 says, "Then the angel said to me, “These words are reliable and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must happen soon.""

This is the same angel who introduced John to the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:9. He is one of the angels who had the seven bowls. Now he starts to wrap up Revelation, emphasising the truth and reliability of all that John has been shown in this book. 'The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets' reminds us of what 2 Peter 1:20-21 says, "Above all, you do well if you recognise this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God".

He also emphasises that the vision must happen soon. Given that nearly 2,000 years have since passed, this is clearly 'soon' in God's timescale rather than ours. 2 Peter 3:8-9 says, "Now, dear friends, do not let this one thing escape your notice, that a single day is like a thousand years with the Lord and a thousand years are like a single day. The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance". Please see my commentary on 2 Peter 3 for further consideration of this.


A Blessing
Verse 7 says, "(Look ! I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy expressed in this book.)

The NET bible places this in parentheses to indicate that Jesus is interjecting here. Jesus confirms that it will be 'soon'. His second statement reminds us of Revelation 1:3, "Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy aloud, and blessed are those who hear and obey the things written in it, because the time is near!" 'Keeping the words of the prophecy' implies reading it, taking it to heart, meditating on it, and living one's life in the expectation of its fulfilment. When the Great Tribulation begins, it will be essential for Christians to 'obey' it, resisting the deceptions of the Antichrist and remaining faithful to Jesus, even if that means martyrdom.

It seems tragic to me that so many churches treat the book of Revelation as an optional extra, only for private study. In my experience, most Christian leaders fail to believe the blessings that Jesus ascribes to this Revelation. They are so afraid of it causing division that they treat it as a taboo subject. If they do teach on it, they do so in a very superficial manner that leaves people confused. Today, I believe Jesus' coming is very very soon. It is time the Church woke up and started taking this book seriously!


A Reliable Eye-Witness Account
Verses 8 to 9 say, "I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things, and when I heard and saw them, I threw myself down to worship at the feet of the angel who was showing them to me. But he said to me, “Do not do this! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets, and with those who obey the words of this book. Worship God!”"

Adding to the angel's assurance in verse 6 that 'these words are reliable and true', here John emphasises that this book is his eye-witness account of what he saw. He is not passing down legends or hearsay, but only what he saw. Neither are these dreams or visions that could have arisen from his own imagination. Jesus appeared to him at the beginning of Revelation, and together with various angels leads him through it to the very end. Similarly, when John wrote his Gospel he said in John 1:14, "Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father". We can trust both John's Gospel and his book of Revelation as eye-witness accounts.

Further confirming that John received this in the very presence of Jesus and his angels, John describes how he fell down in worship before the angel and was rebuked for doing so. This is the second time this happened (see also Revelation 19:10). This was a stupid thing for John to do, and you might think he would have been embarrassed to admit that he made this mistake, not just once but twice. I think John admits to it because it communicates the awesome nature of what he saw in the New Jerusalem, and the appearance of the angel himself. What John experienced and saw in Revelation was incredibly real and tangible.


Not to be sealed
Verse 10 says, "Then he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy contained in this book, because the time is near".

This statement contrasts with those at the end of Daniel's visions. In Daniel 12, verse 4 says, "But you, Daniel, close up these words and seal the book until the time of the end. Many will dash about, and knowledge will increase". Verses 8 to 9 say, "I heard, but I did not understand. So I said, “Sir, what will happen after these things? He said, “Go, Daniel. For these matters are closed and sealed until the time of the end". In other words, Daniel's visions were about events in the distant future. Their meaning was to remain sealed until time of the end when knowledge would increase and the meaning would become unsealed. Even Daniel was left confused, asking questions to which he was not given answers.

By contrast, the emphasis in Revelation is that the visions will be fulfilled soon, and they are unsealed. Being unsealed means that we are supposed to understand them. An exception to this is in Revelation 10:4, "When the seven thunders spoke, I was preparing to write, but just then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the seven thunders spoke and do not write it down.”" So John was shown some things that were then sealed. And there are some pieces of the puzzle that only the Father knows, like the precise day and hour of Christ's coming (Matthew 24:36). But generally, most of what is recorded in Revelation is unsealed. We are supposed to understand it. Of course that still leaves us to study it carefully in order to make sense of it. But we should be able to fit the pieces together and establish what the general picture looks like. In the third and fourth centuries AD when the Church Fathers abandoned premillennialism in favour of amillennialism, they did the Church a great disservice. They taught Christians to treat end time prophesies in an overly allegorical manner. Revelation is rich in symbols and metaphors, but those metaphors represent literal realities that we are supposed to understand.

Having said that, we have many huge advantages today, compared to Christians in previous generations. Just as the weather forecast for a given date becomes much easier and more accurate the closer you get to it, so also the end time story is much easier for us to understand today than it was even a generation ago. Today we live in the time of the end when 'many will dash about and knowledge will increase'. Computers and the internet are part of that huge advantage that we have today. They have greatly facilitated my own studies and research as I have written these commentaries. Daniel would have been so envious if he had seen the advantages that we have!


Life will carry on
Verses 11 says, "The evildoer must continue to do evil, and the one who is morally filthy must continue to be filthy. The one who is righteous must continue to act righteously, and the one who is holy must continue to be holy."

This seems to be saying that life will carry on as normal, but we should not lulled into a false sense of security. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:3, "Now when they are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will surely not escape". And Jesus said in Matthew 24:37-39, "For just like the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. For in those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. And they knew nothing until the flood came and took them all away. It will be the same at the coming of the Son of Man".


Judgment and Rewards
Verses 12 to 13 say, "(Look ! I am coming soon, and my reward is with me to pay each one according to what he has done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end!)"

Here, Jesus interjects again, not only emphasising the nearness of his coming, but that he will come to judge and reward people according to what they have done (Matthew 16:27, 25:31-46, Luke 19:15-27, 2 Corinthians 5:10, Revelation 20:4-6). Consequently, it matters whether or not we live righteously.

For the significance of Jesus as the Alpha and Omega, please see my commentary on Revelation 21:6.


Clean clothes
Verses 14 to 15 say, "Blessed are those who wash their robes so they can have access to the tree of life and can enter into the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the sexually immoral, and the murderers, and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood!"

Sinfulness is sometimes portrayed metaphorically as people wearing filthy or stained clothing (Isaiah 64:6, Zechariah 3:3, Revelation 3:4). Similarly, righteousness is portrayed as people wearing clean white robes (Zechariah 3:5, Revelation 6:11, 7:13, 19:14). So the emphasis here is on the importance of receiving the salvation that Jesus offers us, and on living righteously. Salvation is not something we can earn for ourselves, but is a free gift of grace that we must willingly receive from Jesus. We must allow Jesus to clothe us in his righteousness (Revelation 3:4-5, 7:14, 19:8). We must then follow Jesus and live our lives in his righteousness, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us (Ephesians 3:16, 5:17-21, Romans 15:13).

The angel again stresses that access to the New Jerusalem and to the tree of life is only for those who live in Christ's righteousness. Those who reject his righteousness are kept outside, banished forever to the lake of fire (Revelation 21:8).


Message for the Churches
Verse 16a says, "I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches".

The speaker keeps alternating between Jesus and the angel. Here it is Jesus again. He says that Revelation is a message for the churches. It is not just a message for the leaders of the churches, but for all who sit in the pews as well. That is why Revelation 1:3 says, "Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy aloud, and blessed are those who hear and obey the things written in it, because the time is near!"


Son of David, Bright Morning Star
Verse 16b says, "I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star!"

In 1 Chronicles 17:11-14, God promised David that he would raise up one of his descendants to rule over his kingdom forever. Consequently, 'Son of David' became a title for the awaited Messiah. Taking Matthew's Gospel, it is applied to Jesus in Matthew 1:1, 9:27, 12:23, 15:22, 20:30, 21:9, and 21:15. Here in Revelation, Jesus is affirming that he is that descendant of David.

He also calls himself the 'root of David', implying his divinity, that he is also David's God. So placed together 'the root and descendant of David' identify Jesus as Messiah and God-incarnate. See my commentary on Luke 20:41-44.

2 Peter 1:19 says, "Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing. You do well if you pay attention to this as you would to a light shining in a murky place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts". Peter is urging his readers to pay attention to the prophetic scriptures, just as they would to a light shining in a dark place, 'until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts'. Literally speaking, the morning star refers to the planet Venus which is the brightest object in the night sky after the moon. It rises at the break of dawn and is a sure sign that the sun is about to rise. What Peter is saying is that we are still in the night time when we need the shining light of the scriptures to guide us like a torch. Then when the second coming is imminent, we will recognise the signs, like the morning star rising. As it rises, so will excitement rise within our hearts as we eagerly anticipate the second coming. Metaphorically, the second coming is like the sun rising, just as Matthew 17:2 says of Jesus at the transfiguration, "His face shone like the sun".

Also, modern analysis of the story of the Wise Men in Matthew 2:1-12 reveals that a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Venus occurred on 18 June in 2 BC. This is only one of several things that guided them. But the conjunction of Jupiter with the morning star produced an exceptional bright star as it rose in the east (Matthew 2:2). For further information visit BethlehemStar.com.

In Isaiah 14:12, Antichrist is revealed as an incarnation of Lucifer (Hebrew 'heylel ben shachar', translated 'Morning Star, Son of the Dawn' in the NIV). As such, Antichrist is a counterfeit of Jesus, the true Morning Star.
Come!
Verse 17a says, "And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say: “Come!”"

Given that the Great Tribulation will be the most difficult period in all of human history (Matthew 24:21), you might think that we should dread it and desire to delay it. But the Great Tribulation is like the painful labour before a child is born. We are to look forward to Christ's coming with excitement and hope, just as a mother looks forward to the birth of her baby. Titus 2:11-13 says, "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, as we wait for the happy fulfilment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ". In other words, the second coming is the blessed hope that we are to long for.

In the expression, 'the Spirit and the bride', the Spirit is the Holy Spirit. The bride in this case refers to the Church, although it is sometimes used to refer to Jerusalem (see my commentary on Revelation 21:2). If God's Spirit is saying to Jesus, "Come!" then so are we. 2 Peter 3:11 says, "…what sort of people must we be, conducting our lives in holiness and godliness, while waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God?". If we want to hasten it, we must play our part in fulfilling Christ's great commission to preach the Gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus said in Matthew 24:14, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come".


Let the thirsty come!
Verse 17b says, "And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wants it take the water of life free of charge".

As the Church says, "Come!" to Jesus, Jesus in turn says, "Come!" to the Church. Just as we long for him, so he longs for us, that we might share all that he has prepared for us. Even today, we can drink of his living water as he said in John 4:37-38 "…If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water.'" But today we only have the down payment or trailer of the fuller reality that we will experience in the New Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:5, Ephesians 1:14). Jesus longs for us to experience the fullness of life with him in the New Jerusalem.


A Solemn Warning
Verses 18 to 19 say, " I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy contained in this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes away from the words of this book of prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book".

It is clear from verse 20 that Jesus is the one testifying here. His solemn warning applies primarily to the book of Revelation. Yet again, he stresses its importance. As the last revealed book of the bible, it is also reasonable to apply this in a secondary sense to the bible as a whole. It is part of rightly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). This warning must he heeded by scribes, translators and teachers of Revelation, and of the bible as a whole.


Jesus' closing testimony
Verses 20a says, "The one who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!”

In his closing testimony Jesus affirms that the book of Revelation is his testimony, not just John's testimony. Similarly, in the introduction to the book, Revelation 1:1-2 says, "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must happen very soon. He made it clear by sending his angel to his servant John, who then testified to everything that he saw concerning the word of God and the testimony about Jesus Christ". In other words, this is the revelation of Jesus, every bit as much as the red letter sections in a red letter edition of the Gospels.


John's closing greeting
In verses 20b to 21, John responds with his closing greeting, "Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all".
Tags
Places:
Symbols: Bride, White clothes, Morning star, Holy Spirit as living water, Sealed and unsealed prophecy
Tags: River of God, Healing of the nations, No curse, Throne of God, Throne of Jesus, Names on foreheads, Reliability of prophetic scriptures, Judgments and rewards, Jesus as the alpha and omega, Jesus as the Son of David, Jesus as God-incarnate, Jesus as the Morning Star, Hope of the second coming, Importance of the second coming, Sealed and unsealed prophecy
22 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life – water as clear as crystal – pouring out from the throne of God and of the Lamb,
2 flowing down the middle of the city’s main street. On each side of the river is the tree of life producing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month of the year. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations.
3 And there will no longer be any curse, and the throne of God and the Lamb will be in the city. His servants will worship him,
4 and they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
5 Night will be no more, and they will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will shine on them, and they will reign forever and ever.

A Final Reminder

6 Then the angel said to me, “These words are reliable and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must happen soon.”
7 (Look ! I am coming soon!
Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy expressed in this book.)
8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things, and when I heard and saw them, I threw myself down to worship at the feet of the angel who was showing them to me.
9 But he said to me, “Do not do this! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets, and with those who obey the words of this book. Worship God!”
10 Then he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy contained in this book, because the time is near.
11 The evildoer must continue to do evil, and the one who is morally filthy must continue to be filthy. The one who is righteous must continue to act righteously, and the one who is holy must continue to be holy.”
12 (Look ! I am coming soon,
and my reward is with me to pay each one according to 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 they can have access to the tree of life and can enter into the city by the gates.
15 Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the sexually immoral, and the murderers, and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood!
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 And 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 wants it take the water of life free of charge.
18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy contained in 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 this book of prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book.
20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.
(NET)