Revelation 22:1-5 The River of the Water of Life

Previously, John has looked on the eternal city and, on the people living there. Now he concludes with the sources of life that bless the garden-city, the New Jerusalem: “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” (v. 1).

There are many biblical antecedents to this vision, but two stand out. The first was the river that “flowed out of Eden to water the garden” in Genesis 2:10. The second was the river that “was issuing from below the threshold of the temple” in Ezekiel’s vision of God’s end-times temple (Ezek. 47:1). We see the first river flowed “out of Eden” and Ezekiel’s river flowed from the eastern temple door, the river of the New Jerusalem flows “from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (v. 1). The clear point is that the sovereign reign of God in history is the source of the life and refreshment that flows to His people in eternity. Since it is the throne not only “of God” but also “of the Lamb,” we see that grace flows from the sovereign will of the Father by means of the saving death of His Son.

John provides details regarding this river of life. He says that its water is “bright as crystal,” depicting the purity of life that God gives and the cleansing effect of the grace that we receive by faith. John adds that the river flows “through the middle of the street of the city” (v. 2). Earlier, we saw a street of “pure gold, transparent as glass” (21:21). Apparently, the river flows either atop or beside the main thoroughfare, showing that divine life streams in the heart of the eternal dwelling place of God’s people. Here is fulfilled the promise of Revelation 7:17: “The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water.”

Ezekiel’s temple vision showed the stream beginning at the temple doors as a trickle, then growing finally so deep that it could not be crossed (Ezek. 47:1-12). This depicted the increasing power of God’s grace as it advanced in redemptive history. As it flowed to the east, Ezekiel saw brackish water becoming fresh, trees lining its banks, and fish swarming with life. Ezekiel said that on its banks “there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fruit every month… Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing” (Ezek. 47:12). John picks up this language to show that Ezekiel was foreseeing not a future physical blessing for the physical land of Israel but rather the vitality of life that God has in store for His people in the New Jerusalem.

The Genesis account of the garden highlighted not only the river flowing out of Eden, but also the “tree of life…in the midst of the garden” (Gen. 2:9), which conveyed eternal life to those who eat from it (Gen 3:22). Now John sees this Tree of Life growing on both sides of the river. Most scholars think that this image depicts not a single great tree but a grove of trees that give life, lining the banks of the river.

Ezekiel saw trees whose “fruit will be for food,” and John notes their fulfillment in the New Jerusalem: “the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month” (v. 2). The fact that “twelve kinds of fruit” are yielded “each month” indicates both the variety of blessings and their perpetual availability. There is an abundant provision of spiritual life and grace to meet every imaginable need.

Verses 1-2 shows the ultimate accomplishment of salvation by the sovereign will of the Father and the atoning death of the Son, culminating in the outflowing provision of eternal life. Verses 3-5 depict the eternal application of redemption for those who come to Christ in faith. For them, the curse of sin will give way to the blessing of grace, eternity will be spent basking in the knowledge and service of God, and those joined to Christ will reign with Him forever and ever.

When Adam and Eve first sinned against God, they fell under the curse of His just wrath. As a result, they were cast out of the garden and barred from the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:22-24). No longer would they enjoy personal fellowship with God and serve as His people. When John says, “No longer will there be anything accursed” (v. 3), he declares that the entry of sin has been remedied and reversed. Now believers will enjoy the bounty of God’s grace, which is richer in Christ than the joys of the original garden. We live now in the age when sin has not yet been removed. But by confessing our sins and bringing them to the cross for forgiveness, we escape the curse of sin and enter into the life of the children of God. The penalty paid by Jesus has restored us to God, and one day soon its effects will be cosmically removed for life in the New Jerusalem.

The chief result of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin was their alienation from the presence of God. The chief blessing of the eternal glory is, correspondingly, the return of God’s presence to His redeemed people. John thus writes that “the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it” (v. 3). God’s throne dominates the visions of Revelation. At first, John was permitted to peer into heaven to see the vision of God’s throne (4:2). Now, at the end of the story, he sees “the throne of God and of the Lamb” in the very midst of His people.

This statement shows that redemption is a restoration to the presence and blessing of God, as well as to God’s kingly rule. The calling for God’s throne to reign in your life through obedience to His Word is a sign of your return to His favor. It is those under a curse who are left to wander in the blasted lands east of Eden, free to govern their own lives in folly and sin. Those who are placed under the authority of God’s Word are those no longer cursed by sin but blessed by grace. Just as the curse of sin was removed by God’s sovereign will and the Lamb’s atoning work, His blessing is sustained by the enthroned presence of God in His truth and grace.

Not only will we enter into blessing of God, but we will spend eternity growing in our knowledge of Him. John writes: “They will see his face” (v. 4). In this life, you will probably never meet a famous general, a head of state, or even a popular movie star. But if you belong to Christ through faith, you will see God’s face. Indeed, the mark of a mature believer is an increasing desire to see God’s glory in heaven and to be closer to Him now.

In addition to seeing God’s face, believers will have “his name” written “on their foreheads” (v. 4). Whereas the mark of the beast signified loyalty to the tyrannical Antichrist, here the mark of God signifies the loyalty of those who belong to Him. In as earlier vision, the sealing of God’s name on His people indicated His care for their souls (7:3), in contrast to the unbelieving world marked with the sign of the beast. Moreover, the name of God stands for His character, which is reflected in the holiness of the glorified saints. God’s mark indicates His ownership, His covenant union, and His acceptance of all who bear His name in eternity. None who bear His name will ever be forgotten or lost.

John repeats in verse 5 his earlier statement that “night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light.” Everything belonging to the old order will have gone, including both nighttime with its dangers and temptations and the celestial light needed for daytime. In the New Jerusalem, God’s presence will always be their light. John concludes: “And they will reign forever and ever” (v. 5). Thus, at the end is fulfilled God’s first calling for His people. God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion” (Gen. 1:26). Sin made slaves, but God intends by grace to make us kings.

Through union with Christ in faith, you are destined to reign with Him in the land of glory. Of the one who conquers, he said, “I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev. 3:21). This being true, why should sin reign over you now (Rom. 6:12)? Why should you succumb to anxiety, even in the midst of great trials, when God has sent His Son to die for your sins and has promised that you will reign with Him forever? Remembering that John wrote the book of Revelation to churches facing terrible persecution for their faith and testimony to Christ, why should you fear to speak boldly the truths of God’s Word, and especially the gospel offer of salvation?

There is a crown for you, together with a portion of the glory of Christ for you to display in this world. If you come to Jesus for salvation and yield yourself to His reign in this life, then the final words of John’s vision will come true for you: the Lord God will be your light, and you will reign forever and ever.

Revelation 22:1-5 Study Questions:

According to John, what is the purpose of the leaves on the tree (v. 2)?

From the start of the book, we were told that the Lamb’s followers were to be a royal priesthood, and now we see what this means. It is from the city, the city which is the bride, the bride which is the Lamb’s followers, that healing, restorative stewardship is to flow. This is how the creator God will show, once and for all, that His creation was good, and that He Himself is full of mercy. How might we begin to participate in this healing, redeeming work today?

Revelation 21:22-27 The City without a Temple

In a book filled with important visions, the final vision depicts the new heaven and the new earth in the form of a temple-city. The book of Revelation was written to provide hope to suffering Christians in the church age and its persecutions. The final and greatest hope for every believer is the eternal glory awaiting us in Christ. A courageous faith will cultivate this hope by knowing the precious blessings awaiting us, anticipating glories that are beyond our present capacity by meditating on them as they are symbolized in Scripture.

The opening sections of this final vision identify the coming city as the glorified church of the Old and New Testaments (vv. 12-14). The city’s shape compares it to the holy of holies inside the tabernacle and temple, a perfect cube that marks the entire city as the inner sanctum of God’s dwelling. The precious gems and pure gold that adorn the city show the preciousness of His people to God and their radiance in reflecting His surpassing glory (vv. 18-21).

Starting in Revelation 21:22, John looks inside to observe life in the eternal city. He makes three statements, each of which is in negative terms: The first of these negative statements notes the absence of a physical sanctuary: “I saw no temple in the city” (v. 22). All ancient cities had a temple or many temples. Here we see there is no temple in the city of God. Temples existed as places where one went to meet with God. The New Jerusalem will need no such place, since “Its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” In the eternal city, God will fill the dwelling of His people so that He is met and known everywhere. It was god’s presence that made the old, physical temple sacred. In the end, God will have so reclaimed the entirety of creation that His glory will equally and fully pervade every square inch and light-year.

Notice that the temple in the eternal city is “the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (v. 22). This statement makes clear the equality between Jesus and God; together with “God the Almighty,” Jesus, “the Lamb,” is the temple of His people. Not only do believers gain entry into the eternal glory through faith in Christ’s death for our sins, but He reigns there as our Divine King and Mediator forever. From the moment a sinner puts his or her trust in Jesus and is forgiven of sins, there will never be a single second in all eternity when Christ’s atoning mediation will not ensure our righteous standing before God and God’s covenant favor toward us.

Second, not only is the New Jerusalem a city without a temple, but it also lacks physical lights (v. 23). We are reminded here of the creation story in Genesis 1:14-16. Secularists today insist that light cannot exist without the sun, moon, and stars, but the Bible declares that God is the source of light. Therefore, when His presence fills the eternal city, there is no further need for celestial lights. John’s point is not about the astronomical situation in the renewed universe but to affirm the unsurpassed splendor which radiates from the presence of God and the Lamb.

Here again, the light belongs equally to the Father and the Son: “the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (v. 23). While they are coequal as God, the Son delights to display in His person and works the glory of the Father, as a lamp that reflects a light. When we consider the beauty of natural light, we can only imagine the surpassing glory of the light of God revealed by the lamp of Christ. Since John identifies Jesus as “the Lamb,” we may be sure that God’s end-times revelation of glory will highlight the love that gave His Son so that believers might be forgiven of our sins.

Looking by the light of God into the city, John sees a teeming metropolis of activity. People from over the whole of the globe are gathered for worship and holy commerce: “By its light will the nations walk” (v. 24). The nations will walk by His light, having first seen that light by the countless bold Christians in their witness of the gospel of Jesus. Ancient cities closed their gates at night for security reasons, but in this city there is no need. John notes that “its gates will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there” (v. 25). The imagery speaks of peace and blessing in the city on which God’s glory shines.

John’s third statement regarding the New Jerusalem describes it as a city with no sin: “But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false” (v. 27). By “unclean” things, John means unregenerate people whose natures remain corrupted by sin. By “what is detestable,” John refers to the perverse evils condemned throughout the Bible as reprehensible to God. These sins are specified in the final chapter: “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters” (Rev. 22:15).

In a society as immoral as ours, it is essential that Christians speak the truth about God’s hatred of sins such as adultery and homosexuality, together with the idolatry of greed and thievery. Recent examples show a gross intolerance toward biblical teaching about God’s judgment on these sins, especially when it comes to deviant sexual lifestyles. Christians must nonetheless speak the truth boldly about God’s condemnation of homosexuality, adultery, and other perversions, just as we must speak graciously about forgiveness for all sins that is available in Jesus Christ. The fact that concludes with those who are “false” may indicate God’s special disgust for those who not only practice gross immorality but deny God’s judgment in encouraging others to join in their sin.

Contrasted to the ungodly are those whose names are “written in the Lamb’s book of life” (v. 27), who alone will enter God’s glory. The Book of Life is God’s eternal record of those elected by sovereign grace and called to salvation through faith in the blood of Christ. Whereas divine judgment is by just demerit, salvation is through the mercy of Christ for sinners, received by faith alone.

We are not permitted to look into God’s Book of Life before the final judgment, but we can identify the distinguishing character of those whose names are there. First, they are true penitents. Those destined for the New Jerusalem have felt the condemnation of their sins, have grieved before God for their guilt, and have hated the presence of sin in their lives. Second, they are all believers in Christ Jesus. Those who dwell in the eternal glory are those who trust in the saving work of Christ, especially His atoning work as the Lamb of God who died for their sins. They found salvation nowhere else, but believed in Jesus, received His offered mercy, and continued in faith throughout their lives despite all manner of persecution.

Third, those whose names are written in God’s Book of Life are all born of the Spirit and sanctified. This means that they began in this life, however imperfectly, the holy life they will enjoy perfectly in the age to come. They have been inwardly renewed by the Holy Spirit with a nature that inclines after God. This is how you know that you are destined to enjoy eternity in the glory of God’s presence: not church membership alone, not fleeting spiritual experiences, not money given to the church or good deeds that you think will overcome your sins, but a penitent heart that embraces the Lamb of God in faith and seeks thenceforth to live for the glory and honor of God.

Realizing that the ungodly will never enter God’s holy, eternal city, we should not only warn sinners to repent and believe in Jesus, but first make sure that we ourselves come to Him to be forgiven and cleansed from sin. Have you come to Jesus to deal with your sin and be justified before God? Until you admit your guilt, come to Jesus for forgiveness, and believe His gospel for salvation, there is no more important resolution for you to make. If you do not, you will be barred from God’s eternal city as a rebel and cast into hell for your sin.

The day of judgment has not yet come, and the current age has yet to give way to the eternal glory. How urgent, then, is your need to embrace the opportunity to believe on Jesus Christ and be saved! John urges you to seek the only way of entry into the glorious city to come, through the Lamb of God who takes away our sins: “Blessed are those who wash their robes,…that they may enter the city by the gates” (Rev. 22:14).

Revelation 21:22-27 Study Questions:

Why are the temple, the sun and the moon absent from the New Jerusalem (vv. 22-23)?

In what way did the ancient temple in Jerusalem serve as a signpost to something greater?

How will the nations participate in the life of the New Jerusalem (vv. 24-26)?

Why are the gates of the city never shut (v. 25)?

That which ruins the beauty and holiness of God’s new city is ruled out by definition> What is specifically mentioned here (v. 27)?