The end of chapter 20 was dark and foreboding, because John saw in a vision how the dead were judged and all those whose names were not written in the Book of Life were cast into the lake of fire along with the Devil and the beasts and death and the grave. Chapter 20 was dark and foreboding. But chapter 21 was filled with light, because in chapter 21 John received a vision of the new heaven and the new earth; and of the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, which came down out of heaven from God. And this Holy City, this new Jerusalem, was also a Bride, because this city is not really a city, but it’s the church made perfect and glorious. And the members of the church made perfect and glorious, who will make up this Holy City, will be with the Lord God Almighty and with the Lamb for ever and ever in the new creation. All so, all of God’s people will dwell in the place God has prepared for us; and we’ll enjoy God’s presence with us for ever and ever. And so, the Lord’s promise to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob will be fulfilled at last when the things which John saw in his vision take place.
And the last time we went through John’s description of the Holy City, this new Jerusalem, which is the church made perfect and glorious. First of all, he described how the city shone, not with the light of the sun or moon, but with the glory of God which filled it. Then he described the walls of the city which speak to us of how safe and secure the church will be. It also speaks to us of its purity, because nothing unclean or shameful will be allowed inside. Then he described the gates, which faced each way. That speaks to us of how the members of this glorified church will come from every nation. Then he described the foundations of the city, because the church is built on the foundation of the teaching of the apostles about Jesus Christ.
And then he measured the city, and it was found to be vast. That speaks to us of how the glorified church will comprise a multitude of people; and not one of those who ought to be there will be missing. And the city and its walls were made of gold, which speaks to us of the church’s glorious beauty, a beauty which will never fade or tarnish but which will last for ever. And there was no physical temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple, which means their presence will fill the glorified church. And nothing impure will ever enter it, but only those who names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Verses 1 to 3a
John’s description of this wonderful city, which is the church made perfect and glorious, continues into chapter 22. And so he tells us in verse 1 how an angel showed him that there was a river which flowed down the middle of the great street of this city. What is this river? Well, John tells us: it’s the river of the water of life. In other words, this river symbolises eternal life which every member of the church will possess. John tells us that this river flowed from the throne of God and the Lamb. That tells us that eternal life is the gift of God to the church; and it also tells us that it was brought about by the sovereign will of God who rules over all and by the Lamb of God who was slain for sinners. And the river is clear as crystal; so there’s nothing bitter in it, nothing to spoil it, or to make it unclean. And so, eternal life in the presence of God will be perfect, with nothing to spoil it.
If you’re familiar with the book of Ezekiel, then you’ll recognise how John’s vision of the new Jerusalem with a river running through it echoes Ezekiel’s vision in Ezekiel 47 of a a river which flowed from the temple of Jerusalem and which ran into the Dead Sea and into the Mediterranean Sea and which made their salt water fresh. And in Ezekiel’s vision there were many trees on either side of the river. And the leaves on those trees — which were for healing — did not wither; and the fruit on those trees — which were for food — did not fail. That’s what Ezekiel saw; and John saw something similar, because he too saw a tree. He says it stood on each side of the river. How one tree sits on both sides is not clear; some commentators think that there were many trees, a forest of trees. However, whether there was one or whether there were many, doesn’t really matter. The important thing is the fact that this tree is the Tree of Life, which we first encountered in the Garden of Eden, the Tree which symbolised for Adam and Eve God’s promise of eternal life which they would have received if they had obeyed him. But since they disobeyed the Lord, they were driven out of the Garden in order to prevent them from eating from the Tree of Life and living for ever.
That’s what we read at the beginning of the Bible. Now, at the end of the Bible, we read how that restriction has been removed, and the Tree of Life is growing alongside the river of the water of life in the new Jerusalem, which is the church made perfect and glorious. In other words, every person who is part of the glorified church will enjoy everlasting life. Whereas Adam and Eve were forbidden from eating from it, all who belong to Jesus Christ will be permitted to take from the Tree of Life and live for ever.
And, of course, between the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life in the New Jerusalem, there was that tree which the Lord Jesus was nailed to. The Lord Jesus was nailed to the cross; and he suffered and died there to pay for our sins. And because he died on that tree, sinners like us are pardoned; and permitted to take from the Tree of Life and live for ever.
And look: this Tree of Life is abundantly fruitful, because it produces fruit every month. That symbolises that there’s no end to our salvation, because just as the Tree keeps on producing its fruit, so God’s people will keep on enjoying eternal life. And the leaves of the Tree are for the healing of the nations, because those from all the nations who make up the glorified church will be healed because God will take away all the sorrow and sadness, the heartache, the persecution and the pain of this life. He’ll take it away from us so that we will be forever healed of these things.
And there will be no more curse. Back in Genesis 3, after the Lord exposed Adam and Eve’s guilt, he said to Adam:
Cursed is the ground because of you, through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.
Because of God’s curse, Adam’s life — and the life of his descendants — would be hard and difficult and frustrating and would end in death. But in the new creation, the curse is removed so that our life then will not be hard or difficult; and it will not end in death. No, our life then — in the new creation, as members of the glorified church — will be marvellous and it will be everlasting.
Verses 3b to 5
As well as seeing the river of the water of life and the Tree of Life, John saw the throne of God and of the Lamb which was in the city. So God will be with his people; his dwelling place will be in their midst. And since he’s on a throne, he will rule over his people and his servants will serve him. Well, that’s what Adam and Eve were meant to do in the Garden of Eden. They were meant to obey the Lord their Maker and serve him all the days of their life, doing his will and carrying out his commands. But instead of obeying him, they disregarded his word and they forfeited the right to eat from the Tree of Life. And instead of living in this presence, enjoying his good favour, they were sent away from the Garden and from the presence of the Lord. But in the new creation, God’s people will serve the Lord as Adam was meant to do. And in the new creation, we will enjoy God’s presence and we will see his face. What a privilege! Not even Moses — who spoke to the Lord on Mount Sinai — was permitted to see his face, for no one now is able to see him and live. And in Isaiah’s vision of heaven, in Isaiah 6, not even the angels of heaven were able to look upon the Lord; they had to cover their faces with their wings. But in the new creation, we will be allowed into his presence; and we’ll be able to come so near to him that we will see his face.
And his name will be on our foreheads. We’ve come across this idea before in the book of Revelation, because in chapter 3 God promised the church in Philadelpha that he would write on them his name and the new of the new Jerusalem. Well, a mother will write her child’s name on his uniform before he goes to school to show that his uniform belongs to him. And God will write his name on his people to show that we belong to him. And his name will never be erased from our foreheads, for we will belong to him and we will belong to the new Jerusalem, the glorified church, for ever and for ever.
And once again John tells us that there will be no more night. And we won’t need lamps or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will give us light: his glory will fill the glorified church and his presence will light up his people.
And his servants will reign with him. Adam and Eve were to rule over the first creation: they were to fill the earth and subdue it; they were to rule over the fish and the birds and over every living creature. But because of Adam’s sin, they fell from their position as rulers over all. But in the new creation, God’s servants will reign over all. And so God’s plan for the human race will be fulfilled at last; and it will be fulfilled because God, by his Son, has put right all that went wrong in the first creation. And in the new creation, we’ll not sin, like Adam did, and lose our right to rule over all; instead we’ll reign over the new creation for ever and for ever.
It’s glorious, isn’t it? And the reason the Lord revealed these things to John and commanded him to write them down for us is so that God’s people in every generation will remain faithful and will persevere. In order to save their life in this world, many who once professed faith have given up the faith and turned away from God. But what good is it to save our life in this world, when this world is destined to perish? What good is it to save our life in this world and lose out on life in the world to come? And so, we ought to persevere and remain faithful, because this is the glorious future which awaits us and all of God’s people if we remain faithful and do not stumble nor fall away from Christ the Saviour.
And this also reminds us that we’re to be people who are meant to fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. The things we can now see — and which take up so much time and attention and which worry and upset us — are temporary. They’re temporary; it’s all for the time being. But the things which are unseen — or perhaps we should say the things that cannot yet be seen — are eternal. And so, those are the things we should truly value and pray for and hope for and strive for. And we should pray to the Lord to help us to live our lives here on earth as those who know that is is not our true home, because our true home will only be revealed when Jesus Christ our Saviour returns.