The Tree of Life (Revelation 22)

In the first five verses of chapter 22 belong with the description of the bride, New Jerusalem coming down from heaven, recorded in Revelation 21:9-27. New Jerusalem is a picture of the people of God in their perfected state, receiving the eternal rewards and final blessings promised for their faithfulness to God (cf. Revelation 19:7-8).

The River of the Water of Life (22:1-5)

The angel shows John the river of the water of life. This river of living water is pictured as being as bright as crystal. Near the campus of Florida College runs the Hillsborough River. It is not a beautiful river. It is dark, full of tree limbs and moss. There is nothing about that river that calls for a person to jump in. The river flowing through the New Jerusalem is desirable and beautiful. These are the flowing waters that bring life. These are pure waters. The river of the water of life flows from the throne of God and the Lamb. Remember that there is no temple in the city. God and the Lamb are on the throne and the river of life is flowing from the throne through the middle of the street of the city. All who belong to this city have access to the river of the water of life for it flows through the middle of the city right down its main street. Zechariah and Ezekiel use the same imagery for this glorious time.

On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter. (Zechariah 14:8 ESV)

Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side. (Ezekiel 47:1–2 ESV; cf. 47:8-9)

On either side of the river of the water of life is the tree of life. The tree of life yields fruit each month and the leaves bring healing to the nations. This imagery also comes from Ezekiel’s prophecy.

As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. (Ezekiel 47:7 ESV)

And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.” (Ezekiel 47:12 ESV)

What an inviting picture! Come to God for healing. Healing is made available for all seasons. Life is available for all seasons. God has offered healing to the world. The river of the water of life and the tree of life represent the life of eternal fellowship with God and Christ. The last time we read about the tree of life was in the garden of Eden in Genesis. The tree of life was put in the midst of the garden (Genesis 2:9). When Adam and Eve sinned, they had to be cast out of the garden. This symbolized their separation from God. They could not be in eternal fellowship with God nor be in the presence of God because of sin. Eternal separation from God is the second death, as we saw in Revelation 20:6,10,14-15 and Revelation 21:8. The tree of life is now in the midst of New Jerusalem, representing God’s people having full fellowship with God and full access to God forever. This access and this healing is available to all people, not a select group. Anyone can be part of God’s people and join in this eternal fellowship to come.

Verses 3-5 explain the effects of the tree of life and the river of water of life. There is nothing accursed, unlike what happened to Adam and Eve because of their sin and they experienced curses. There is no sin and therefore there is nothing accursed. The throne of God and the Lamb are in the midst of this city and his servants worship God. Verse 4 is simply staggering if we let it the words sink into our hearts. The servants of God and the Lamb will see his face and his name will be on their foreheads. The hope of God’s people is finally realized: seeing God face to face. We even sing songs in our hymnals now longing for that time when we can see God’s face. The godly are pictured as priests, worshiping God in his presence, seeing his face. His name on the foreheads of the servants continues to picture the intimate fellowship between God and his people. God recognizes his people. These are the faithful who have not succumb to worshiping things that are false gods and idols. This picture shows the fulfillment of God’s promise made to the Christians at Philadelphia.

The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. (Revelation 3:12 ESV)

Finally, we are reminded that there is no night there as we will live in the light and the glory of God. Everything is now perfect. There is no more evil, no more death, and no more pain.

The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended. (Isaiah 60:19–20 ESV)

The servants of God reign forever and ever with the Lord, just as Daniel prophesied and Jesus promised.

And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them (Daniel 7:27 ESV)

The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:21 ESV)

Final Encouragement (22:6-21)

The timeline and the images have concluded. John seems to be left with the angel as the angel gives his final directions to John and the readers of the book. The words of this prophecy given in the book of Revelation are trustworthy and true. The Lord who inspires the prophets has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place. This statement reiterates what we read in the very first verse of the book of Revelation.

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John…. (Revelation 1:1 ESV)

Jesus then adds more to this message. “And behold, I am coming soon.” We have learned that the coming of Christ is found in a sequence of events. The book of Revelation has revealed the fall of the Jewish nation and the destruction of Jerusalem. The book of Revelation has also revealed the fall of the Roman Empire. Further, the book has revealed the calamity of the world after the fall of the Roman Empire. Finally, Revelation revealed the final judgment against Satan. The beginning of the book of Revelation stated that these “things must soon take place” (1:1) and “the time is near” (1:3). The end of the book of Revelation states the same. These things “must soon take place” (22:6) and our Lord “is coming soon” (22:7). None of these things can be said to be happening soon if the book is all about things that will happen at the second coming of Christ. None of the things were soon if the book is referring to things that have not happened yet. Let me challenge you also that there is nothing soon about the message of the book if Revelation is only about the fall of the Roman Empire, which would occur hundreds of years after this book was written. However, the book can be said to be happening soon if we see the book as a chronology of events that began within one year after the book was written. Christ is coming in a series of judgments the Jewish nation, the Roman Empire, and Satan. The fall of Jerusalem was described by Jesus as the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds (Matthew 24:29-31). The judgment of the Jewish nation was the first event of the coming of Christ and the city’s fall would happen very shortly after the writing of this book. Any other interpretation of Revelation cannot deal with the time markers given at the beginning and end of this book.

Verse 7 concludes with another call for faithfulness and endurance. Blessed are those who keep the words of the prophecy of this book. The message has been to be faithful even to death and not to worship the false idols of the world.

John is so overcome at the message that he again falls down to worship at the feet of the angel. The angel again tells John not to do this for only God must be worshiped. Do not worship any form of idolatry, not even angels. God is the only one deserving of worship.

The angel then tells John not to seal up the words of the prophecy found in this book because the time is near (22:10). This is a parallel to the end of Daniel’s prophecy. However, at the end of Daniel’s prophecy the angel tells Daniel to seal up the book until the time of the end because the time was not near (Daniel 12:4, 9). It was going to be a time, times, and half a time before all these things would be finished (Daniel 12:6-7).

Verse 11 of Revelation 22 also shows a direct connection to Daniel 12. Notice the parallel.

Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy. (Revelation 22:11 ESV)

Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand. (Daniel 12:10 ESV)

Daniel’s prophecy is the best explanation of what the angel is saying to John. The wicked are not going to understand that their doom is predicted and sealed. The wise, that is the righteous, will understand and remain faithful through the prophesied tribulations. The dye is cast. The end is determine. Preach this prophecy understanding that many of the wicked are going to remain wicked. I see this truth from Revelation still in the preaching of the gospel. The righteous learn from the preaching of God’s word and are strengthened and encouraged. The wicked do not care, take God’s word flippantly, and continue in their evil ways. This does not mean we stop preaching. It means we understand that in the face of the glory of God’s blessings and revelation, the wicked will continue to be wicked.

Verse 12 reminds all the readers that as the Lord comes in these judgments he is bringing recompense with him. Christ will repay everyone according to what they have done. The wicked will be repaid and the righteous will be repaid. Christ is the sum of all things. He is the beginning and the end. Blessed are those who wash their robes. They will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city of God. The imagery of washing robes was introduced to us in Revelation 7:14. The picture is not merely being baptized, though that is certainly included in being faithful to God. Washing our robes in the blood of the Lamb means following him to our death for him even as he went to the death for us. Our robes are washed when we have fully given every ounce of our lives to the Lord in obedience and submission. Those who have fully given their lives to Jesus are on the outside of this glorious city. Dogs were regarded as despised creatures throughout the scriptures and is used metaphorically of unbelievers (cf. Matthew 7:6).

Jesus has given his testimony assuring that these events will certainly come (22:16). Christ is the fulfillment of the previous promises concerning the Messiah and his kingdom. Now the Messiah promises that the things you have read in the book of Revelation will certainly happen. The Holy Spirit through this prophecy, God’s holy word, says, “Come!” The people of God, the bride, also says come. Join with the rest of the victorious servants of the Lamb. Let those who are thirsty seek the Lord and receive the water of life freely (cf. Isaiah 55:1-2). Come to the Lord and find life. Come to the Lord and receive the eternal blessings.

The book of Revelation concludes with one final warning. If anyone adds to the prophecy of this book, God will add to that person the plagues described in the book. If anyone takes away from the words of the prophecy of the book of Revelation, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city. Do not tinker and torture this message. Do not change the message of the book. I fear that many will suffer the consequence described in verses 18-19 because they have falsely taught from this book. They have distorted and perverted the message of Revelation for their own financial gain and notoriety. God will judge anyone who adds or takes from God’s holy word.

There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (2 Peter 3:16 ESV)

The result is destruction to those who twist the scriptures. God’s word is holy and must not be altered in any way. Our Lord testifies that his judgments are coming. Be ready for the fulfillment of these words found in the book of Revelation. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.