Jerusalem… a garden-city
It is unfortunate that Ch 22 begins where it does. It would have been more fitting to begin it at v6 which is the beginning of the epilogue for in these first five verses John is still describing the new Jerusalem. Indeed these verses bring his description of the city of God and the triumph of God’s grace in history to a fitting climax and conclusion.
History as it is revealed in the Bible, begins in a garden and ends (the end without end…Augustine) in a garden-city. We noted in the first post that the new creation is Eden restored, reconfigured and glorified. God’s initial quest in Eden to dwell with man is in the new Jerusalem eternally realised. Sin has not defeated God. God has defeated sin and grace is victorious. Revelation 22, the end of the all things, takes us back to Eden and the beginning of all things. From Eden (the paradise of God and his dwelling place on earth) a life-giving river flowed that watered the garden and from the garden diverged into four rivers which flowed out to refresh the earth (Gen 2:8-17). The Edenic scene is echoed in Ezekiel’s temple; from the throne of the temple (the dwelling place of God on earth) the river of life flows out bringing life to a now sinful world vividly symbolised in the Dead Sea being made fresh. On each bank of the river Ezekiel sees trees with fruit for eating and leaves for healing (Ezek 47:1-12). Zechariah saw living waters flowing out from Jerusalem to the east and west (Zech 14:6-9). John’s vision is clearly an amalgam of these. John’s city is paradise regained.
John sees a garden-city with the river of the water of life flowing out from the throne of God in the temple-city. It is the everlasting source of (divine) life along with the tree of life on either side of the river perpetually yielding twelve kinds of fruit and with leaves for the healing of the nations. In ancient times a city with an abundant and constant flow of fresh water (living water, not stagnant) would have been considered a wonderful place to live (Ps 36:7-9, 46:4; Isa 33:10,11; Joel 3:18). The picture when read is evocative. The symbolism, however, runs deeper. It tells us life in the city is not dependant on human responsibility but on the grace of God symbolised in the life-giving river and tree. The water of life is the life of God himself bestowed in the life-giving Spirit (Jn 7:37,38 , Cf. 4:13). In John’s city, the Spirit will richly supply every need of God’s people… those who have conquered (2:7, 7:17, 21:7). The once banned tree of life (Cf. Prov 3:18, 11:30) is now freely available with its constant supply for physical and spiritual needs (2:7). Everything intrinsic to life in its fullness is found in the city. That spring of living water from which we have begun to drink shall eternally slake our thirst. Eden is both reborn and reimagined; it is enhanced… elevated… exalted. Christ has gained more than the sons of Adam lost.
In a series of short images the description of life in the holy city reaches its climax. Eden is restored and curse of any kind has gone forever (22:3). The effects of the fall are no more. There are no decrees of destruction (Zech 14:11). The throne of God and the Lamb is there (v3). God’s rule is established (Zech 14:9). His servants will serve him. All of life will be priestly service to God (7:15, Isa 61:6, Roms 12:1). It’s worth noting that the word ‘servants’ (slaves) is used of those in the seven churches and those elsewhere in the book experiencing tribulation (eg. 1:1, 2:20, 6:11, 7:3, 10:7, 11:18, 22:6). They shall see his face, that is see him as he truly is (v4). Our face is our identity… our uniqueness (Matt 5:8, 1 Jn 3:2 Cf. Numbs 6:24-26). God’s people have direct full knowledge of God (Ps 11:7; Matt 5:8; 1 Jn 3:2). Then we shall know as we are known (1 Cor 13:12). This is the beatific vision that shall endlessly make happy the purified heart.
Without a cloud between. To see Him face to face. Not struck with dire amazement dumb, But triumphing in grace.
Without a cloud between; To see Him as He is; O who can tell the height of joy, The full transporting bliss.
His name shall be on their foreheads (v4 Cf. 3:12, 7:3, 14:1). His people, his servants, shall be marked as belonging to the Lord giving them identity and security. In this they contrast with those who belong to the beast (13:16,17). Once again we are told night with its negative connotations will be no more (v5, Cf. Zech 14:7). And we are reminded that lamp and sun are redundant. God is the light of the city of light (Isa 60:19,20). The brilliance of God’s glory in the city has been John’s most dominant impression. It was his first impression upon seeing the city (21:10,11). It was further symbolised in the various precious stones and metal (21:18-21). We are told explicitly the city had no need of sun or moon for the glory of God gives it light and its lamp is the Lamb (v22). And here John repeats this truth. Here is a city suffused with the glory of the God who is light and in whom is no darkness at all (1 Jn 1:5).
Lastly, but by no means least, we are told his servants will reign forever and ever (5:10, 20:4). In Eden, humanity was created to rule over all creation. Sin disrupted that goal (Hebs 2:5-9). Now it is realised. Those who have suffered with Christ reign with him (2 Tim 2:12). In Daniel, reign is conferred upon the Son of Man and upon ‘the people of the Most High’ (Dan 7:13,14, 18, 27). In and with Christ, the conquering Lamb who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, shall reign and his people shall share in his reign. The bride shares in the reign of the bridegroom.
And so John’s vision of the End comes to an end. However, John has one big point still to make… the End is near. Jesus whose prophecy John reveals says, ‘See I am coming soon’. John has been describing through symbols the indescribable but the indescribable is soon to be realised. It is almost upon us. The calling for God’s people is to live in anticipation. To be watching and to be saying as his bride ‘Come.’