(1) 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
At the close of chapter twenty-one, the discussion had turned from Ezekiel’s prophecy of the new Jerusalem to the prophecy in Isaiah 60; but with the start of chapter twenty-two we are back to the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy.
“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. (2) 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. (3) Going on eastward with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep. (4) Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was waist-deep. (5) Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through.” (Ezekiel 47:1-5).
Ezekiel’s discussion of the river is much more detailed, but I believe Revelation expects its readers to recognize the referrals it gives to other places of scripture, and to read the original prophecies which are being fulfilled in those days (10:7). Ezekiel’s vision was of a stream of water trickling out from under the threshold of the temple. John saw a much more intimate view of the water’s source, seeing it inside the Most Holy Place of the temple, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Ezekiel describes the water as a trickling stream coming from its source but 1,500 feet down stream the water was ankle-deep; going the same distance again and again, and the water was knee-deep, then waist-deep, and finally it was an impassable great river. The angel explained to Ezekiel that “wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live” (47:9). This was the water of life! John is seeing a similar depiction of the same spiritual truth; from the only life-giving source, from God and the Lamb, he sees the “river of the water of life, bright as crystal”, this is a lovely picture of the spiritual, eternal life which comes only from God. Jesus gave this testimony, saying,
“whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14).
(2) through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
This verse continues to follow the fulfillment of Ezekiel 47, just as we saw in the previous verse. Ezekiel’s view of the trees beside the river is nearly word-for-word to what John sees;
“As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other.” (47:7).
“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.” (47:12).
The main distinction between Ezekiel’s vision and John’s is that John identifies the trees as “the tree of life.” While Ezekiel does not say that, it is understood by the detail he gives that the leaves are for healing. Similarly, Ezekiel does not call the river the “river of life,” but it is implied when he describes it as giving life to everything that touches it. Ezekiel and John both describe the trees as many, and they bear unfailing fruit every month. John speaks of the tree of life as if it were many trees, and yet only one; the source of life and healing.
It is significant to consider that the tree of life has been unavailable to man since Genesis chapter three! Here, at the last chapter of God’s message, we see the tree of life growing beside men, like it did in the beginning. The abundant life which the Lamb has given to all who come freely to water of life (22:17) is in view with this fruitful tree of life. It is the figure of God dwelling with men (21:3), just like the days in the garden of paradise.
“Twelve kinds of fruit.” It is evident by the use of “twelve,” being the signified number of God’s people, that these are the fruits seen in the people of God. This fruit is the good produce from God’s works, the fruit of the Spirit; and this fruit is the produce of his children as well.
“Yielding its fruit each month.” The fruit from the tree of life does not follow springtime and harvest, but continues to bear fruit every season, every month. There is not a time when its fruit is not in season, and there is not a season that the people of God can cease their production of the fruits of God, for faith without works is dead (James 2:14, 17, 24, 26).
“For the healing of the nations.” For those who interpret these final chapters as the future abode in heaven, there is much kicking against the goads, which I’ve addressed throughout the previous chapter. Here again, we are reminded that these things were accomplished in the first century (1:1; 22:6) by the fact that the peoples of the nations still existed and would have opportunity to come and be healed (22:17) from their sin. The fact that the tree is “for the healing” demands an ongoing necessity of forgiveness to sinners who come to the source of life in repentance. In heaven there is not need for healing. In heaven there can be no invitation to come to this river of life which the tree of life grows beside (22:17), for those opportunities would have passed along with this earth.
(3) No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.
Those who have established a scriptural relationship with Christ are no longer under the curse of sin. The curse of sin brought death, i.e. no relationship to God; it also brought a land of painful toil with difficult harvest, a difficult conception in the womb and painful toil in delivery, and enmity between the seed of woman and the seed of Satan (Genesis 3). But Christ came to destroy the one who had power of death, Satan (Hebrews 2:14); and we have seen the devil defeated throughout the book of Revelation (see comments on 20:8). Through Christ the promises which God gave to Abraham in response to the curses of sin were spiritually realized; instead of a barren and unfruitful land, Christ provides a land of rest from the toil of sin (Hebrews 3-4), a land flowing with spiritual blessing; instead of a difficult conception in the womb, Christ lifts the curse and spiritual offspring are born throughout every nation (Isaiah 54:1-3; Galatians 4:21-31).
“But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.” We can be confident that anything accursed is removed in the people of God because the throne of God and of the Lamb is therein. We know that the Lord must remain separate from the accursed and from sin, so the fact that God dwells among and within his people, means that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1).
(4) They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
Seeing God face-to-face is a beautiful image of the close relationship that the new covenant people have with their God (Hebrews 10:19). Moses was described as the one “whom the LORD knew face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10), although we know that Moses never literally saw the face of God (Exodus 33:23). Here we see a similar concept, it is certainly a figure of the spiritual realities of the church’s communion with God. The faithful have always been described under this figure; here are a few more examples of this,
“For the LORD is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.” (Psalm 11:7).
“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.” (Psalm 17:15).
This is a necessary figure in the overall picture of the new covenant church, for the emphasis has been on the relationship of God with his people. This city has come down from heaven to be with man (21:2); God dwells among men, walking with them (21:3); he stands in front of them, wiping away their tears (21:4); he is their God and they are his sons (21:7); they are the Bride, the wife of the Lamb (21:9) – there is no closer relationship than that; God is their temple and they are his (21:22); the tree of life demonstrates the abundant life that they have with God (22:2). So we see then that these chapters are about the communion between God and man, made possible by the blood of the Lamb of God. The picture that “they will see his face” is further declaration that God is among them.
“His name will be on their foreheads.” This speaks to the fulfillment of what was promised to the church in Philadelphia (3:12); and it was seen in the vision of the faithful during the conflict of the beast (14:1). It is very identifiable, and it is a mark of ownership;
“God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.'” (2 Timothy 2:19).
(5) And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
This is a reemphasis of three points; first, that there is no night (21:25); second, that God is the light for the city (21:23); and third, that they shall reign with God (20:4). There is no more night, for there is no darkness to be found in the people of God; they are pure and holy, having been forgiven by God. They shine and reflect the glory of God’s goodness and the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.
“They will reign forever and ever.” To Laodicea, Christ said, “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.” (3:21). When one is made a child of God, then they his sons, and if they are sons, then they are heirs (Galatians 4:7). If one is an heir to the Almighty God, then they reign! The reign does not necessitate a reign from heaven, for that isn’t the context; but as 5:10 explained, the true people of God reign on the earth today! A royal priesthood in the kingdom of God (1 Peter 2:9)!