The sermon text for today is Revelation 22:1-5. The Old Testament reading is Ezekiel 47:1-12. You’ll notice that we have read often from Ezekiel chapters 40-48 over the past couple of weeks, for that section of scripture clearly stands behind the visions shown to John and recorded for us in Revelation 21 and 22. Long before the first coming of Christ Ezekiel the prophet was shown something of what would happen at the end of time. He was shown a vision of a temple and a city. The book of Revelation makes clear that the visions shown to Ezekiel will be fulfilled, not in some millennium, but in the new heavens and new earth when Christ returns. Let us now turn our attention to the reading of God’s inspired, inerrant, clear and authoritative word.
Old Testament Reading: Ezekiel 47:1–12
Ezekiel writes, “Then he [that is, the angel] 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. 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. 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. 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. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, have you seen this?’ Then he led me back to the bank of the river. As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. And he said to me, ‘This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea; when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh. And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. 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 47:1–12, ESV)
New Testament Reading: Revelation 22:1–5
“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 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. 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. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 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.” (Revelation 22:1–5, ESV)
These first five versus of Revelation 22 serve as a conclusion to the section that began at Revelation 21:1. In this section, which runs from 21:1 through 22:5, we are shown something about the new heavens and the new earth that will be established after Christ returns.
When Christ returns many things will happen. In brief, those not in Christ will be judged and confined to the lake of fire, whereas those who have faith in Christ, who’s names are written in the lamb’s book of life, will take possession of their eternal reward. And what is that eternal reward? It is the new heavens and the new earth.
In this place “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4, ESV). This place will be perfectly pure. “Nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27, ESV). And this place will be perfectly secure. In the vision shown to John the new heavens and earth are symbolized by a city with walls exceedingly high and thick. In reality, I do not expect to see walls surrounding the new heavens and new earth. But in the vision shown to John the symbolism of high and thick walls is unmistakably clear. The walls signify security. This place will be perfectly secure for all eternity. This fully established kingdom of Christ will be everlasting. His “dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14, ESV).
But what characteristic will make the new heavens and earth truly heavenly? More than the abolition of sickness, suffering and death – more than the perfect purity and eternal security of the place – it will be “God with us” that will make the new heavens and earth truly heavenly. Indeed, his glory will fill all. He will be our God and we his people. He will dwell in the midst of us for all eternity in most immediate way.
Just as the honeymoon is not ultimately about the destination but the person you are with, so too the new heavens and earth are less about the place, but the fact that we will be with God and he with us. The place is not unimportant. But the emphasis here is that the place will have been prepared for us so that we might enjoy the presence of God in it. Christ himself said “I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2–4, ESV).
To put it differently, in the new heavens and earth, heaven and earth will become one.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1, ESV). What does that mean except that in the beginning God created two realms: the heavenly realm, and the earthly realm.
The heavenly realm is that place where the angels reside. It is the place where God does, even now, manifest his glory in a most pronounced way. It is the place that the prophets of old were, from time to time, given a glimpse of. Listen to Isaiah 6:
“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:1–3, ESV)
Isaiah was shown a vision of the heavenly realm where God is enthroned, where his glory is manifest and angels do worship him day and night.
John the Apostle also saw visions of this heavenly place. Remember Revelation 4:1:
“After this [John says] I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald”, etc. (Revelation 4:1–3, ESV)
These are two instances of visions of the heavenly realm where God’s glory is manifest and angels do worship him continually. We could pile up examples from the Holy Scriptures where men on earth are provided a glimpse of this heavenly and spiritual realm which is typically invisible to us. It is the place created by God in the beginning where he his glory is concentrated and manifest.
It is not that God is confined to that place, that is, to the heavenly realm which he has created. Indeed, he is omnipresent, which means that he is all places at all times. And indeed, he has also manifested his glory on earth from time to time in human history. But it is in this heavenly realm where his glory is manifest in a most pronounced and concentrated way.
The matter is put beautifully in Isaiah 66:1 where we read,“Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool…” (Isaiah 66:1, ESV). Indeed, God is present both in heaven and on earth, but the heavenly realm is rightly called the throne room of God. It is there in the heavenly realm that God’s glory is manifest, where angels worship him continually, along with those in Christ who have passed from this world, who’s souls are now present with the Lord. They are in heaven – a spiritual realm invisible to us now.
But when Christ returns, that heaven – that is, the third heaven, as Paul calls it in 2 Corinthians 12:2 – and this earth – I need not describe earth to you, for it is the physical universe that God created in six days, which we are well acquainted with – these two, heaven and earth, will become one.
Let me prove the point.
First of all, notice how the same glory of God that John saw in earlier visions emanating from the throne of God in heaven is, in chapters 21 and 22, described as filing the whole of the creation. Compare Revelation 4:1-6, which is John’s description of a vision of the heavenly throne room of God filled with the glory of God, with Revelation 21:9-27, which is a description of the new heavens and new earth, and it is hard to miss the point. The glory of God that fills the heavenly realm now will, at the consummation, fill all of the new creation. Heaven and earth will become one.
Secondly, notice how the throne of God itself, which up to this point has been seen only in heaven, is in this passage said to be situated in the midst of the new heavens and new earth. The word throne appears 47 times in the book of Revelation. In most instances it is referring to God’s throne in heaven. But here in 22:1 and 3 the throne of God is on now seen on earth. It is situated in the midst of the city which, in the vision, symbolizes the new heavens and new earth. God throne has shifted, therefore, from being centered in heaven, to being at the center of the new heavens and earth.
In Revelation 22:1 we read, “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” (Revelation 22:1, ESV). Where is this river? It is flowing through the streets of the city, which is symbolic of the new heavens and new earth. In verses 3 we read, “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” (Revelation 22:3, ESV). What will “the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in”? The throne will be situated in “it”, which refers to the city, which symbolizes the new heavens and earth.
In other words, what is true of the heavenly realm now, will, at the consummation, be true of the whole of the new creation. There is nothing impure in heaven now where God is seated in glory. There is no sickness nor death in that place. All who are there, of angels and men, do worship God continually. His glory fills all. This is the heavenly reality even now, though it be invisible to us. But when Christ returns this will become the reality of the new creation. Heaven and earth will become one. God will dwell in the midst of his people, not in some soul-is spiritual realm, but in the new heavens and earth. His glory will fill all. He will be worshipped and served by angels and men. That place will kept pure. Nothing unclean will enter into it. What is true now of the heavenly realm will be true of the new heavens and earth when Christ returns.
Put differently, the current order of things is that “Heaven is [God’s] throne, and the earth is [his] footstool…” (Isaiah 66:1, ESV). But in the new heavens and earth, his throne will be on earth and in the midst of us.
Do you remember how a few years ago I tried to drive into your minds the idea that the whole of human history can be divided up into the five successive stages organized around the principle of the kingdom of God?
The kingdom of God – that is, God’s rule and reign in the midst of his people – is indeed an central and organizing principle found throughout the pages of Holy Scripture. When we talk about a kingdom we should think of three things: a king, his subjects or the citizens of that kingdom, and a realm or territory. When you have those three things you have a kingdom. The whole of human history can be described as the establishment of God’s kingdom where he (the King), dwells in the midst (the place) of his people (his subjects).
And what are the five successive stages that lead to the establishment of this kingdom of God?
First, the kingdom was offered to Adam and Eve. I say that it was offered to them, and not experience by them, because Eden was a place of testing. Everything in that narrative points to the conclusion that what Adam and Eve experienced in that garden was not the end goal. It was not the final and establishment of the kingdom offered to them. It was a place of testing. There were two trees in that place – the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam was given a task. He was to fill the earth and he was to keep the garden. He was to, like his Maker, finish his work and enter into Sabbath rest. To succeed meant life and rest, to fail mean to death and toil. Adam failed. The kingdom of God was offered to him, but never did he attain it. Adam rebelled against God as King. He obeyed another master, who then began to rule in this world.
Secondly, the kingdom of God was then promised to Adam and Eve. This, of course, was an act of sheer grace. God was not obligate to give the gift of his kingdom to man. But he promised to do it. He would establish his kingdom, not through Adam, but through another representative, namely, the Christ. In due time, the Christ would come. He would be born of the woman. He would succeed where Adam failed. He would obey God perfectly and he would stomp the head of the serpent who did at first tempt Eve and then Adam. This kingdom he would establish in the fullness of time, but the promise of it was made even in the hearing of Adam and Eve. The first promise concerning the establishment of this kingdom is found, not in the New Testament, but in Genesis 3:15 when God pronounced the curse upon the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15, ESV). This promised was like a seed that would sprout and grow throughout the Old Testament period until, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4–5, ESV). The kingdom of God was promised shortly after it was offered and refused.
Thirdly, the kingdom of God was prefigured. The promise of the kingdom was preserved by Adam and Eve and the righteous line that proceeded from them. Seth, Enoch, Lamech, and Noah preserved the promise. So too did Shem, Terah and Abram. And this promise concerning the coming of the Christ would also be preserved by Moses and David and the prophets after them. But something unique was done when God called Abram out from the nations and promised to make a nation out of him. His offspring would go to Egypt and would be enslaved there. Then God would rise up a man named Moses who would speak God’s word to Pharaoh saying, “let my people go!” And Pharaoh would, in due time, being coerced by the mighty hand and outstretched arm of God, let Israel go. They went into the wilderness. There they wandered for 40 years. After that they would take the land of promise. A nation was born. And this nation was utterly unique. These were God’s chosen people. Everything about them – their laws and their worship – was to prefigure the kingdom of God that was offered and then promised long ago.
The glory of God dwelt in the midst of them. He was their King, they were his people. And they were given a land. And in that land one city became most significant, the city of Jerusalem. And in that city a temple would be build to “house God”. The scriptures are abundantly clear, though, that the land of Israel, the city of Jerusalm, and the temple of stone, were not the end goal of God’s plan of redemption. Far from it! Those early things were but a shadow of heavenly realities and pointed forward to greater things yet to come. The promise concerning Christ and his kingdom and was preserved and also prefigured in the nation of Israel. Everything about Israel – the laws, the land, the city, the temple and the worship that was conducted there before the glory of God functioned typologically. It was real! But it also pointed forward to greater realities yet to come – things more substantial. The kingdom of God was prefigured in Israel. The glory Spirit of God was present in their midst and working, but a greater outpouring of the Spirit was yet to come.
It wasn’t until the Christ came that it could be said, “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This was John the Baptist’s message. This was the message of Jesus. It was at Christ’s first coming that the kingdom of God was inaugurated. This is the fourth of the five successive stages that will lead to the establishment of the kingdom of God. Kingdom inaugurated.
What can we say about this period? For starters, the Spirit of God was poured out like never before. The Spirit defended upon the Christ and anointed him beyond measure. The Christ was present in the world and he demonstrated his power over the enemies of God. He pronounced the forgiveness of sins. He healed the sick, made the lame to walk and the blind to see. He raised the dead. The glory of God – like the glory that was present at creation, with Israel in the wilderness, and on Sinai when Moses when up to meet with God – the same glory that filled the most holy place of the tavernacle and later the temple – fell on Jesus the Christ on the mount of transfiguration. Jesus was and is the King of kings and Lord of lord’s. He is the Son of David, the Son of Abraham. He was the one to establish God’s Kingdom, functioning as the great Prophet, Priest and King. It was the job that Adam was to do! Jesus the Christ did it! And after keeping God’s law perfectly – after he did suffer and die for his people, paying the price of their redemption to set them free – he did raise from the dead, breaking the power of death itself, and he ascended to the Fathers right hand where he is seated now, having “all authority in heaven and on earth… been given to [him]” (Matthew 28:18, ESV), by virtue of his obedient life, vicarious death, and victorious resurrection. He is the King! And his kingdom is here now. It has been inaugurated.
But you and I know, brothers and sisters, that the kingdom has not been consummated, for when we look about us it is pain that not all is in subjection to Christ. Only some have come to say, “Jesus is Lord”. Only some have been called out of the kingdom of darkness to walk in the kingdom of light. Indeed, the “the prince of the power of the air” is still “at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2, ESV). The kingdom of God is here, but not in fulness. It is advancing. This is why we pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9–10, ESV). The kingdom of God was inaugurated at Christ’s first coming, but it is moving on towards the consummation. Now is being accomplished what was revealed long ago through the Psalmist, when he wrote, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’” (Psalm 110:1, ESV). That is what is being accomplished now. The Lord Jesus the Christ has sat down at the Lord God’s right hand, and now his enemies are being defeated and brought under his feet.
Revelation 22:1-5 describes the new heavens and new earth to us but in such a way so as to make it plain that it will be the consummation of the kingdom of God. It is the fifth and final stage in the establishment of this kingdom.
Who is the king of this kingdom? God and his Christ are King. They are seen enthroned!
Are there any rivals? No, all of their enemies have been confined to the lake of fire.
Who are the citizens of this kingdom? They are those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. They are faithful servants of the King. They “see his face, and his name [is] on their foreheads” (Revelation 22:4, ESV). These “will reign [with him] forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5, ESV).
And what are the boarders of this kingdom? This kingdom fills all of the new heavens and the new earth. Adam was to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28, ESV). This he failed to do. But Christ, the second Adam, will accomplished it when the whole world is filled with the glory of God and all is kingdom.
Here we have a vision of the kingdom consummated at Christ’s return.
I can’t think of a passage of scripture that more clearly demonstrates that the whole of scripture, despite the great diversity we find in it, tells one grand story. It is the story creation, fall and redemption. It is the story of the kingdom go God offered, promised, prefigured, inaugurated, consummated.
Notice that the language of Eden is all over this passage.
The mention the river running through the city in should remind us of the garden of the garden of Eden. In Genesis 2:10 we read that “A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers” (Genesis 2:10, ESV). In Revelation 22:1 we read, “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 through the middle of the street of the city… (Revelation 22:1–2, ESV).
Even more obvious is the mention of the tree of life. Remember that in the middle of the garden of Eden there was a “tree of life” (Genesis 2:9). And in Revelation 22:2 John describes, “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” (Revelation 22:2, ESV).
Obviously our minds are to go back to Eden when we read this text in Revelation. Indeed, what Christ accomplished as the second Adam through his obedient life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection has reversed the effects that the fall of the first Adam had upon this world. But thanks be to God, the new heavens and earth will not be a return to the Garden of Eden.
The new heavens and the new earth are not Eden.
The river is called the river of life.
The river flows directly from the throne of God, which is situated in the midst of this place.
And there is no mention at all of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In Eden there were two trees: “The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9, ESV). Eden was a place of testing. The new heavens and earth is a place of consummate rest. Why? Because Christ past the test!
Notice that tree of life produces 12 kinds of fruit. Here were are to think of the Ezekiel 47 passage that was read earlier where in verse 12 we read, “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). Where as Ezekiel saw many kinds of trees, John saw one kind of tree, the tree of life, lining the river and producing 12 kinds of fruit, one per month.
The idea is that God will supply an abundance of life for his people forever and ever. He will give them water to drink, and he will give them food to eat to sustain them, spiritually speaking, for all eternity.
Notice that leaves of these tree(s) will be for the “the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:2, ESV)
What is described here is like nothing the world has ever known before. Adam and Eve did not even experience what is described here in the garden prior to the fall. It will be as new for Adam and Eve as it will be for us. This was offered to them, but failed to attain. Never did they lay ahold of this consummate, secure and eternal rest. Jesus the Christ earned it. He earned it for himself and for all who believe upon his name.