The River of Life
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 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. 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. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 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.
Jesus Is Coming
6 And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”
7 “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, 9 but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”
10 And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”
12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.
The whole Bible is one story. It begins in a garden, ends in a city, and all the way through it points to Jesus Christ. In Genesis, one couple enjoyed the blessing of God, but through sin they were plunged into a world scarred by pain, sorrow, and death. In Revelation, a vast company of people are brought into a world of joy and peace, where sin and death shall be no more, and God himself will wipe all tears from our eyes.
The Bible begins with God creating the heavens and the earth. It ends with God creating a new heaven and a new earth, where everything Adam lost will be restored and much more besides.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. (Revelation 21:1)
John saw a “new earth.” “New” means that it will be wonderfully different; “Earth” means that it will be strangely familiar. The destiny of the Christian believer is not a dreamlike existence in an imaginary world. God will recreate, replenish, and renew this planet. “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
The joys of the new heaven and earth are beyond anything that we can imagine, but God uses two pictures to give us a taste of what lies ahead. They are the city and the garden.
At this point in John’s vision, history as we know it has been brought to a close. New York, London, Jerusalem, Beijing, and Moscow are all gone! The earth has been laid bare in the fervent heat of God’s judgment (2 Peter 3:10).
But now John sees a new city coming down from heaven, and immediately he recognizes its skyline: “I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:2). Jerusalem is full of significance in the Bible story. This was the place where God came down to meet with His people when the cloud of His presence filled the temple.
The new Jerusalem was vast! An angel “measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia” (21:16; 12,000 stadia equals about 1,400 miles). Remember that the book of Revelation is using pictures to help us grasp something of the glory that lies ahead. God’s redeemed people are more than anyone could number (Revelation 7:9), and God is telling us that He has a place for every one of us.
The measurements of the city are given in three dimensions. “Its length and width and height are equal” (21:16). In other words, it is a perfect cube. John would have seen the significance of this immediately. The Most Holy Place in the temple, where God met with His people, was also a perfect cube—thirty feet long, thirty feet wide, and thirty feet high (1 Kings 6:20).
The old Jerusalem had a holy place. The New Jerusalem is a holy place. In the old Jerusalem, one little room was filled with God’s glory. In the New Jerusalem, the whole city will be filled with His glory. In the old Jerusalem, only one person could enter the presence of God. In the New Jerusalem, all God’s people will enjoy Him forever.
God knew what He was doing when He created a world in which we would rebel and find ourselves hopelessly lost. He knew that a redeemed creation would display His glory infinitely more than an innocent one ever could. In the new creation, reflections of God’s glory will burst out everywhere—in us and all around us.
People who have been forgiven much will love much, and God’s redeemed children will sing, “Worthy is the lamb who was slain,” (Revelation 5:12). “Worthy are you… for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God, from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9–10).
Up to this point in the vision, John has viewed the New Jerusalem from the outside. But now, he is invited to come inside. As he enters, the picture changes, and no doubt to his astonishment, John sees a beautiful garden: “The angel showed me the river of the water of life… also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month” (Revelation 22:1–2).
The Bible story began in a garden, where God blessed Adam and Eve with four marvelous gifts: a home, work, relationship, and God’s visible presence. Each of these gifts was marred when sin came into the world. Adam and Eve were driven out from the garden and had to make their home in a world scarred by sin, pain, and death. Work that had been blessed was marked by frustration. The world’s first family was divided, and Adam and Eve had to walk with God by faith, rather than sight.
Paradise was lost when sin came into the world. But at the end of the Bible story, the gifts that were lost are not only are restored, they are surpassed in God’s new garden city.
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)
One striking difference between the old Eden and the new garden is that there is no tree of the knowledge of good and evil in God’s new garden city. Evil cannot be known there. This garden is free not only from its presence but even from its possibility.
In the old Eden, the man and the woman were not permitted to eat from the tree of life. But now they have free access, and the tree bears twelve different crops of fruit. The variety of fruit speaks of the riches of life continually replenished in the presence of God. Eternity will never be dull.
The greatest joys of life in this world are like pointers to the greater delights of God’s new creation. The pleasures of God’s new garden city will surpass anything Adam knew in the Garden of Eden. You will savor fruits that Adam never tasted and enjoy pleasures Eve never knew.
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)
The Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:5)
In the new creation, you will serve, you will worship, and you will reign. In the first garden, Adam served by working and keeping the garden. His calling was to exercise dominion over all that God had made (Genesis 1:26). He was to fill the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:28). When the serpent came, Adam did not maintain his rule. But now, God’s people are restored to a position of serving and reigning.
When God speaks about us reigning, He is telling us that life will be ordered and brought under your control. Your work will be free from frustration. You will no longer be subject to the tyranny of time, tedious tasks, contentious colleagues, or meddling managers. You will no longer be swept away by unpredictable tides of emotion or impulses of the will. And you will no longer be subject to danger or death.
It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. (Revelation 21:12–13)
The old Eden was enjoyed by just one man and one woman, but now a vast crowd is streaming in through the gates. God has redeemed these people out of the pain of human history, and He has brought them into greater joy than they had ever known.
John sees twelve entrances to the new garden city. People are coming into the city from every direction—China in the East, Russia in the North, Africa in the South, and America in the West. Every nation is represented in God’s redeemed and reconciled new community.
An angel stands at each gate in John’s vision, and all the gates are open (Revelation 21:12, 25). At the beginning of the Bible story, the cherubim guarded the entrance to the tree of life with a flaming sword. But now, Christ has broken the sword of judgment, and the angels are at the gates to welcome all who belong to Him.
Better Knowledge of the Lord
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. (Revelation 21:3)
God’s presence in this garden city is its greatest blessing. In the Garden of Eden, God would come down and make himself known at certain times. He walked with the man and the woman in the cool of the day. God came into the garden as a visitor. He did not impose Himself on the man and the woman, but gave them the opportunity to choose a relationship of faith and obedience with Him. So He came and walked with them, cultivating that relationship.
But now God has gathered a vast community of people whose minds have been illuminated by His truth and whose hearts have been melted at the cross of Jesus. Their wills have been directed by the power of the Holy Spirit, and they have come to love God freely. So God is no longer a visitor. God’s throne comes down into the garden city so that His people may live in His presence and enjoy Him forever. The Lord announces this with a note of triumph: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man” (Revelation 21:3).
When you don’t feel at home, remember that a day is coming when you will be more at home than you have ever felt at any time or place in this world.
When you find your work frustrating, remember that a day is coming when you will find joy and fulfillment in all that God gives you to do.
When you experience the joy of love, remember that this is a small taste of what you will experience in the presence of the Lord.
When you have questions or struggle with your faith, remember that one day you will see God’s face. And when you see Him, you will be like Him.
- How has this glimpse of the city changed your thinking about the new heaven and new earth?
- Which of the four joys of the garden city are most attractive to you right now? Why?
- How does knowing about God’s new creation help you live today?
- Do you think God wants you to enjoy the new heaven and earth that He has prepared? Why or why not?
- Looking back on your journey through the Bible story, what has been most helpful to you?