If you would please take a copy of the Bible in your hands and turn with me to the last chapter of the last book of holy Scripture, Revelation chapter 22, as we come to the conclusion of our studies in this amazing book of God’s Word. Just to help orient our thinking to the material we’ll find here, I want you to notice the three speakers that are addressing us in this chapter. First of all, there is the angel that had been guiding John through these visions. He addresses John with instructions and commentary, explanation. Then there’s John himself speaking in Revelation chapter 22. He addresses us, the reader, with explanations and exhortations. And then there’s Jesus Christ, who at several points throughout this chapter, He interjects, He interrupts with direct address to all of us who read and study the book together. And these three speakers deal with three themes. In many ways, as we will see, Revelation chapter 22 is simply a continuation of the themes and the material of the previous chapter. John is continuing to describe the age to come, only here we learn three things about the age to come. John shows us details about the place – the new creation. The time – when will these things finally come? And the person – at the center of the book, remember, is not a “what” or a “when” but a “who.” That is to say, the book of Revelation, you’ll remember from chapter 1, is the revelation of Jesus Christ. That is where John wants to rivet our attention and have our gaze linger as he brings the book to a conclusion.
With all of that said, by way of introduction, would you bow your heads with me as we pray before we read the text together. Let’s pray together!
Father, would You give us eyes that are open to the truth, hearts that are responsive to it? Would You indeed rivet our attention on Christ and would You fill our hearts with longing for the world to come such that we are enabled to wait for it with patience in the world that now is, even as we cry out to You, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” For we ask this in Your holy name, amen.
Revelation chapter 22 on page 1041 of the church Bibles. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“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.
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.
And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.’
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, 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.’
And he said to me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.
Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.
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. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
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.’
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. 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, 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.
He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”
They are the kind of questions children like to ask from the back seat on long journeys, aren’t they? “Where are we going? When will we get there? Who’s going to be there?” Actually, they’re enormously important questions to get answers to, especially when it comes to matters of eternity. As I said a moment ago, the final chapter of the book of Revelation answers those three questions for us as we travel onward on the long journey of the Christian life. First, it answers the question, “Where are we going?” It tells us about heaven the place, the new creation. Then it answers the question, “When will we get there?” It tells us about the timing of the new creation that Jesus is bringing. And finally, it answers the question, “Who is going to be there?” It focuses on the one person above all others whose presence will make heaven, heaven – the Lord Jesus Himself.
Where Are We Going?
Let’s think about the place first of all. Where are we going? Look at verses 1 to 5 of Revelation chapter 22 with me. Two weeks ago you will remember we worked through chapter 21 together and we noticed that the new creation John is describing is pictured as a great city, New Jerusalem, and as the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary of the temple of God. And in these first five verses of chapter 22, still another dimension is added to that picture. This time we see the new creation as a garden; the city that is a temple is a garden. And not just any garden – it is Eden restored and surpassed. Do you see that in the text? Look at it with me. There is notice, a river. The river of life running through the middle of the street of the city from the throne of God and of the Lamb. On either side of the river, there is a tree. John is probably using a collective noun there meaning trees of all sorts. That’s reinforced when you understand that John is building on the vision of Ezekiel chapter 47 where Ezekiel saw the river of life, or a life-giving river, flowing from the temple. On either side of the river, in Ezekiel’s vision, “are many trees.” Their fruit, Ezekiel says, “will be for food and their leaves for healing.” Clearly, Ezekiel has Eden in mind as he pictures the new creation. There’s a river in Eden and the tree of life is located there.
But right away as we think about how John describes Eden restored in chapter 22 of the last book of the Bible, there are contrasts with Eden in the first book of the Bible, aren’t there? After all, in Eden, there’s but one tree of life. But in the new creation, there are many. And notice in verse 2 that the tree of life bears twelve kinds of fruit, once every month. Twelve kinds of fruit; twelve months of the year, all year round. And we’ve heard that number twelve quite a lot as we’ve worked through the book of Revelation. It’s a number laden with symbolism – the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve apostles. It’s the number, the symbol, for the full company of the people of God. So that what we’re being told is that in the new creation the fruit of the tree of life will be an abundant supply, matching perfectly the needs of all of the people of God without any remainder. All of God’s redeemed will eat of the fruit of the trees of life and the nations will find healing in its leaves. It’s a picture now of fullness and abundance and sufficiency. The salvation that Jesus wins, in its consummation, is greater than the blessedness Adam knew before the fall. The Eden of Revelation chapter 22 is greater and more glorious than the Eden of Genesis chapter 2. The reality of the world to come far surpasses the world we have lost. We all have access now to the fruit of the tree of life all the time.
The Ancient Curse is Undone
And so as verse 3 puts it, no longer will there be anything accursed or, more simply, “no longer will there be any curse.” Today, as we heard this morning, today is the first Sunday of Advent and in God’s providence, if you were with us this morning, we began our Advent meditations in Genesis chapter 3. We were with Adam and Eve in the first Eden as they fell from the original righteousness in which they had been created. We saw the curse of God fall upon their sin, afflicting both our first parents and all their descendants after them, and even the world in which we live ever since. But we also heard God promise in Genesis 3:15 that a Redeemer, the seed of the woman, would deliver them, deliver us, and make all things new. The child of promise spoken of there in Genesis 3:15 we saw was the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one who has crushed the serpent’s head by means of the cross. And here in Revelation 22, at last, the final outworking of His victory is revealed and the ancient curse is undone. No longer will there be any curse, John says. No more, “Let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.”
That’s the message! Not just the undoing of sin, not just the restoration of Eden lost. No, it’s the outflowing of the river of life. It’s access to the fruit of the tree of life for all. It is healing for the nations. There’s more grace, more blessing, more happiness, we will know more of God, have sweeter and more intimate communion with Christ in the fullness of the Holy Spirit in the new creation than Adam ever did or ever could have had even in the unfallen Eden of the first creation. We know Him not only as Creator and Lawgiver as Adam did. We know Him as Redeemer and Savior, as Abba Father who has adopted us. Christ as our Elder Brother, His Spirit inhabiting our hearts as our perfect comforter and intercessor. God took occasion, do you see, from our sin and misery after Eden was lost to display to the world more of Himself than He would have had there been no sin at all so that here in Revelation chapter 22 we see not Eden restored but Eden surpassed. More of God in Christ by His Spirit, more joy, more rest, more glory than Eden ever could contain. And so, verse 3, “No longer will there be any curse but the throne of God and the Lamb will be in it and His servants will worship Him. They will see His face. His name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. There will be no need of lamp or sun for the Lord God will be their light and they will reign forever and ever.”
Imagery of the Garden OF Eden
Now there are many ways we can use the teaching of these opening verses of the chapter to our great benefit, but actually, Revelation 22 contains within it the way in which it wants us to apply these truths in this particular context. If you look over at verse 14, it points back to the imagery of the garden and the tree of life. It says, “Blessed are those who wash their robes that they may have the right to the tree of life and enter the city by its gates. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the sexually immoral and the murderers and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” What is it that John wants us to make sure of as we contemplate the garden city of New Jerusalem? He wants us to make sure that we have a right to belong there and to enjoy its blessedness. And he tells us how we may have that right. Notice carefully he doesn’t say that those who have the right to the tree of life or to enter the city by its gates have committed no sins, are not guilty of any of the terrible things that he lists as characteristic of those who have been left outside. No, what he says rather is “Blessed are those who wash their robes.” The implication is clear enough. Their robes once were equally filthy as all the rest who are left outside. It’s not that they are better, purer, cleaner, intrinsically. It is, rather, that they know in their filthiness that they must come and wash and be made clean.
Has Jesus Made You Clean?
John is picking up on language he’s already used back in chapter 7 at verse 14 where he sees God’s people who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. That, John says, is what we must make sure we all have done if we are to have a right to the tree of life and entry into the garden city, the sanctuary temple, the New Jerusalem. We must have our robes washed white in the blood of the Lamb. “His blood,” Wesley sang, “can make the foulest clean. His blood availed for me.” I wonder if you can sing those words for yourself. You’re not saying you’re not a sinner; you are saying that you are a sinner who has come and washed in the blood of Christ. That is to say, you’ve come to Jesus who died to make you clean, trusted yourself wholly to Him to save you. Have you done that? Are you clean? Have you washed your robes in the blood of the Lamb? The gates of the eternal city will be forever closed to you and you will never have any right to the fruit of the tree of life until you’ve washed yourself in the blood of Christ and made your robes clean. “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins. And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.” Have you washed your robes in the blood of the cross? Has Jesus made you clean?
And do notice carefully the tense that John uses – present continuous. You could translate it like this. “Blessed are those who are washing their robes.” Those who wash in the blood of the cross wash and wash and wash. It’s a habit of life. We’re never away from the cross. The first time we come to the cross, Jesus washed away the guilt of our sin once and for all. But soon we learn we need to come back again and again because the stain of it remains. It's polluting presence is not so quickly laundered. The blessedness of Eden surpassed doesn’t belong to the holier than thou who believe themselves to be morally superior and who somehow manage, at least in their own minds, to keep themselves unsullied by the crumbling morals of the world. No, those who enter the new creation are those who know that “Every day I must come. Every hour I must come back again to Calvary and have the blood of the Lamb make me clean.” The place. Where are we going? It is Eden surpassed and the gates of the garden city are flung wide to those whose robes have been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.
When Will We Get There?
Then secondly, the time. “When will we get there?” As we read over the chapter together earlier, I wonder if you heard the repetition on the lips of Jesus as He spoke to us. It’s there almost every time that He speaks in this passage. Look at it with me. Verse 7, “And behold, I am coming soon.” Verse 12, “Behold, I am coming soon bringing my recompense with me to repay each one for what he has done.” Verse 20, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’” Then add to that the angel’s words in verse 6. He has been sent, we are told, “to show his servants what must soon take place.” Or again in verse 10, “The time is near.” So when will we get there to Eden, glorious Eden surpassed? “Soon” is the answer of the book of Revelation. Soon and very soon we are going to see the King. That’s what it says. There’s a sense of immediacy, immanence about the coming of Jesus and the coming of the garden city temple of the living God, New Jerusalem.
Light and Momentary Afflictions
But you say, “It’s been two millennia since John wrote those words. How is that soon?” Well, it’s soon in terms of time in the same way that our sufferings here are light and momentary in terms of severity. That’s how Paul describes life here and now for all Christians. 2 Corinthians 4:17, “We do not lose heart,” he says. “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day for this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen.” From an eternal perspective, looking to the things that are unseen, knowing the eternal weight of glory beyond all compare that waits for us. These afflictions that cause us outwardly to waste away, what are they? Paul says they are “light and momentary,” there for just a little while. But soon, soon. That’s to be the Christian’s stance. Soon death will be swallowed up in victory. Soon-sin will only be a memory over which Jesus Christ hangs the banner of His triumph.
When the doctor says to you, “You’re going to live with this for the rest of your life,” you can say, “This is but a light and momentary affliction. But soon, Jesus is coming. Soon.” Isn’t that how we quiet our restless children on a long journey? “Are we nearly there, Dad?” “Soon, son. Soon.” That’s what Jesus is saying to us tonight, suffering Christians on the long, hard pilgrimage home, limping along the way wondering, “Are we nearly there?” He’s saying, “Soon, son. Soon, beloved daughter. I’m coming soon. You can hang on a little longer, can’t you? You can wait a little longer. It’s soon.”
Three Things to do With the Truth in Revelation
And before we move on, do notice that the passage itself once again tells us what to do with that truth. Three things actually. First, it says we are to “keep the words of this book,” verse 7. Secondly, we are not to “seal up the words of this book,” verse 10. And thirdly, we are not to monkey with the contents of this book, verses 18 and 19, because the time is soon, the time is near; because Jesus is coming soon. So keep the words of the book, don’t seal up the words of the book; that is, don’t keep it to yourself. And don’t monkey with the contents. Don’t subtract from it or add to it but submit to it in its fundamental integrity. Keep the prophecy. Don’t seal up the prophecy. Don’t monkey with the contents of the prophecy of this book.
How do you keep the perspective that Jesus is coming soon, especially when you’re hurting, when it’s hard and sore and long and wearisome? How do you hold onto the idea that these dreadful wounds that we bear, these heavy loads that we carry, are really light and momentary afflictions? The Scripture says you keep the words, you don’t seal up the words, and you don’t monkey around with the words of this book. Many of us shy away from the book of Revelation. I know because you have told me almost every single Sunday night. “I don’t know what to do with the book of Revelation,” you say. It intimidates us, understandably. But John, John doesn’t want us to shy away from this book, does he? He wants us to hear its message of hope and encouragement and comfort clearly. He wants us to learn the lessons that it teaches, to heed its warnings. He wants us to look in the direction that it points us. Always – haven’t we seen this every single week – always to the triumph of the Lamb. That’s what this book, the book of Revelation, is designed to do. It’s designed to keep us pressing on knowing the time is near, that Jesus is coming soon.
Which actually, of course, is part of the function of the whole of holy Scripture. When you neglect the Book, not just the book of Revelation but all sixty-six books of holy Scripture, when you neglect the Book, you ought not to be surprised if pressing on gets harder and the mountains seem steeper. God has ordained His Word for the comfort and nourishment of your soul. His Word provides the lenses through which to view the world and even yourself. His Word speaks to your heart and reminds you of truth. “True truth,” Francis Schaeffer called it; ultimate reality. It puts the true lenses before our eyes that we might make sense of what we see. Do not neglect the Book. That is in essence what this chapter is saying. Keep the Book. Don’t seal up the Book, proclaim the message of the Book. Don’t change its message; bow before it and embrace it. Love the Book. Where are we going? Well, the place is Eden surpassed. When will we get there? The time is soon. And keep your noses in the Book that you might hear that reminder again and again. “Soon, son. Soon, beloved daughter. You can hang on until then. You can keep going til then, can’t you?”
Who’s Going to Be There?
Then thirdly and finally, “Who’s going to be there?” The person. John wants to rivet our gaze, our attention, on Jesus. Or rather, actually, if you noticed, it’s Jesus Himself who interrupts throughout this chapter. He interjects as John reports. It’s not so much that John wants to fix our eyes on Jesus, although that’s true. It’s rather that Jesus Himself demands our attention. Look at verse 13. “Behold,” He says. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Back in chapter 1 verse 8, it was the Lord God Almighty who said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” Now here it’s Jesus who says it. Don’t ever let anyone tell you the Scriptures never claim that Jesus is God. Here is it, plain as day. The God who stands before and above time and space, the Alpha and the Omega, is identical with Jesus Christ.
The Alpha and The Omega
Now at first glance, these three statements that Jesus makes regarding Himself – the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end – they all appear to say essentially the same thing and to some extent that’s true. But the last line of the three I think is particularly interesting. Jesus says, “I am the beginning and the end.” Literally, He says, in Greek, it’s, “I am the arche and the telos.” The arche and the telos. He is the arche. That means He’s not just the first in a sequence. It means He’s the source and the archetype of every other in the sequence. Everything that is, everything that ever will be, derives its existence and takes its fundamental design in relation to God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And He is the telos. Not just the conclusion, the end point, but the destiny. Darrell Johnson puts it this way. He says, “The telos of an acorn is an oak tree. The telos of creation is Jesus Christ.” He is our destiny. We will become like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. History, creation, your life, and mine – it’s all moving toward Him, “for of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be the glory forever and ever.” He is the telos of it all. It’s all for Jesus.
The Bright Morning Star
And look down at verse 16 where Jesus interjects again to make a similar point. He says, “I am the root and the descendant of David.” Just as He is the first and the last, the beginning and the end, He is the root and the offspring of David. He is the root of David. King David comes from Him, and yet at the same time, He is the son of David. David’s heir, the Messiah. He’s the God who became man in the person of Jesus Christ. And we’re told He is the “bright morning star.” What a wonderful title for Jesus. The bright morning star. The last title that Jesus ever takes to Himself in Scripture. Not King, not Judge, not Lord; morning star. The morning star, remember, appears when the night is darkest. There are still hours til dawn, then the morning star appears and you know daybreak is coming. All the darkness notwithstanding, daybreak is coming. That’s Jesus, John says. The morning star who shines in the darkness tonight reminds us He’s coming. He’s the one we’re waiting for; He’s the one that we need.
What is Heaven About?
I’m sure you’ve begun to get the point by now and so it won’t offend you at all when I say that heaven isn’t about you. It’s not about an end to suffering, though that will wonderfully be true. It isn’t about the glorious reunion that certain awaits us. What is heaven about? What will make heaven, heaven? It will be face to face with Jesus Christ. The bliss of heaven will be the discovery that He is supremely worth it all. “The Lamb is all the glory in Emmanuel’s land.” His presence is the thing that makes heaven, heaven. Not our sinlessness, not our imperishable bodies, not the end of sickness and death. Jesus. Darrell Johnson, again, a great commentator on the book of Revelation quotes Annie Johnson Flint’s poem, The Lord Himself, in this connection. It works with many of the themes of the book of Revelation and I think it gets this point exactly right. Listen to Flint’s amazing poem:
“It is not for a sign we are watching...
For wonders above and below
The pouring of vials of judgment,
The sounding of trumpets of woe;
It is not for a Day we are looking
Not even the time yet to be
When the earth shall be filled with God's glory
As the waters cover the sea;
It is not for a King we are longing
To make the world-kingdoms His own;
It is not for a Judge who shall summon
The nations of earth to His throne.
Not for these, though we know they are coming;
For they are but adjuncts of Him,
Before whom all glory is clouded,
Beside whom all splendor grows dim.
We wait for the Lord, our Beloved,
Our Comforter, Master and Friend,
The substance of all that we hope for,
Beginning of faith and its end;
We watch for our Saviour and Bridegroom,
Who loved us and made us His own;
For Him, we are looking and longing;
For Jesus, and Jesus alone.”
Our Response to the Truth
So how do we respond to that, knowing that Jesus is the telos of all things, the end, the goal, the destiny, the prize and the reward of every believing heart? Again, our passage teaches us to respond, how we should respond. In particular, it teaches us to respond by saying, “Come.” Actually by saying, “Come” in two directions. In verse 17, we are to cry, “Come,” first to the world. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ Let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ Let the one who is thirsty come. Let the one who desires take the waters of life without price.” The Holy Spirit, John says, is pleading for you to come by His Word. The Bride, that is the Church, also cries for the world to come in its witness and preaching and proclamation. And even John himself here invites you to come. If you’re thirsty, the water of life, he says, is available to you. Come without price, freely by faith in Jesus, and drink. Come to Christ. Come and live, now and forever.
Remember, the time is near. Soon. One day all possibility of repentance of coming will cease. A chance to come to Jesus, to the waters of life, will be gone forever one day. And as verse 11 puts it, “the evildoer then will still do evil, the filthy will still be filthy, the righteous will still do right and the holy will still be holy.” Characters and destinies will be fixed forever as we stand before Christ at His appearing. So come, but come today. Come right now. Come without delay knowing the time is near. Come before it’s too late. Come and drink to the satisfaction of your soul. Come and wash your guilt-stained garments in the blood of Christ that you may have a right to the tree of life. Come, you’re welcome. Come for free and trust in Jesus.
Then look down at verse 20. Not only are we to cry to the world to come, we’re also to cry to the Lord Jesus to come. “Amen, come Lord Jesus.” Invite the world before Jesus comes, and do it praying for Jesus to come as you do. Plead with sinners to come to Christ and plead with Christ to come to the world. Preach and pray. Offer Christ and cry out for heaven.
Where are we going? We’re going to Eden surpassed. I wonder if you have a right to take from the fruit of the tree of life. Are your robes white and clean, washed in the blood of the Lamb? When will we there? Soon and very soon we are going to see the King. Soon. You can hang on til then, can’t you? You can press on through this light and momentary affliction til then, can’t you? Soon. And who’s going to be there? Jesus Christ, the Lamb who will be all the glory in Emmanuel’s land will captivate your heart, catch your breath away, and fill you with joy inexpressible and full of glory that will last unhindered through all the ages of eternity. So come, while yet there is time. Come, because the time is near. Come to Christ. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
Let’s pray together!
O Lord, please will You have mercy on us for being earthly minded, for thinking only of earthly benefits and having hope only for this life. What a pitiful way to live when there is a world to come, a world of love, a world of joy, a world of rest, face to face with Jesus. Would You give us eyes that are filled with even just a glimpse of His loveliness and sufficiency and power and glory and grace as it shines out from the pages of holy Scripture so that we can press on, persevere, reminding ourselves that though outwardly we are fading away, the time is at hand? It’s soon. It is near. These are light, momentary afflictions. He has grace for us while we labor and weary and toil in His cause. Make us bold to open our mouths, not to shut up the words of this prophecy but to proclaim the good news that is its heart, to say to the world, “Come.” And even now as we cry out to You, world-weary as we are, O Lord Jesus, won’t You come to us? Even so, come Lord Jesus, come. Bring it all to its end. Bring us home to glory. Let death, at last, be swallowed up in victory. Let this old, broken-down world be rolled up and done away that the new creation may come, the home of righteousness. Come, Lord Jesus. For we ask this in Your great name, amen.
©2016 First Presbyterian Church.
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