************ Sermon on Revelation 22:1-5 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 28, 2010
"A Return to Eden"
If the Olympics show us anything, it is the importance of camera angles. At first, it looked like the Korean women won the ice-skating relay race; a different camera angle showed one of the Korean skaters cutting off a Chinese skater. The same thing happened with the Dutch skater, Sven Kramer; at first, it looked like he won the gold and set a world record; a different camera angle showed that he botched a lane change. Same with the bob-sled accident. A different camera angle showed how the athlete went too high up the track and flipped out of control. At the start of the Canada-Russia hockey game (of course, I have to watch the hockey) it looked like a goal had been scored, but the puck ended up behind the net; the official looked over the netting for a hole or tear but did not find anything; a slow-motion replay from another angle clearly showed that the Canadians had scored.
In Revelation 22, the angel shows John one more perspective – one more camera angle – on the future life. Let me remind you of what we have seen so far. The first camera angle showed us a new heaven and new earth – the focus of the lens was on everything new. The second camera angle showed us the outside of the New Jerusalem – we saw its glory and beauty and security. The third camera angle showed us the inside of the New Jerusalem – we saw what was missing. Today, we look at the future life from the perspective of the Garden of Eden.
I River and Tree
A Our passage begins with two elements that lead us back to the beginning of the Bible: a river and a tree. Try to imagine what John is shown:
(Rev 22:1-2) Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb (2) down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
To understand this vision, we need to look at Ezekiel's vision of the last days temple. I ask you to turn with me to Ezekiel 47 (p.1364):
(Ezek 47:1-12) The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. (2) He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was flowing from the south side. (3) As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. (4) He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. (5) He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in--a river that no one could cross. (6) He asked me, "Son of man, do you see this?" Then he led me back to the bank of the river. (7) When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. (8) He said to me, "This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Sea. When it empties into the Sea, the water there becomes fresh. (9) Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. (10) Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds--like the fish of the Great Sea. (11) But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. (12) Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing."
Let me summarize what Ezekiel saw. Ezekiel saw an angel measuring water flowing East from the Temple. At a thousand cubits from the Temple, it was ankle-deep. Another thousand, it was knee-deep. Another thousand, it was up to the waist. Another thousand, it was over the head and shoulders. Do you see what was happening? The water started as a trickle, hardly a river at all. Then, without any flow from tributaries, the water got deeper and deeper. The point? The water is endless. It is ever increasing, ever deepening, ever expanding. The supply is limitless. Contrast that to the St. Johns River coming from Lake Kaweah – the further it goes the less the flow until eventually all the water is swallowed by the dry, thirsty earth.
But there is more. Everything Ezekiel's river touches is suddenly brought to life. The Dead Sea, for instance, in which no life can be sustained because of all the salt and minerals, is turned into fresh water when the river flows into it – fresh water that supports fish and plants and animals and birds. And, lining both banks of the river are great numbers of trees bearing fruit each month for food and leaves for healing.
Do you see the similarity to John's vision in the Revelation?
B There appears to be at least one difference between John's vision and Ezekiel's vision. Ezekiel sees many trees lining the banks of the river; John sees one tree lining the banks of the river. Try to picture this: one tree lining both banks of the river. This kind of reminds me of a vine by Golden West highschool – just one vine but it stretches here and there and everywhere so that it covers a giant oak, a fence, and a house.
C John, like Ezekiel, sees a river but only one tree – the tree of life. Does this remind you of anything? Doesn't this remind you of the Garden of Eden? What stood at the center of the Garden? The tree of life – those who eat of this tree will live forever (Gen 2:9; Gen 3:22). And, what flowed from the Garden? A river that watered the Garden (Gen 2:10).
So, what does John see about the future life? John sees the river of the water of life. John sees the tree of life. John sees a return to the perfect life of the Garden of Eden.
Do you remember what happened after the foolish rebellion of Adam and Eve in the Garden? They were expelled from the Garden. They were expelled from the Garden so that they, as sinners, could not eat from the tree of life and live forever (Gen 3:22-24).
In the new heaven and new earth, however, God's people once again have access to the tree of life. And, they have access to the river of the water of life. The point is that from the river and the tree there is abundant life, refreshment, and nourishment for God's people.
D Notice the starting point of Ezekiel's river – the great last day temple. Notice the starting point of John's river – "the throne of God and of the Lamb" (Rev 22:1). However, there is no difference here when we remember what we learned last time – that God and the Lamb are the temple in the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:22). So, both rivers flow from the same source. In other words, the abundant life seen by John flows from God. God is the source of eternal life.
Notice, furthermore, that the river flows from "the throne of God and of the Lamb" (Rev 22:1). What comes to mind when you hear the word "Lamb"? Doesn't that remind you of His violent death? Doesn't that remind you of the cross? Doesn't that remind you Jesus is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world? John is saying that God's gift of life is given on the basis of the Lamb's sacrifice. It is a gift of God's grace.
E Notice where the river of the water of life flows – "down the middle of the great street of the city" (Rev 22:2). What usually flowed down the middle of the streets of the Ancient World? Sewage. Disease. Death. But here, in the New Jerusalem, what flows is the water of life. It also flows where everyone sees it, where everyone has access to it, where everyone can take and drink and live forever.
F Notice the abundance of God's provision of life. First, remember Ezekiel's image – the river's flow is sufficient for everyone whether they are by its source or a thousand or two thousand or three thousand or hundreds of thousands of cubits away. This is no ordinary river. Instead of running out of water, its flow becomes deeper and stronger and more plentiful. No thirst. No drought.
Second, look at the tree of life. It is on "each side of the river ... bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month" (Rev 22:2). No hunger. No famine. Complete satisfaction.
No matter how thirsty your soul or how hungry your heart, you shall be satisfied. You shall have life to the full. That is the message here.
G The last thing I want you to notice about the river and the tree growing on its banks: "And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations" (Rev 22:2). Does this sound confusing? Why would the nations need healing in the new heaven and new earth? Isn't life there supposed to be perfect? You need to remember that John loves contrasts. John is contrasting the future life with the present life.
John explains what he means in the very next phrase: "No longer will there be any curse" (Rev 22:3). Here in this life and on this earth we are under the curse – all because of sin. We are under the curse of death, mourning, crying, pain (Rev 21:4). We are under the curse of painful childbearing and painful toil (Gen 3:16-19).
In the new heaven and new earth, the curse will be reversed, erased forevermore. The leaves of the tree of life symbolize the healing that has come on the peoples and nations who are inscribed in the Lamb's book of life.
Again, the point is new life, new life to the full, abundant new life, life without the curse, life that has been healed of this sad world's pains and tribulations.
II They Will See His Face
A Now, I am going to ask a question. I want you to quickly think the answer, the first thing that comes to mind. Here is the question: "What is the best thing about life in the new heaven and new earth?" "What is the best thing about life in the new heaven and new earth?" (PAUSE A MOMENT) What is your answer?
-The Holy City, the New Jerusalem?
-No more death or mourning or crying or pain?
-That everything is new?
-The tree of life?
-The river of the water of life?
-The splendor of the nations?
-No more night?
B "What is the best thing about life in the new heaven and new earth?" Let me tell you: "The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city" and "They will see his face" (Rev 22:3-4).
Does this remind you of anything? Doesn't this remind you, again, of the Garden of Eden? Scripture tells us that Adam and Eve "heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day" (Gen 3:8). What is significant is that Adam and Eve recognized this sound. In other words, this is something they had heard before. This is something God had done before. In the Garden, Adam and Eve walked with God and talked with God. Face to face. As a man with his friend.
But then came the Fall into sin. And, sinful man could no longer see the face of the holy God and live (Ex 33:20; Is 6:5). Therefore, God's presence to man was mediated – through Theophanies, dreams, visions, angels, priests, prophets, kings, buildings, and the man Jesus Christ. Even Moses, who spoke directly to God, was not allowed to see God's face! Moses begged and was allowed to see only God's back; Moses needed to be shielded by God's hand from the overpowering splendor of God's glory (Ex 33:23). In the same way, Israel needed to be shielded by the sanctuary curtains. And, the high priest did not dare enter the Holy of Holies until the atonement cover of the ark was engulfed in smoke from the incense altar (Lev 16:13).
In the new heaven and new earth believers will see God and the Lamb face-to-face. Unmediated. There will be no more need for protection from God's consuming holiness. They will see God as He is (1 Jn 3:2). They will see the Lamb as He is. As the song we will be singing puts it:
Face to face with Christ, my Savior,In the new heaven and new earth we will experience the communion and fellowship with God that was experienced by Adam and Eve in the Garden.
Face to face – what will it be
When with rapture I behold Him,
Jesus Christ Who died for Me?
Face to face I shall behold Him,
Far beyond the starry sky;
Face to face in all His glory,
I shall see Him by and by!
Let's go back to "the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God" (Rev 22:1). When John first saw the throne, he saw a sea of crystal. This sea of crystal surrounded the throne and separated He who was on the throne from the thousands upon thousands of angels and from every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth (Rev 4:6; 5:11-13). That was the old heaven. But in the new heaven and new earth, the sea has become a river. It no longer shouts separation; rather, it invites those who are thirsty for God to come and drink. To drink of God and His presence and His glory and His grace and His love. To enjoy God and fellowship with God.
C Practically speaking, what does it mean to see the Lord face-to-face? First, when you have the Lord, you have everything. When you have the Lord, you lack nothing. When you have the Lord, you will not experience deprivation, dissatisfaction, or discontentment. As King David put it in Psalm 23: "The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want" (Ps 23:1).
When I am face-to-face with God, I am full, I am happy, I am content, I am alive in a way I have never been before.
What else? Second, God's "servants," those in God's presence, "will serve Him" (Rev 22:3). Notice, we are God's "servants." The word for "servant" is actually the Greek word for "slave." We are God's willing slaves in the new heaven and new earth. Doing what? Our text says we will "serve" God. The Greek word for "service" is the same word used for all the religious duties and hard work of the priests.
Do you know what this tells me? We won't be spending eternity playing harps and reclining on fluffy white clouds. Eternity will not be idle. Eternity will not be a round of golf everyday, or every afternoon at the fishing hole, or everyday a bike ride without flats or cramps.
This past week I saw an advertisement on TV for Carnival Cruise Lines. This family is on vacation and the kids are wondering what is wrong with dad. Because he is not checking email, he is not talking on the phone, he is getting no text messages, there is no voice-mail. Instead, he is drinking, dancing, eating, and having a good old time.Is this a picture of our future life? A forever cruise? No, our text says we will "serve" God. We will be working. But, our work will be priestly. It will be an offering to Him. Unlike work in the present earth, it will not be driven by greed, pride, power, fear. It will not give you an ulcer. It will not be turned into an idol. It will be directed towards pleasing God, glorifying God, and praising God. When you are in the presence of the Master, you serve Him day and night.
What else? Third, "His name will be on their foreheads" (Rev 22:4). What does this mean? You might know that the police recommend putting your name on your possessions. Because anything that is not locked down or tied down grows feet and walks away. Someone's name engraved into a wheel-barrow or air compressor or lawn-mower often is protection enough. "His Name will be on their foreheads" (Rev 22:4). Meaning what? That we are God's possession. That we are under His protection. That in Him we are forever safe and secure. That nothing and no one can ever snatch us out of His hand.
Fourth, John repeats what we looked at the last time in Revelation 21:22, what Becca & Megan sang about. John says,
(Rev 22:5) There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.When we have God, we have all the light that we need.
Fifth, "And they will reign for ever and ever" (Rev 22:5). Isn't this a return to Eden again? I know extreme environmentalists and the animal rights movement don't like to hear this, but what did God say after He created man in His image?
(Gen 1:28) "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."These aren't suggestions. These aren't God's wishes. This isn't God's top-ten list of things He wants to have happen. These are all commands. Man was commanded to be fruitful, to increase in number, to fill the earth, to subdue the earth, and to rule over all other creatures. This was a command from heaven to a perfect man in a perfect place. So what did Adam do? He worked the Garden and took care of it (Gen 2:15). Look at Psalm 8:6-8 sometime.
But then came the Fall. What happened? Man abused Creation. Man extinguished entire species. Man polluted the oceans and rivers and streams. Man made a mess of his rule.
Along comes Jesus and what does He do? Quoting from Psalm 8, Hebrews 2 tells us that Jesus succeeded where Adam failed. Jesus succeeded where you and I fail. It is Jesus Who fulfills the commands God first gave to Adam (Heb 2:5-9).
And, because of Jesus, what happens to believers in the new heaven and new earth? What does John say? "And they will reign for ever and ever" (Rev 22:5). In the new heaven and new earth, what are believers? They are royalty. They are rulers. They are kings.
My brothers and sisters, there are so many wrong pictures of the future. There are Christians who think of harps and fluffy white clouds, streets of gold and gates of pearl, endless rounds of golf. There is the Muslim fantasy of 72 virgins. There is the loss of self in the Buddhist Nirvana. There is the deification of self in the New Age Movement. This is not the future!
The future – above anything else – is God. I want you to observe that the Bible ends in the same way it begins: with God – God, "the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev 22:13).
Is this your future? Is your future life with God or is it eternity without God in the lake of fire? That depends. It depends on whether you believe in Jesus, the Lamb of God.
Do you know what I pray? I pray that God's grace will make you repent of your sin and believe in Jesus so that yours is life with God.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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