The Paradise Of God
As a most cursory glance will show, this portion of Revelation 22 is a continuation of the vision in the preceding chapter, and it constitutes the close of the vision of the New Jerusalem. Especially in the last part of Chapter 21 our attention was drawn to the blessedness of the life of the New Jerusalem, to its glory, its light, its righteous inhabitants, and to its victory. In the passage now under discussion it is that same New Jerusalem that is described. This is evident from the fact that the text simply continues the narrative of Chapter 21. When it says, "And he shewed me..," the reference is to the same angel, one of the seven vial-angels, who had said to John in verse 9 of the preceding chapter, "Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife." In the same vein, moreover, the text continues to speak of the street of the city, which was mentioned in verse 21 of the last chapter, and of the nations and the citizens, who also appear more than once in the preceding chapter. There can be no doubt, therefore, that this is not a new and different vision, but a continuation of the description of the New Jerusalem.
However, there is a new and additional viewpoint in this section. In the former portion all was pictured under the aspect of a city, the New Jerusalem, as the antitype and fulfillment of the old city of earthly Jerusalem. Here something is added. In this section the life and blessedness of the glorified church is described under the imagery of the original garden of Eden, Paradise the First. The symbolism of the city is not abandoned, as is evident from the reference to the street of the city and to the throne of God and of the Lamb and to the nations. But into this vision of the New Jerusalem is injected the symbolism of Paradise. There was mention of this already in the letter to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:7: "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God." And here the Paradise of God is presented as the final realization of the promise, the fulness of joy of eternal life for the church, the New Jerusalem.
Also in this passage, therefore, we must remember that this is a vision, and that in highly symbolic form the glorified church is here described. The purpose is not to describe the new creation or some specific part of the new creation. On the contrary, in the Paradise-idea and the various details, such as the river of water of life and the tree of life with its fruits and its leaves, the bride, the Lamb's wife, that is, the church, is being described. And the same caution which was mentioned in connection with the preceding vision of the New Jerusalem must be observed: we must not be tempted to think in terms of a literal river and a literal tree in a literal garden, but must try to understand the meaning of this symbolism as a description of the blessedness of the life of the glorified church.
In order to understand this passage we must try first to get before us the picture that is drawn by the text. There can be no question about it, that the reference here is to Paradise. For while Paradise is not mentioned in so many words, the details, considered in the light of Scripture, certainly convey the idea of Paradise. In the garden of Eden there was a river, watering the garden; here the text speaks of the river of the water of life. In the garden there was the tree of life; so here we find the tree of life. The reference, therefore, is clearly to the Paradise-idea, which appears historically, of course, at the dawn of history, but which also occurs prophetically in the Old Testament, (cf. Genesis 2:8-17; Ezekiel 47:1-12; Zechariah 14:8).
Here, as we already suggested, the idea of Paradise is, so to speak, superimposed upon the picture of the holy city, New Jerusalem. Attention is called in the passage to the street of the city. Apparently in the midst of the city and at the head of the street stands the throne of God and of the Lamb. From that throne issues forth a river, whose waters are clear as crystal, gushing forth through the midst of the street. For thus the text should be read, as the American Revised Version translates correctly: "And he showed me a river of water of life, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the midst of the street thereof." The river of the water of life flows through the midst of the street from the throne of God and the Lamb. Such is the picture. Moreover, on either side of the river, that is, on this side and on that side, grows the tree of life. There is, therefore, not only one tree, but many trees of the same species. The brink of the river is lined with trees. These trees yield a twelve-fold fruit, and they yield their fruit every month, that is, continually. And the leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations who are earlier pictured as walking in the light of the city, the nations of them which are saved, (cf. Revelation 21:24).
In order to understand the meaning of this part of John's vision we must, first of all, look back to the original Paradise.
That original Paradise assumed the form of a beautiful garden, specially prepared as a dwelling-place for man. In connection with our present passage we need not give our attention to all the details of that first Paradise. That it was a most beautiful and pleasant place to live is clear from the description in Genesis 2. But all the details given us in Genesis which belonged only to the earthly form of Paradise are not essential now. The idea, the meaning, of it is essential and is realized in the vision of our text. That idea of Paradise is that it was a house of God, where Adam dwelled in fellowship with God. There the Lord God revealed Himself to man, and there Adam knew God and tasted His grace. There Adam served God in keeping and cultivating the garden. And there, in the fellowship of God's covenant, Adam functioned as God's prophet, priest, and king. Paradise the First was God's house for man; it was man's dwelling-place in the favor and fellowship of the Lord his God. This was its fundamental idea.
Here the future glory and blessedness of the New Jerusalem in the new heavens and the new earth is pictured as the final and highest possible realization of that earthly paradise, of the earthly tree of life, and of the original state of righteousness. Parenthetically, we may note here that if we understand this, and understand the idea of Paradise as the house of God for and with man, then it also does not seem at all strange that the idea of Paradise is introduced in the vision of the New Jerusalem. As to the two ideas, there is perfect unity in the text. For the fundamental idea of Paradise is nothing else than the tabernacle idea and the temple idea which have occurred in Revelation 21. Here we have that same idea conveyed in terms of the first Paradise.
But the question is: how must we understand all this? Do we have mere imagery here? Or does the final state of glory represent a return to the original state of righteousness? What is the meaning?
In answer to this question, we must emphasize, in the first place, that Paradise as it is pictured in Revelation 22 represents the final and perfect realization of the earthly Paradise. The first Paradise was an image of the last. But it was an image not in the sense of mere imagery, or symbolism. On the contrary, the Paradise of God in the new creation is the original and real Paradise, even though it is last in historical order. It is the ultimate and perfect realization of Paradise, and the first was only an image, a shadow, an earthly realization of that which was to come and which God purposed to realize in and through our Lord Jesus Christ. That first Paradise had to be destroyed to make room for the second Paradise, the real one. And in the New Jerusalem is the final and highest possible realization of the latter. The New Jerusalem, the Lamb's wife, the church, is the realization of the house, the dwelling-place, of God. "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men!"
Let us understand the implications of this clearly.
In all of the preceding the picture is derived from the idea of the city of God, Jerusalem. In that connection we have pointed out more than once that throughout the ages the Lord our God is accomplishing one grand work of grace. He is building, realizing, Jerusalem, the city of God. For that reason the perfect and holy and great city, New Jerusalem, can be described in terms of the old, earthly city in the land of Canaan. But in the present passage the future glory and blessedness of God's people are described in terms of the old Paradise, before the fall. And the relationship is the same. The reason why this description is possible is that in that first Paradise we have an image, a picture of things to come. But the heavenly Paradise will not be a return to that first state of things. It is not thus, that sin spoiled the first creation and that the new heavens and the new earth and the new humanity will be the old creation over again. No, while Adam was of the earth, earthy, Christ is the Lord from heaven. And as now we bear the image of the earthy, so we shall also bear the image of the heavenly, I Corinthians 15:45-49. And thus it will be with all things in Christ. But that which was first in history was an image of things to come. The first Adam was an image of Him Who was to come. The covenant as it was realized with Adam was an image of the perfection of the covenant of grace in Christ. The temporal sabbath was an image of the everlasting rest. And the first Paradise was an image of the Paradise of God in the New Jerusalem. For that reason that first Paradise will never return. We must not picture to ourselves a literal river and a literal tree of life, no more than we must picture a literal return to the literal old Jerusalem. There shall be no return, but an advance to the perfection of the heavenly things in Christ Jesus.
In that connection, in the second place, we may point out that there is a difference between the Paradise of Revelation 22 and that of Genesis 2. The latter was a special garden in the land of Eden. The final Paradise will not feature such a special garden. The church itself shall constitute the house of God. And as far as the location of that house of God is concerned, the entire new creation is its place, Secondly, the final Paradise is not earthy, but heavenly in character, like our resurrected and heavenly Lord. And, in close connection with this, is the third difference: the final Paradise is characterized by absolute incorruptibility. For notice that while indeed the tree of life is represented here, there is no longer any tree of the knowledge of good and evil and no longer any probationary command such as was connected with that tree. And the reason is that there is no room for the tree of knowledge of good and evil any more. In Christ Jesus the church is victorious, incorruptible, immortal, heavenly!
In harmony with the preceding are all the details of the vision.
In the first place, John sees the river of the water of life: "And he showed me a river of water of life, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the midst of the street thereof," (ARV).
The text speaks of a river, that is, of a stream, of the water of life which was clear as crystal. In connection with Revelation 21:6 we have explained the idea and meaning of the water of life; and we need not explain it again at length. Here we may especially notice the element of the river. The river of the water of life, therefore, is symbolic of a constant flow of life, of the continuous operation of the life-giving Spirit of God in Christ which the glorified saints constantly and by a constant act on their part receive and appropriate. We are reminded of the well-known words of the Lord Jesus recorded in John 7:37-39: "In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified." Especially in the light of this passage it is clear that this river of the water of life refers to the Spirit as the Spirit of Christ and to His continuous life-imparting operation. Or, if you will, the reference is to that stream of the blessings of grace,-the blessings of knowledge of God, righteousness, and holiness, of the favor of God, and of all that is implied in life in the true sense of the word,-a constant stream of blessings which flow to the saints through the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In beautiful harmony with this idea of the river of the water of life are the other details mentioned in the text. First of all, the water of this river is clear as crystal, symbolizing that this life is pure and undefiled. In the second place, John beholds this river as proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. This evidently signifies that this energizing stream of pure life has its source in the God of our salvation through Christ. It is the life of God in and through Christ and through the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ which flows into the New Jerusalem. And the fact that the throne of God and of the Lamb is mentioned as the source of this river emphasizes that this stream of life is the life of the kingdom of God as perfected in Christ. It is the life of the kingdom and its righteousness, the life of that perfect and heavenly commonwealth in which God is revealed and acknowledged as God. This life of the perfected kingdom of heaven fills the city and is received and consciously appropriated by the glorified saints. For even though here it is not specifically mentioned that the saints drink of this water, yet that is undoubtedly the implication also here. Besides, this river is represented as flowing through the midst of the street of the city, that is, as flowing through the very heart of the glorified church. And, in addition, the tree of life is pictured as growing on the banks of this river; and of this tree of life, which derives its life from the waters of this river, the saints partake. One life through one Spirit, therefore,-the life of God in Christ,-fills the entire church and all the saints.
In the second place, John sees the tree of life: "And on either side of the river was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, anal yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."
The general meaning is clear. In the first Paradise the tree of life had especially a two-fold significance. First of all, that tree and its fruit had the power of giving perpetual, earthly life to man. This is clear from Genesis 3:22. Evidently the tree had the power to supply man with perpetual, earthly life, the power to perpetuate his existence, even after he had sinned, so that it was necessary to bar the way to the tree of life after the fall of Adam. In that same connection, we may notice that also the eating of that first tree of life was not a once-for-all matter, but that it would be necessary for Adam to eat of this tree continually and repeatedly. But the significance of the tree of life did not lie merely in the perpetuation of Adam's earthly existence. In the second place, it had a certain sacramental character. It was a sign and seal of God's favor, an emblem of God's covenant. It was a visible and tangible sign of that higher aspect of Adam's life which consisted in the knowledge of and fellowship with God. The tree of life was more than a mere physical means for the extension of man's physical existence. It was the tree of life. And life is more than mere perpetual existence. Even though Adam's life was earthy, nevertheless life also for Adam implied the favor and fellowship of God, his Creator-Lord. And if in this connection we bear in mind that the tree of life was in the midst of the garden, in the very heart of Paradise the First, we may say that according to the analogy of the temple, the tree of life constituted the most holy place. There, in the midst of the garden, where the tree of life was, dwelt God. There He met man in the wind of the day. To approach the tree of life, therefore, before the fall, was to approach God. As long as Adam could draw near to God, in order to enjoy His fellowship and communion, he could have life: not mere existence, but life in the true sense. Such was the significance of the earthly tree of life.
Now if we bear the preceding in mind, then we can clearly see the significance of the tree of life in this vision. In the first place, it symbolizes the perfected life of heavenly fellowship with God, which means that the saints constantly taste God's covenant friendship. But in the New Jerusalem is the reality of the tree of life. Hence, not merely a sign of God's favor and friendship will the saints enjoy, but the full, heavenly reality of God's ever present favor. And, in the second place, the tree of life represents the perpetuation of the glorious life in the resurrection body. In our resurrection bodies we shall enjoy heavenly and immortal existence in the glory and blessedness of God's covenant friendship forever. This, as we have already noted, is in harmony with the fact that the tree of life stands on the brink of the river of the water of life. The power of the life of fellowship and friendship which resides in the tree of life proceeds from the throne of God and of the Lamb in and through the Spirit of Christ.
In connection with all this stands the fact that the tree bears twelve manner of fruit. Twelve is the number of the church, as we have seen before. Thus, there are twelve patriarchs, twelve tribes, twelve apostles, two times twelve elders, twelve times twelve thousand saints. All refers to the completeness of the perfected church in the new heavens and the new earth. Hence, that the tree bears twelve manner of fruits signifies that it bears a fulness of fruit for the entire church. Moreover, that the tree yields her fruit every month, that is, throughout the year, indicates that it bears fruit continuously. There is never any want of fruit, and therefore never any want of life and immortality, for the church. Finally, the text tells us that the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. The implication cannot be that there will still be sickness to be cured in the New Jerusalem. Nor is this to be interpreted, as some would have it, that conversions will occur in the new creation. This is simply a figurative way of saying that no sickness of any kind can ever enter into the city of God and afflict the nations of them that are saved. Sickness is forever excluded from the New Jerusalem because of this power of eternal life which constantly flows from God in Christ through the Spirit into the church.
In the remainder of this passage detail upon significant detail is added to the record of this vision, as though to emphasize that the glory and bliss of the New Jerusalem are beyond description. We ought to notice, concerning all these details, that they find their central significance in God and the Lamb. Thus we read that "the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it" (verse 3); that they "shall see his face," and that "his name shall be in their foreheads" (verse 4); and again, that "the Lord God giveth them light" (verse 5). All the blessedness of the eternal state concentrates in the fact that we shall be with God!
In detail, the blessedness of the Paradise of God is described here from a four-fold viewpoint.
In the first place, there will be no curse, verse 3: "And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him." The curse of God is the expression and operation of God's wrath against sin, manifested in thorn and thistle, in toil and sweat, in the vanity of all things, in all kinds of suffering and sorrow and pain and death. In the New Jerusalem and in the new creation there shall be no more curse. It shall be absent. And this means, positively, that the opposite shall be true: there God's constant favor is present, manifested in joy and bliss and pleasures forevermore. The reason is that there is no room for the curse whatsoever: "but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him." The meaning is clear. The perfected kingdom of heaven is there. God's reign of grace is finally and perfectly realized there. God reigns through Christ, the Lamb; and the service of Him by the saints, His servants, is perfect. The will of God is done by all. And where the will of God is done, there can be no curse. There can be only the perfect favor and fellowship of God.
In the second place, there will be the vision of God, verse 4: "And they shall see his face." It will be forever impossible to see God in His infinite essence. But the glorified saints shall see the face of God in the New Jerusalem. In the new creation there shall be the revelation of God in the face of Jesus Christ in the direct and highest possible sense of the word. Here we see only a reflection of that face of God through the Scriptures. We see in a glass, darkly. There, however, we shall see face to face. On the part of the saints, this will be possible because "his name shall be in their foreheads." The saints shall be like Him, as I John 3:2 tells us: "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, (it is better to translate: "but we know that when it shall appear"), we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." This means, of course, that we shall see Christ as He is, and we shall see Him everywhere and always; and through Christ we shall see the face of God forever. This is implied in the fact that His name shall be in their foreheads. God's name is Himself in His revelation. Hence, there shall be true knowledge of Him. The minds and hearts of the saints shall be perfectly receptive for the knowledge of God as revealed in His face.
In close connection with this, in the third place, the text teaches that there will be direct knowledge of God, verse 5: "And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light." We are reminded here of the words of Revelation 21:23 and 25. Here, in this present world, all life and all knowledge is conditioned by the light of the sun, or even, as the text reminds us, by the artificial light of man, the light of a candle. Without light there is no possibility of knowledge. But there, in the new creation, there will be no need of physical or artificial light. As we said in connection with Revelation 21, the point of the text is not that there will be no natural night, or no natural sun or moon. But the latter will not be necessary as a medium of knowledge; in that sense there will be no darkness. And the reason is that the Lord God gives them light, light in the ethical, spiritual sense of the word, the light according to which we shall know and walk directly. The knowledge of God which is life eternal will be immediate and direct.
And thus, finally, the text speaks of the everlasting reign of the saints: "and they shall reign for ever and ever." With and in Christ the saints shall participate in the reign over all creatures in the new creation. A royal priesthood they shall be: they shall reign as the servants of God. All things shall serve them, that they may serve their God in Christ. Forever they shall reign! There will be no interruption, but their service and their reign shall be constant. And it will be unending. There will be no possibility of an end, no possibility of a fall any more. For all is concentrated and finally established in the throne of God and of the Lamb!
This is the hope of the saints, of them that are written in the Lamb's book of life.
Behold, He cometh!
And His promise is certain: "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God."
Elements of the Chapter
Table of Contents