REVELATION - CHAPTER 22
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
22:1. “And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.”
The speaker is still the angel of the preceding chapter. The blending of what relates to both the Millennium and to the eternal state seems to continue in this chapter, and there can be no question that this river flowing out of the throne in heaven is symbolic of the Word of God, which is frequently portrayed in Scripture under the figure of pure water. The emphasis upon its crystal clear purity may speak of the fact that in the Millennium the written Word will be perfectly comprehended, in contrast with the present and preceding ages when it has been but imperfectly understood. See for example Jer 31:31-34, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah .... And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord....”
That enlightenment of course will be the result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Millennium, when the words of Joel will be fulfilled, “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit” (Joel 2:28-29).
If the application is to the eternal state, the message is virtually the same: there will be perfect comprehension of the mind and will of God
The equality of the Father and the Son is emphasized in the words, “the throne of God and of the Lamb.”
22:2. “In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
The tree of life (symbol of the Lord Jesus Christ), to which man was denied access in Eden, will be available to all in the eternal state (there will be no unbelievers there), but in the Millennium the “all” would seem to relate only to believers, for it is difficult to see how unbelievers would have access to that “tree.” And since the millennial age believers won’t enter the heavenly Jerusalem until the end of that era, their access to the tree of life must be understood as being the same as that of believers in all ages - through their ability to see and enjoy Christ in the written Word, since it seems that it is He Who is portrayed by the tree of life. Clearly therefore the tree, its fruits, and its leaves are symbols of blessings that God will bestow abundantly upon men in the Millennium, and throughout eternity. In the Millennium those blessings will be temporal for unbelievers, but spiritual as well as temporal for believers. The fact that the tree grows in the middle of the street, and on both banks of the river, may be the symbolic declaration of Christ’s omnipresence.
The water therefore, relative to the Millennium, appears to represent the Word in the Gospel to the unsaved, while the fruit of the tree represents it as food for millennial age believers, for it must not be forgotten that the children who will be born during the Millennium will be born as are the children of every dispensation: sinners who can be saved and fitted to dwell with God in the eternal state that will follow the Millennium, only by trusting Christ as Savior.
As ten is the number of God the Governor, so is twelve the number of the governed, e.g., the twelve tribes of Israel, and the Church built upon the foundation of the twelve apostles. Associated with the revolution of the earth on its own axis every twenty-four (2 x 12) hours, and its revolution of the sun every twelve months, are the twelve signs of the Zodiac (Job 38:32), those great star clusters, which rightly understood, so clearly depict the story of salvation through faith in a Savior to be born of a virgin, to be crucified and raised again, and to eventually rule as the Lion of Judah. Those same heavens are declared to be the source of all rule (Dan 4:26).
The repeated references to the number twelve speak therefore of divine government, and certainly one obvious truth being taught is that it will be the undisputed government of Christ that will make the Millennium an era of such phenomenal blessing.
Unlike most trees, which produce fruit only one month each year, this species will furnish fruit in abundance every month. That the earth will burgeon in the Millennium is assured by the prophets, e.g., “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt” (Amos 9:13). But the profusion will not be limited simply to the produce of the earth: spiritual food will be equally abundant; and it seems that this is the truth being declared symbolically in the verse we are considering.
It is to be noted also that there will be a different kind of fruit produced each month, so that variety will be added to abundance. In the Millennium there will be no such complaint as that voiced by a disobedient Israel in the desert long ago, “Our soul loatheth this light bread” (Nu 31:5).
“... and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” This has raised the question, What healing will be necessary in the Millennium? There is no mystery however, for as noted already, those born during the Millennium will require a new spiritual birth to fit them to dwell with God in the eternity that will follow. The healing can scarcely be anything except that of the soul. (I am aware of the parallel between Revelation 22 and Ezekiel 47, but would ask the reader to note that in Ezekiel the water and trees appear to be literal, whereas here both are clearly symbolic).
But two further questions present themselves, What do the leaves represent; and in what way will they bring healing? Throughout Scripture, leaves are the symbol of testimony or profession, and there is no reason to believe that they represent anything else here. Trees, likewise, are Scriptural symbols of men, and in the Millennium, as in every age, God will use human instruments, so that while the fruit of this species of tree represents the Word of God as spiritual food; and the leaves, profession or testimony, the emphasis is upon the fact that it will be the Word ministered by men, millennial-age believers, that will furnish spiritual food for other believers; while the healing associated with the leaves, can scarcely be anything other than the spiritual healing brought to sinners through the testimony of those same millennial-age believers.
22:3. “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:”
This reference to the curse takes us back to Genesis 3, where God first pronounced a curse on the serpent (Satan), but it is significant that when dealing with the woman, He foretold suffering and sorrow, but did not pronounce a curse; and it is of still further significance that instead of pronouncing a curse upon the rebel Adam, He placed the curse upon the ground, verse 17, and appointed thorns to be the symbol of that curse, verse 18.
The symbolic transfer of the curse from the ground to the head of Christ (the last Adam) occurred when “the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head” (Jn 19:2), that thorny crown declaring that He Who was holy, was willing to be made a curse so that we might be redeemed from the curse of the law, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Ga 3:13).
Thorns and infertility are two of the evidences that the earth is still under the curse, but the millennial earth will declare its redemption both in abundant fruitfulness, and in the replacement of thorns with fir trees, and of briars with myrtle trees (Isa 55:13).
Since this reference to the removal of the curse can apply only to the millennial earth (the curse pronounced in Ge 3:17, it is to be remembered, was specifically upon the ground), it seems that the “it” in which is seen “the throne of God and of the Lamb” should be understood also as being the millennial earth rather than heaven. The truth being declared therefore is, not that God’s throne will be literally set up on the millennial earth, but that the rule which it represents, will govern the earth during that age of peace and blessing, that government being in the form of a theocracy, administered by the king, a literal descendant of David, from the earthly Jerusalem as in the reigns of David and Solomon, the reign of the latter being very clearly a foreshadowing of the millennial reign of Christ.
If the statement is viewed as applying also to the new earth (and there does appear to be a blending of what is millennial with that which is eternal), then of course, the throne of God will be literally on that new earth
“... and his servants shall serve him” indicates most probably, that unlike all other dispensations, there will then be no opposition to their service. Neither demon nor man will be permitted to impede the immediate execution of God’s commands, as is the case now, see for example, Dan 10:13 where it is recorded that the spiritual prince of Persia hindered Michael for twenty-one days when he was bringing a message from God to Daniel.
22:4. “And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads.”
This seems to relate only to the eternal state, for there is nothing to indicate that men in their mortal bodies, even in the Millennium, will be permitted to see the face of God, that being a privilege reserved for believers in the eternal state.
“His name ... in their foreheads,” is generally taken to mean that, unlike other ages, when the authority of His representatives has been scorned, these millennial-age servants will conduct His business without hindrance, for one of the factors contributing to the bliss of that glorious age will be that God will then tolerate no rebellion.
Inasmuch as the head is the seat of the intellect, another truth being declared here symbolically may be that service will then be rendered according to a perfect acquiescence with, and comprehension of, God’s will. In other ages, including the present, lack of that agreement and knowledge has marred the service of virtually every human instrument whom He has deigned to use.
22:5. “And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.”
This clearly has reference to the heavenly, not the earthly Jerusalem, for in the Millennium there will still be day and night. Since the candle (portable lamp or light) is a Biblical symbol of witness or testimony, the assurance seems to be that in the heavenly Jerusalem there will be no need to witness in the Gospel, for all within its walls will be those who on earth believed the Gospel.
The reference to there being no need of the light of the sun, may be similarly the symbolic assurance that as there will be no need to preach the Gospel in the heavenly Jerusalem, neither will there be need to instruct or enlighten converts, for all who enter those gates will know, even as they are known (1 Co 13:12).
That our reign with Christ will be, not just for the duration of the Millennium, but for ever, is assured in the words, “and they shall reign for ever and ever.”
22:6. “And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done.”
Verses six to the end of the chapter seem to constitute an epilogue which begins with the assurance that everything that had been revealed to John was faithful and true, that is, all that God has declared will be brought to pass. Nothing can thwart His purposes.
It is generally recognized that the better translation of “of the holy prophets” is “of the spirit of the holy prophets.” The same God Who inspired the prophetic writings, is the Source of the revelation given to John, the fulfillment of many of those prophecies being the further assurance that the small part still awaiting realization, together with every similar word of the Revelation, will also be fulfilled.
Regarding “the things which must shortly be done,” the word shortly combines the thought of swiftness of execution, and brevity of time between promise and fulfillment. Relative to the speed of execution, it is to be remembered that the greater part of the Revelation relates to events that will occur in the coming Tribulation, and of all the dispensations, it is the shortest: seven years. And as for the time that has elapsed since the revelation was given, we remember that it is written, “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pe 3:8). We are to view all things from the divine perspective.
22:7. “Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.”
As with shortly, the same ideas of speed of execution, and brevity of time between promise and fulfillment are connected also with quickly, and the above remarks apply here also.
Connected with keepeth is the idea of watchfulness and obedience. Blessing is assured the man who walks obediently, and watches for His Lord’s return.
22:8. “And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel, which shewed me these things.”
Two is the Biblical number of witness or testimony, and John had both seen and heard. There was the reciprocal witness of eye and ear. What John has written is not the result of a wild flight of his imagination. It is what it is declared to be: the revelation given by God.
The revelation impelled him to worship, but his falling down to worship the angelic messenger can only be explained as resulting from failure to recognize that he was an angel, and not the Lord Himself, for in chapter 19:10 he had also attempted to worship his angelic informant. (Several angels appear to have been used to bring the revelation to John, see for example 17:1; 18:1; 19:17; 21:9, and it may have been that their glory was such as to lead him to believe that in the case of these two at least he was face to face with his glorified Lord). If the glory of angels is so great, how transcendent must be the glory of their Creator!
22:9. “Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.”
Refusing John’s intended worship, the angel declares himself to be simply a fellowservant with John and his brethren the prophets, and with all who obey God, reminding us that we are all God’s servants, and that He alone is to be worshipped.
22:10. “And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.”
With regard to part of the divine revelation given him, Daniel was commanded to “shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end” (Dan 12:4), the meaning being, not that he was to shut and seal the book to prevent others from reading it, but that he was to shut and seal it to protect it from harm, and preserve it so that it would be available for others to study down through the years, and particularly in the Tribulation age. God intends men to read and understand what He has written, and in spite of its cryptic language, the Revelation is just that: a revelation.
As noted already, “the time is at hand” is to be interpreted from the viewpoint of Him with Whom “one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pe 3:8). From God’s perspective it is only “two days” since the Revelation was given to John.
22:11. “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.”
From here to verse 20 the angel is obviously quoting the Lord directly, see for example verse 12. All of this declares the impossibility of changing one’s state after the Lord’s return, and the next verse leaves no doubt that the reference here is to that return; the context making it also clear that this coming is not to rapture the Church, but to judge the survivors of the Tribulation, and to inaugurate His millennial kingdom. Following the rapture of the Church there will be opportunity for change. Those who had not previously heard the Gospel will hear it in the Tribulation, and will have opportunity to trust the Savior. But His coming to end the Tribulation will end also all opportunity of salvation for those then found to be unbelievers.
Unjust is the description of one who has not been justified through faith in Christ, and as such his deeds are filthy in God’s sight. Righteous, on the other hand, describes the state of the believer: he has been made righteous through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is holy in God’s sight. As each man is at Christ’s return, so will he remain eternally.
It is to be noted that there is also another aspect to this fixity of state. The faithfulness of our stewardship on earth will determine our eternal position in the hierarchy of heaven, see for example Lk 19:12-27. See also the following verse where the Lord’s return is linked with His rewarding each man according to his work. Unbelievers will receive “the wages of sin ... death”; believers, the reward appropriate to the faithfulness of their stewardship.
22:12. “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”
The linking of reward with the Lord’s coming continues to confirm what has been considered in connection with verse 11; and as in verse 7, quickly combines the idea of speed of execution, and brevity of time between promise and fulfillment.
As noted already, since the speaker is the same as in 21:9, i.e., one of the seven angels, see 22:1,6,9,10, he is obviously acting as Christ’s spokesman throughout this chapter.
22:13. “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.”
For the significance of Alpha and Omega, see comments on 1:8.
22:14. “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.”
This may not be taken to teach salvation by works: it simply emphasizes that obedience is the proof of saving faith. It is their faith that gives men right to the tree of life. What was denied Adam by divine command, and later by divine compulsion, is made available to every believer, first through his understanding of the written Word here on earth, and then in eternity when we “enter in through the gates into the city,” to see God’s face, and to know even as now also we are known.
22:15. “For without are dogs and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.”
It is clear that the word dogs is used here symbolically, and Dt 23:17-18 identifies the dog as a homosexual. It is surely significant that those guilty of this perversion of nature head the list of those excluded from the heavenly Jerusalem. Nor should we fail to note that phenomenal increase in homosexual activity is declared by the Lord Himself to be one of the signs that will characterize the end of the age, see Lk 17:28-30 (Sodomy characterized Lot’s world, see Gen 19:5).
22:16. “I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.”
Whether at this point the communication comes directly from the Lord, or continues through the angel, is uncertain, and isn’t important. The words are His, and remind us that while much of the Revelation pertains to the coming Tribulation era, that revelation is given to the Church, a fact which prompts the question, Why? One reason at least is apparent. She is the special object of His affection, and as such, is the sharer of His plans, the Revelation being her assurance throughout her long pilgrimage, that her Lord is in control, however much circumstances might indicate the contrary.
That encouragement was never more needed than today when her state corresponds so closely to that of the Laodicean assembly. To the true believers within the professing but apostate mass, the Revelation brings the assurance that the weary pilgrimage is almost ended, for we see the world stage being set for the final great drama that will bring Gentile rule to an end, Israel to repentance, and the Lord to the earth to judge the nations and establish His long promised millennial kingdom. All of this tells the true Church that since His return in power and glory is so near, His return to rapture her home to heaven must be nearer still.
The assurance to the Tribulation remnant is no less the pledge to the faithful remnant within the professing church today, “And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (Lk 21:28).
“I am the root and the offspring of David” continues to remind us that He, Who as to His humanity, was the offspring of David, is nevertheless, David’s Lord, for He was before David, before Abraham, before Adam, before earth’s foundations were laid ... He was before all things. He is God, the eternal I AM.
“The bright and morning star” describes Him relative to the expectation of the Church, while “the Sun of righteousness” designates Him relative to the expectation of Israel. The morning star appears before the dawn. Before the Tribulation begins He will come to the air to catch up His Church, and at the end of the Tribulation, return with her to deliver the believing remnant of Israel, and establish His millennial kingdom. (Daniel’s seventy weeks relate to Israel, not the Church. She had no part in the first sixty-nine of those weeks, nor will she have any in the final week which is the Tribulation era).
22:17. “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”
While many relate all of this verse to the invitation extended in the Gospel, there are also many who feel that the first three parts are the cry of the Holy Spirit, the Church, and the individual believer, in response to the Lord’s announcement in verse 12, “... behold I come quickly,” the last sentence alone being taken to be the invitation given in the Gospel. Neither interpretation is necessarily exclusive of the other. Nor should the practical teaching be lost in the attempt to justify one interpretation over the other. Having encouraged the Church by reminding her of the imminence of His return, the Lord now instructs her as to her employment during the interval preceding His coming. She, the bride, is to preach the Gospel, but significantly, first mentioned in connection with that work, is the Holy Spirit. Nor was that reminder ever more needed, for the necessity of His work in convicting the sinner, is a truth virtually ignored everywhere today. The new spurious “gospel” that omits the mention of sin, hell, need of repentance, the value of Christ’s blood, and the necessity of a transformed life as the evidence of the new birth, omits also all mention of the essential part played by the Holy Spirit in bringing about that birth. The clear teaching of Scripture however, is that apart from the Holy Spirit’s work of conviction, there can be no new birth.
The preaching of the Gospel must be in the power of the Holy Spirit, but sin, either of omission or commission, deprives the would-be witness of that power needed to make his evangelizing effective.
The frequently repeated “He that hath an ear, let him hear” in the letters to the seven churches, leaves little doubt that the present command “Let him that heareth say, Come,” may also be understood as being addressed to every believer, the “Come” having reference to the invitation given in the Gospel. We must preach the Gospel, or make ourselves disobedient servants. Listen to the words of Paul, “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Co 9:16).
The woes under which the Church groans today are largely because she has failed to preach the Gospel.
“And let him that is athirst come.” This seems to be the invitation to the sinner. He who has discovered the inability of the world to minister to the need of his soul, is invited to come to Christ, He Himself extending the invitation, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28); and assuring those who come, as He did the sinful Samaritan woman, “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (Jn 4:14).
And the assurance that this life-giving water is available to all, is given in the invitation, “And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”
22:18. “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.”
The jealousy of God for His Word is declared also in the Old Testament, “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it” (Dt 12:32).
There can be little question that in verses 18 and 19 the reference is to literal tampering with the written Word either by way of addition or subtraction; but neither can there be denial of the fact that a wider application may be made to the sin of which all too many genuine believers are guilty, i.e., of going beyond what is commanded, and of failing to do what is commanded. The consequences however, are very different. The unconverted tamperer will lose his soul; the disobedient believer, his reward.
The enormity of the punishment measures the magnitude of the sin of the unbeliever who would literally add to the Word of God; but that very punishment points up the gravity of the sin of the believer, not in literally appending words, but in going beyond what is written, construing the silence of God as permission to act, the false reasoning being that if God hasn’t specifically forbidden it, then it’s alright to do it. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Careful study of the Word reveals that almost invariably such imagined discretionary choices are covered by Scriptural principles which forbid the action. It is dangerous to do anything for which we cannot find a clear “Thus saith the Lord,” either in word or principle, no matter how right that action may seem to be, for it is just the same as if we had literally added that permission to what is written.
22:19. “And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”
Here it is the opposite, the sin of deleting from the Word, and besides literal deletion, the possible avenues of transgression in this area are many, though broadly it embraces every failure to do what God commands, and in no sphere has there been greater sin than in regard to the Lord’s command, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15). That command has been blatantly disobeyed.
In connection with the Gospel, there has been also the sin of deleting references to man’s ruined sinful state, to hell, to the need of repentance, to the efficacy of Christ’s blood, etc. God will not hold blameless the man who is guilty of such tampering with His Word.
It is emphasized however, that the punishment recorded in this verse applies only to the unbelieving tamperer, for no believer can lose his salvation.
In many translations “... out of the book of life” is rendered “from the tree of life.” In other words the unbeliever has no part in Christ, and will therefore never enter the holy city, nor enjoy any of the blessings promised the believer.
22:20. “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
Here also “quickly” combines the idea of speed of execution, and brevity of time between promise and fulfillment; and as in vv. 7 and 12, must be understood in the context of 2 Pe 3:8 “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
The “two days” are almost ended. The Lord could return TODAY! And surely the response of every believing heart must be, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
22:21. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”
Grace is the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God. No honest heart will deny how much we need that grace until our earthly course is ended, and we enter in through the gates into the city. Nor will any believer refuse to acknowledge the truth expressed by another,
Oh, to Grace how great a debtor,
Daily I’m constrained to be,
or to echo the plea,
Let that grace Lord, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.