Text: Rev 22:1-2
OT Text: Ezekiel 47:1-12
Featured Verse: Rev 22:1-2 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.
Main Idea: The OT images of the River of Life and the Tree of Life are found in the New Jerusalem of pictures of God overflowing and healing love.
Since this is Easter week, I was already thinking about "Easter Eggs." Many of you are thinking of the dyed eggs that parents hide for children. Others are thinking of more contemporary references to the way that video games or movies contain hidden messages with inside jokes or outside references.* I tend to think of the term as referencing the way a modern movie may have sly references to older films in the same series. Anyway, using the term that way... Revelation has tons of "Easter Eggs" in it. Tons of references to earlier parts of the Bible. But unlike modern movies, the references are not inconsequential to the plot. Rather, John's visions are described in ways that develop the story arc of the Bible and present old truths in more developed ways. This short section has numerous examples.
- First, there is a river in the city which flows from the throne. Just like Ezekiel's vision of the water flowing from the temple. (Ez 47:1-12) Zechariah also prophesied of a day when living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem." (Zech 14:8)
- Second, there is a tree growing around the river.** Not just any tree, but the Tree of Life. Just like one of the two trees found in the Garden of Eden, and the one which Adam and Eve were barred from eating, lest they live forever. (Gen 2-3)
- Third, the leaves on the tree are for the healing of the nations. This is a direct reference to Ezekiel 47:12, "their leaves [were] for healing."
Why does John do this? The pattern is throughout the Bible, so we might generalize the question and ask, Why does God do this? Well, it is not to further an inside joke or get a cheap laugh, like "Easter Egg" references in modern movies. When an old concept is referred to in the Bible, it traces the arc of a story. It shows how God is working things out over time. It is often said, that the story arc of the Bible begins in the garden and ends in a temple.*** Not only are they similar as places where God dwelled with people, but the story develops and expands. Not only did God restore what was lost in the fall, but he restores it better. The New Jerusalem is expanded and upgraded over every picture of salvation that came before it!
Conclusion and Application
In closing, I'd like to explore one feature of these verses which are similar to a prior description of the city gates. The intriguing closing note about the leaves being "for the healing of the nations" strikes me as similar to the reference about kings bringing the honor of the nations into the city.
It is tough to know how far to press some of this symbolic imagery. Are we meant to think of things existing outside the city, which need to be brought in through the gates? In a similar manner, is there meant to be ongoing healing for the nations? Since the text makes it clear that there is no longer any source for sin, we don't want to develop the need for ongoing healing in the wrong direction. Nor do we want to imagine some world outside the city which brings a distorted element to our theology.
But I think that we can recognize that an important aspect of both of these images is dynamism. What I mean by that is that they imply movement and activity. In eternity, the saints seem to be doing things. Again, we don't want this to imply some sort of imperfection, but we can imagine a perfect world that has activity. God made a world with moving stars and changing seasons and swimming fish and flying birds. This sort of movement is a beautiful part of his world. Sometimes, I think we can picture heaven in very static ways which make it seem boring. Of course it will not be boring. The full goodness of God's creation will be present and we will have eternity to enjoy it. Since we are finite creatures and should not expect the resurrection to change this, presumably, we would spend eternity exploring the wonders of creation. Presumably, that would include the exploration of the wonders of redeemed humanity as they bring the "honor of the nations" with them.
In short, some of our popular conceptions of heaven end up being either too static or not physical enough. We can imagine (wrongly) that the only thing people do in heaven is sit on clouds and play harps. While I want to be the first to acknowledge how little we know about the details, I think that the vision of Revelation 21-22 is an exhilarating picture which stirs our imagination and provokes our hearts to godly longing.
* Wikipedia has two interesting entries on the origin of this practice in video games and current use in film.
Easter egg (media) - Wikipedia List of filmmakers' signatures - Wikipedia
** I'm not sure how we are meant to understand a singular tree growing on either side of the river. (22:2) Perhaps it is growing over it, or perhaps the tree has multiplied. Either way, it highlights a regular feature of the book, in which symbolic language is used and we are not even given explanations of how this would be possible if the vision were not symbolic.
*** Greg Beale is famous for exhaustively tracing these story arcs of Scripture. In particular, his massive tome, The New Testament Biblical Theology, has two sections on the church as a temple and its connection with the Garden of Eden. (p592ff, 614ff) The point is that the presence of the Tree of Life is only one feature of many that link Eden with the New Jerusalem, by way of the temple. All are types of sanctuaries where God dwells with his people. The interruption brought by sin and exile from the garden is completed after the return of Jesus.