1 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 2 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. 3 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. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 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. – Revelation 22:1-5 ESV
John’s vision of the New Jerusalem continues, but this time, it moves from imagery involving architecture and building materials to those pertaining to physical and spiritual sustenance. The city will be beautiful, but it will also be practical, filled with good things that will help secure the ongoing well-being of all the redeemed. First of all, John sees a river, the river of the water of life, and it is flowing directly from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In one sense, this river is both symbolic and literal. It is apparently a real river flowing through a real city. But the fact that John sees it flowing from the thrones of God and His Son, reveal that it is pure in nature and completely uncontaminated by sin. It is the water of life because it flows from the givers of life. God and His Son are the creators of all physical life, and Jesus is the source of eternal life. In his first letter, John described Jesus in these terms:
3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. – John 1:3-4 ESV
Physical life is impossible without water. Man cannot exist for very long without access to this essential resource. But in the eternal state, there will be no death, so there is little likelihood that the water from the river will be required for man’s sustenance. Our glorified bodies will be eternal in nature, not susceptible to disease or decay. But the river reveals that it is the presence of God and His Son that makes our new life possible.
There is an interesting parallel passage found in John’s gospel that portrays the Spirit of God as living water. Compare what Jesus has to say in these verses with the description of the river flowing from the thrones of God and His Son in John’s vision.
37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. – John 7:37-39 ESV
So, perhaps the river is symbolic of the Spirit of God, flowing from the other two members of the Trinity and filling the New Jerusalem with all the life-sustaining properties of righteousness, holiness, joy, and love. It is difficult not to consider the fruit of the Spirit, listed by Paul, when thinking about this river of life flowing through the streets of the New Jerusalem.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control… – Galatians 5:22-23 ESV
It is impossible to have life, true life, eternal life, without the presence of this fruit. A life that has no joy is not really life at all. A life devoid of love is like a stagnant pond, incapable of ministering to anyone other than itself. When John speaks of eternal life, he is not just referring to life without end. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 ESV). He came to bring abundant life, a life filled with all the good things that only God can provide. It is important to remember that even those who refuse God’s gracious offer of salvation through His Son, will also inherit eternal life. But their ongoing, non-ending life will be devoid of the fruit of the Spirit. They will have no access to the river of life flowing from the Godhead. Their eternal state will be radically different.
But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. – Revelation 21:8 ESV
So, John sees a river that symbolizes life, spiritual and physical, in all its glory and goodness, flowing from God and His Son, and made possible by the Spirit. But the imagery of life does not stop there. John also sees a tree, the tree of life, growing along the banks of the river. This is an obvious reference to the tree of life mentioned in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis.
8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. – Genesis 2:8-9 ESV
God created man and placed him in the garden, and provided him with access to a variety of fruit-bearing trees, from which he could eat. This included the tree of life. The Hebrew word for life that Moses used in these verses is chay, and it refers to “living.” It was the tree of living. The fruit of this tree provided Adam and Eve with life. And it is important to note that, after having eaten from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve were banned from the garden by God. And the reason behind their ban was to prevent any further access to the tree of life.
22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. – Genesis 3:22-24 ESV
It seems that, as long as Adam and Eve had remained obedient, they would have had access to the fruit of the tree of life. It would have been a normal part of their daily diet, provided for them by God. But, when they failed to keep God’s command, and ate of the one tree He had specifically forbidden, they lost their right to life. Not only did they forfeit their intimate communion with God, they gave up their access to the source of life for their lives. And mankind has been stuck in that same sad state ever since. But Peter reminds us that God remedied man’s problem by sending His Son as the payment for man’s sin debt.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. – 1 Peter 2:24 ESV
Jesus gave up His life on a different tree, a wooden cross, manufactured by human hands, and designed to take the life from a man. But God used this cruel form of torture and death to make eternal life available to humanity once again. And for all those who place their faith in Jesus Christ, the tree of life will once again be accessible and available. And John states that the tree will come with “twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2 ESV). Notice that the tree offers variety, a selection of fruit that changes each month. There will be no monotony to life in the eternal state. No one will be bored. Eternal life will be abundantly rich and diversified life, marked by unimaginable variations of quality and quantity. And the citizens of the eternal state will have constant access to the fruit of the tree of life, as well as to the leaves, which John says bring the healing of the nations. But what does this statement mean? Why would there need to be healing, if there is no longer any sickness and death? And who are the nations? First of all, the Greek word that is translated “healing” is therapeia, from which we get our word, therapeutic. The root word for therapeia has to do with service or administering to the needs of others. So, in a sense, “healing” has to do with health-giving or the promotion of well-being. Even the leaves of this tree will have life-giving, therapeutic value. Since there is no sickness in the eternal state, there will be no need for healing. But the tree of life will be a source of spiritual and physical well-being, providing mankind with abundant life in every way possible.
One of the things that is easy to miss is John’s statement that, in the eternal state, “No longer will there be anything accursed” (Revelation 22:3 ESV). The curse that God pronounced upon man and upon creation as a result of the fall will be forever lifted. The prophet Zechariah prophesied about this day.
And Jerusalem will be filled, safe at last, never again to be cursed and destroyed. – Zechariah 14:11 NLT
There will be no more threat of judgment. Sin will be non-existent, because there will be no sinners. Disease, a byproduct of man’s rebellion against God, will be eradicated. The atmosphere of the heavenly state will be permeated by the presence of God, the Son and the Spirit. And all will worship them and them alone. Think about that. There will be no one worshiping self. There will be no idols or false gods to which men bow down and offer their worship. All honor, glory, reverence, gratitude and praise will be offered to God. And there will be an intimacy restored to the relationship between God and man that has not been known since Adam and Eve sinned. At one time they enjoyed unbroken fellowship with God, walking with Him in the cool of the day in the garden. But sin destroyed that fellowship. And then Jesus restored it. He has made it possible for sinful men to be made right with a holy God. And the eternal state will be marked by fellowship with God and His Son. We will see them face to face. And John spoke of this incredible experience to come, in one of his letters.
Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. – 1 John 3:2 NLT
The day is coming when God will make all things new. He will restore His creation, marred by sin, to its original, pristine state. He will glorify all those who have placed their faith in His Son. He will once again provide unhindered access to the tree of life. There will be no darkness, sorrow, sin, disease or death. Light will be provided by God Himself. Joy will flow from the throne of God. Contentment will no longer be a pipe dream to be pursued, but never achieved. Every citizen of the Kingdom of God will be fully satisfied, completely content, and eternally joyful. Hard to imagine? Yes. But what John describes in these verses is the essence of our faith. And the author of Hebrews would have us remember: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV).
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.