JESUS CHRIST AND HIS BRIDE - [4] Here comes the bride [Revelation 21:9- 22:6]

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015

In Revelation 21:2 John, in a vision, saw ‘the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband’. But his attention was directed not to this ‘bride’ but to the new heaven and new earth prepared for her. Now the attention reverts to the ‘bride’, and John is given a much more extensive vision than he was given of the place prepared for her. It is the ‘bride’ who is the more important, not the new heaven and new earth.

A. THE ‘BRIDE’

One of the seven angels who had poured out the bowls filled with the wrath of God, now says to John ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb’ [verse 9]. What a contrasting task! Not a word had those seven angels said as they poured out that wrath [Revelation 16]. But when it was completed they had heard the voice from the throne saying ‘It is done!’ [16:17]. Now they have heard another, but totally different, ‘It is done!’ spoken from the throne. And now one of those seven angels speaks. The simplicity of his words - ‘Come I will show you the bride …’ - masks the greatness of what he is saying. It hides the grand and glorious truth that is here communicated. It masks an intense excitement that is welling up in the heart of this angel and of all the creatures in heaven and on the earth. It hides the joy of heaven and earth. It fails completely to express the sheer wonder of the truth of which it speaks.

For this is no ordinary ‘bride’. This is no ordinary ‘Lamb’. This ‘wedding’ is no ordinary wedding – no ordinary union. No ordinary life.

For this angel, and for all the angels of heaven, everything else is irrelevant, insignificant. The wrath is past. Death is past. The judgment is past. Sin has gone. The old order is past. The Lamb would not bring his bride to an imperfect universe. All is now ready. Now all that is important, all that matters is that the ‘bride’ is coming: the purpose of God, the purpose of the incarnation and death of the Lamb, the goal towards which God has been moving history has now arrived. ‘Come, I will show you the bride …’ How this angel condensed his excitement and his sheer joy into these few words is incomprehensible – unless he is so overwhelmed with such deep and powerful emotion that these few words are all he can manage.

A.1 The contrast
In 17:1 one of those same seven angels who had poured out the bowls of God’s wrath [maybe the same angel?] had said to John ‘Come, I will show you the great prostitute …’ for two chapters John recorded what he saw of her in his visions. This ‘great prostitute’, also symbolised as a ‘city’ [Babylon], is in stark contrast to the ‘bride’. There in Revelation 17 and 18 we saw humans in their arrogant opposition to God and to the Lamb. There we saw the transient gaudy and glittering wealth and fame humans amassed for themselves. And we saw it vanish ‘in one hour’. All the self-importance, all the human glory, all the human power – all for nothing, all powerless to save and unable to endure, all gone.

Not so ‘the bride’ – those humans known collectively as ‘the Church’. We had a glimpse of her in 19:7,8 – ‘ready’ for the Lamb, clothed in ‘fine linen, bright and clean … given her to wear’. Clothed in the righteousness of Christ [see comments on 19:8]. Earlier we read that these ‘robes’ were ‘washed’ and ‘made … white in the blood of the Lamb’ [7:14]. The bride does not glory in her own achievements and wealth and fame but only in God and the Lamb [7:9,10; 15:3,4].

A.2 The cost
The ‘cost’ of this ‘wedding’ is beyond measure. Not of the wedding itself, but the cost of the ‘clothing’ of the ‘bride’, given to her by God, and the cost of redeeming her from all that held her captive. The pure, shining, spotless robes of the bride, and its cost, have been in focus from the very beginning of Revelation:

In 1:6 we read of the one ‘who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood’.
In 5:9 the Lamb with his blood purchased men for God.
In 7:14 the robes of the redeemed are washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb.

We have seen this cost in previous studies. We have looked at references to it in other scriptures from both the Old and New Testaments. It is important that we do not lose touch with it here. We have just read of those who are excluded from the new heaven and the new earth [21:8], and our fearful, legalistic, performance-based mindset threatens to overpower and block out the truth of the Gospel, that the security of the redeemed and the certainty of their salvation depends on the immeasurable love of God expressed towards them in Christ Jesus – so great a love that the Father sent the Son into the world to die to save them, a great, patient and enduring love that put this plan in place before the creation of the world.

In 1John 4:9,10 we read ‘This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love … that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sin’.  He adds: ‘And so we know and rely on the love God has for us’ [verse 16]. Paul voices a similar truth about the love of God: ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ [Romans 5:8]. This immense love defines the preciousness of the Church to God. This enormous price that was paid for us, defines how greatly God treasures us.

In Matthew 26:27 Jesus, anticipating his sin-bearing death, said ‘This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’ In Acts 20:28 Paul states that God bought the church of God ‘with his own blood.’ Romans 3:25 teaches that God’s wrath is turned away ‘through faith in his blood’. Romans 5:9 states that we are ‘justified by his blood’ and from thence forth ‘saved from God’s wrath’. Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:14 state that in Christ we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, through his blood.’ Colossians 1:20 teaches that through the blood of Jesus God has established peace. Hebrews 9:12,14 teach that the blood of Christ obtains eternal redemption for us, purging our consciences and 10:19 teaches that the blood of Christ has opened the way for us into the presence of God. This is the price the Lamb paid for his bride.

In Ephesians 5, Paul, discussing the love of husbands for their wives, speaks of the love of Christ for the Church: ‘Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy … to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless’ [verse 25-27].  

Those who believe that their salvation is not certain have surely lost touch with the love of God and the love of Christ that saved them, and the high price that was paid to redeem them. Having loved them so dearly, have paid so dearly for their redemption, God and the Lamb hold them oh so securely, bringing them safe to this glorious day. Were we to ask the Shepherd ‘Where are the redeemed through all these years of suffering? Where is your flock through all these dangers where their faith is challenged and threatened?’ the Shepherd would smile and open his hand and say ‘Here! Safe in my hand!’ [John 10:28]. He would ever so gently pull aside his outer garment and say ‘Here! They are here. Close to my heart!’ [Isaiah 40:11].

The redeemed, the bride of the Lamb, is exceedingly precious to God. Exceedingly loved.

A.3 The imagery
The imagery of ‘bride’ and ‘wife’ points us to the love and the union between Christ and his Church. It also speaks of commitment.

The love of Christ is the primary thing, the thing out of which all else arises. It is his love, which we have looked at above, that generates the lesser love of the Church for him. ‘We love because he first loved us’ [1John 4:19]. It is this love of Christ that ensures the permanence of the union between Christ and his Church [Romans 8:32,35-39].

The permanent union – the life together forever - has been expressed already in Revelation 21:3.

The commitment, seen in both the love and the guaranteed permanence of the union, is expressed by the concept of ‘covenant’. This love and this union, is the ‘new covenant’ promised in the Old Testament and established by the blood of Christ, as we have seen above in Matthew 26:27. This is the ‘better’ covenant described in Hebrews 8.  

The imagery of marriage, and more frequently of the breaking of marriage by adultery, was used quite frequently in the Old Testament to refer to the relationship between God and the nation Israel. The Church, the redeemed, need have no fear that her relationship with Christ will similarly fail. The Sinai Covenant which bound the nation of Israel to God on the basis of the Mosaic Law, was never meant to replace the Abrahamic Covenant which bound God to Abraham on the basis of faith. The promises of the Abrahamic Covenant – righteousness credited on the basis of faith – finds its final expression in the new covenant sealed with the blood of Christ, through whom righteousness is credited to all who believe. The Law was never meant to save us, rather it points out our need of salvation, and thus leads us to Christ, through whom we are saved [Romans 3:19,20; Galatians 3:17,18,21-25].

Let us not, therefore, be unsettled by the failures, the spiritual ‘adultery’, of Israel. This symbolic marriage depicted in Revelation 21 will never end that way. It endures forever.


B. THE CITY – 21:10 – 22:6

The angel said ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb’. But what he showed John was not a bride dressed in her pure white bridal gown, but a city.

As noted previously: In Revelation 5:5,6, the angel spoke of a victorious Lion; John looked and saw a Lamb with the marks of slaughter upon him. In 7:9 John looked, expecting to see the 144,000 Jews spoken of in verses 4-8, but what he saw was an uncountable multitude from all the different peoples of the earth. Now he expects to see ‘the bride’, but he sees ‘the Holy City, Jerusalem…’ Anything can happen in symbolic visions; the important thing is the reality symbolised by the vision. We have seen New Testament precedents in which the Church is referred to as ‘Jerusalem’ in section A.2 of the previous study. Here in 21:9,10 it is clear that the ‘bride’ [the Church] is the ‘Holy City’ the new ‘Jerusalem’.

The vision of the ‘Holy City’ is a symbolic vision of the Church – glorious, perfect and precious. The symbol of the ‘bride’ fails to convey the compound, corporate nature of the Church, for the Church, although one Church, is comprised not of a single individual, but of countless individuals. No one individual is the Church. The Church is all individuals of which it is comprised – a great, countless multitude. Hence the image of a ‘city’.

That the city is ‘the Holy City, Jerusalem’ tells us that this is God’s city. It belongs to God. It is where God dwells [as we have already seen in verse 3], not symbolically as he did not the physical Jerusalem in the physical temple, nor temporarily, dependent on the actions of his people, but in reality and for ever.

B.1 … coming down out of heaven from God …
All the redeemed from Abel onwards have been waiting for this day. All those mentioned in Hebrews 11. All those Old and New Testament believers whose names we know, and those whose names we don’t know. All the redeemed from the two millennia since the New Testament was written … all have been waiting for this day. They are all here now in this vision in Revelation 21:10 ‘coming down out of heaven’. The ‘little while’ of Revelation 6:11 has ended – those ‘martyrs under the altar’ are here, coming down out of heaven. The ‘42 months’ and those ‘three and a half days’ of Revelation 11:2 and 11 are over – those ‘two witnesses’ are here, coming down out of heaven. The ‘time, times and half a time’ of Revelation 12:14 are over – that ‘woman’ who sojourned in the desert is here, coming down from heaven. The great multitude of 7:9 is here, coming down out of heaven. That ‘144,000’ of 14:1, with the Father’s name written on their foreheads, is here, coming down out of heaven. The overcomers, standing on the glassy sea in 15:2, they are here, coming down out of heaven. For each of these are all the saints. They are‘the bride’ who has made herself ready [19:7,8].

We should note that ‘coming down out of heaven’ also reminds us that the Church owes its existence to God, to his mercy, and not at all to itself and its own actions or perceived merit. Here in the future, and at every present moment of its existence prior to this future, the Church, this ‘bride’, this ‘Holy City’, exists only because God himself came down out of heaven and lived among us. We are his by his action, by his gift, by his grace, by his mercy.

But there is an additional truth here, and we must not let the different symbolic visions blind us to this. The New Testament teaches [1] that every believer has already been seated with God in the heavenly realms in Christ [Ephesians 2:6], and that our ‘life is hidden with Christ in God [Colossians 3:3]. From the moment we believed in Christ we have in one sense been ‘in heaven’; [2] that when a believer dies, that believer is, in an additional sense, present with Christ in heaven [2Corinthians 5:4-8; Philippians 1:20-24]; [3] that believers on earth are caught up to be with the Lord when he returns [1Thessalonians 4:16,17]. The vision in 21:10 of the ‘city’, the whole Church, coming down ‘out of heaven’ is not contradictory to these other scriptures.

B.2 It shone with the glory of God …
The robes of the ‘bride’ have been described as ‘fine linen, bright and clean’ [17:8]. This is the righteousness and holiness of the saints, and the righteousness and holiness of the saints is the righteousness and holiness of Christ [1Corinthians 1:30]. So the symbolic ‘city’ is described in terms of great brilliance – ‘like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal’ [verse 11]; ‘the wall was made of jasper, and city of pure gold, as pure as glass’ [verse 18]; ‘the foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone … jasper … sapphire … chalcedony … carnelian … chrysolite … beryl … topaz … chrysoprase … jacinth … amethyst’ [verses 19-20]; the twelve gates were ‘pearls, each gate a single pearl’ [verse 21]; and ‘the great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass’ [verse 21]. [It is not necessary to try to identify these jewels; the point is their collective brilliance and beauty, symbolising the perfection and glory of the Church.]

The ‘city’, the Church, is incredibly glorious – as John said ‘It shone with the glory of God’ – and this helps us to understand that all the above references to various jewels and precious stones are not meant to be taken literally, but to symbolize the intense glory and beauty and perfection of the Church. Its beauty, its glory is not its own, its beauty and glory are the beauty and glory of God.

And here we are taken right back to Genesis 1 where God said ‘Let us make man in our own image’. There humans were endowed with the image of the God of all glory. In that we are sinners we ‘fall short of the glory of God’ [Romans 3:23], but in that we are saved ‘we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God’ [Romans 5:2]. The Gospel says ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ [Colossians 1:27], and speaks of ‘the glory that will be revealed in us’ [Romans 8:18]. It assures us that those who are saved by God’s mercy are those ‘whom he prepared in advance for glory’ [Romans 9:23] and that the salvation we have in Christ includes ‘eternal glory’ [2Timothy 2:10]. This very Gospel that promises us glory, God ‘destined for our glory before time began’ [1Corinthians 2:7]. By the Gospel God calls us ‘into his kingdom and glory’ [1Thessalonians 2:12], to ‘share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ’ [2Thessalonians 2:14], promising us that ‘when Christ … appears, they you also will appear with him in glory’ [Colossians 3:4]. Even the suffering the Church has endured during the period of witness is aimed at this glory [Romans 8:17; 2Cornithians 4:17; 1Peter 5:1].

‘The God of all grace’, through the Gospel of his Son, has called the Church, the redeemed, ‘to his eternal glory’ [1Peter 5:10]. Now, after the age of suffering, the ‘bride’, the ‘Holy City’, the new ‘Jerusalem’, is revealed, shining ‘with the glory of God’. Brilliant beyond imagining.

B.3 It had a great, high wall …
Quite a lot is said about this symbolic ‘wall’ of this symbolic ‘city’, in addition to its beauty and glory already noted in the symbolic jewels above.

Its gates. There are 12 gates in the walls, four on each side. Each of them bears the name of one of the tribes of Israel [21:12,13]. This symbolises the inclusion of Old Testament believers in the ‘bride’ of the Lamb. It also refers us to the Old Testament truth – that truth possessed by Israel [Romans 3:2; see also Romans 9:3-5], the truth that spoke from beginning to end of Jesus, the Saviour of the world [Luke 24:25-27, 44-47; John 5:39-47].

Its foundations: The walls of the city have twelve foundations, with the names of the ‘twelve apostles of the Lamb’ [21:14]. This symbolises the presence of New Testament believers in the ‘bride’ of the Lamb. It also refers to the New Testament truth – that truth proclaimed by the apostles, that truth that focused on the Lamb [1Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:20].

Its immense size: The wall surrounds the city which is, in physical symbol, ’12,000 stadia’ wide, long and high. In metric terms, that is 2,200 kilometres. This makes this symbolic ‘city’ 233 times the size of modern Israel, 6.9 times the size of Texas, and 2.6 times the size of Queensland. [In terms of height – it is almost 250 times the height of Mount Everest.] These immense dimensions indicate the symbolic nature of the city.

That the number 12,000 is symbolic has to be assumed. It comprises the 10 x 10 x 10 that we have seen before: total completion. Added to this is the ‘12’. Does it, as clear in the use of 12 in verses 12 to 14, refer to the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles of the Lamb? Or, does it, as Hendriksen suggests, break down into 3 x 4 – three for the Trinity and four for the universe – the four corners of the earth? [p 244] In any case the city in which God dwells with his people is a perfect cube. [Note that the Most Holy Place, the ‘inner sanctuary’ in Solomon’s temple was a perfect cube (1Kings 6:10)]. This perfect, complete cube indicates both the spiritual perfection and the spiritual and numeric completion of the Church. All the redeemed are here. As we have seen before, not one is missing. Not one is lost. And all the redeemed are complete in every way – they are just what God wanted and willed them to be. In addition, the enormous size of this ‘city’ points to the size of the Church. Gathered from all ages and all countries and peoples, they are more in number than can be counted [see 7:9].

The significance of the wall: The ‘wall’ that is described at such length and that has not just one but twelve foundations, points to the utter security of the ‘city’.  In spiritual terms this security is God himself. Psalm 125:2 states ‘As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people both now and forevermore.’ In Psalm 18:1,2 David rejoices in God as his ‘rock’, his place of ‘refuge’, his ‘shield’, his ‘stronghold’. This strong and beautiful wall which we see here in this vision of the ‘Holy City’ as it comes down from heaven, is not just here at the consummation. This wall has ever been surrounding the redeemed.

Deuteronomy 33:27 states ‘The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.’

David wrote in Psalm 57:1 ‘… in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed’ and in 59:17 ‘you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God.’

Isaiah twice refers to the ‘walls’ of the symbolic ‘city’ as ‘salvation’ [26:1; 60:18]. Of this ‘city’ the ‘gates’ are open [26:2] and the LORD is its ‘everlasting light’ [60:19-20].

God himself is our salvation [Psalm 27:1; 62:2,6; 118:14,21; Isaiah 12:2]. He himself is the ‘wall’ – the security of the ‘city’. It is he who has kept the ‘bride’ safe through all the years of suffering and witness.

In Isaiah 60, a chapter that seems to be in mind in this vision of the ‘city’, we read ‘you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise’ [verse 18].

B.4 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple
We have already seen in 21:3 that ‘the dwelling of God is with men’ and God himself is with them. There is no need for a temple – a symbol of God’s presence, when God himself is present. This eternal presence of God with his people was inaugurated with the incarnation – in which ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ [John 1:14], and experienced by all who believe in Christ by means of the indwelling Spirit [John 14:14-23]. But that indwelling was but a deposit and guarantee of what was to come. Now it is experienced in its full reality: God lives with his people. This reality is also expressed in 22:3,4, where we read that ‘the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city … They will see his face …’. Here is an unheard of thing – that humans see the face of God [Exodus 33:20].

(In this the ‘Holy City’ stands in contrast with the city described in Ezekiel 40 to 48. See Appendix #7 for an extended comparison of Ezekiel 40 to 48 with Revelation 21 and 22 listing points of similarity and points of contrast.)

B.5 … the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp … 21:23; 22:5
Just as the ‘no more sea’ was a symbol for a spiritual reality, so the no ‘need for the sun or the moon to shine’ [21:23] and ‘no more night’ [22:5], and no need for ‘a lamp or the light of the sun’ [22:5], are symbols of a spiritual reality: All spiritual ignorance is gone. All misunderstanding of God has gone. The light of God’s truth is now seen in its purity. The deceptions of the evil one have all been eliminated. There is no spiritual darkness at all.

The Light and the Truth were present wherever Jesus was present [John 8:12; 14:6], but we saw it only as ‘through a glass darkly’. Now, in the new heaven and the new earth, when God and the Lamb are present with us, ‘we shall see face to face’. ‘Now I know in part, then I shall know fully’ [1Corinthians 13:12]. There is no need for proclamation here. There is no need to seek for knowledge of God here. They are brought to an end by this grand reality stressed here. Perfection has come, the imperfection of our knowledge of God has gone [1Corinthians 13:10]. Just as the imperfections of the physical universe have gone, just as the imperfection of our physical bodies has gone, just as the imperfection of our relationship with God and with others has gone, so too has the imperfection of our knowledge of God gone – it has passed away for ever. Now, in this new heaven and new earth ‘we shall see him as he is’ [1John 3:2]. No one will here say ‘Know the Lord, because they will all know (him), from the least of them to the greatest’ [Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:11].

Of this everlasting light Isaiah wrote: ‘Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you …The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the LORD will by your everlasting light …’ [Isaiah 60:1,19,20].

This light contrasts to the ‘darkness’ that ‘covers the earth’, the ‘thick darkness’ that ‘is over the peoples’ [Isaiah 60:2]; it is to this light that nations and kings have come [Isaiah 60:3], and in this ‘city’ of Revelation 21 ‘walk by its light’ [21:24].

Because ‘there will be no night there’ the gates of this city are never shut [21:25]. There is no darkness, no ignorance, no twisted thinking, no negative mindset: there is nothing to lock out of this ‘city’, nothing to forbid, nothing that threatens, nothing that corrupts. No exclusions. No prohibitions. Nothing to fear. Because everyone sees God as he really is, everyone knows God as he really is, everyone sees the Lamb with the marks of slaughter upon him and knows how much they are loved. The darkness, the fears, are all gone. Peace has returned to the earth, peace in every dimension. Because now the truth about God shines forth in all its glory. God is light, and in him is no darkness at all [1John 1:5]. Jesus is the light of the world, the true light that gives light to every man [John 8:12; 1:9]. This God, and this Jesus, dwell in the midst of this ‘city’, the Church, that John saw ‘coming down out of heaven’.

B.6 The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it …
Verse 24 states that ‘kings will bring their splendour into it’ and verse 25 ‘the glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it’. Here is the praise of God and the Lamb that comes from people of every tribe and nation. We have seen it repeatedly throughout Revelation, and it is anticipated in both the Old and New Testaments.

Suggested reading:
Psalms 22:27,28; 47:8,9; 67:1-4; 86:9; 96:7-10; 117:1; 138:4,5.

B.7 Nothing impure will ever enter it … 21:27
Indeed there is nothing impure left. In Genesis 3 God’s perfect creation and God’s perfect image were profaned. The deceptions of the evil one prevailed in both human beliefs and human actions. The whole world was plunged into idolatry and spiritual deception. This too is now gone. No such profanation of God’s holy name will ever again occur. No such sullying of his image can ever again occur. All false religion and spiritual deception is gone. It will never enter the ‘city’. The only ones in the city are ‘those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life’. They are the ‘city’.

B.8 … the river of the water of life … 22:1-3a
Flowing down the middle of the great street of the city was ‘the river of the water of life’. We read in 21:6 that God said ‘To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life’. This is that same water – the gift of eternal life, life with God, which God himself provides to all who believe in his Son. We looked at this when studying that verse.

John saw this river ‘flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb’. Note the present tense – it is continuously flowing, ever giving life, never ceasing. This life-giving reconnection with God is initiated the moment a person believes in Jesus Christ, and continues on forever. That is what ‘eternal life’ is. It is not something that stops; indeed it cannot be stopped. Death cannot stop it [John 11:25,26]. Persecution cannot stop it [Revelation 7:9-12; 11:11]. Sin cannot stop it for those who are in Christ Jesus [Ephesians 2:18; Hebrews 10:19-22], because to have the Son is to have eternal life [1John 5:12]. Eternal life is the present and permanent possession, now and forever, for those who are ‘in Christ Jesus’.

The ‘city’, the ‘bride’, the whole multitude of the redeemed, has its life from God and from the Lamb – life that never ends.

This permanent life is symbolised by two additional images related to the river:

[1] the river sustains ‘the tree of life’. This is that other tree that was in the middle of the garden of Eden [Genesis 2:9]. This is the tree that was barred to human access after sin entered, to prevent sinners from living forever [Genesis 3:22-24]. Cherubim with blazing swords barred the way to the tree of life. Through the saving work of Christ access to life, access to God, is restored. His death ripped away the prohibitive curtain, on which golden cherubim were embroidered [Matthew 27:50,51]. The prohibitive work of the cherubim is here redundant. It is not needed in this ‘city’. Nothing separates the redeemed from God, and nothing ever will. Life is all there is. There is no more death. The multiple trees of life in this vision of the redeemed are hammering home this truth that we have already been told more than once: there is no more death. There never will be any more death. There never can be any more death. Where ‘the river of life’ keeps giving life there the tree of life grows. Death is impossible. [Note here the ultimate reality spoken of in Psalm 1:2,3 – the blessedness of the person whose delight is in the word of God – ‘he is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.]

[2] the ‘tree of life’ provides on-going sustenance and healing [22:2]. There is not just one symbolic ‘tree of life’ – the ‘city’ is full of them. The ‘tree’ does not ‘bear fruit’ just once a year, then there is nothing – it bears fruit ‘every month’. The supply of ‘life’ is perennial. It doesn’t stop. It cannot stop. Only if the source of life can cease, only then can this supply of life cease: and God, the source of life, is eternal, and he is right here in this ‘city’. Yet there is more: lest we should fear that there will be some failure in us, some weakness in us, some ‘disease’ in us at some time in this future state – the vision assures us that this symbolic tree of life not only sustains our life, it also keeps us ‘healthy’ – it is not only a life-giver but a therapist. It gives life and it promotes life and health, it prevents ill-health. There is no threat of human failure here in this ‘city’ in which God lives.

Jesus, not long before he was arrested, said in prayer to his Father: ‘This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent’ [John 17:3]. God and the Lamb dwell in the midst of the redeemed in the new heaven and earth; the ‘river of the water of life’ flows out from their throne, the tree of life grows on the side of the river, the leaves of the tree ‘are for the healing of the nations’. By this gift of God, by this unbroken relationship with God and the Lamb, we live. Not a life eked out in sickness and pain, but a life that is on all dimensions – spiritual, mental, emotional, psychological, physical - free from all sickness, pain and sorrow. We live as we have never lived before.

This life and wholeness provided and sustained by God [via the symbolic ‘river’ and the symbolic ‘tree’] is further confirmed by the next words ‘No longer will there be any curse’ [22:3]. Again and again this vision in Revelation 21 and 22 is assuring us of the perfection of life in the new heaven and the new earth. The ‘curse’ was part of the ‘old order of things’ that has ‘passed away’ [21:4]. The only life we humans have known is a life that is imperfect, a life coloured by imperfection, pain and death, a life in which we sin even when we do not want to sin.

Such is the suffering and pressure of this life that Job, that man of faith, longed for death rather than live and prove unfaithful to God [Job 6:8-10].

Such is the power of sin within us that Paul agonized over his inability to live without sin ‘… in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body …What a wretched man I am!’ [Romans 7:22-24].

Such is the standard of God and such are the requirements of his Law, that it is impossible for us sinners to meet those standards [Romans 3:19,20; Galatians 3:10].

The world we humans know is a cursed world – cursed physically [Genesis 3:17], and cursed spiritually [Galatians 3:10]. Every aspect of our world and our lives has been impacted by the curse. We have no conception of a perfect world and a perfect life. All we know is life under the curse, and we measure ‘good’ and ‘bad’ within that context. A ‘good’ day might have not as much pain as the day before; a ‘good’ relationship might have fewer points of tension than a previous one. All our terminology, all of our valuations, are relative to the degree of ‘curse’ perceived in what we are describing.

But here, in the new heaven and the new earth, in the ‘city’ which is comprised of all the redeemed, ‘there is no longer any curse’. That is an absolute statement. Every moment will be perfect. Every relationship will be perfect. Every physical thing that exists will no longer be cursed. Every personal relationship will no longer bear evidence of the curse. Our standing before God will be unimpeded, no longer threatened, no longer banned, no longer riddled with shame or guilt. And deep within our own hearts there will be no more curse, no more of that shame, that destructive self-awareness, that entered in Genesis 3:7: All feelings of inferiority – gone. All self-negation and self-rejection – gone. All depression and despair – gone. All inner tensions – gone. All seeking for meaning but never finding it – gone. All lack of identity and purpose – gone.

We cannot imagine this life – sustained, healed, without the curse. But there it is: no longer any more curse. We must never think of this future eternal state in terms of our present life. We must never fear that it might be just a drawn out repetition of this life, just a bit better. It is not like this ‘life’ at all: there is no longer any curse.

B.9 The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city – 22:3
There is no longer any curse because God and the Lamb are there. The ‘dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them and be their God’ [21:3]. 22:1 has mentioned that the river of the water of life is ‘flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb’. Now the focus is on the ‘throne’. Not only are God and the Lamb dwelling forever with the redeemed, in this ‘city’ – they are also on their throne. They reign. All who had previously challenged their sovereignty, all who had previously claimed the allegiance of the inhabitants of the earth, all who elevated themselves to a ‘throne’ and crowned themselves with authority are now gone. Death, that enemy which had ‘reigned’ since Genesis 3 [Romans 5:17] – gone to the lake of fire. The dragon, he who had ‘seven crowns on his heads’ [12:3], that ‘god of this age’, that ‘prince of the world’ – gone to the lake of fire. The ‘beast’ who wore ‘ten crowns’ and to whom the dragon had given ‘his power and his throne’ [13:1,2] – gone to the lake of fire. The false prophet who ‘exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf’ [13:12] – gone to the lake of fire. Babylon, that ‘great prostitute’, that mindset that ruled the inhabitants of the earth, not by a throne or a crown, but by seduction and intoxication – gone, simply gone.  

Here in this eternal ‘city’, here in the new heaven and the new earth: God and Lamb are on the throne. They reign. There is no other throne. All those other ‘thrones’ and crowns which we were shown through this Revelation were usurped and innately impotent. They were but the aspirations of the evil to defeat the good, the attempts of the darkness to overcome the light. The efforts of the creature to dispose of the Creator.

Revelation 1-3 left us with no doubts about the supremacy of Christ.

Revelation 4 left us with no doubt about the reign of God.

Revelation 5 left us with no doubts about the victory of Christ.

Revelation 6:1,2 revealed Christ as the conqueror.

Revelation 7 revealed the Lamb at the centre of the eternal throne.

Revelation 8 and 9 revealed God implementing preliminary judgments.

Revelation 11 spoke of the establishment of the kingdom of God and his reign.

Revelation 12 spoke of the power, kingdom and authority of Christ.

Revelation 13 revealed God sovereignly preventing the saints from defecting to the beasts.

Revelation 14 and 15 showed us the redeemed safe before the throne of God.

Revelation 16 revealed God in sovereign justice implementing the final judgments on the inhabitants of the earth.
Revelation 17 shows God sovereignly using evil to destroy evil.

Revelation 19 rejoices in the absolute power and reign of God, such authority that the beast and the false prophet are destroyed instantly and simply by the word of Christ.

Revelation 20 showed the redeemed already reigning with God and with Christ even while still on the old earth during the period of witness and suffering. Even then the throne is God’s, the throne is the Lamb’s – even in the presence of all those contenders for the throne

Now in Chapters 21 and 22 all those contenders are gone. God reigns. The Lamb reigns.

This throne/reign of God and the Lamb, has additional significance for the redeemed:

[1] The distinction between God and the redeemed
Up to this point the stress has been on the restored and perfect relationship between God and the redeemed, between the Lamb and his ‘bride’. The separations and divisions and prohibitions that were in place because of human sin have been removed totally and forever. But we are not allowed to believe that we have become God, or even that we have suddenly gained the attributes of deity. That is not the case at all. He is still the Creator, and we the creatures. He is still the independent One, the self-existent One, the I AM, and we still the dependent ones, whose existence is derived from him. He is still God and we are still human. He is God, and we are his ‘image’. He is on the throne, he reigns in the absolute sense, not us.

[2] He is the King, we are his servants who serve him [verse 3]
He reigns, we serve him. This has been stated right at the beginning of the Revelation [1:6: 5:10. Note that in these two verses the word ‘serve’ is not in the Greek text, but is inferred by the concept of priesthood.] The redeemed have been called ‘his servants’ both on the old earth and in the new [1:1; 2:20; 7:3,15; 19:2,5; 22:6].  Here, where God now dwells with his people in the new heavens and new earth, the right order has been restored: God is King, humans are his servants. It was our attempt to be ‘like God’ that disturbed the order of creation and brought curse and chaos to the earth. Now everything is back in its proper position and role. [It is not that God was ever not on the throne, but that we humans were striving to be on the throne. God was always on the throne.]

The word translated ‘serve’ is latreuo – which often refers to serving God as an act of worship, and there is a very real sense in which any service done for God and Christ is an act of worship. The word is sometimes translated ‘worship’. Its other use in Revelation is in 7:15, where the context is similar to Revelation 22 – the judgment has passed, the old order has passed, the new has come, the redeemed are before the throne of God.

B.10 They will see his face – 22:4
Although they are his servants those who comprise ‘the city’, ‘the bride’, ‘see his face’. We have looked at this in section B.5 above, when focusing on 21:23. That which was previously impossible, is now the normal and permanent state. This gives us a new perspective on what it means to be his servants and to serve him. This King/servant relationship is not a remote, distant thing. The Psalmist once stated that he would ‘rather be a doorkeeper’ in God’s house, than to dwell in the tents of the wicked’ [Psalm 84:10]. He also expressed the truth that only ‘He who has clean hands and a pure heart …’ can stand in God’s holy place [Psalm 24:3,4]. But here the unthinkable happens, here what the Psalm writers never dreamed of occurs: here is each individual servant of God each standing close to God, each seeing his face. No longer does sin make God hide his face from us [Isaiah 59:2]. No longer does the presence of God strike fear into human hearts. The ‘do not be afraid’ spoken to humans trembling before a vision of God [Judges 6:22,23; Luke 2:10; Revelation 1:17] will never be spoken again. We see his face and he does not turn away, repulsed by our sin. Not ever. We see his face and we are not afraid. Not ever.

B.11 … and his name will be on their foreheads – 22:4
The redeemed, every individual redeemed human, belongs to him. His name is on their foreheads. The vision is no longer speaking of the redeemed corporately, represented by the symbols of the ‘bride and the ‘city’. It is now speaking of God’s ‘servants’ individually. Individually they serve him [verse 3], individually they see his face [verse 4] and individually they have his name on their foreheads. We have seen this identifying mark previously: he who overcomes has the name of God, the name of Christ and the name of the city written on him [3:12]; the redeemed standing with the Lamb have his Father’s name on their foreheads [14:1]. This is also most likely the ‘seal of the living God’ placed on the foreheads of the redeemed in 7:1-3 [see also 9:4].

The redeemed stand in contrast to those who have the ‘mark of the beast’. This name on the foreheads of God’s servants marks them forever as God’s precious children, purchased at great cost by the death of his Son. It is their security. It is their permanent protection. But more importantly it marks them out as dearly loved, so loved that nothing will ever separate them from God whom they now see face to face. It assures them now during this age of witness and suffering that they will be face to face with him then in the new heaven and the new earth, as part of the ‘bride’ and part of the Holy City coming down out of heaven from God.

B.12 There will be no more night …the Lord God will give them light … 22:5
See B.5 above.

B.13 And they will reign for ever and ever … 22:5
Not only are these servants of God highly privileged and precious to God they are here also said to ‘reign for ever and ever’. They have ‘his name on their foreheads’. They are his children [John 1:12; 1John 3:1]. They are his heirs – heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ [Romans 8:17], who ‘inherit the kingdom’ [Matthew 25:34; see also Matthew 5:5,10]. We have seen in 21:7 that the redeemed ‘inherit all this’. The ‘new heaven and new earth’ are theirs. That dominion which was theirs by God’s decree at the beginning of time is here restored [Genesis 1:26-28]. That glory and honour and rule for which they were created, but of which they were robbed by Satan’s deception and usurped rule, is here restored [see Psalm 8:3-7; Hebrews 2:5-8].

What humans have achieved, despite their fallenness, and despite the curse on the earth, is amazing. But it is nothing compared to what it will be in the ‘new heaven and new earth’ where all imperfection in both humans and nature are removed. At present, even that ‘dominion’ endowed on humans by God’s deliberate creative purpose is polluted. Whatever we touch is in some way doomed to weakness, incompleteness, failure. But then we will exercise dominion over the earth perfectly and without frustration. And the earth will rejoice. And the heavens will be glad. For ever and for ever. [See Romans 8:18-23]

That human lostness, so obvious in our continual striving for meaning and purpose and in our longings to be something more than we are, expresses the deep and true reality of present human existence – that we are not doing what we were created to do. Here, in the new heaven and earth, we will ‘reign on the earth’ [5:10].

 

IS IT ALL TRUE?
The vision is concluded by a statement from the angel [22:6], and it would seem that the angel is affirming not only this vision of the new heaven and new earth, but all that he has revealed since the beginning of the Revelation.

In 1:1,2 John wrote: ‘the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw – that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.’

Now the angel affirms that ‘these words are trustworthy and true‘. He grounds this affirmation in the fact that it was ‘the Lord’ who sent him to show us these things, and that this Lord who sent him is ‘the God of the spirits of the prophets’. That same God whose words through the Old Testament prophets have time and again proved to be trustworthy and true is the God from whom the message of Revelation has come. That same God who through Isaiah predicted the first coming of ‘the Son’ [Isaiah 9:6] and the sin-bearing death of his ‘servant’ [Isaiah 53:5], is the God who sent his angel with the visions of Revelation.

The trustworthiness and truth of the words of the visions has been affirmed previously [19:9; 21:5]; this reliability is based on their source – the one who is himself faithful and true [1:5; 3:7,14].