Teaching series from Revelation

God's Eternal Kingdom (Part 3)

Revelation 22:1-5

Teaching t23026

Introduction

We come to our final teaching on the book of Revelation. The last two chapters (21:1-22:5) are visions of the culmination of God’s plan – His eternal kingdom. At the heart of these visions is a city – “the New Jerusalem.” I argued last week that for several reasons, the description of this city is primarily symbolic rather than literal. What literal realities about God’s eternal kingdom do these details symbolize?

Last week, we surveyed John’s description of the “exterior” of the city (i.e., walls, gates, foundation stones, etc.), which symbolized the radiant beauty of God’s eternal kingdom (21:9-27; LIST).

This week, we will look at John’s description of the “interior” of the city. The heart of it is a garden/park, which symbolizes the restorative power of God’s eternal kingdom (read 22:1,2). You can see from 22:2 the emphasis on restoration. Restoration from what? Restoration from what happened in the first garden (the garden of Eden), in which the original tree of life stood (Gen. 2,3). In order to appreciate the restoration provided by this final garden, we must understand the deaths that occurred in the first garden ...

Deaths in the first garden

The first garden was the perfect dwelling place created for the first humans, Adam and Eve. God created them in wholeness and provided everything for them. His only condition was that they trust Him to define what is good and evil, rather than usurping that authority. In love, He warned them against this revolt by telling them the multi-faceted consequence (Gen.2:19 – “dying, you shall die”). Death is essentially separation (e.g., physical death separates the soul from the body; flower plucked from soil).

When they chose to follow Satan’s lie (“Decide for yourself, and you will be liberated!”), they immediately began to experience different kinds of separation, including:

THEOLOGICAL: They became separated from personal closeness with God. Instead of looking forward to relating to Him, they were now afraid of God and hid from Him (3:8). This was the main separation – the others flowed from it.

PSYCHOLOGICAL: They became internally separated from themselves. Before they became separated from God, they were healthily unself-conscious and able to be totally open to others. But now they experienced negative self-awareness, an unhealthy self-absorption and deep shame that made them hide themselves from one another (3:7).

ECOLOGICAL: They became separated from nature. As long as they lived under God’s benevolent rulership, they were able to exercise benevolent rulership over their environment (to help nature flourish, not to exploit it). But now they lost that authority, and their environment became uncooperative and hostile (3:17,18) – even to the point that nature would ultimately kill them physically.

Does this sound familiar – living life alienated from God, fractured within ourselves, and locked in a life-and-death struggle with nature? We have both inherited this condition through their wrong choice (like the children born after Chernobyl), and we have exacerbated it through our own wrong choices (e.g., family fall-out from sexual infidelity; environmental pollution). This is what we call normal, but this is not normal – it is broken, fallen, deeply abnormal. The death that started in the first garden has spread to all of us; it has killed us and is killing us and will kill us. But this is not the last word. God has a remedy for the Fall, and that remedy will not just take us back to the garden; it will create the new garden in God’s eternal kingdom...

Restorations in the new garden

Re-read 22:1,2a. At the center of this city garden is a “river of the water of life” and the “tree of life,” so massive that it grows on both sides of the river. Both of these symbolize personal access to the very life of God, which was lost at the Fall but will be fully restored.

Notice that this river comes from the throne of God and the Lamb. This means not only that God is the only source of this life, but also Jesus’ sacrificial death (“the Lamb”) is the only means through which this life is available to us. We can’t “get back to the garden” by our ingenuity, moral self-reform, technological progress, etc. Jesus gives the life of God back to us through His own death.

“The astonishing revelation of Calvary is... that humans’ actions are so gigantic and irreparable as to require the death of God Himself to put them right.” So terrible is sin’s separating power that the only way it could be defeated was for it to be taken up into God Himself. On the Cross, sin for a terrible moment fractured the Godhead, separating God the Father from God the Son (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). But by absorbing this ultimate separation, God somehow defeated sin’s killing power and unleashed His healing life.

And since God’s healing life has been unleashed through Jesus’ death, every form of death that started in the first garden will be healed in this new garden. Read 22:2b. This is the meaning of the fruit borne every month (ever-available) and the leaves of the tree for the healing of the nations. Read 22:3a. The curse that fell upon the human race will be totally undone.

Our separation from God will be healed (read 22:4,5a). All three of these symbols emphasize restoration to personal closeness with God.

We will have God’s “name” of our foreheads, which means that we will belong fully to God and become full members of His family.

We will see God’s “face,” which means that we will enjoy the fullest loving intimacy with God it is possible for finite persons to have. And since God is infinite, this disclosure of His kindness will be never-ending (Eph.2:6) and ever-increasing. Christians get glimpses of God’s love in this life through the Holy Spirit (see Rom.5:5), but even the best of these are like love-letters compared to a “face-to-face” reunion.

We will be freed forever and completely from the “darkness” of lies (from without or within) about God, so we can live in the “light” of His truth.

As other passages say, we will be “home” (Jn.14:2,3; 2Cor.5:6,8). And we will realize that this is what our souls were homesick for all along.

We will be fully restored psychologically. John mentioned this earlier (read 2:17). This is different from being given God’s “name.” God will also give us a “name” that no one else knows but God and us. This is like a nick-name that perfectly captures the essence of who we are.

This means that we will finally understand who we are (read and explain 1Cor.13:12), and be at peace with who we are. Our deep shame and existential angst and identity confusion will be gone. We will be fully vulnerable to God and others without any fear of exposure/condemnation. We will be blessedly self-forgetful and free to enjoy loving God and others!

Christians can experience this to a significant degree in this life as we grow in our understanding and appreciation of our new identity in Christ (Col. 3:1-3; Eph.1:18). But it is an ongoing struggle to keep this in focus, we never fully shed the lies of false identities (e.g., “I am on my own, the greatest, a loser, etc.”), and we never become fully psychologically healed. How wonderful it will be to be freed from this struggle forever and live fully in the reality of our identity as God’s children!

Our separation from nature will also be fully healed. This is evidently the connection between serving God (read 22:3b) and reigning (read 22:5b). Because we will be fully and freely submitted to God as our benevolent Ruler (22:3b – explain “bond-servants”), nature will be fully and freely submitted to us as its benevolent rulers (22:5b – probably refers here to reigning over nature since we all reign).

We instinctively think of submission as demeaning, but this kind of submission is what unleashes glorification and flourishing both in us and in nature (read and explain Rom.8:19,21).

Think of how nature recovers when humans act ecologically (e.g., BALD EAGLES RECOVERY). Think about how nature is enhanced when they humans skillfully steward it (e.g., BILTMORE GROUNDS & GARDENS). This is just a faint reflection of what it will be like! Nature will explode into the full beauty that it was meant to have!

So what?

Once again, we need to conclude our study of God’s eternal kingdom by asking: “So what?” How is this prediction relevant to me, today, in my current situation? In 22:17, God provides us with two answers to this question.

The last half of this verse is an invitation to get in on God’s eternal kingdom (read). Are you willing to admit that you thirst to be part of this? Not everyone wants it, and God won’t make you drink! If you are thirsty, you can gain entry without cost because Jesus already paid the full entry fee, as we have seen. The only condition is that you “come” – that you freely decide to ask Jesus for His forgiveness and for the right to be in His kingdom. Have you made this decision?

The first half of this verse is addressed to those who have already come, who have already responded to Jesus’ invitation.

It is possible to understand this to mean that we should pray “Come quickly, Jesus!” (see 22:20). And this is a great thing to pray (1Cor.16:22 – “Maranatha!”).

But it is also possible that it means that we who have responded to Jesus’ invitation to come should also invite others to come. God’s Spirit issues this invitation through Jesus’ Bride – Christians (“The Spirit and the Bride say ‘Come’”). So let’s invite the people He has put in our lives (“Let the one who hears say ‘Come’”). This is the main reason why Jesus doesn’t just take to heaven the moment we receive Him – so that we can invite others! To issue this invitation is our greatest privilege, and to see people respond is our greatest joy!

M. C. D’Arcy, Death and Life.

“‘Seeing the face of God’ is a metaphor in Judaism and early Christianity for a full awareness of the presence and power of God.” Aune, D. E. (1998). Revelation 17–22 (Vol. 52C, p. 1179). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.