"An Eternity with Jesus"
22:1 - 5
(Delivered at Bethany Bible Church on Sunday, October 8, 2000. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
Our most recent times together in the Book of Revelation -- and particularly, in the detailed description it gives us of the New Jerusalem, and our eternal home with Jesus -- have made me feel like a hungry little boy with his face pressed against the window of a glorious pastry shop. I have to work awfully hard to get a good view; but all that I see makes me long to be inside. The only difference is, of course, that I'm promised full entry one day, and I'll be given complete freedom to enjoy everything that I see. But oh; how I want to be there now!
I believe that's how God wants us to feel about this last section of the Bible, and its description of the eternal dwelling place the Lord is preparing for His people. I believe God wants us to live our lives with a practical sense of the present; but He also wants us to live in the present with a sense of hunger and longing for eternity. He wants us to take Proverbs 23:17-18 seriously; "Do not let your heart envy sinners, but be zealous for the fear of the LORD all the day; for surely there is a hereafter, and your hope will not be cut off."
But as great as the rich treasures of our heavenly home will be, the Bible doesn't present those riches as the greatest, most wonderful, and most satisfying privilege we'll enjoy there. The greatest eternal treasure that heaven will have to offer us will be Jesus Himself -- the joyous privilege of beholding Jesus in all His glory; of knowing, in an unhindered way, the unfathomable depth of His love for us; and of enjoying an ever-expanding, ever-deepening, ever-satisfying fellowship with Him. Jesus is what heaven is really all about; and if He isn't our central focus when we think about heaven, then we don't have the right idea of heaven.
Our eternal presence with Jesus, and our fellowship with Him, is what He Himself died for and longs for most of all. He prayed to the Father, just before He went to the cross, saying, "Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24). He told His disciples, "In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:2-3). Jesus' great longing is our eternal fellowship with Him; and we're not thinking about heaven in the right way if that's not our heartfelt longing too.
I found a hymn by Fanny Crosby (titled "My Savior First of All"), that captures beautifully what it is that we should be longing for. She wrote;
When my life-work is ended and
I cross the swelling tide,
O the soul-thrilling rapture
when I view His blessed face
O the dear ones in glory, how
they beckon me to come,
Thru the gates to the city, in
a robe of spotless white,
We've been shown so many wonderful things about heaven in these final passages of the final book of the Bible. But it's the prospect of an eternity of fellowship with the Savior, who loves us and died for us, that should give heaven its greatest meaning to us. And I believe that this final look at heaven, in Revelation 22:1-5, helps us to appreciate that. It shows us that, in the eternal dwelling-place He is preparing for us, Jesus Himself will be everything to us.
John had been given a "tour" of the New Jerusalem. He tells us that "one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues" had approached him and said, "Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife" (v. 9). And so, he took John to a great and high mountain and gave him a glimpse of the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven.
John had been given a glimpse, first, of this glorious city -- our eternal home -- from a distance (vv. 9-14); then, he was given a glimpse of the city from up close (vv. 15-21); and then, finally, he was given a glimpse of the inside of the city (vv. 22-27). And now, the angel gives John a wonderful look, not so much at that eternal home, but at the joy and delight we'll experience in our eternal fellowship with Jesus Himself within that home.
It's as if the Lord Jesus opens His 'family photo album' of His Father's house, and shows us what it will be like when we're at home with Him there. This passage shows us how our Redeemer will be everything to us there.
John says, first, "And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb" (v. 1).
Jesus, after a long, hot journey by foot, once sat and rested by a well in a village square. He was very tired and very thirsty. He spoke to a woman by the well and asked her for a drink. He was concerned to quench her thirst too; and so as she handed some water to Him, He told her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water" (John 4:10).
He certainly had her attention when He said that! Here He was asking Her for a drink; and yet, He was telling her He had "living water". She wanted to know more. I like to imagine that He held His cup of well-water up to her, and pointed to it as He explained; "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life" (vv. 13-14).
Jesus spoke more about this water on another occasion. He stood up before the multitudes in the Jewish temple, during one of the religious feasts, and shouted out publically, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water" (John 37-38). John adds, "But this He spoke concerning the Holy Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive ..." (v. 39).
This isn't mere "water"; this is "living water". It's a kind of water that only Jesus Himself can give; and that forever satisfies whoever drinks of it will. This water is immeasurably precious! And in his vision of the New Jerusalem, John sees a mighty, flowing river full of this wonderful "living water"!
And look at how this river of living water is described in John's vision. It's said to be "proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb, clear as crystal". The word John uses for "clear" really means "brilliant", as if the water were shimmering and resplendent with light. This isn't simply speaking of water that is pure and clean. This is speaking of water that is of a beautiful and splendid nature -- a water that sparkles with the brilliance of the purity and holiness of God Himself, because it flows from His very throne.
Lots of people enjoy thinking about heaven. Lots of folks long to be there. But some people give no thought at all to Jesus in all their day-dreaming about heaven. It's as if, in invisioning heaven, it really makes no difference to them whether Jesus will be there or not. He's just not a crucial part of the equation, as far as they're concerned. But this vision from John teaches us that there is no eternal life in heaven apart from a dependent relationship upon Jesus Himself.
In the New Jerusalem, a river of this living water flows out from the very throne of God and of the Lamb (that is, Jesus). It will flow unceasingly; and it will forever satisfy us with eternal life (perhaps flowing down the middle of the main street of the city, as some translations suggest). Jesus Himself will forever be the source of that eternal life; and we will forever be dependent upon Him for it. He Himself has promised, "I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts" (21:6).
This living water is the Holy Spirit; and is received only through a relationship with Jesus by faith. That fact will be as true in heaven as it is right now. Have you entered into a state of dependency on Him yet; and tasted of the living water He offers freely? "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!" (Psalm 34:8).
2. Jesus will be our provider of eternal pleasures (v. 2).
John continues to write about the New Jerusalem, saying, "In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations" (v. 2).
Does this tree sounds familiar? It should. It was first mentioned in the very beginning of the Bible. God had commanded Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; and their disobedience to that one command resulted in their fall -- bringing the curse of sin and death upon the whole human family, and forcing God to drive the man and his wife out of the Garden of Eden. The Bible tells us;
Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" -- therefore, the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life" (Gen. 3:22-24).
How tragic it was that man had to be excluded from the tree of life in the old creation because of his sin. But now, we're told that in the new creation -- right in the middle of the New Jerusalem -- access to the tree of life has been restored again, and the benefits it holds to eternal life once again made available to the children of Adam.
Think of it! The Bible begins with the story of the human race being cursed because of sin and excluded from the tree of life. And now, it ends with the story of redeemed human beings freely enjoying the tree of life, What's more, John adds this awesome statement: "And there shall be no more curse" (v. 3). Our redemption will be complete! Man is restored to Paradise -- only to an even more glorious state than before! What a wonderful Redeemer!
This is a remarkable tree, isn't it? It produces twelve kinds of fruit -- yielding a new crop of fruit each month! (People who love good food have sometimes wondered if we'll enjoy food in heaven; and here's the answer.)
What kinds of fruit will these twelve be? That's just another one of the many surprises heaven holds in store for us. Because all things have been made new, perhaps they will be whole new varieties of fruit, the likes of which -- and the flavors of which -- we couldn't even begin to imagine yet! Perhaps many of our old favorites will be found there too. What a creative God our God is, to produce such a variety of fruit -- and always in season! And the fruit of this tree is more than just delicious; because the one who eats this fruit will "live forever" (Gen. 3:22).
And there's more! Notice also that the leaves of this tree "were for the healing of the nations". The chemical substances drawn from the foliage of trees are used even today to produce many helpful and health-giving medicines and drugs. And this will be true, in some sense, of the tree of life in the New Jerusalem as well.
But this raises the question: Will there be sick people in heaven? Why would people need to be "healed" in the New Jerusalem? Perhaps the answer is found in understanding the word that John uses. The word he uses for "healing" is the Greek word therpeia, and it means "service" or "care". We get our English word "therapy" from it; and it may be better to understand this word as speaking of the leaves being used for the "health" of the nations, rather than the "healing" of the nations. Perhaps, the leaves of this tree are beneficial in the creation of delightful by-products that, rather than heal sickness, somehow enhance the health and well-being of the already-glorified inhabitants of the New Jerusalem.
Revelation 22:14 says, "Blessed are those who do His commandments [or "wash their robes" as it says in some translations], that they may have the right to the tree of life ..." And once again, this tree points us to Jesus. No one who is separated from God by their sins can ever come to the tree of life. They have no right to it. The only way to have access to the tree of life is through the sacrifice of Jesus our Redeemer.
You might put it this way: Jesus Himself hung on a "tree" and became accursed for us (Gal. 3:13), so that we could enjoy the eternal pleasures of the tree of life, forever freed from the curse.
3. Jesus will be the one we'll forever serve (v. 3).
John goes on to say, "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." The curse of sin will have been removed from us because of the sacrifice of Jesus. And now, we find the throne of God and of the Lamb in the presence of human beings redeemed from the curse. I believe this speaks of one throne. Jesus, the Lamb of God, will be seated there.
And it says that we, as His servants, shall serve Him as He sits upon His throne. Earlier, we read of the saints in heaven who "are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple" (7:15). We're also told that "the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters" (7:17). He will shepherd us; and we will serve Him.
What sort of service will we render? The word that's here translated "serve" is one that specifically refers to sacred service. It was used to describe acts of worship, sacrifice, and the giving of offerings. In other words, it will be our privilege to render eternal acts of sacred service in worship to King Jesus forever!
Some people think that all we'll ever do in heaven is lay around leisurely upon fluffy clouds and sip cool drinks, while angels flutter around taking our orders (perhaps for more fruit). But that's not what we see here. Heaven will certainly be a place of rest for us; but this passage shows us that it will be a very busy place of rest. All our labors will be delightful and satisfying; because they will be acts of worship to Jesus. It will be eternal rest to serve Jesus.
We were created for the purpose of serving Jesus with our worship. That's what God designed us for, and redeemed us to do. As the Bible tells us, "... You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light ..." (1 Peter 2:9). When we worship Him perfectly in Heaven, and render perfect acts of sacred service to Him, we will be experiencing the greatest sense of satisfaction and fulfillment we could ever experience -- because we will be doing perfectly what we were designed by our Creator to do!
4. Jesus will be the center of our endless attention (v. 4a).
John says, "They shall see His face ..." There's no doubt that we'll be forever in awe of the wonders that make up heaven; but the center of our attention will be Jesus Himself. We will behold the wonderful face of Him who loved us infinitely.
In the Bible, the face of God is associated with His favor and grace. The priests of Israel were commanded to bless the people by saying, "The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace" (Num. 6:24-26). And likewise, the hiding of God's face is associated with being outside of His favor because of sin. Isaiah wrote, "Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear" (Isaiah 59:1-2). Well here, in John's vision of our life in the New Jerusalem, we find that we will forever be in His favor. We will behold His face.
Just think of what it will be like when we finally see Jesus, and behold His face! When we behold God's face, it will be the face of Jesus that we will look upon. The apostle Paul wrote, "For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). The Almighty Son of God has condescended to forever become one of us, and wear for us the smile of God on the face of a Man. And can there be anything more awesome than to behold that face and see that smile of love directed toward us? -- personally? -- forever? What an experience of God's amazing grace that will be! Oh, how we should long for it!
The apostle Peter speaks to us of Jesus, "whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory" (1 Peter 1:8). If we have such joy over Him now -- not yet having even seen Him -- then how will we be able to contain our joy when we finally do see His face?!!
What's more, Paul also says that, "we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Cor. 3:18). Our view of Jesus right now is imperfect. We gaze upon Him as through a mirror dimly (1 Cor. 13:12). But nevertheless, we're transformed by what we see.
But if our weak and frail perception of Jesus so transforms us now, just imagine what it will be like when we gaze clearly -- with glorified eyes, undimmed by sin and imperfection -- upon the face of our wonderful Savior in all His majesty! 1 John 3:2 says, "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."
5. Jesus will be the source of our eternal identity (v. 4b).
John says that the residents of the New Jerusalem will not only see Jesus' face, but also that "His name shall be on their foreheads". He will be, in addition to everything else to us, the source of our eternal identity.
Earlier, we read in the Book of Revelation that the antichrist would require the peoples of the world to receive the mark of his name on their hands or foreheads (Rev. 13:16). And then, almost immediately afterwards, we read of how Jesus Himself will preserve to Himself at that time 144,000 saints "having His Father's name written on their forehead" (14:1).
That name on the forehead marks the identity of the one wearing it. It displays who it is that he or she belongs to. But now, we read that in the New Jerusalem, Jesus will have His name on the forehead of His beloved saints; identifying them as belonging to Him.
The apostle Paul said that He prayed for the Ephesian believers that God would open the eyes of their spiritual understanding, so that they would not only know "what is the hope of His calling" (which speaks of what we have to look forward to in heaven), but also "what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints" (which speaks of what Jesus has to look forward to in us! -- Eph. 1:18).
Just think of that!! Jesus can and will have anything He desires. But out of all the riches of the universe He will possess, He considers us -- His redeemed saints -- to be His rich and glorious "inheritance." (I don't know whether or not you, as a Christian, ever struggle with a poor self-concept; but placing your complete trust that one verse alone should be all it would take to cure you of it! You and I may be woefully imperfect sinners; but we're sinners that Jesus has redeemed, deeply loves, and highly treasures. We're His rich inheritance! Can you think of any greater 'self-esteem' technique than to simply believe about ourselves what what God's word says Jesus Himself believes about us?)
I have a lot of books in my study; and I enjoy lending them out to my friends. But I have a habit; I always write my name in them, so that they're permanently identified as mine. Whenever I get a new book that I've been eager to get, the first thing I do is write my name in it. It's my way of making it "mine".
Jesus, likewise, will have His name on His people. He will be the source of our identity forever. We read of nothing else in heaven that will bear His name -- but us alone! We will be identified as His possession -- His inheritance. We will be marked as belonging to Him! As Jesus said in His letter to the church in Philadelphia; "He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name" (Rev. 3:12).
6. Jesus will be the one on whom we forever depend (v. 5a).
John goes on to say, "And there shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light."
To me, this is absolutely fascinating. It isn't clear whether or not there will be a sun or a moon in God's new creation; but even if there is, we wont need them. In 21:23, it says this about the New Jerusalem, "The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light." In fact, it says in the next verse that "the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light". When you consider that this remarkable city, The New Jerusalem, is 1,380 miles in every direction (21:16), and that it is composed of "pure gold, like clear glass" (21:18), then you become awestruck at the greatness of the light that will radiate from this city.
There will be much activity in the New Jerusalem; and there will be much activity throughout the new creation. But in all of it there will be no need for light from the sun or the moon; and there will never be any night. It will all be illuminated by the brilliant radiance of the majestic glory of the Lord Jesus Christ -- who, as Paul said, dwells "in unapproachable light" (1 Tim. 6:16).
This reminds us that, in the New Jerusalem, Jesus Himself will be the One we will depend on for everything -- even light! What a satisfaction it will be to depend utterly upon Him then! What a delight it is to trust Him now, and find Him to be faithful in everything!
7. Jesus will be the one with whom we'll eternally reign (v. 5b).
John closes with the words, "And they shall reign forever and ever." Who are the "they" in this verse? They're Jesus and His redeemed people. He rules; and they will rule with Him.
Have you ever wondered who it is that they'll reign over? Perhaps the answer is suggested by the fact that there are "nations" and "kings of the earth" that will be bringing their "glory and honor" into the city (21:24). But then, it's possible that this idea of "reigning" isn't speaking of an activity as much as a state of being. After all, in God's original Creation, the dominion of the entire planet was entrusted to one man, Adam.
We will share in the royalty of the wonderful Lord Jesus Christ in an exalted state; and who among us -- now living in this imperfect condition -- could know enough to say what that could mean? It's enough for us to know that we will reign with Him.
But notice the all-important order of things: first, we're told that we will serve; and then, we're told that we will reign. Our reign and rule -- whatever it will mean -- will be under the authority of King Jesus. We will never rule independently and apart from Him. Rather, we will always and only rule as an act of service rendered unto Him.
And so, you can see that, in the eternal dwelling-place Jesus is preparing for us, He Himself will be everything to us. He is now -- and will be then -- our Alpha and Omega; our First and our Last; our Beginning and our End.
Is He that to you right now? Have you trusted Him now in the way that this passage says we'll depend on Him then? Is He the One in whom you trust for eternal life? Is knowing and loving Him your greatest source of pleasure and delight? Is it your heart's longing to serve Him? Do you delight to set Him at the center of your focus? Do you draw your identity from the fact that you belong to Him? Do you depend on Him for everything now? Look that list over again. Doesn't it strike you that it's a pretty good description of what it means to be a Christian?
Even at our best, we're all woefully imperfect in all these areas. Even the best of Jesus' followers are in process. But how can we possibly hope to reign with Him in that future day, if we have no interest in Him being those things to us right now? How can we hope to be a co-regent with Jesus then, if we aren't interested in being His disciple now?
In the eternal dwelling-place He is preparing for those of us who have trusted Him, Jesus Himself will be 'everything' to us. Let's get ready for our eternal home by making Him -- in an ever increasing way -- our 'everything' today.
(copyright 2000 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.)