Lectures on Revelation 22: Part 1

Revelation 22
It is one of the interesting features of this book, that it can only be properly understood when taken in connection with all the rest of the word of God. And, singular to say too, God has linked together, in a very remarkable manner, the last book of the Scripture and the very first. For example, here we fall upon images which the Holy Ghost uses to describe the blessedness of the heavenly city in its relation to the earth during the millennium; and whence are these images derived? I must go to the beginning of the Book of God, to Genesis—nay, to the very beginning of Genesis itself. There I find a tree of life, rivers, &c., to which evidently the Holy Ghost refers in the passage before us.
Now this seems to me to be a striking indication of God's object, so dovetailing His whole word together, that, in order to acquire the full meaning of any part, I must take it in connection with the whole. And this is all the more important, inasmuch as that same word of God shows us different states and dispensations in total contrast with one another. There was the time of innocence; there was the time when nothing but sin reigned, as far as man was concerned—evil without a check, until the judgment of God came in the flood and destroyed all, save the few in the ark. Then was given the law, and then the gospel, each having a wholly different object. And now we await the great closing scene of this age, when all that God has wrought on the earth, all that revelation has brought out of His mind, but corrupted by man, will have been manifested in its results. In order to understand what the Holy Ghost tells me about these results, I must begin at the very beginning. Now, looking at Genesis, we find that, though there is a sort of analogy in the time of innocence when God was dealing with the creature (responsible of course to maintain his place of innocence), yet there is a most blessed contrast in the future, which brings out still more conspicuously the depths of grace which God will show in this holy city.
Let us look then a little at the differences. In Genesis we find that there were four rivers; and of these rivers, although we know little or nothing of the two first, at any rate it is clear that the two last, the Euphrates and Hiddekel or Tigris, were connected with some of the most painful passages in the history of God's earthly people at a later day. On these rivers were built the two most famous cities of antiquity; the Tigris, on which Nineveh stood, and the Euphrates on which Babylon was built. I speak now, of course, of a time long subsequent to Adam, or even the deluge. And though the flood may have effaced, as it doubtless did, many other features of the antediluvian earth, still we find these two rivers again. As for Paradise, it was gone, but these rivers were to play an important part in the history of man, and especially of that which acquires a moment more than its own, from being mingled with the vicissitudes and the chastenings of God's people Israel. These two rivers were identified with the powers that were to be the ruin of Israel and Judah respectively. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, which carried the great mass of the ten tribes of Israel into captivity. Babylon was the power afterward used of God for the captivity of that which seemed to stand firm for God, no less than for David's house, but which ere long fell into greater unfaithfulness than backsliding Israel. Thus these rivers, which had been at first connected with Paradise, became afterward the representatives of the powers of men that were used to scourge the guilty people of God.
Then, again, there were two trees in the garden of Eden: one of the knowledge of good and evil, and the other of life. Now whatever might have been the blessing vouchsafed to man in the tree of life, it was wholly useless to him, because the other tree put him to a test which man could not stand. He broke down; he listened to the voice of his wife who had herself listened to the serpent, and he became rebellious. The consequence was that the tree of life was no longer available for his use: had it been so, it would only have perpetuated a life of sin and misery. So that, while there was judgment in the act of God that placed the cherubim with the flaming sword to shut out man from the tree of life, mercy was mingled with it. God had reserved for man a better thing—the tree of grace, if we may so say. Thus, when we come to the closing account, we have neither the various rivers of Eden nor a tree to test man on God's part. There is but one river and one tree. All that was connected with man's weakness and sin, and the chastening of God's people is gone. The relics of shame and the discipline of sorrow are needed no longer. The paradise of man had failed, Israel had failed, the church had failed. Now it is the paradise, the people, and the city of God, who is showing Himself and His glory there; and therefore all that was merely for the testing or the discipline of man completely disappears and now shine out God's love, his heavenly grace, His faithfulness to Israel, His sovereign mercy to the Gentiles, His righteous and beneficent rule. The Lord and Savior had come in; He had by Himself borne the effects of what God's people deserved, and had made it possible for Him righteously to show them nothing but love—giving them life and atonement and cleansing through Himself, His Son.
“He showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb In the midst of the street of it, and of the river on this side and on that side, [was] the tree c)f life, bearing twelve [manner of] fruits, each month yielding its fruits; and the leaves of the tree [are] for healing of the nations.” (Ver. 1, 2.) Now here it is evident that we have pure grace reigning through righteousness, as far as the tree and the river are concerned. There is nothing liable to be corrupted by the power of Satan. Neither is there anything like the cherubim, jealous in keeping away man, alas! sinful. Quite the contrary. This tree of life brings forth fruit every month. Of course it is a figure. There will be no mere literal tree or river; but as the river of life's water symbolizes the abundant life and blessing which will flow through the city, (i.e., the Bride, the Lamb's wife), so here follows the benignant provision for healing the nations. There is a reserve as to the twelve fruits, which may set forth a far higher and more various supply for the constant refreshment of the heavenly saints; but the leaves are expressly said to be for the healing of the nations.
This is the more remarkable, for it must be familiar to us that, even in the coming day of glory, the earthly Jerusalem, though in some respects figures are borrowed thence, furnishes in others a very different picture in the prophets. Take, for instance, the description in Isa. 60. It had been said in chap. 59. that the Redeemer should come to Zion, and then in chap. lx. we have the description of the city. “Therefore thy gates shall be open continually: they shall not be shut day nor night,” &c. But what is the principle of the earthly Jerusalem's relation to the nations? “The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.” It is unsparing righteousness and judgment which govern. God compels honor to be paid to His people who had been despised and trampled down among the nations. For we know how a Jew, even now in Christendom, is looked on with contempt and scorn: and if from their wealth, or other causes they get into favor with the world, it is considered a wonderful piece of liberality. Men give themselves a good deal of credit for it, and in general act thus on most mistaken ground, either skeptical or pseudo-Christian. They have been so habituated to despise them that these concessions are only wrung out, and often through such false principles as the rights of men, &c. Of course I am merely referring to facts well known in the history of the world; as Christians, we have nothing to do with such questions, though we may judge them. For a Christian is set here for one purpose only—to witness for Christ rejected by the world, but exalted in heaven, to act in accordance with the grace and glory of a Christ who is now at the right hand of God. When this is lost sight of, he is salt without savor. A person may be philanthropic and essay to do much good in the world; but God has a higher object for us than any plans of ours.
And this brief digression flows out of our present theme. For whether it be the church before glory, or when glory comes, as here, the only becoming thing for us is the manifestation of grace. It is the character of grace that always gives the truth of God about the church; it is the manifestation of Himself, as He has displayed Himself and still does in Christ. This the apostle brings out in Eph. 5, where it is said, “Be ye therefore followers [imitators] of God.” And how? “As dear children, and walk in love.” In what way? In the chapter before he had spoken of Christ as the offering through which God could forgive sin (ver. 32), and therefore we ought to forgive one another, “even as God in Christ hath forgiven you.” But in chapter v. he goes much farther. “Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor.” There is the full character of grace at once, which gives him who knows and walks in it the power of Christ in going forth among men. If I see my brother here or there, his mind filled with erroneous thoughts and hopes, and himself without conscience or with feeble qualms doing things contrary to the Lord, how would God stir my affections towards him? I must always act out of the grace in which God deals towards the saint, and I must lift up his soul, if I can, to know what God feels towards him and His will about him. If he perceives the grace in which God has acted, he will be prepared to learn what he owes to Him. Thus the apostle always speaks. Look again at the Ephesians. What had the Apostle Paul been doing from the beginning of the epistle to chap. 5? He had shown the perfect love of God towards them, and the place of oneness with Christ in which He has set them: and now he, as it were, says, Walk you in the love Christ has shown towards you.
We find the same thing here. It is not now the thunders, and lightnings, and voices out of God's presence. All this has completely disappeared. In Rev. 4 such were the sights and sounds which emanated from the throne. They were suited then, and necessary to uphold and express the holiness of Him who sat there. They were the witness of His feeling, when, the church being removed to heaven, man was left to exalt himself, only checked by providential judgments. Here there is nothing of the sort. The throne of God and of the Lamb is seen; and what issues from it? A river of water of life, bright as crystal. And why is this? Because the throne here is set in connection with the heavenly city, and this city being the symbol of the glorified saints, the church's habitual character, even in glory, is grace. Not only was it a river of life, not of death, but the leaves of the tree were for the healing (not destruction) of the nations.
Jerusalem here below is the city of earthly righteousness—the place where God will have brought the Jews through exceeding trouble. They must undergo a terrible tribulation first—the time of Jacob's trouble, but he will be delivered out of it. It will be a righteously measured chastening, because of their sins. They will pass through all that sorrow which God Himself is judicially to inflict; but the indignation is to cease, and this with the destruction of those who were its instruments. “For yet a very little while and the indignation shall cease, and mine anger in their destruction.” God will take up the cause of His people, and the calling of Israel in the millennium will savor of that righteousness which has marked the dealings of God towards them publicly, whatever may have been the hidden spring of grace. All the nations shall go up to Jerusalem when the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains. And “out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” The law is the rule of righteousness; grace is another thing altogether. It is not a rule of righteousness, with death the inevitable penalty. It is true that grace reigns through righteousness, but then it is the righteousness of God, not of man; and this, under His gracious culture, fills the saint with the fruit of righteousness, which is through Jesus Christ to His own glory and praise.
Here we have then a scene of perfect grace. Nothing could exceed the blessing in relation to man. The number twelve is always used in reference to the dealings of God with man by means of human administration. Seven is the number of perfection in relation to the things of God, or rather to the spiritual side, whether good or evil—twelve in relation to the human side. Thus, when God chose the patriarchs, there were twelve: they had a reference, I suppose, not only to the tribes which sprang from them, but to the rest of mankind generally. And again, when the apostles were called, there were twelve, answering to the twelve tribes of Israel. The moment we have the apostle who was specially entrusted with the great work of putting the church on its firm and heavenly foundations, irrespective of earthly arrangement, the number twelve is broken, and apostles independent of the twelve appear. (Acts 14:4, 144But the multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles. (Acts 14:4)
14Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, (Acts 14:14)
; Eph. 4) This may explain a little further what I meant by saying that the twelve gates, twelve foundations, &c., which we saw in chap. 21., set forth the aspect of this city towards man. It is viewed in its public governmental character. So in the tree too. By its bearing twelve manner of fruits, and yielding its fruits every month is shown the aspect of it towards man. Accordingly we are told next that “the leaves of the tree were for healing of the nations.”
Another thing is clear, that this scene refers not to the eternal, but to the millennial state. For in eternity nations will not exist as such; neither will any need healing then. Carefully bear this in mind, however, that if we look at the heavenly city itself, it is eternal. It will make little difference to the city whether seen in the millennium, or in the eternal state that succeeds.
(To be continued.)