Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
THE RESTORED PARADISE (Revelation 22:1-5).—These five verses complete the description of the new heavens and new earth. The features of this last section reflect those of the first and forfeited paradise: the tree of life and the river that flows by the trees are here, and the happy and willing service of God is restored (Revelation 22:3-4), and the curse has disappeared.
And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.(1) And he shewed me a pure river . . .—The adjective “pure” must be omitted, as it is wanting in the best MSS. The river is full of water, and that water is the emblem of life: it is the beautiful symbol of life in its gladness, purity, activity, and fulness. The garden of Eden (Genesis 2:10) had its river. Even in the wilderness Israel had from the smitten rock the water which gushed out like a river (Psalm 105:41). Prophets, in their pictures of the ages of blessing, almost invariably introduced the river, or broad stream. Joel saw a fountain out of the house of the Lord (Joel 3:18). Zechariah spoke of living waters from Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:8); but Ezekiel had the fullest vision when he beheld the stream which deepened and broadened in its onward progress from under the threshold of the house of God, and carried life in its train: everything lived whither the water came (Ezekiel 47:9); thus did all prophets speak of the river of God’s pleasures (Psalm 36:8). The teaching of our Lord threw new light on the prophetic imagery; the pure delights of spiritual joy and communion with God were vouchsafed to men by the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life. In the bestowal of that spirit of life did Christ give true satisfaction to the thirsting souls of men. (Comp. John 4:10-14, Joh_7:37-39.) The source of the river is in the throne. Ezekiel’s river took rise in the temple; but in our vision there is no temple (Revelation 21:22). We are brought nearer, even to the throne: it is the throne (not “thrones”)—one throne of God and the Lamb. (Comp. Revelation 3:21.)
In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.(2) In the midst of the street of it . . .—Or rather, In the midst of the street of it, and of the river, on one side and on the other (was) a tree of life, yielding twelve fruits, according to each month giving its fruit; and the leaves of the tree are for healing of the nations. The hunger as well as the thirst of the spirit is to be satisfied (Matthew 5:6). The tree of life, as well as the river of life, is to be found in the new and better Eden (Genesis 2:9; Genesis 3:22). The vision of Ezekiel is exactly parallel to the present: “On the border of the river there was wood very much, on both sides: every kind of tree; its leaf withers not, and its fruit ceases not; all months does it ripen; its fruit serves for food, and its leaf for healing” (Ezekiel 47:7-12). The twelve manner of fruit: The recurrence of the number—twelve—is to be noticed, for here, too, as well as in the foundations and gates of the city, we have variety allied with unity. Diverse and seasonable fruits, and yet one tree of life. Thus does the Almighty wisdom feed His people with food convenient for them (Proverbs 30:8), though, in one sense there is but one food for all (John 6:31); for true divine wisdom is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her (Proverbs 3:18). That wisdom is not the mere knowledge of things (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil has no place in new Eden); but it is rather the knowledge of life which makes the knowledge of things available to the highest good. (Comp. 1Corinthians 1:22-24; 1Corinthians 1:30; James 3:17; Proverbs 8)
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:(3) And there shall be no more curse . . . Better, And every curse, or accursed thing, shall not be any longer. There may be an allusion to Joshua 7:12; there is certainly a borrowing, of language from Zechariah (Zechariah 14:11). All accursed things are removed, and with them passes the curse. The blessing of God’s presence, and the blessing of God’s rule take the place of the ascendancy of evil over the groaning creation (Romans 8:22). “The throne of God and the Lamb shall be in it.” The song of the Psalmist receives new force: “the Lord reigneth: let the earth rejoice; let the multitudes of the isles be glad thereof;” the accursed things, even all things that offend, are gathered out of the kingdom (Matthew 13:41).
(3, 4) And his servants shall serve him . . .—We turn from the city to the inhabitants. They are described as serving Him, seeing Him, and resembling Him. They shall serve Him: they shall offer Him the service of the priesthood—the word employed is that used of temple service. The word translated “servants” is the word which the Apostles used when they spoke of themselves as slaves of Jesus Christ, owned as well as employed by Him (Philippians 1:1; 2Peter 2:1; Jude 1:1). Their service here was discharged in the midst of discouragements and in difficulty; and they walked by faith, not by sight. Now the servants shall serve without hindrance or opposition, and they shall be encouraged by His immediate presence. “They shall see his face;” they shall know even as they are known (1Corinthians 13:12); they shall see Him as He is. No wonder, then, that he should add (and observe that the thought is exactly that which occurs in the First Epistle of St. John (1John 3:2): “His name shall be in (or, on) their foreheads.” The name stands for what God is in holiness and righteousness, purity and love. The name on the forehead indicates their resemblance to their Master. On earth the servants of God are changed from glory to glory into the same image (2Corinthians 3:18). They aim to be perfect, as their Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48); but when they see God as He is they shall be like Him. His name is on their foreheads, for they behold His face: they wake up after His likeness, and they are satisfied (Psalm 17:15). There is a divine paradox in the double truth: those who are like God see Him, and those who see Him are like Him (Matthew 5:8). “There will come a time when the service of God shall be the beholding of Him; and though in these stormy seas, where we are now driven up and down, His Spirit is dimly seen on the face of the waters, and we are left to cast anchors out of the stern and wish for the day, that day will come, when, with the evangelist on the crystal and stable sea, all the creatures of God shall be full of eyes within, and there shall be no more curse, but His servants shall serve Him, and shall see His face” (Ruskin).
And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.(5) And there shall be no night there . . .—Rather, And night shall not be any more, and (they shall not have) need of the light of lamp, and of light of sun, because the Lord God shall give light upon them, and they shall reign unto the ages of ages. There shall be no night. Twice is it said (Revelation 21:25) that all darkness shall cease; the darkness in which the saints and sorrowing walked shall be dispelled, when God gives them light. No artificial light is needed, since He who is Light is their light. Those who were children of light now dwell in the light of God’s countenance; and they reign who were made kings and priests to God (Revelation 1:6). With this utterance the visions of the Apocalypse close. The saints of God have been seen in the bitterness and toilfulness of their struggle and pilgrimage towards the Holy City; but from point to point they have made progress. They have gone from strength to strength, unto the God of gods appeareth every one of them in Zion. The Lord God is their sun and shield. He has given grace; He now gives glory. No good thing has been withheld; light, life, and love are theirs. “O Lord God of Hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in Thee” (Psalm 84:11-12).
And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done.(6-21) These verses contain the concluding words. It is the Epilogue of the Book; it deals with practical exhortations, warnings, and blessings.
WORDS OF CONFIRMATION AND WARNING.
(6) And he said unto me . . .—It is the angel who speaks. (Comp. Revelation 21 and Revelation 22:9 of this chapter.) In Revelation 22:7 we hear the words of Christ Himself. These sayings (or, words) are faithful and true. The reference is to the whole book. The book contains the Revelation of the faithful and true witness (Revelation 3:14), whose words are faithful, trustworthy, and fulfilling the desire of them that fear Him. Nor is there reason to doubt this; for “the Lord, the God of the spirits of the Prophets—the God whose spirit moved the holy men of old to speak (2Peter 1:21)—sent His angel to show to His servants things which must come to pass shortly.” (Comp. Note on Revelation 1:1.)
Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.(7) Behold, I come quickly.—The words of Christ Himself follow (perhaps quoted by the angel), to confirm the declaration of the last verse. These confirming words are an embodiment of the spirit of the whole Apocalypse. And behold I am coming quickly! The Apocalypse is the revelation of the coming One; it reveals the dealings of Him who came, who comes, and is to come. (Comp. Note on Revelation 1:4.) The blessing given in Revelation 1:3 is in part repeated here, but it is a benediction emphatically on those who keep the words of the book. Blessed is he who keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book. It is not in reading, or wondering, or talking, but in keeping, that the blessing comes. He that loves Christ will keep His commandments (John 14:15), even as Christ loved His Father, and kept His commandments (John 15:10). Those who so keep the sayings or words of Christ in this book will stand firm as those who have built upon the rock (Matthew 7:24-25). The blessing of Christ to such was victory over death. “If a man keep My saying, he shall never see death” (John 8:51).
And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things.(8) And I John saw these things . . .—Or rather, And I John am he who hears and sees these things. The words of the angel are confirmed by the words of Christ. Now we have the confirmatory testimony of the seer to the truth of the vision. The declaration reminds us of the opening of the Epistle of St. John: “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you” (1John 1:1-3). It is no mere dream or ingenious fancy of his own that he has recorded; it is a veritable revelation.
And when I had heard . . .—Or better, When I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who was showing me these things. Wonder and awe took possession of the seer, and for the second time he was about to offer unlawful homage to the angel-minister. (Comp. Revelation 19:10.) This twice offered and twice refused worship is full of teaching. To render to all their due is wise and seemly and Christ-like; to offer exaggerated homage to any is to invert God’s order, and to degrade by pretending to exalt man, whose true glory is that he is God’s creation.
Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.(9) Then saith he unto me . . .—Better, And he saith to me, See (or, Take heed) not. I am a fellow servant of thee and of thy brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book; worship God (or, to God give worship). This rebuke is similar to that given in Revelation 19. It is a wide affirmation of the truth that all—whether angels, or prophets, or simple faithful followers of Christ—are united in a grand bond of common devotion and common service to the same Lord.
And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.(10) And he saith to me . . .—The angel, in contrast to the injunctions given to Daniel (Daniel 12:9-13), bids the prophet “Seal not the words of the prophecy”: the reason is added, “for the time is near.” “Such is ever the difference between the prophecy of the old, and the prophecy of the new dispensation. The one belonged to a preliminary and prefatory state; the other to a completive and final condition. However long the gospel age may have lasted, or may yet continue, it is the last time (1John 2:18): after it there is none other: then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:14), (Dean Vaughan).
He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.(11) He that is unjust, let him be unjust . . .—Better, Let him that is unjust, do injustice still; and let the foul pollute himself still; and let the righteous do righteousness still; and let the holy sanctify himself still. Two pairs are selected to stand as representatives of the good and of the bad: in these four are included all classes of godly and ungodly: those who sin against society, and those who sin against themselves: those who act honourably, and those who keep themselves pure. But what does the verse mean? Does it mean that the time is so short that it is hardly sufficient to allow of men reforming themselves, so as to be ready for their Lord, and that therefore the lesson is, let those who would be ready for Him remember that now is the day of salvation? This is the view adopted by some: it contains a truth, but the meaning of the verse seems more general. Is it not the declaration of the ever terrible truth, that men are building up their destiny by the actions and habits of their lives? “Sow an act—reap a habit: sow a habit—reap a character: sow a character—reap a destiny.” The righteous become righteous: the godly become godly.
“Thus, all characters
Must shrink or widen, as our wine-skins do,
For more or less that we can pass in them:
And added years give ever a new key
To fixed prediction.”
So, slowly, but surely, may the power of being masters of our fate pass out of our hands. It is in this law of our nature that the key to many of the darkest problems of the future may lie; and not without a solemn declaration of this law does the Book of Revelation close.
And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.(12) And, behold, I come quickly . . .—Rather, Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me to give back to each one as his work is. To give back to each: here we have the truth declared by St. Paul uttered in words borrowed from Isaiah (Isaiah 40:10). “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap,” wrote St. Paul (Galatians 6:7-8): “God gives back to each one his work,” says St. John.
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.(13) I am Alpha . . .—Here (as in Revelation 21:6) we should render, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. (See Note as above, and comp. John 1:1; Isaiah 44:6.) The repetition of these glorious titles is not a mere idle repetition, or designed to give a rhetorical fulness to the peroration of the book: it is closely allied with the preceding thought. The warning has been given that men by continuing in sin (Revelation 22:11) are inviting against themselves the law by which act ripens to habit, and habit makes character, and character forms destiny. The moral laws set going by sin work thus:—Retribution is no dream: it is a terrible fact: it is written large over nature. But the eternal laws of God, though righteously ordered, are not God: the refuge from the eternal laws which we invoke against ourselves by our sin is to be found in the Eternal God: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” For those hunted by the wickedness of their own doings, God himself provides a refuge: underneath all laws are the everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27). The next verses set the way of refuge and safety before us.
Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.(14) Blessed are they that do his commandments . . .—The reading of two of the best MSS. is, “Blessed are they that wash their robes.” If we adopt, as we probably ought, this reading, the line of thought suggested above is helped forward: there is in Him who is the First and the Last, refuge from the power of sin and law against which such solemn warning has been given. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin: the best who have striven and conquered were victors not by their own might, but by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 12:11). If, however, we follow the Received text, we have a benediction which echoes the blessing promised to obedience in Revelation 22:7; Revelation 22:9 : this echoing of promises from point to point is in harmony with the spirit of the whole epilogue. (Comp. Revelation 22:7; Revelation 22:9; Revelation 22:7; Revelation 22:12.) The special blessing held out to those who wash their robes (or do His commandments) is the right or authority over the tree of life. Blessed are they . . . that they may have (and continue to have) authority over the tree of life, and that they may enter in by the gates into the city. Admission into the city by the gate, which is of one pearl, and the continuous access to the tree of life, are the privileges of the faithful; and these privileges are free to all, for warnings do not forfeit privileges, but rather do they urge us to use them.
For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.(15) For without are dogs and sorcerers . . .—Better, Outside are the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the fornicators, and the murderers, and the idolators, and every one loving and doing falsehood. The language is again an echo of earlier words. (See Revelation 21:8.) The allusion to the dogs outside the city is hardly appreciated by Westerns. In the East, however, “troops of hungry and semi-wild dogs used to wander about the fields and streets of the cities, devouring dead bodies and other offal (1Kings 14:11; 1Kings 16:4; 1Kings 21:19; 1Kings 22:38; 2Kings 9:10; 2Kings 9:36; Jeremiah 15:3; Psalm 59:6), and thus became such objects of dislike that fierce and cruel enemies are poetically styled dogs in Psalm 22:16; Psalm 22:20.” The dog, moreover, was an unclean animal; dogs, therefore, are represented as outside the city, because nothing unclean is allowed to enter. The sins enumerated here are similar to those mentioned in the last chapter (Revelation 22:8); it is the reiteration, therefore, of the warning that those who would enter in must break off their sins by righteousness.
I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.(16) I Jesus have sent mine angel . . .—The warning is followed by the voice of our Lord Himself testifying to the truth of the revelation made, I Jesus sent (not “have sent,” as in the English version) my angel to testify to you these things to the churches. But it is not merely a message, or the confirmation of a message that we have—we have also stated what Christ is—the root and pledge of hope to all. I am the root and offspring of David, and the star, the bright, the morning (star). He is David’s Lord and David’s Son, possessing David’s throne (Matthew 22:42-45; Luke 1:32); He is the bright star which leads up the dawn of everlasting day (Malachi 4:2; 2Peter 1:19).
And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.(17) And the Spirit and the bride say, Come . . .—The cry of all creation is for its true Lord; the cry of the Spirit in prophecies and in the hearts of God’s people is for the coming Lord—the bride waiting for the bridegroom cries “Come.” The Apocalypse is the book of the coming One; it ends with the cry that the coming One would come (comp. Revelation 22:20); but let those who thirst for His coming come to Him. We may draw near to Him, who is drawing near to us: let him that thirsteth, come; let him that will take the water of life freely. (Comp. John 7:37.) “The power of the whole gospel,” says Bengel, “concentrates itself in this, that one should be able to respond to this Come, and repeat it from the heart.”
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:(18-19) I testify unto every man that heareth.—Omit “For,” and read, I testify to every one that hears . . . The “I” is emphatic; it introduces the final warning; the revelation must not be tampered with. If any one shall have added to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if any one shall have taken away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his portion from the tree of life, and out of the holy city which are written (or printed) in this book. We may compare Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 12:32. The words are a solemn protest against the spirit which handles rashly or deceitfully the word of God; which adds its own thoughts, or makes its wishes the parent of its interpretations; which dilutes the force of its warnings, or impoverishes the fulness of its promises. The right of continual access to the tree of life was the promise of Revelation 22:14; this right or freedom is forfeited by those who deal falsely or faithlessly by the words of Christ here. In a minor degree, it is true that those who leave this book unstudied and unprayed over, lose much spiritual sustenance and comfort. How much more do they lose who trifle with it, ignore its spiritual teachings, and sin against the laws of that kingdom whose progress it so vividly portrays.
He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.(20) He which testifieth these things . . .—Better, He saith, who testifieth these things, Yea, I am coming quickly. We have here the final witness; it is in the words of the faithful and true witness Himself. It is the answer to the repeated cry, “Come;” it is the warning to those who forget Him; it is introduced with the emphatic yea! “Yea, I am coming quickly.” The answer breaks forth in prayer from the prophet’s lips—Amen. (We must omit “even so”) Come, Lord Jesus. The prophet is the mouthpiece of the Church; his desire is one with the desire of all who love Christ’s appearing.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.(21) The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .—There is some variety of reading among the MSS. We ought probably to read, The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with all (or else, following the Sinaitic MS., be with the saints). Amen. In any case, it is the grace or free pardon of the Lord Jesus which is the last word left in our ears. It reminds us that whatever be the dangers or difficulties, the afflictions or persecutions which have been pictured in the book, there is strength and love in the Lord; it reminds us that whether we are readers or interpreters of this book, or whether we are trying to carry out its teachings practically in daily life, our power and wisdom must come from Him. The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Without Him it had not been written; without Him it cannot be understood; without Him it cannot be obeyed. This grace of Christ our Lord, for mind and heart and life, the writer prays may rest with those who read this Commentary, that they may be led into deeper knowledge of Him who is our life. The writer asks the reader to pray that this grace of Christ may rest in forgiveness and love upon him who has now finished his task of commenting on this book, whose hidden meanings must far transcend our knowledge and our expectations. May He (He alone can) open our eyes to see the shining towers of the Heavenly Jerusalem; may He unseal our ears to hear the heavenly music to which it is being built; may He bind us by His love to that sweet service and citizenship which is perfect freedom, and bring us to that spiritual city which is full of divine enchantments—
“For there is nothing in it as it seems
Saving the King; though some there be that hold
The King a shadow, and the city real;
Yet take thou heed of Him, for, so thou pass
Beneath this archway, then wilt thou become
A thrall to His enchantments, for the King
Will bind thee by such vows as is a shame
A man should not be bound by, yet the which
No man can keep; but so thou dread to swear,
Pass not beneath this gateway, but abide
Without among the cattle of the field.
For, an ye heard a music, like enow
They are building still, seeing the city is built
To music, therefore never built at all,
And therefore built for ever.”