Heaven’s Urgent Message – Part I

The message of the Bible is abundantly clear. What God has revealed in the pages of Scripture leaves no room for ignorance concerning His purpose and plan as our Creator. From beginning to end, He repeatedly affirms His sovereignty as Judge and Redeemer of the creation. Therefore, His heavenly missive is a pressing call for repentance from sin and faith in the Lord and Savior of His choosing — Jesus Christ.

The Revelation of Jesus Christ is the final plea from heaven to humanity in this regard. We find in its verses the glorified Christ standing ready to bring God’s wrath to sinners and the glory of His kingdom to the saints. There is no variation from any of God’s stated intentions throughout His holy Word. The message remains the same from the creation to the consummation (cf. Gen. 2:15-17; 3:15; 4:7; Matt. 3:2; 4:17).

But ultimately the Lord’s message is to Christians. When John the apostle is told by Christ to “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this” (1:19), he is charged with communicating heaven’s agenda for the last days to the Church. This book is the culmination of the Gospel of Jesus Christ progressively revealed in the Bible (Rev. 1:1-3). And it is an encouragement for believers to stand fast as God’s ambassadors to a rebellious world with the Gospel in these last days before Christ’s return.

We have learned in much detail the events surrounding our Lord’s return in power and glory. We know He will put down all rebellion in this world and establish a new creation of righteousness. This is an imminent reality, and we should anticipate it with joy but also with a firm commitment to our present mission.

Revelation 22:6-11 is a final, urgent message to the Church in light of our Lord’s soon return. It conveys the authority of Scripture, an assurance to saints, an admonition for the saints, an application of the prophecy of this book, and a realistic approach to the Church’s mission. We will consider the first two verses in part one of this study.

Heaven’s Urgent Message – Part I
Authority of the Scripture (v. 6)
Remember that John has just completed a guided tour of New Jerusalem as it will appear in the new creation. The vision of this prophetic book has taken him from seeing Christ as Lord of the Church to the eternal state of God’s kingdom. Now the angelic guide concludes by impressing upon the apostle that the entire vision (“these words”) is the “faithful” (i.e. can be relied upon) and “true” (Gr. – alethes; i.e. sincere, fully revealed; not hidden) word of God. That is to say, like all of God’s previously revealed word, we can be certain that it contains His will and purpose.

In fact, the remainder of the verse assigns this book to the canon of Holy Scripture. We are told: “And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place.” The same God who revealed His kingdom purpose and plan in the Old Testament has concluded His revelation to mankind in this book. John’s prophecy is equal in authority to that of the “holy prophets” (from Moses to Malachi) who received and recorded God’s revelation pointing to Christ (Lk. 24:25-27; 1 Pet. 1:10-12). Therefore, all other New Testament writings (completed before The Revelation), likewise have this authority (Rom. 16:25-26; 2 Pet. 3:16).

This prophetic book takes us into the future when Christ will return in power and glory to fulfill what remains of Old Testament prophecy about the kingdom. It is given to make known to the Church what “must shortly take place” (cf. vv. 7, 10b, 12, 20). In other words, His return is imminent, and we should, therefore, be diligent in our mission as His ambassadors. The Lord’s “servants” are believers in the churches who have received this book, from those in first century Asia Minor (1:1, 4) until the time of His glorious appearing.

Assurance to the Saints (v. 7)
The authority of this book assures the saints that their Lord will return, and that they should hold fast to the Word of God until He does. This is the meaning of verse seven, in which Christ is speaking to the churches.

First, our Lord tells us to be expecting His imminent return. He says, “Behold, I am coming quickly!” That is to say, we should be daily looking for Him. There is nothing whatsoever on the prophetic calendar that must take place before Christ returns. We have been in the last days ever since He ascended back into heaven and assured us that He would come again in power and great glory (Matt. 28:20; Acts 1:4-11; Heb. 1:1-3).

Secondly, Christ says, “Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (cf. v. 9). This book began with a blessing, and it ends the same way. In 1:3 we find: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.” The one who truly listens to this book being read and explained as God has revealed it will be filled with joy, peace, and hope in the Holy Spirit as they live according to its truth (Rom. 15:13).

The apostle Paul said Christ’s incarnation teaches us that, “…denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13). His point is that God graciously sent His own Son into the world to die in order to redeem us from sin and death. How then can we do anything less than obey Him as we wait for His imminent return (cf. Rom. 6:1-2)?

Our Lord Jesus emphasized all of this to the faithful church of Philadelphia in Asia Minor (a representation of all faithful churches). To them He said, “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (3:11). By the authority of God’s Word, we are assured that Christ will return and reward His saints for their obedience. We are to hold fast to the truth so that we can receive our full reward in the new creation (cf. Rev. 22:12). And we live expecting His return even in our lifetime because it could indeed be today. If that is the case, then we will be those raptured out of the world — the event which initiates the seven year Tribulation that paves the way for His Second Coming.

So our Lord Jesus Christ does have an urgent message from heaven for the Church. It is a message to believe, obey, and proclaim God’s Word from Genesis to Revelation until our Lord returns as it has been foretold.

Are you looking for Christ to return at any moment? Have the words of this book challenged you to obey it as the conclusion to God’s revelation? How should you adjust your life to be a better representation of the Gospel?

Return to the top of this page

© Copyright 1997-2016 Richard E. Clayton, Jr. All rights reserved.

The City of Life

Most cities are known for certain distinguishing characteristics. Perhaps it is the architecture, the culture, the social opportunities, or some combination of features that make it unique. Whether it is a hamlet or a bustling metropolis, each is distinct. But there has never been nor ever can be one like the heavenly city God has prepared for His saints. Of necessity, it is identified with eternal life in God’s kingdom.

The heavenly city is completely unlike any in this world because God is its Builder and Maker, and He has established it for eternity (Heb. 11:10). Cities in this world are flawed at best, but the heavenly city is Paradise (Rev. 2:7). Cities in this world have crime, but the heavenly city knows only righteousness (Rev. 21:27). Cities in this world have their share of the poor and homeless, but everyone in the heavenly city has a dwelling place and experiences only complete fulfillment (Rev. 21:3-7).

The heavenly city exists even now, and our Lord Jesus Christ prepares a place in it for everyone who truly believes in Him and, therefore, belongs to Him (Jn. 14:1-4). It is the true Jerusalem, which the earthly Jerusalem temporarily and imperfectly represents as the capital city of God’s kingdom. And when God destroys this present creation and creates it anew, the heavenly city will be called New Jerusalem. It will descend out of the highest heaven and illumine the new creation because the glory of God will radiate from it.

These are certainly reasons for the Christian to look forward to heaven. However, as this book teaches, heaven’s greatest appeal is the fact that our holy God is forever present, dwelling among His holy people. For this reason, New Jerusalem is the city of glory (cf. Rev. 21:22-27). So heaven is more than just the place we will spend eternity; it is the perfect condition in which we will spend eternity with God. Eternal life is not simply a never ending existence but one that is enjoyed in holy fellowship with our Creator and Redeemer (Jn. 17:3).

Revelation 22:1-5 explains that New Jerusalem is also the city of life. Its distinguishing characteristics, which Christians will enjoy forever in God’s presence, are here described. Namely, its river, trees, throne, and light.

The City of Life
Its River (v. 1)
The apostle John first sees in this final description of the city, “a pure river of water of life.” The angel, who gives him this guided tour of New Jerusalem (v. 9), “showed” him its very real yet symbolic waterway. Dissimilar to any river on earth today, the one in heaven does not contain H2O as we know it. The liquid we must have now to sustain life on earth is not sufficient for eternal life in heaven, although it certainly is intended to foreshadow heavenly things (Jn. 4:10-14). The water in heaven’s only river is characterized by its eternal purity. It is “clear as crystal,” and likely enhances the eternal experience of those who drink it (cf. Rev. 21:6; 22:2; 17).

But the river forever flows primarily as a symbol of eternal life with God in Christ. Like many aspects of the city, the heavenly river is a memorial to what God has accomplished for the saints — a testament to His provision of eternal life for which they will forever glorify Him. It will serve as a constant reminder that He has quenched our soul’s thirst for righteousness (Matt. 5:6), but it is not necessary to sustain or eternal condition.

It is not itself the source of eternal life, but it is seen “proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” This emphasizes that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have sovereignly created us and provided atonement for our sins through Christ (God the Son incarnate) who is the Lamb of God. God, who is ever-present, sits exalted in heaven with the river of life flowing from His throne. Those in heaven will always have a reminder that eternal life is a gracious gift of their Almighty Creator and Redeemer.

Its Trees (v. 2)
Secondly, John sees what are apparently many trees in the city of life, and each of them is a “tree of life.” In the “middle” of what is possibly its only “street” (or at least its main thoroughfare), he finds the trees growing. He also sees them “on either side of the river.” The interior layout of the city is not clear, but we know that these magnificent trees add to its beauty. It is a garden paradise foreshadowed by the original Eden of this present creation.

A tree of life was found in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:9). It was evidently enjoyed fully by Adam and Eve, being very much a real tree (Gen. 2:16). But like the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it was primarily symbolic. It was a privilege to eat of the tree of life in the Garden, because it signified fellowship with God (Gen. 3:8), which is eternal life with all its accompanying blessings. That privilege was taken away when Adam and Eve chose to join Satan’s rebellion, declaring themselves judges of what was good and evil (Gen. 3:24). They no longer had a right relationship with God, which is the very essence of eternal life.

Eternal life is the experience of heaven’s citizens, and the privilege to eat of the tree of life is restored to humanity in New Jerusalem. It stands to reason that this very physical experience will only be enjoyed when we are fully glorified in resurrection. While the saints dwell with God in their glorified spirits now in heaven’s Jerusalem, they are not yet fully glorified. They may very well not partake of the tree of life as they will when it is called New Jerusalem.

In New Jerusalem, the tree of life bears “twelve fruits” — seemingly a different kind for each month. This surely signifies the abundant and endless blessings of eternal life. This fruit will obviously be edible and bring satisfaction to those who enjoy it, and they will, no doubt, praise God for satisfying their soul’s hunger for righteousness (Matt. 5:6).

The last part of the verse tells us: “The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” We get our English word, “therapeutic,” from the word translated as “healing.” Since there is no sin in heaven, then there is no death, sorrow, crying or pain (21:4). This means there can be no sickness or disease. So the leaves are therapeutic in the sense of enhancing the heavenly experience in some way.

Like the water of life from the river, and the fruit of the tree of life, the leaves of the tree will bring satisfaction. It is worth noting that all our experiences in heaven will be satisfying and fulfilling in the most righteous way. Were it not for sin, our experience in this world would be totally satisfying, but such is the contrast of this world and the next.

Its Throne (vv. 3-4)
Thirdly, we see that the city of life will prominently display “the throne of God and the Lamb.” Everything else about the city is secondary to the presence of God. The Godhead (repeatedly identified by Their sovereignty in redemption) will be exalted in New Jerusalem, “and His servants shall serve Him.” Redeemed humanity will joyfully do the will of God forever.

As we saw in 21:7, there is no sin in the city because there are no sinners. There are only saints of God who have no desire other than to do what pleases God their King. They have been made holy through the atoning blood of Christ, and they dwell with their holy God. That is why the beginning of verse three says, “…there shall be no more curse.”

The curse God pronounced on the human race as a result of sin brought sorrow and suffering (Gen. 3:16-19). In the city of life, the saints will only experience the blessing and goodness of God who loves them. Christ, who bore the curse of sin for us on the cross, loved us and gave Himself for us that we might know the fullness of eternal life with God (Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24; Rev. 1:5).

This is why the throne of God and of the Lamb are exalted! Even now, Christians are no longer enemies of God, but we are reconciled to Him through faith in the Person and work of Christ (2 Cor. 5:15-21). In heaven, we will be completely holy, and we “shall see His face” in intimate fellowship without fear of death. We had no relationship to God before Christ reconciled us to Him. In New Jerusalem we will be clearly identified as His own personal possession (“His name shall be on their foreheads”). The language here stresses the eternal and intimate nature of God’s relationship with the saints.

Its Light (v. 5)
The final distinguishing characteristic of the city is its “light” — a salient feature already emphasized in 21:22-25. As explained in that passage, we again read: “There shall be no night there.” And if there is no night (i.e. no darkness), then there is no need for a source of artificial light. We need such sources of light in this universe because God in all His glory dwells outside of this creation. But that is not the case in the eternal new creation where He is Himself its holy light.

The citizens of New Jerusalem will not “need [a] lamp” or “light of the sun,” because “the Lord God gives them light.” God, who illumines the heavenly city now, will give light to the entire new creation as heaven literally infuses it (21:1-2). As we have already discovered, the light of His presence will radiate throughout the city and be refracted by it so that no darkness exists in the new heavens and earth.

As 21:24 taught us, “…the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light.” That is, all of redeemed humanity will in all places be in God’s holy presence living in complete righteousness. But while verse three said we will serve God in His presence, this verse adds, “And they shall reign forever and ever.” This is mankind’s original purpose — to serve God by reigning over His creation (Gen. 1:26-28; cf. Rev. 3:21), but we must exist in a holy relationship with God to accomplish it! The light is His holy presence in which we will live.

New Jerusalem is the city of life because all of its distinguishing characteristics remind the saints of the blessings of eternal life with God. The river of life, the tree of life, the throne of life, and the light of life will bring eternal joy and satisfaction to all of heaven’s citizens. And the more the true Christian discovers about this city from the pages of Scripture, the more he or she desires to be there.

David wrote: “You [LORD] will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11). God is leading us heavenward to the city He has prepared for us, from which we will experience the blessings of eternal life in a new heavens and a new earth.

This is the city of all cities, and to live there requires that you be reconciled to God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. That is, you must know God, which is the essence of eternal life. Will you spend eternity in the city of life?

Return to the top of this page

© Copyright 1997-2016 Richard E. Clayton, Jr. All rights reserved.