“Be there soon”
Heaven’s water and fruit trees1 The angel showed me a river. It came from the throne of God and the Lamb as crystal-clear, living water. 2 It flowed right down the middle of the city’s Main Street. Trees of life grew on both sides of the river. Each tree produced a dozen kinds of fruit—a different fruit every month. Leaves on the trees were there to heal the sick in countries all over the world. 3 No one will die in wars anymore. God and the Lamb are going to be there, in charge of the city, ruling from the throne. God’s people will worship him there. 4 They’ll look him in the face and they’ll carry his name on their foreheads. 5 Nighttime won’t exist anymore. No one will need lamps to light their way, or the sun to hang in the sky. The Lord God is going to shine on everyone. And the people are going to reign like kings and queens forever.” 6 Then the angel said, “You can count on what I’ve told you. It’s the truth. The Lord himself—the God who inspired the spirits of the prophets—sent his angel to deliver the message that all of this is going to happen soon.”
“I’ll be there soon.”7 “Listen up. I’m coming. I’ll be there soon. Everyone who takes this prophecy seriously will be happy they did.” 8 I’m John. I’m the one who heard and saw all of this. When the angel finished talking to me, I dropped at his feet to worship. 9 He say, “Hey! Don’t do that! I work for God, just like you and your colleagues, along with the prophets and with everyone who obeys the message you’ll pass on in this book. God’s the one you should worship.”
And one more thing10 Then he told me, “Don’t seal this message and hide it away. What you’ve witnessed is about to happen. 11
Let bad people keep living badly.
Let repulsive people keep repulsing people.
Let devout people keep living devoutly.
Let God’s devoted people stay devoted.”
Pick one: payday or payback12 “Listen, I’ll be there soon. It’ll be payday then, or payback. I’ll give you what you deserve, based on what you’ve done with your life. 13 I’m the A and Z, the first and last, the start and finish. 14 Those who show up in clean robes will be happy they did. They’ll get to come inside the city through the gates. They’ll get to treat themselves to the tree of life. 15 But those outside the city are a poor excuse for a human being. They’re into the occult, sex sins, murder, idolatry. And my, don’t they love to lie. 16 I’m Jesus. I’ve sent my angel to fill you in on all of this so you can pass it along to the churches. I’m the Root in the family tree—the long awaited descendant of David who would come. I’m the bright morning star.” 17 In response, the Spirit and the bride offer an invitation: “Come.” Everyone who hears that should repeat it. “Come!” Anyone who’s thirsty, step forward. Anyone who wants this, come on. You can have this water that will keep you alive forever. It’s free.
Warning all editors18 As a witness to all of this, I have a warning to everyone who hears this prophecy. If anyone adds prophecies to this book, God will add to that person an extra helping of the disasters described in this book. 19 And if anyone removes some of the words in this prophecy, God will remove the welcome mat to the holy city of New Jerusalem and to the tree of life. Both of those are described in this book. 20 Jesus, who is revealing all of this, adds this: “Yes, I’m coming soon!” Amen to that. A thousand times yes. Come on back, Lord Jesus. 21 May all of you experience the kindness of the Lord Jesus. I’ll say it again, Amen to that.
Jesus identified the living water he spoke of as the Spirit (John 7:37-39). But when Jews spoke of living water, they usually meant the kind of water required for ritual washings and baths. It was water from a flowing source, such as a stream or a well, which tapped into underground rivers and lakes. A pond wouldn’t work because the water sat still.
In the Creation story, fruit from the tree of life is even better than drinking from the fabled Fountain of Youth. “The LORD God said, ‘Humans know right from wrong, just as we do. We need to make sure they don’t eat fruit from the tree of life. If they do, they will live forever’” (Genesis 3:22).
The prophet Ezekiel wrote about a river like this with trees like these—”their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing” (Ezekiel 47:12 New American Standard Bible).
More literally, “no one is going to be under the curse of war.” The tough word is katathema in Greek. It could mean “a curse” in general. But there’s also a “curse of war” sometimes called a “ban,” but it’s herem in the Hebrew language of the Old Testament. It means that when soldiers conquer a city, for example, they are banned from keeping anything for themselves—everything in the city is under the curse of war, and must die. Joshua fought by those rules. His orders at the Battle of Jericho: “Keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it” (Joshua 6:18 English Standard Version). The prophet Zechariah wrote about a day when “Jerusalem will be filled, safe at last, never again to be cursed and destroyed” (Zechariah 14:11 New Living Translation).
Seal on the forehead,” sounds a little like the brand or the tattoo that many in Roman times put on their slaves, marking them like livestock. Here, many scholars say it’s a metaphor that distinguishes God’s people as those under his protection. It’s a word picture intended to help people visualize an invisible spiritual reality. In this way it’s like the parables of Jesus, in which he used fictional stories to teach people what it means to live like a citizen of God’s spiritual kingdom. This symbolic seal of God would be the opposite of the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:16).
Something similar happened in 19:10.
“God’s devoted” comes from the Greek word hagios, often translated as holy or sanctified. Worship utensils such as lampstands were considered holy because they were reserved for sacred use, devoted to God. People, too, were considered holy when they devoted themselves to God. But they weren’t perfect, by a long shot.
“Root” may refer to a prophecy in Isaiah 11:10, which says that from “the root of Jesse” (King David’s father) a descendant who will come and save the world. “The nations will rally to him, and the land where he lives will be a glorious place” (New Living Translation). King David’s dynasty lasted 400 years, until Babylonian invaders from what is now Iraq destroyed Jewish cities including Jerusalem and deported many survivors in 586 BC. Jewish prophets spoke about a descendant of David who would come and save God’s people. New Testament writers say Jesus fulfilled that prophecy. “Morning star” also became one of the many titles for the expected savior, or Messiah: “A star will come from Jacob [father of 12 men whose families grew to become the 12 tribes of Israel]; a ruler will rise from Israel” (Numbers 24:17 New Century Version). See also the note for 2:28.
Morning star” was Jewish code for the Messiah. The idea seems to have come from Numbers 24:17, and the promise that a star will rise from among the Jewish people. Some associate the morning star with Venus, which rises in the sky a few hours before the sun. Some Roman armies carried emblems of Venus on their banners, to symbolize their strength. Julius Caesar claimed to descend from the goddess Venus. His banners called her the goddess “who conquers.
The spirit and the bride are Jesus and his church. Paul compared the intimate relationship between Christ and the church to the relationship between husband and wife. “Husbands, love your wives with the kind of love Jesus showed for the church when he gave his life for her” (Ephesians 5:25). In Old Testament times, prophets often describe the Jewish people as God’s wife. “I will make you my wife forever” (Hosea 2:19 New Living Translation). For “Lamb” see note for 5:6.
Jesus said he was coming back soon. Two-thousand years later, people ask what part of “soon” didn’t Jesus get. Actually, many wondered about that 2,000 years ago. One answer in the Bible: he’s giving people time to change their ways (2 Peter 3:4, 9). Another idea presented: “soon” in heaven’s time can be a long time here, “a thousand years are as a passing day” (Psalm 90:4 New Living Translation). To many, that might sound like the small print in a contract. Another theory: prophecies aren’t set in stone. God adjusts his plans as people adjust their behavior. Jewish King Hezekiah got the prophecy of his terminal illness reversed by praying (Isaiah 38:1-20). Perplexed by all the theories, many God-loving people seem to fall back on one statement of faith: In God we trust. All others pay, well, you know.
John says he sees a river of crystal-clear water flowing “from the throne of God and the Lamb” (22:1). And he sees “trees of life” growing on both sides of the river. The trees produce fruit that will heal people all over the world. Bible experts have to guess what John meant by that. Of the following guesses, which sounds most reasonable to you?
- John is describing an actual scene he sees in heaven. When we get there, we will see it, too.
- Jesus: “If any of you are thirsty, come here and get a drink… The Bible promises: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart’” (John 7:37-38).
- What John sees is a symbol of the Holy Spirit flowing from God into the life of every believer.
John says that in the New Jerusalem, which many say is a synonym for heaven, “Nighttime won’t exist anymore. No one will need lamps to light their way, or the sun to hang in the sky. The Lord God is going to shine on everyone” (22:5). Was John afraid of the dark? Many people would say nighttime is a good thing. Like sleep.
The angel recites what sounds like a short poem to John. What do you think he means by it? Here’s the poem:
“Let bad people keep living badly.
Let repulsive people keep repulsing people.
Let devout people keep living devoutly.
Let God’s devoted people stay devoted” (22:11).
What do you think Jesus means when he says, “I’m the A and Z, the first and last, the start and finish” (22:13)? Pick one or write your own.
- I’m the Boss.
- I am with you from the beginning to the end of every story you write in your lifetime, every endeavor you undertake, every race you run.
- I am Everything to you and you are everything to me.
- If you want to know who is behind it all, here I Am.
John offers an invitation. It reads a little like a wedding invitation and a little like an altar call. Don’t you think it would sound a bit hokey for us to offer the kind of invitation he does? “Anyone who’s thirsty, step forward. Anyone who wants this, come on. You can have this water that will keep you alive forever. It’s free” (22:17).
John does what author Stephen M. Miller says he does when he writes a book. John warns editors not to mess with his stuff. There’s a bit of a difference. Miller expects some editing. But he doesn’t want editors to rewrite his work to the point of writing their own book under Miller’s name. So far, that has never happened. Jinx? John says anyone who “adds prophecies to this book” or “removes some of the words in this prophecy” (22:18-19) will be in for an eternity of problems. “God will remove the welcome mat to the holy city of New Jerusalem and to the tree of life” (22:19). What did John think he was writing? A message from God? People use this passage to argue against Bible paraphrases and translations, which popularize older versions of the Bible. Some lobby for using only the King James Version of the Bible. How do you react to that?
John says an angel brought him a message from Jesus: “Listen up. I’m coming. I’ll be there soon” (22:7). What part of “soon” does Jesus not seem to understand? We Christians have been waiting for almost 2,000 years. Which explanation do you prefer?
- “No one knows when this is going to happen. Not the day. And certainly not the hour. Angels don’t know it. Even the Son doesn’t know it. The only one who knows it is the Father” (Matthew 24:36).
- Like Paul, Jesus hoped he would return soon (see Paul’s hope expressed in 1 Thessalonians 4:17). But like Paul, Jesus was wrong about that.
- “For the Lord, one day is the same as a thousand years…The Lord isn’t slow about keeping his promises, as some people think he is. In fact, God is patient, because he wants everyone to turn from sin and no one to be lost” (2 Peter 3:8-9 Contemporary English Version).
- If he knew we’d have to wait 2,000 years, he should have said some version of what grownups tell kids. “We’ll get there when we get there.”
LIFE APPLICATION. How do you think John’s teaching about the Second Coming of Jesus influences the lives of most Christians today?