February 13: Revelation 22:1-3a

Revelation 22:1-5

In this final section of the “new Jerusalem” vision, the city locale widens out to a Paradise-scene that intentionally echoes the garden paradise (Eden) of the Creation account in Genesis. This, of course, is entirely in keeping with the theme of the New Age as a New Creation—of a “new heavens and new earth” (21:1).

Revelation 22:1

“And he showed me a river of (the) water of life, radiant and clear as ice, traveling out, out of the ruling-seat of God and of the Lamb.”

The Paradise-scene is introduced through one geographic detail—a river (potamo/$). The eschatological aspect of this river derives from several key Old Testament passages:

    • Ezekiel 47:1—In Ezekiel’s great vision of the ideal/future Jerusalem, water is seen flowing out from the entrance of the Temple, all the way to the gates of the city (47:1-3).
    • Zechariah 14:8—In Zechariah’s prophecy of the New Age, it is declared that “living waters” will flow out from Jerusalem; to this may be added the promise of a well (spring/fountain) which will be opened up for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity (13:1).
    • Joel 3:18—A similar eschatological prophecy of restoration for Israel (and Jerusalem), vv. 17-19, in the context of the great Judgment of the nations (vv. 2ff, 11-16); in verse 18 there is the promise of a fountain that come forth from the “house of YHWH” (i.e. the Temple).

The setting of Revelation 22:1 seems to relate specifically, in different ways, to each of these Scripture passages. The main image, like most of the description of the “new Jerusalem”, is inspired by Ezekiel’s vision of the ideal/future Jerusalem in chaps. 40-48. In 47:1-3, the water that flows from the entrance of the Temple (to the East), continues as a river/stream to the eastern gate of the city, i.e. through at least part of the city. In the “new Jerusalem”, the Temple is replaced by the manifest presence of God Himself (21:22), which can be represented by His throne. The connection with Zech 14:8 is confirmed by the motif of “living water” (= “water of life”); moreover, verse 7 is the inspiration for the description in 21:25, which similarly precedes the “water of life” image here. And, in Joel 3:17ff, there is the particular emphasis on the holiness of the future/restored city of Jerusalem, as God’s own dwelling-place, so central to the vision of the “new Jerusalem”:

“And you shall know that I, YHWH your Mighty One [i.e. God], am dwelling on ‚iyyôn {Zion}, (the) mountain of my holiness; and Yerushalaim shall be holy, (and the one)s turning aside (for lodging) [i.e. strangers/foreigners] shall not not pass through in her again.” (Joel 3:17, from the Hebrew)

Here the “strangers” are generally equated with those from the surrounding nations who might (previously) have sought to travel through Israel’s territory, or to dwell temporarily in the land.

The motif of the “water of life” was introduced in 21:6 (for its background and significance, cf. the prior note). There it was described as a “spring” or “fountain” (phgh/), as also is the “living water” mentioned by Jesus in Johannine Gospel discourses (cf. 4:6, 14; 7:37-39). The LXX of Joel 3:18 [4:18] uses phgh/ to translate Hebrew /y`u=m^. Now, however, it is a mighty flowing river, akin to the primeval river that flowed out of Eden to water the Garden of God in the Creation account (Gen 2:10ff). It may also be that this great river of pure, living water at the center of the Bride (Jerusalem), from the ruling-seat of God, is meant as a contrast to the turbulent sea of “many waters” upon which he Prostitute (Babylon) has her own evil seat of rule (Rev 17:1).

Revelation 22:2

“(It traveled) in the middle of her broad (street), and on this (side) and that of the river (was) the tree of life, making [i.e. producing] twelve fruits, giving forth her fruit according to each month, and the sprouting (leave)s of the tree (were) unto [i.e. for] attending (to the need)s of the nations.”

The image seems to be of the river flowing down the wide golden main street of the city (21:21), which is not very practical—but then, this is scarcely a depiction of a real/ordinary human city. The implication is that the main street leads to the throne of God, from which the river flows out; this, of course, would be quite appropriate. The “tree of life”, while representing an ancient traditional/mythological motif known world-wide, here derives primarily from the Genesis Creation account (2:9; 3:22), where it is mentioned in the context of the Edenic river (2:10). It is fundamentally a symbol of eternal life, equally so with the river/water of life, and this is certainly how the book of Revelation understands it (cf. the earlier use of both idioms in 2:7; 7:17).

The idea of trees growing on each side of the river stems once again from Ezekiel’s vision (47:7, 12). In the Creation narrative, there is only one tree of life; however, there are two trees in the narrative–the tree of life, and the tree of the ‘knowledge of good and evil’ (2:9, 16-17; 3:1-7ff). Most likely, the second tree of life is meant to replace this second tree in the original Garden, thereby undoing the curse that was placed upon creation (the first heaven and earth) because of humankind (cf. below). Sin and evil entered into the created order when humankind ‘ate’ from the tree. Part of the curse entailed the barring of humankind from access to the tree of life (Gen 3:24); along with this, the motif was transferred to the ethical-religious domain, most notably within Wisdom literature and tradition, where the expression “tree of life” occurs rather frequently (Prov 3:18; 11:30; 13:12; 15:4; Psalms of Solomon 14:3; 4 Macc 18:16, etc). On similar eschatological use of the motif, see e.g., 2/4 Esdras 2:12; 8:52.

The production of different fruits each month is perhaps meant to correspond internally (within the city) to the luxuriant and colorful variety of precious stones, etc, on the outside of the city (21:9-11, 18-21). The number twelve, of course, is symbolic of the people of God (cf. the note on 21:12-14). The detail of the sprouting leaves which attend (medicinally) to the needs of the “nations” is a bit harder to explain. It may relate to the idea of the nations, as such (i.e. the ethnic distinctions, etc), being sanctified through the presence of Gentile believers in the city, part of the overall image of humankind being healed from the curse (v. 3, below). During the great Judgment (on earth), the wicked among the nations were struck by diseases and physical afflictions of various sorts (16:2, 10-11, etc), and there may be an intentional contrast here to the righteous/believers among the nations, who are healed rather than harmed.

Revelation 22:3a

“And (of) all (the curse) set down there will no longer be any (of it).”

The noun kata/qema literally means something that is “set down”, or, we might say, given over, even as the related a)na/qema, refers to something (or someone) “set up, given up”, i.e. in the technical (religious) sense of being given up/over to God, for the purpose of destruction (Judgment-context). This corresponds to the Hebrew <r#j@, and Paul uses a)na/qema in a similar sense, by way of general curse-formulae (Gal 1:8-9; 1 Cor 12:3; 16:22; cf. also Rom 9:3). The word kata/qema occurs only here in the New Testament; Paul uses kata/ra (something uttered against someone) in Gal 3:10, 13, which is the more common word for a curse (LXX Deut 11:26, 28, et al). Here, of course, the reference is to the curse placed on creation and humankind in Gen 3:16-19, where the specific word in Hebrew is rWra& (v. 17, also v. 14), which indicates the binding force of the imprecation (i.e. the person is held/bound by the formula). The LXX translates rWra& with the compound adjective e)pikata/rato$, indicating that someone is under the power of the thing uttered against them (i.e. the curse is “upon” e)pi/ them); cf. also Gal 3:10.

As the “new Jerusalem” is part of the New Age, and a ‘New Creation’, the curse set upon the old created order, as a result of the sin of humankind, is now removed. This is part of the early Christian eschatological understanding of salvation, though typically it was not expressed through the imagery of the creation narrative (on the idiom of believers as a ‘new creation’, cf. Gal 6:15; 2 Cor 5:17). The removal, or undoing, of the curse also means that believers now have access to the tree of life (i.e. eternal life), which had previously been denied to human beings in the old created order (Gen 3:22-24).

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