Rev. 22:1 – Then he showed me the river of living water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the broad street of the city. The tree of life was on both sides of the river, bearing 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, 3 and there will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His slaves will serve Him. 4 They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. 5 Night will no longer exist, and people will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever. (HCSB)
The Source of life
The first five verses of the final chapter of Revelation describe four prominent objects in the New Jerusalem: (1) the river of living water, (2) the broad street of the city, (3) the tree of life, and (4) the throne of God and of the Lamb. Each of these relates in some fashion to God, who is the Source of life. Let’s take a closer look at these elements.
The river of living water. John describes the living water as “sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the broad street of the city” (vv. 1-2). In Rev. 21:6, the One seated on the throne says, “I will give water as a gift to the thirsty from the spring of life.” This promise draws deeply from the Old and New Testaments and speaks of eternal life received by God’s grace through faith. We see that promise fulfilled in Revelation 22. The Greek word potamos is translated “river,” “flood,” or “stream” and is used metaphorically in John 7:38 to describe the blessing of eternal peace and satisfaction found in Christ. That same figurative application is used throughout Revelation, pointing us to the Source of eternal life.
This is the eighth in a series of articles on biblical terms that describe the afterlife and the unseen world.
Is heaven the final destination of all who rest in Jesus? Or do we spend eternity someplace else?
In 2 Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul describes two different and mutually exclusive states of existence for the Christian. While we are on earth, “at home in the body,” we are “away from the Lord.” And when we are “out of the body” we are “at home with the Lord” (5:6, 8).
The New Testament teaches that upon death, believers’ souls/spirits separate from our lifeless bodies and enter the presence of God in heaven (see also Phil. 1:21-24). There, we enjoy intimate fellowship with our Lord while awaiting the future resurrection and glorification of our bodies (John 5:28-29; 1 Cor. 15:51-58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18).
We see magnificent glimpses into the throne room of heaven through the visionary eyes of the apostle John in the Book of Revelation: the triune Godhead; an emerald-colored rainbow surrounding a glorious throne; living creatures; elders; angels; and redeemed people from every tribe, language, people, and nation.
The combined voices of all creatures in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and in the sea proclaim, “Blessing and honor and glory and dominion to the One seated on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13).
We may be tempted to stop here, as if heaven is the final destination in life’s long journey. It is breathtaking. But it gets better.
Rev. 14:17 – Then another angel who also had a sharp sickle came out of the sanctuary in heaven. 18 Yet another angel, who had authority over fire, came from the altar, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from earth’s vineyard, because its grapes have ripened.” (HCSB)
Another angel had a sharp sickle
Next, we encounter the fourth angel of Revelation 14. Like the One seated on the cloud, he also wields a sharp sickle and comes out of the sanctuary in heaven. A fifth angel follows him, and this one is said to have “authority over fire.” He calls in a loud voice to the fourth angel, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from earth’s vineyard, because its grapes have ripened” (v. 18).
This passage echoes Joel 3:9-13 in which grape harvesting and wine pressing are used as metaphors for judgment, and Isa. 63:1-6 in which God treads the grapes in His fury, pressing out the lifeblood of people. The same metaphor is found in Jer. 25:15, 28-31. Judgment also is symbolized by the harvest in Jer. 51:33 and Hosea 6:11. Moreover, it is the Messiah who treads the winepress in Rev. 19:15.
Why are we told about the angel that has “authority over fire?” Perhaps this is connected to the fifth seal in Rev. 6:9-11. Here, martyrs “under the altar” cry out to God for vengeance. Later, in the seventh seal, an angel with a gold incense burner stands at the altar. He is given a large amount of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the gold altar in front of the throne. The angel takes the incense burner, fills it with fire from the altar, and hurls it to the earth, which results in rumblings of thunder, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. This also helps prepare the seven angels to usher in the next series of judgments.
Rev. 14:3 –They sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders, but no one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. (HCSB)
They sang a new song
John records in verse 3, “They sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders, but no one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.” Is this the same “new song” that the elders sing in chapter 5? And why are its melody and words limited to the 144,000?
Some commentators argue that the song here is different from the elders’ song in Revelation 5 because no one can learn it except the 144,000. Others contend it is the same song, which the elders, who represent both Old and New Covenant believers in Revelation 5, are able to teach the 144,000 in Revelation 14.
We are given the words to the elders’ song in Revelation 5: “You [the Lamb] are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals; because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed [people] for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10). Perhaps these are the same words of the “new song” in Revelation 14, which those redeemed from the earth sing before heaven’s throne.
In any case, it appears this “new song” is a song of redemption, and the reason it’s confined to the 144,000 is because they are redeemed people. Unbelievers cannot legitimately sing this song because they have not experienced the salvation purchased with Christ’s blood. They may mouth the words, but their lip-synching will never exalt them to heavenly portals or entitle them to join the heavenly choir of equally vile sinners who have been wonderfully transformed by the blood of the Lamb.
Rev. 7:9 – After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb! 11All the angels stood around the throne, the elders, and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying: Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength, be to our God forever and ever. Amen. 13Then one of the elders asked me, “Who are these people robed in white, and where did they come from?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you know.” Then he told me: These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and they serve Him day and night in His sanctuary. The One seated on the throne will shelter them: 16no longer will they hunger; no longer will they thirst; no longer will the sun strike them, or any heat. 17Because the Lamb who is at the center of the throne will shepherd them; He will guide them to springs of living waters, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (HCSB).
They cried out in a loud voice
The redeemed cry out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb” (v. 10). Their praise reflects at least two biblical truths. First, salvation is of God and not of man. We are bankrupt in our sins; lost and separated from God; under condemnation; deserving only of His wrath; self-sold into the slave market of sin; blinded; bound; citizens of the kingdom of darkness; spiritually dead. The redeemed know this and declare it openly before their Savior. The lost do not know their desperate state – and cannot know it unless the Holy Spirit touches their stone-cold hearts, convincing them of their unbelief, their futile self-righteousness, and their future lot with Satan (John 16:7-11). God has taken the initiative to save lost sinners and has completed the work necessary for our salvation. All that remains is for the sinner to receive the gift of eternal life by faith – and even faith is a gift of God.
The second truth in this cry of the redeemed is that salvation is the finished work of the triune Godhead. God the Father, seated on the throne, has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, in Christ (Eph. 1:3). He chose us, in Christ, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight (Eph. 1:4). He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself (Eph. 1:5). He sent His Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14). Take note that all of these wondrous acts of the Father are accomplished through the Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
While the Holy Spirit is not mentioned in the praise of the redeemed in Rev. 7:10, other scriptures make it clear that He, too, plays an active role in our redemption. He convicts lost sinners of their need for salvation (John 16:7-11); regenerates believing sinners, imparting new life into their once-dead spirits (John 3:5, 6:63; 2 Cor. 3:6); seals believers, or places God’s mark of ownership upon them (Eph.. 4:3); confirms that they belong to God (Rom. 8:16); equips them for ministry through spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:7); and helps them in prayer (Rom. 8:26-27).
Yes, Christ is our Savior, and His finished work on our behalf is accomplished in full cooperation with the Father and the Spirit. Just as the Bible teaches that each member of the Godhead played a role in creation, it also teaches that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit work together in the “new creation” of redeemed lives and, ultimately, new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21-22).
Next: All the angels stood around the throne