Previously in Revelation
27But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Day 29 – 6th Thursday
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
6And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”
7“See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
Points of Interest
- “the river of the water of life” – It turns out that the spring in this city becomes a whole river that is born in the very person of God. Jews long had a hopeful vision of good and beautiful things being born in their largest city of Jerusalem, symbolized by a river flowing out from Jerusalem. This hope was something of a literal impossibility for this dry, elevated location. Now, with God living in the great city that is the whole new heaven and earth, the dream comes true. All that is inside of God flows to all of us.
- “the tree of life” – This is evocative of the garden of Eden as well as several other moments in the Old Testament. Here, though, there are twelve different fruits and its’ found on both sides of the river. So it’s not so much a tree that God has planted as a whole orchard. I’ve watched a friend of mine plant and tend to a small orchard, meant to nourish its owners with delightful fruit. It is such a gift, and one that takes such immense planning and work and care. All that is the case here, but the produce isn’t just apples or peaches but abundant, many-varied fruit, and medicinal leaves that heal us all. So beautiful.
- “his servants will worship” – The word for servants is literally slaves. Scholars estimate that around one third of the population of the Roman empire were slaves, so all of John’s first audience were either slaves or slave-owners or knew one of the two. The word is used here but for the opposite of its reality. The slaves have a couple of slave-like qualities still – they are marked by God on their foreheads, a sign of belonging but of ownership as well; and they worship God. But they also are welcome at the throne and the reign with God forever, so they are co-rulers, not slaves at all. I think this indicates a radical and liberating shift in the human experience.
- “they will see his face” – The new heaven and earth experience is less that of a worker or slave and more of a trusting child or intimate lover. Metaphors of children of God and bride of Christ are used to indicate the trust and openness and immediacy of seeing God face to face.
- “These words are trustworthy and true” – As John starts to wrap up, he rephrases many of his opening statements, including an assurance of his complex letter’s authenticity and reliability.
This week, as Easter approaches, and Revelation climaxes with its vision of a new heaven and a new earth, we’ll look to cultivate hope. Take some time and use your imagination to cultivate hope. Picture yourself walking alongside the river of the water of life, sampling the orchard’s abundant fruit, applying the balm from their leaves to any inner or outer wounds. What does this feel like? Take your time. Now picture yourself face to face with God, who is full of light. What do you experience? What do you do or say? What does God have to say to you? What expression is on God’s face?
A Direction for Prayer
Pray for people and groups you are aware of who are most wounded, most oppressed or outcast or hurt. Ask Jesus to grow the orchard of fruit and healing in their lives. Ask Jesus to flow toward them the river of life that begins in God’s self. Pray for God’s presence and healing for them.
The Bible Guide
This blog post is part of a Lenten journey through the book of Revelation. Every year during the season of Lent, we take a focused look at a portion of Scripture as part of our communal spiritual practice. This year, we are exploring what it means to be Children of God in a Fractured World, with Revelation as our lens. On Sundays, we’re exploring this with our sermons; on weekdays, we’re doing so with our bible guide. The bible guide series starts here.