The angel showed John a crystal-clear river of water of life, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Apparently trees of life lined both sides of the main thoroughfare of the New Jerusalem and both sides of the river as it flowed outside the city. The trees produced fruit each month, and the people of the nations could also use the leaves for healing purposes. As a holy city, the New Jerusalem would not be subjected to any curse. Located therein is the throne of God and of the Lamb, and the servants of the Most High would serve him and be identified as belonging to him by having his name (YHWH) on their foreheads. With God’s light shining upon them in the New Jerusalem, his servants would not need the light of the sun nor of the moon, and night would never settle down upon the city. Besides serving God, they would also reign for ever and ever. (22:1-5)
This scene doubtless would have reminded John of a similar vision seen by the prophet Ezekiel (47:1-12) In Ezekiel’s vision, the river flowed from the temple and its life-giving properties resulted in making it possible for fish to flourish in the Dead Sea. Based on Ezekiel’s vision and what John saw, the river of water of life evidently represents the provision for life having God and Christ as its source, and the trees yielding fruit each month and their leaves would be part of that provision. For people of the nations to benefit from what issues forth from the New Jerusalem, they would need to acknowledge their indebtedness to God and his Son in making it possible for them to be liberated from the death-dealing effects of sin on the basis of his Son’s sacrifice. The continuance of an abiding relationship with God and his Son would rest on availing themselves of all the divine provisions for life indicated by continuing to eat the fruit from the trees and making use of their leaves for healing purposes. People of the nations would also benefit from the services of those portrayed as residents of the New Jerusalem, as these servants of the Most High would be reigning and, in the capacity of associates of Christ in rulership, would be ministering to their needs.
The angel assured John that what he had revealed to him was deserving of absolute trust, saying, “These words are trustworthy and true.” This was so because the “God of the spirits of the prophets” had sent his angel to make known to his servants what would shortly take place. The expression “God of the spirits of the prophets” evidently indicates that the Most High is the source of true prophetic inspiration. The certainty of the fulfillment of the revealed prophetic message is set forth in the words, “the things that must take place shortly.” Those hearing the message were not to regard its fulfillment as being so distant as if it were never to be realized but were to consider it with a sense of immediacy and allow themselves to be comforted and strengthened by it during the course of their alien residence on earth. (22:6)
John heard the words, “Behold, I am coming quickly. Fortunate is the one who observes the words of the prophecy of this scroll.” (22:7) The speaker is not identified, but a number of translations insert Christ. Either the Father or the Son could be intended, for John did hear first-person expressions about coming from both the Father and the Son. (1:4, 8; 2:5, 16, 3:11; 16:15) In view of the angel’s focus on God as the source of prophetic inspiration, there is a basis for concluding that John may have heard the words of the Father or that his words were conveyed through his angel. All who would choose to live in harmony with the prophetic message would indeed be fortunate or in the enviable state of being among those to share in the resulting blessings. The coming would relate to the coming to execute judgment and to reward those then found to be approved. (11:17, 18; compare Malachi 3:5.) As this coming is by means of his Son, the basic meaning with respect to the results does not change if the words are understood as having been those of Jesus Christ.
John heard and saw all the things he recorded. Again moved emotionally by all the angel had shown him, John fell to his knees and prostrated himself before the angel’s feet. As earlier, the angel reminded him not to do so, as he was but a fellow servant of his and his brothers the prophets and those living in harmony with the words of “this scroll” (evidently containing the words John progressively had been writing). As the time for the fulfillment was near and not to be regarded as coming in the far distant future, the angel directed John not to seal the words of the prophecy recorded in the scroll, making it accessible to all who wanted to consider the message contained therein. The next statement indicates that individuals have a choice of either responding in a positive way to the prophetic word or ignoring it and pursuing a ruinous course. “Let the one practicing unrighteousness practice unrighteousness still; let the filthy one be filthy still; let the righteous one practice righteousness still, and let the holy one be holy still.” (22:8-11)
The one who promises to come quickly, repaying each one according to his work, identified himself as “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” At the outset of the revelation of which he is the ultimate source, the Almighty God revealed himself to be the Alpha and the Omega, the one who brings to a successful end all that he promises and initiates, and as the one who is coming. (1:8) Fittingly, like the opening of the book, the concluding part of the book includes the expression of the Father, and there is no contextual evidence for viewing it otherwise. According to 11:18, the Almighty is declared to be the one who will reward his servants the prophets, the holy ones, and those having reverential regard for his name. In harmony therewith, the one who is the Alpha and the Omega provides the assurance, “my reward is with me.” (22:12, 13; see the Notes section.)
The reward is sure for faithful ones. Fortunate, blessed, or in an enviable state of joyous well-being are those who do not defile their garments but continue to live upright lives. They will be granted to eat of the tree of life (denoting a never-ending relationship with the Almighty and his Son) and permitted to enter the city, the New Jerusalem, to share in all the joys and blessings associated with being part of Christ’s bride. Outside the city or cut off from all that an abiding relationship with the Father and the Son signifies would be those conducting themselves like vicious and promiscuous scavenger dogs, the practicers of occult arts, sexually immoral ones, and persons who prefer lies to truth, habitually lying to deceive others so as to take advantage of them or to escape deserved punishment. Their lot will be eternal doom. (22:14, 15; see the Notes section.)
Having received the revelation from his Father, Jesus identified himself as the one who sent his angel to testify to John and all believers in the various congregations who would be receiving the information that it came from God. When referring to himself as “the root and offspring of David,” Jesus Christ revealed that, besides being the “offspring” of David by reason of his human descent, he was also the “root” of David, the one through whom the royal authority of David came to life, fulfilling all the divine promises and godly hopes to which those earnestly looking for the coming of the Messiah held fast. As the morning star, he is the herald of a new day and the one through whom the darkness of former afflictions and distresses will vanish forever, not even being a lingering, painful memory. (22:16)
Possibly, in response to Jesus and the certainty of his coming and all that this would mean for believers, the spirit operating within the prophets moves them to cry out, “Come!” And Christ’s bride, the entire body of believers collectively, says, “Come!” And, individually, all those hearing the spirit-inspired call of the prophets and that of the bride, as from one united voice, are to take up the cry, “Come!” All thirsty ones are invited to come, to come to the one who can satisfy their thirst, making it possible for them to be refreshed and enjoy a newness of life. (22:17; see the Notes section for additional comments.) As Jesus Christ said when on earth, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.” (John 7:37, 38, NRSV) Through him alone, all thirsty ones can obtain water of life free. This is what Jesus made clear to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. “Everyone who drinks of this water [from the well] will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13, 14, NRSV)
Seemingly, the Lord Jesus Christ is the one who added his warning: “I solemnly charge all who hear the words of the prophecy of this scroll [which John appears to have written progressively as he saw the vision]. If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the things written in this scroll. And if anyone takes away from the words of the scroll of this prophecy, God will take away his share from the tree of life and from the holy city.” (22:18, 19) The message about faithfulness to God and Christ was not to be diluted or altered in any way that would weaken its force, suggesting something contrary to its intent. At the same time, the marvelous promises were not to be altered to mean something else, depriving the afflicted believers of the comfort and hope they needed to sustain them.
The concluding assurance of God’s beloved Son is, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” To this, John responded, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.” (22:20)
For believers in every generation, this has been the message that brought them comfort. Christ will return. The beastly power of the world may rage, and many claiming to belong to Christ may actually, in attitude, word, and deed, reveal themselves to be his bitter enemies. Wars, famines, and dreadful diseases may plague earth’s inhabitants. Still, Christ’s cause continues to be victorious. No human has ever had more than a few decades of life on earth. For all God’s devoted servants, awakening from death means being with Christ and sharing in witnessing his triumph over all the forces of evil. As for those then alive, they will experience the relief from distress that they awaited and be united with him.
Meanwhile, the fulfillment of the prayerful expression with which the book concludes, is one in which all believers earnestly desire to continue to share, “The favor of our Lord Jesus [be] with all of you.” (22:21; see the Notes section.) That “favor” or grace includes all the help and guidance believers need in their daily walk regardless of whatever external pressures and trials they may face. As Jesus Christ told Paul when the apostle sought to be relieved from his “thorn in the flesh,” “My favor is sufficient for you.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Many commentators dogmatically state that, in 22:13, Jesus Christ identifies himself as the Alpha and the Omega. The designation, however, is not preceded by “I, Jesus” (as are the words in 22:16). Moreover, up to this point, the focus has been on God. (22:9) In the absence of a specific identification of the speaker, insufficient evidence exists for the interpretation that, in the concluding chapter of Revelation, Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega. It would appear that the passage unmistakably identifying the Alpha and the Omega as the Almighty should govern the way the same designation is to be understood in a less specific context.
In 22:14, the earliest extant manuscripts contain the reading “wash their robes,” but numerous later manuscripts say “do his commands.”
In 22:17, the Greek verb “come” is singular, providing a basis for concluding that it is directed to Christ. Another possibility is that the “come” serves as a personal invitation for others to come to the water of life or to the one through whom this life-giving water is available. In the vision, the river of water of life proceeds from the throne of God and of the Lamb (22:1), identifying the Father as the ultimate source of this river and revealing that the Son figures prominently in this arrangement for life. God is the one who made the provision for life through his Son, and all who would come to enjoy the life of an abiding relationship with him must come to the Son. Apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, eternal life is impossible.
For verse 21, manuscript readings include “Lord Jesus,” “Lord Jesus Christ,” “our Lord Jesus Christ,” “with all,” “with all of you,” “with all of us,” “with the holy ones,” “with your holy ones,” “with all of the holy ones,” and “with all of his holy ones.”