A Return to Paradise

The River of Life circa 1805 by William Blake 1757-1827

b) Rev 22:1–5, 20: The beginning of Rev 22 continues John’s vision of a return to the conditions of Eden (Gen 1:26–31; Gen 2:8–15; Rev 21:1–5, 10–11).[1]

The apostle’s original audience understood this association of the age to come with paradise.

According to the apocryphal Epistle of Barnabas (80–120 AD), “In the last days [the Son] made a second creation; and the Lord says, ‘See, I make the last things as the first.’”[2]

John wrote, “And [the angel] showed to me a river of living water, shining like crystal.”

Several Old Testament passages feature this same imagery, such as Gen 2:10; Joel 3:16–18; Zech 14:8; and Ezek 47:1–9. This purifying living water symbolizes eternal life (Jer 2:13; Rev 22:17),[3] for it shall be “coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb.”

Just as the vision of Ezek 40–48 depicts God dwelling among his people,[4] the living water may also serve as a symbol for the Holy Spirit (John 7:37–39).[5]

This harmonizes with the Christian confession from the Council of Toledo in 589 AD. Theologians attending that meeting added the nuance that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son to the Nicene Creed (cf. John 14:26; John 16:7, 13–15). Continued insistence that the Son also sent the Spirit divided the Western Church from Eastern Orthodoxy in 1054.[6]

That rift remains to this day.

Since the new Jerusalem does not contain a temple (Rev 21:22), the throne of God serves as the river’s origin.[7]

Due to Christ’s death on our behalf, he now shares the place of greatest honor with the Father (Eph 1:7–11Phil 2:5–11; Rev 5:8–14).[8]

That the Father and the Son share a single throne points to their unity and joint sovereignty (Ps 110:1; Rev 3:21).[9]

Our understanding of the placement of the river in relation to the main street of the new Jerusalem depends upon whether “in the middle of its street” belongs at the end of v. 1 or at the beginning of v. 2 (Rev 22:1–2).[10]

If the river comes from the throne in the middle of the street, we have a situation like that in Ezekiel, where God’s people must ford the river and the trees grow on both sides (Ezek 47:3–4, 12; Isa 35:6–9).[11]

On the other hand, if we read this passage as, “In the middle of its street on either side of the river was the tree of life,” then the street and river would run parallel to each other.[12]

Just at the river flowing from God’s presence in Ezekiel’s vision caused the trees to bear fruit, so it does in Revelation.[13]

The community of Essenes in Qumran had a similar depiction:

[For Thou didst set] a plantation of cypress, pine, and cedar for thy glory, trees of life beside a mysterious fountain hidden among the trees by the water, and they put out a shoot of the everlasting plant. But before they did so, they took root and sent out their roots to the watercourse that its stem might be open to the living waters and be one with the everlasting spring.[14]

Since the word “paradise” (paradeisos) actually meant a garden,[15] one would expect the new Jerusalem to resemble a park full of rivers and fruitful trees (Rev 21:1–2).[16]

While Ezek 47:12 denotes “all kinds of trees,” John appears to refer to a single tree (Rev 2:7).[17]

However, “a tree (xulon) of life (zōēs)” likely means a group of trees, especially since one tree cannot grow on both sides of a river.[18]

Using a singular to depict many trees occurs regularly in Scripture, such as in Gen 1:11–12 and in Lev 26:20.[19]

In keeping with the escalation in the scope and grandeur of the new creation, the one tree in Eden shall become many trees of the same kind.[20]

Perhaps the designation of only one tree placed emphasis upon faith in Christ being the only source of eternal life (John 6:27–29; John 14:6).[21]

Early Christian artists frequently merged the cross and the tree of life into one symbol.[22]

Greco-Roman descriptions of the afterlife also included pure water and fruit trees.[23]

The first century BC author designated as Pseudo-Plato wrote, “So, then, all whom a good daimon [a lesser deity] inspired in life go to reside in a place of the pious, where the ungrudging seasons teem with fruits of every kind, where fountains of pure water flow, and where all kinds of meadows bloom with flowers.”[24]

John wrote that these trees would be “producing twelve crops, each month yielding its fruit, and the leaves of the tree [are] for the healing of the people-groups.”

As in Ezek 47:12, the new creation shall abound with plentiful crops (Amos 9:13–15).[25] Therefore, both Christians and Greco-Roman polytheists associated miraculous fruitfulness with the new age.[26]

In the fanciful A True Story (second century AD), Lucian described his visit to the Isle of the Blessed. He wrote, “The country abounds in flowers and plants of all kinds, cultivated and otherwise. The grape-vines yield twelve vintages a year, bearing every month; the pomegranates, apples and other fruit-trees were said to bear thirteen times a year, for in one month…they bear twice.”[27]

This depiction confirms the figurative nature of the eternal realities in John’s vision, for the phases of the moon determine the length of a month. However, according to the apostle, neither the sun nor the moon shall exist in the new creation (Rev 21:23; Rev 22:5).[28]

The number twelve held tremendous significance in the Bible, and especially in Revelation (Rev 7:5–8; Rev 12:1–2; Rev 21:12–16, 21). As with the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles, the number twelve symbolized that God would fulfill his promise to redeem his people.[29]

One apocryphal author lamented the sin of Adam (Gen 3:17–19), noting, “a paradise shall be revealed, whose fruit remains unspoiled and in which are abundance and healing, but we shall not enter it, because we have lived in unseemly places” (2 Esd 7:123–124, RSV).

Eating from one tree brought death and exile (Gen 3:22–23). In contrast, partaking of another shall deliver life and a return to paradise.[30]

Therefore, this healing fruit symbolizes our redemption in Christ (Col 1:3–12), which shall come into all its fullness when he returns (1 Cor 15:50–55; Rev 2:7).[31]

Note the close parallels between the visions of Ezekiel, the apostle John, and 1 Enoch (2nd century BC–1st century AD):

And from thence I went to another place of the earth, and he showed me a mountain range of fire which burnt day and night. And I went beyond it and saw seven magnificent mountains all differing each from the other, and the stones (thereof) were magnificent and beautiful…

And the seventh mountain was in the midst of these, and it excelled them in height, resembling the seat of a throne: and fragrant trees encircled the throne. And among them a tree such as I had never yet smelt, neither was any among them nor were others like it: it had a fragrance beyond all fragrance, and its leaves and blooms and wood wither not for ever: and its fruit is beautiful, and its fruit resembles the dates of a palm.

Then I said, “How beautiful is this tree, and fragrant, and its leaves are fair, and its blooms very delightful in appearance.”

Then answered Michael, one of the holy and honored angels who was with me, and was their leader. And he said unto me…“This high mountain which thou hast seen, whose summit is like the throne of God, is his throne, where the Holy Great One, the Lord of Glory, the Eternal King, will sit, when he shall come down to visit the earth with goodness.

“And as for this fragrant tree no mortal is permitted to touch it till the great judgment, when he shall take vengeance on all and bring (everything) to its consummation forever. It shall then be given to the righteous and holy. Its fruit shall be for food to the elect: it shall be transplanted to the holy place, to the temple of the Lord, the Eternal King.

“Then shall they rejoice with joy and be glad, and into the holy place shall they enter; and its fragrance shall be in their bones, and they shall live a long life on earth, such as thy fathers lived: and in their days shall no sorrow or plague or torment or calamity touch them.”

Then blessed I the God of Glory, the Eternal King, who hath prepared such things for the righteous, and hath created them and promised to give to them. And I went from thence to the middle of the earth, and I saw a blessed place in which there were trees with branches abiding and blooming [of a dismembered tree]. And there I saw a holy mountain, and underneath the mountain to the east there was a stream.”[32]

Since the new creation shall be free of death and suffering, the healing from the tree of life must consist of a once for-all-time event (Rom 8:18–23). Nevertheless, the tree shall continually produce fruit (Rev 7:16–17; Rev 21:3–4).[33]

Where Adam failed miserably, Jesus proved victorious (Rom 5:12–21; 1 Cor 15:20–22; Heb 4:14–16). As a result, the glorious temple which the Lord began to create in Eden shall reach its completion in the new creation when the people of God fill the earth (Gen 1:28; Hab 2:14).[34]

Then we shall experience the intimate communion with God which he intended from the beginning (Exod 28:36–38).[35]

Nevertheless, while we remain in this age, we can enter into the life of the Trinity by the presence of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13–15; Rom 8:9–17, 26–30). As a result, we experience transformed lives, which lead us to actively seek fellowship with God, pursue justice for our neighbors and the world around us, and spread the good news of the gospel (Eph 1:3–23; Matt 22:34–40; Matt 28:18–20). As we devote ourselves to these aspects of life, not only do we experience the unity of the Trinity, we anticipate the age to come.[36]

The theologian John Cassian (ca. 360–435 AD) wrote:

No one will arrive at the fullness of this measure in the world to come except the person who has reflected on it and been initiated it in the present and who has tasted it while still living in this world; who, having been designated a most precious member of Christ, possesses in this flesh the pledge of that union through which he is able to be joined to Christ’s body; who desires only one thing, thirsts for one thing, and always directs not only every deed but even every thought to this one thing, so that he may already possess in the present what has been pledged him and what is spoken of with regard to the blessed way of life of the holy in the future—that is, that “God may be all in all” to him.[37]

Image via Wikimedia Commons

 

Read Rev 22:1–5, 20. What parallels do you see between the visions of Ezekiel, 1 Enoch, and John? How does the promise of the new creation encourage you as you seek to extend God’s kingdom? In what ways do you experience the fellowship of the Trinity?

 

 

 

 

 

This concludes Redemptive History: A Biblical Theology of Genesis 1–3

Go to An Overview of Gen 1–3 prior to beginning the book on Gen 4–11

 

[Related posts include The New Holy City (Rev 21:10–11); The Holy Mountain of God (Rev 21:18–22:3); Greater and Lesser Lights (Gen 1:14–19); The Blessing of Fruitfulness (Gen 1:28); God Completes the Heavens and the Earth (Gen 2:1–2); A Well-Watered Garden (Gen 2:8–14); Forbidden Fruit (Gen 2:16–17); Succumbing to Temptation (Gen 3:6); Thorns and Thistles (Gen 3:17–18); A Return to the Ground (Gen 3:19); Access to the Tree of Life (Gen 3:22); Driven Out (Gen 3:23–24); The Third Temptation (Matt 4:8–11); Effects of the Fall Reversed (Rom 5:12–21 and Rom 16:1–12); Co-Heirs with Christ (Rom 8:16–18); Creation’s Eager Expectation (Rom 8:19); Subjected to Futility (Rom 8:20); Set Free from the Slavery of Corruption (Rom 8:21–22); Dead in Adam but Alive in Christ (1 Cor 15:20–23); Perishable Flesh and Blood (1 Cor 15:50); We Shall Be Changed (1 Cor 15:51–52); Victory over Death (1 Cor 15:53–55); Blessings from the Father (Eph 1:3–4); Adopted as Sons (Eph 1:5–6); Redemption through Christ’s Blood (Eph 1:7–8); The Summing up of All Things (Eph 1:9–11); Equality with God (Phil 2:5–6); A Summary of Trinitarian Creeds (Appendix to Phil 2:5–6); Taking the Form of a Slave (Phil 2:7); Obedient to the Point of Death (Phil 2:8); The Name Above Every Name (Phil 2:9–11);    and Ancient Literature]

 

[Click here to go to Chapter 10: The Tree of Life (Genesis 3:22–24)]

 

[1]Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 398.

[2]Kirsopp Lake, trans., “Epistle of Barnabas,” in Apostolic Fathers (LCL; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1912), 6:13, 361–3, https://archive.org/stream/theapostolicfath00unknuoft#page/360/mode/2up.

[3]Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 1103–4.

[4]Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, 110–1.

[5]Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 398.

[6]Philip Schaff, “The Controversy on the Procession of the Holy Spirit,” in History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1910), 4:476–89, 476, 481, 484, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc4.i.xi.ii.html.

[7]Aune, Revelation 17–22, 1177.

[8]Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 398–9.

[9]Aune, Revelation 17–22, 1177.

[10]Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 399. Ancient Greek manuscripts do not contain punctuation.

[11]Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 1104.

[12]Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 399.

[13]Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 1106–7.

[14]Vermes, trans., The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, 4th Ed, 1QH18, 334, https://archive.org/stream/pdfy-Uy_BZ_QGsaLiJ4Zs/The%20Dead%20Sea%20Scrolls%20%5BComplete%20English%20Translation%5D#page/n331/mode/2up.

[15]Joachim Jeremias, “παραδεισος” (paradeisos), TDNT 5:765–73, 765.

[16]Craig S. Keener, Revelation (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 500.

[17]Aune, Revelation 17–22, 1177.

[18]Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 1106.

[19]Aune, Revelation 17–22, 1177.

[20]Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 1106.

[21]Keener, Revelation, 500.

[22]Johannes Schneider, “ξυλον” (xulon), NIDOTTE, 5:37–41, 40–1.

[23]Aune, Revelation 17–22, 1176.

[24]Pseudo-Plato, Axiochus, trans. Jackson P. Hershbell (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1981), 371C, 47.

[25]Keener, Revelation , 500.

[26]Aune, Revelation 17–22, 1178.

[27]Lucian, “A True Story,” in Works, Vol. 1 (trans. A. M. Harmon; LCL; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1913), 311, 315, https://archive.org/stream/lucianha01luciuoft#page/314/mode/2up.

[28]Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 1108.

[29]Ryken et al., “Twelve” in Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, 900–1.

[30]Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 399.

[31]Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 1108.

[32]Charles, trans., “Book of Enoch,” 24–6, 51–4, https://archive.org/stream/cu31924067146773#page/n165/mode/2up.

[33]Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 1108.

[34]Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 1111.

[35]Joachim Jeremias, “παραδεισος” (paradeisos), TDNT 5:765–73, 765.

[36]Donald Fairbairn, Life in the Trinity: An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 230–1.

[37]Cassian John, Boniface Ramsey, trans., in John Cassian: The Conferences (ACW; Costa Mesa, CA: Paulist Press, 1997), 253–4.