The chapter opens with a description of the river of life that proceeds or flows from the throne of God inside the city where Christ is on the throne (v.1). On either side of the river was the tree of life (v.2). This is the same tree that was in the Garden of Eden.
Genesis 2:9 And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is river pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
There also was a river that ran out from Eden.
Genesis 2:10 And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it was parted, and became into four heads.
The correspondence is very strong. You can see the connection between the paradise of the initial creation and the paradise of the final heaven on earth.
I believe also that the tree of life is symbolic of Jesus Christ, who is the source of life to all who believe. “In Him was life” (John 1:4).
Proverbs 11:30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that wins souls is wise.
Christ is the fruit of the righteous, as only God is righteous. In Christ is the only way we can be fruitful to win souls. The Lord also says:
Revelation 2:7 To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
Overcoming is mentioned in Revelation 21:7. There is the promise that he who stays faithful through all trials of life shall ‘inherit all things’.
After Adam sinned against God, and God cursed all creation, we read what Eve said, apparently quoting what God had told her.
Genesis 3:3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, You shall not eat of it, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.
The result of eating from the tree (not touching it) was death, which they had no knowledge of at that point in time. Eve was deceived but Adam was not (1 Timothy 2:14). Because of Adam’s sin God cursed the earth (Genesis 3:12-19).
Verse 3 here tells us that ‘there shall be no more curse’. This is further evidence that the Curse was real and that it was once applied physically to the earth, because here it is removed. For something to be removed means that it must have existed. The actions of Adam and Eve were real. They were no metaphor or allegory. God will re-make the paradise state of the Garden of Eden on the new earth. Part of that is removing the Curse, and death is no more.
In verse 4 we read that we shall see His face, whereas God had once said that no man may see His face and live (Exodus 33:20). But God promised at the resurrection we should see His face (1 John 3:2). The believers will be marked by Christ’s name in their foreheads (v.4), which is reminiscent of the mark of the beast on their foreheads. Satan always imitates, never creates anything original. Also we are told that here will be no night there as God will give light to the whole city (v.5). No night, means no darkness, which implies no evil of any kind.
Christ speaking to John says: “Behold, I come quickly” (v.7) which for John might have been literally true but for the church may not seem to be so. But it is repeated in verses 12 and 20, meaning it is important and we may conclude that it must mean by God’s measure, as He is outside of time. God sees the future from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). It is all certain and foreseen, and for someone not living in time the events are soon to come to pass. For us who die, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).
The prophecy is sure and we are told to “keep the sayings” of the prophecy in this book. We are commanded to obey God (verses 7,9).
Verse 10 tells John not to seal, i.e. not to hide, the meaning of the prophecy (or telling forth) in this book, because it applies from John’s time and after it. It is not for some distant future time that has not yet arrived. This is quite different to what God told Daniel (Daniel 12:4), when He told him to seal up the book and not reveal the prophecy because it was for a future time. Daniel lived nearly 5 centuries BC and his prophesies in his book were not so relevant to his immediate time but more for “… the time of the end … ” when “… many shall run to and fro, and when knowledge shall be increased.” That certainly is now.
How important then is it to understand what the prophecy actually says, and not be idle (v.11) thinking you will be ‘raptured’ to heaven before the great tribulation, when Christians through all ages have had to endure tribulation and persecutions. But we will be rewarded (not saved) by our works for the Lord (v.12).
Revelation 22:12 And, behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be.
This is a reference to Christ and we the saints of God are His reward. We are rewarded according to our works. It is not salvation by our works.
Now, from verse 12 on to the end of the chapter (and the Bible), the text seems to be an appeal to the unsaved to listen to the words of the prophecy and come to the Lord. We are commanded to bring others with us, so it is our job to share the meaning of the prophecy with the unsaved that they might be saved.
Christ again tells us He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning (the Creator of all) and the end (the Judge of all) (v.13). This ties together His message from the Creation account, the beginning of all things, all the way through to the End. God sees all and completes all within His will.
The saved will enter the city and eat of the tree of life (v.14) just like Adam and Eve. Before they sinned, they lived in the Garden and ate of the tree of life. After they sinned an angel barred the entrance to the Garden so they could no longer eat of the tree of life. But now we see that Christ will restore the creation to its original perfect state. No unsaved may enter into the heavenly city.
Interesting isn’t it that the gates are giant pearls (chapter 21:21) and we enter the city through the pearly gates (v.14). How can a human body pass through solid matter? With our new resurrection bodies we will be able to pass through those gates with ease, in the same way that Jesus, after his resurrection in his glorified body, was able to enter the room where His disciples had assembled (John 20:19). The doors were locked so He must have passed through solid matter.
Verse 15 could be interpreted to mean those who were cast into the ‘lake of fire‘ due to their evil deeds. This lake of fire (chapter 20:10,15) is the place of the second death (chapter 20:14), the fire that burns eternally.
Verse 16 is to remind us that this is Jesus Christ, who opened the seven sealed book in chapter 5 verse 5. He started all this and He is going to finish it.
The Holy Spirit (v.17) and the saved Bride invites those unsaved who will to take of the waters of life to be saved. This is the same invitation as given in,
Isaiah 55:1 Ho, every one that thirsts, come you to the waters, and he that has no money; come you, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
The ‘waters’ here symbolise the Spirit of God. Drink in, receive Him and be saved. Christ came to preach the gospel to the poor and to heal the brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18).
Finally a warning is given (v.18,19) that no man may change anything in the prophecies, nor the words in the book else he will get the plagues mentioned in the book, and his name shall be taken out of the book of life. Nor will he be allowed into the holy city. Does this warning apply to all of the Bible or just this book of the Revelation?
What it means is that no one is to add their own words to what God has already given us in the written Bible. The Bible is a collection of all 66 books in the Old and New Testaments. Each book is of itself complete. Man cannot improve on what God has already given, so we are warned not to add or subtract from the word(s) God has given.
Deuteronomy 4:2 You shall not add to the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish [take away] anything from it, that you may keep [obey] the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
Deuteronomy 12:32 What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: you shall not add thereto, nor diminish [take away] from it.
Proverbs 30:5,6 Every word of God is pure, … 6 Add you not to His words, lest He reprove you, and you be found a liar.
Every word is pure and cannot be changed in what God means. We are to take the words just as God intended. This is in reference to all of God’s words not just one of those books. The reason God is so adamant on this is because His word is truth and nothing can be added to it or subtracted from it to make it more true (Psalms 119:160).
The book of the Revelation is prophecy that completes the Bible, just as the book of Genesis began the Bible. Of all the books the book of the Revelation has the strongest warning because it describes the final end of the world system and the second coming of Christ to restore righteousness.