|THE ONCE AND FUTURE GARDEN
Series: The Revelation of Jesus Christ - Part Nine
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
October 10, 2019
If you are able, would you stand with me as we come together before God and His word - and would you read with me the text that we’ll be focusing on this morning: Revelation 22:1-7.
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 through the middle of
the street of the city; also, on either side of the
river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of
fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves
of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show His servants what must soon take place.”
“And Behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
Before we come to Revelation 22 we need to go back to Genesis. To where we began our study through the Bible - back in January of 2017.
Genesis and Revelation are the bookends of a library - the Bible. Yes?
Revelation is the end of the library that also gives us a glimpse into what comes next. Genesis is the beginning. And especially - with the verses we just read - Genesis is the beginning point - the context we need - to understand more fully the astounding significance of what these verses in Revelation open up to us about God and what God has for us in the future.
So before we get to Revelation we’re going to do some - getting fresh in our thinking - context building back fill from Genesis.
Genesis begins with God who exists totally apart from His creation. God calls into existence out of nothing - everything that exists in all of it’s complexity - intricacy - its vast immeasurableness. Then the God of creation focuses His attention on this planet - creating this amazing bio-ecosystem.
Everything we are - the atoms and what holds us together - the thoughts we’re capable of - the universe we’re beginning to be aware of - all that seems so enduring for us - what we so easily take for granted - feel entitled to - get nutted up over - what seems to us to be so permanent - the where and when of our lives - all that exists simply because God wills it to exist.
Which - because we’re born and we live in this time-space universe - the idea of nothing existing apart from God is a tad hard to process.
But that truth is a foundational bottom line - context building backfill - truth that we need to have sink into the very fiber of how we process life: Our very existence and relationship with God is all because of - all about - all for God. It is God who creates.
Genesis records that God creates this world as an amazing place full of life and what sustains life.
Then God plants a garden that is astoundingly beautiful and is filled with all that is needed to abundantly sustain life. Trees that are both beautiful and that provide life giving fruit. There’s a river that flows out of the garden bringing life giving water to what surrounds the garden. And two specific trees are mentioned - the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life.
Those who have studied the clues given in Genesis suggest that the Garden was located someplace south of Armenia in northern Iran. But given how Noah’s flood messed up the topography - ultimately we don’t really know the exact location of the garden. Which is okay because it isn’t the point.
The point is that God gives us enough information in Genesis to understand that the Garden was a real historical - on this planet - location and not some spiritualized religious ideal or myth.
Connecting that forward to Revelation 22. At the bookends of history are two gardens - one in Eden and one being like a park in the midst of city. Not spiritualized mythology but two very real actual places. Both intentionally tied together in content and in purpose.
Let’s explore that.
Genesis records that God uniquely creates mankind - male and female - in His image and likeness - for God’s purposes - to fill and subdue - to rule over and steward God’s creation. God places them in the garden that He caused to exist as a place for them to dwell in relationship with Him. Mankind experiencing the blessings of God’s presence as we live out what it means to be uniquely created in the image of God.
Which is also a foundational - context building back fill - truth we need to hang on to. It’s not about the location. It’s about our being the people God has created us to be living in relationship with God.
Exodus 19:4 - God speaking to His people. God says: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians - the plagues and Pharaoh’s army getting dead - and how I bore you on eagles wings and brought you to Myself.” Brought where? “To Myself.”
That’s the same foundational truth. Truth that God reviews over and over in the Bible - from Genesis to Revelation - beginning in the Garden and in the Garden to come.
God’s people assumed that God had rescued them - redeemed them - from slavery in Egypt to bring them to the Promised Land in Canaan because God wanted to bless them with that land to bless them on that land.
They got confused and thought the land was an end in itself and not the means to their relationship with God. Which really messed them up because they thought all that was about them and not God. “God chose us and wants to bless us with this land.”
Which is a significant part of Hebrew history that we looked at when we studied through the Old Testament. God’s people focusing on themselves - and stumbling around in sin - and God continually trying to get their attention and draw them back into relationship with Him.
What God said - what they lost sight of - is that with God it’s the relationship not the region.
Jesus doesn’t go to the cross - God doesn’t redeem us - what we looked at in Mark - Jesus doesn’t go to the cross so that He can give us a “Get Out Of Hell Free” card or we get “fire insurance” and get to live in some amazing recreated future earth. Which is about us.
Dwelling in the Garden or the new heaven and new earth or a garden that’s coming is about dwelling with God. Redemption is about God rescuing us and restoring our relationship with Him - our creator.
God’s people have always gotten ourselves messed up when we’ve focused on location - the garden - the land - the stuff of where we are and when we are and what’s that like for us - our perspective and understanding of all that. Which understandably seems pretty real and important to us and it is.
But we trend to focus on all that and to let go of God and what He says it means to dwell with Him. The foundational truth of what it means to live in relationship with the transcendent God of creation who’s called all of that into existence including us - that we might dwell there with Him living out the purposes He’s created us in His image for.
Which leads into Genesis chapter 3 and what is one of the most familiar and painfully close to home accounts in the Bible.
Familiar because even people who may not know very little about the Bible know about Adam and Eve and the snake and the apple. We’ve heard this since Sunday School.
Painful because this chapter is arguably the most important chapter in what God is telling us about ourselves. It is the ultimate answer to the “Why?” question.
Looking around at the world we live in - every time we experience what Revelation 21 describes as tears and death and mourning and crying and pain - when we struggle with our addictions and failures - looking at the disaster of human relations between peoples and nations - even in the natural disasters and resistance of the planet to our efforts - in our hearts we ask the “Why?” question.
Satan’s process is pretty obvious. Get us focused anywhere else but on God. To get us looking at the location and what’s there that’s enticing to our eyes. Arouse desire for what God has warned us against - what God has forbidden. Engage our minds in reasoning this out for ourselves verses trusting God.
“So Eve, tell me about this tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
Eve gives the fruit to Adam “and he ate.” Those ominous words are the beginning of the disaster of human history. Our fall into sin and death. The answer to the “Why?” question.
Adam trusting in his understanding of what God has created rather than trusting God. Adam setting himself up in the place of God. Trust self verses trust God. What always leads to sin.
If God says “Don’t eat fruit from that tree” - the garden being pretty good size - if we’re Adam what is the one place we don’t go? Anywhere near that tree. Or this idea. Get an ax. God never said not to chop it down. Whack. Problem solved.
We get this. Because we’re drawn to the tree. To giving our time and our efforts to what’s pulling us away from God. Our understanding of our location verses trusting the transcendent God our creator and what He says it means to dwell in relationship with Him.
God creates. Sin destroys.
When we looked at the Old Testament - what we saw was the record of what God is doing and how God is doing all of what God is doing in history. God relentlessly - intentionally - purposefully - working through kings and covenants and shepherds and sacrifices and prophets and ordinary people like us - in real time and real situations.
God who loves us - dealing with our brokenness and sin and separation from Him. God redeeming and restoring us. Inviting us back into relationship with Him - that God - by His grace - makes possible through Jesus’ work on the cross. Jesus who is central to all of what God is doing in history.
Jesus who - in what we studied when we studied Mark - Jesus who begins His ministry with the declaration and the appeal: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15) Which is all about relationship. The good news that we can have a restored relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
God creates. Sin destroys. Jesus redeems.
Then we saw - when we studied Acts and the church - that God calls us into relationship with Him and then gives to us the astounding privilege of living out that good news gospel relationship with Him and sharing the good news of the gospel with those around us inviting them into relationship with God through Christ.
The great commission that Jesus lays on His disciples - “Go make disciples.” Jesus’ great command: “You shall be My witnesses.”
Dwelling with God in the where and when of our lives living out the purposes He’s created us for.
God creates. Sin destroys. Jesus redeems. And Jesus sends us. God using even us in His Genesis to Revelation plan and purpose of redemption - which is about... relationship.
Which brings us to Revelation and the 7 churches. Real churches in real time that had gone through and were going through horrendous persecution and in many cases martyrdom. Jesus who stands in the midst of those churches. Think relationship. Jesus very much aware of their situation both internally and what they’re facing coming at them.
Jesus who appeals to the churches to remain faithful - to continue to follow Him - and so to conquer over sin and death and the whatever this world in rebellion against God is going to throw up at them.
7 Churches through which Jesus appeals to His church - even us - to remain faithful and so to enter into the promise of eternal relationship with God our creator.
The promise is fulfilled when Jesus returns and judgment happens and then John sees this new heaven and new earth and the new Jerusalem - prepared by God - and coming as a bride to the groom - the Lamb Jesus - Revelation 21 - the marriage of heaven and earth - that’s relationship. Restored relationship.
As much as we might be tempted to think that what’s here in this garden - or city park - that what’s here is about rivers and trees and that revelation is about numbers and thrones and strange beasts and trumpets and bowls and seals and on and on and on and maybe even some place in all of that about us… those things are just symbols and descriptions - locations for our minds to latch on to as the means not the end.
God hasn’t given this revelation to us as a code book to decipher - and by our own astute whit, wisdom, working, and use of Wikipedia - to unlock the mysteries of some prophetic future sequence of events.
The purpose of prophetic revelation is to draw us deeper into relationship with God. God reveals Himself in prophecy so that we can know God. Not just know about God. But to know God. Deeply. Intimately.
Which is why this revelation is about Jesus. Because Jesus is central to all of what it means to know God and to go deeper in our relationship with God. To press into God. To deepen our trust in God. To increase our faith in God. To help us strive towards greater obedience and following after God. The One true God to whom we owe our existences today and forever.
Which is the back fill context of the verses we’re coming to this morning.
God creates. Sin destroys. Jesus redeems. Jesus sends. Jesus promises. God fulfils. God’s re-creation - the new heaven and earth.
Jesus will return and fully restore and make all things new. Which is all because of God - all about God - and all for God. The God we are privileged to dwell with forever.
Fast forwarding to forever - we see the Tree of Life again in the book of Revelation in the description of how all this transitions into eternity - the complete reversal of the curse and the consequences of sin. There by the River of The Water of Life which flows from the throne of God - planted in rows on either side of the river - are Trees of Life forever producing fruit - forever giving life. (Revelation 22:1-5)
To get a fuller understanding of that we need to do some unpacking.
John describes a river that is not ordinary river. That water of this river is life. And, it is brighter and cleaner than any river we’ve seen. It has the clarity of crystal. It’s a spiritual ecologist dream. Totally without the pollution of sin.
And John tells us that the river flows down the middle of the main street of the city. What seemingly would be park like - or garden with trees. Prominent - central - integral to the life of the city. Meaning the people of the city. God’s people - not the buildings.
In the Hebrew mindset there’s a difference between standing water and living water which is flowing water. The water flowing from the throne is living water.
Jesus made the comparison with the women at Sychar - in Samaria. She’d come to draw water from the well - standing water. Jesus turns the discussion of water from the well to Himself - living water.
Jesus tells her: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him [Me - Jesus], and He would have given you living water.” “Ask Me and I’ll give you living water.”
The woman is mystified by that. She asks, “Where do you get that living water?” “All we have here is well water.” Standing water.
Jesus states the obvious about the well water: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again...” But that’s not the water Jesus offers.
What Jesus is offering this women - what she thirsted for and desperately needed - is true spiritual life with God that can only come from God. Jesus was speaking of the Holy Spirit as that living water.
The Bible tells us that God sends the Holy Spirit to dwell within us as we come to Jesus - the Lamb - as our Savior. The Holy Spirit who rebirths us spiritually - redeeming us and empowering us and sustaining us and guiding us and using us to fulfill God’s purposes in us and through us in the when and where of our lives. Now and forever (John 7:37,38; Acts 10:44,45; Ephesians 1:13,14).
That’s the image that’s here in Revelation. The river of living water flows from God our creator on His throne and the Lamb our Savior - outward to God’s people. The intimacy of that relationship is astounding. And in God’s re-creation - it is eternal.
Then John tells us that - most probably… Most probably - meaning… when we get there ask me and I’ll let you know what we didn’t know.
Most probably straddling the banks of that river there is a tree that has 12 kinds of fruit and leaves that heal. The tree of life that never grows old or rotten and whose fruit is always available and whose leaves invigorate and energize God’s people.
In the future garden there is no tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There’s no trusting of self verses trusting of God. This is the dwelling place of the redeemed.
God Who - unlike in Genesis - because of their sin God drives Adam and Eve out of the Garden and placed and angel there with a flaming sword to keep us from eating of the Tree of Life - and living forever bound by sin and separated from God. What would be a forever living hell. (Ezekiel 47:12)
Unlike Eden - God plants the tree in the midst of His people - waters it and sustains it - so we will eat of the fruit and be healed by the leaves and be able to enjoy relationship with Him forever.
John affirms that there is nothing in that place that’s cursed. The curses of Genesis 3 - the effects of the train wreck of sin are gone. It’s been done away with by God and replaced with a totally new sinless - redeemed - restored - relationship with Him.
And in that place we will be empowered by God to serve God.
What is the greatest privilege we could ask for. No greater pleasure. No greater use of our lives. Serving God with out the sinful encumbrance of seeking to serve ourselves. Twisting our location and circumstances to being about us. But it’s all focused on the God and the Lamb.
And we will worship Him. With all who have gone before us. Those we’ve loved and known from our families - our friends. Those that have gone before us from our families that we’ve only heard about. We’ll be there together with Adam and Eve and Moses and David and Paul and Peter and the martyrs and the missionaries and the great heroes of our faith and the millions who’s names are today only known to God.
But we will all be there only His grace and because of His great love for us. And we will worship Him. Perhaps with many languages but with one voice. The great choir of the redeemed.
We will bow before our Creator - the King of kings and Lord of lords - sovereign and holy - and we will glorify Him with gladness and inexpressible joy. We will worship Him who alone is worthy of all worship - all glory and honor and praise.
And there we will see God face-to-face.
No one is holy enough or righteous enough to see God. But on that day - in that place - we will see Jesus face-to-face.
And His name will be on our foreheads - meaning as residents of the new Jerusalem we will belong to God. God’s servants are God’s. He has claimed us. We are inseparably His.
Then - verse 5 - John records that in the light of God’s glory we will worship and reign with God forever and ever.
Verse 5 - with its imagery of light - verse 5 brings us full circle - back to Genesis. In the redeemed creation - unlike the sin broken creation - there is no darkness. And in the redeemed creation - as we enjoy this astounding unimaginable - even John who saw could not put it into words - relationship and dwelling with God - there we will worship God and reign with Him forever and ever.
Meaning that redeemed by God we will be enabled by God to fulfill the mandate God originally uniquely created mankind - male and female - in His image and likeness for - for God’s purposes - to fill and subdue - to rule over and steward God’s creation. Redeemed we are able to dwell with God in the fullness of what means to be the image of God.
Amen? Take a breath.
Verses 6 and 7 are two affirmations that are like exclamations points at the end of this section of the revelation.
First - verse 6 - most probably the one speaking is the angel who had the 7th bowl of judgment - that back in chapter 21 led John up on to a high mountain to show John the new Jerusalem.
And he - the angel - said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show His servants what must soon take place.”
What has been revealed to these 7 churches is the truth. It is foundational. It is truth that is worthy basing our lives on. Truth that must be heard and believed and obeyed.
Reading verse 6 we’re reminded of how the revelation began. God giving to Jesus this revelation about Jesus - which Jesus gave to an angel to give to John to give to the churches - His servants - about what must soon take place.
“Soon” is a matter of perspective. “Soon” to God is way different that “soon” to us. Which isn’t the point.
The point is that all this “must” soon take place. Because this is about what God is doing and will do that Jesus is the central focus of. And God wants us to know that. Why? To draw us closer to Him. Relationship.
To faithfully follow Jesus through all the today and tomorrow drama and disaster with great certain hope of what will soon take place.
Verse 7 shifts to Jesus who is speaking. An exclamation point given to us by Jesus Himself.
“And Behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
The words of Jesus are another reminder of how the Revelation began back in chapter 1 - what this revelation is about what we are called to: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3)
When Jesus returns - and He will - those who have heard and believed and obeyed will be the ones who will be blessed. They will receive the eternal reward.
Not just hear. Not just believe. But obey. Faithfully follow Jesus.
And nothing in life. Whatever may seem so real to us in the place and time where we live - none of that is more important than receiving that reward. Being there with the redeemed in God’s redeemed creation - dwelling with God - fulfilling what it means to be created in God’s image - serving Him and worshiping - ruling and reigning with Him forever and ever.
Amen? Take another breath.
Processing all that...
There is a overwhelming amount of information here. The images and potentials and contemplating the reality of all that is just brain popping.
Are we together? No one gets this. Not really. Which isn’t the point.
There is enough here in what God reveals to us that we do understand for us to know with certainty that God desires for us to live forever with Him.
And there is so much hope in that for us. God desiring for us to have relationship with Him and the future that He promises to us. Which we will have eternity to process.
Processing all that - number one - hang on to the hope.
In the day-to-day of where and when you’re living hang on to the parts of the revelation that you do understand.
And know that that same God who desires for you to live forever with Him is with you today. Hang on to that truth. Marinate in it. Cling to it when you’re tempted to see all this as the end and not the means.
Second - hang on to the importance of being redeemed. Life is hell without redemption. Heaven with it.
Redemption is more than just hearing the gospel. Or even believing the gospel - that its true - its trustworthy.
Redemption comes with obedience to the gospel.
Redemption is what God by His grace does to us when we come by faith alone to Christ alone who has accomplished our salvation by His work on the cross for us. Jesus who appeals to us to faithfully - obediently - follow Him and be blessed.
Make sure that you are redeemed by God. If you have questions about that come talk to me.
If you are redeemed - rejoice in what’s coming. Let the hope of what must soon take place be what orders your perspective and actions of today.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.