Fruitfulness: Revelation 22
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on as part of our worship service at Main Street Community Church and on the Internet. The talk is long.
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After eight weeks of fruitfulness, we get to the end. In the beginning there was a garden, streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the earth. God planted a garden in Eden, God made all kinds of trees. Trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food, in the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. A river watering the garden flowed from Eden. The Lord took the man and the woman and put them in the garden to work it and take care of it.
This is the potted history account of creation. In Genesis 2, there’s a garden full of trees, full of fruits, there’s water, there’s a river. There’s everything, you might say, for ongoing growth and goodness, fruitfulness, you might say. Right at the beginning of the created order and we read right at the start of it all that God had created everything and it was very good. In essence, God’s work in creation by bringing order from chaos, provision from nothing, joy, beauty, potential. This is a real, rich picture of God who to designed work to be good for the human race. Ensure we were all designed and created to be fruitful.
Of course, we’re very much aware of the next bit of the story, we might even be living it today. The crafty serpent twists the words that God speaks to Adam and Eve about eating from the tree of good and evil. The humans do the one thing that God commands them not to do and they eat of the fruit of that one tree. As a result, the fall of humanity occurs and there’s some form of punishment that’s meted out the whole of the created order.
Examples of this, we’ve been seeing on our TVs, in our newspapers, especially this week as COP26 takes place. We are being starkly reminded about the potential demise of this world, as humanity has harvested the earth’s natural resources over to generations. Now, this generation realizes that something needs to be done. Eden was then and then paradise was according to John Milton, lost. Yet in spite of the paradise that humanity lost and the whole earth somehow became broiled in its lost too, God still made the whole created order good.
Tom Wright says of the situation, the whole of Christian theology is based in the goodness of creation. Yet the goodness of creation consists partly in this. That it points beyond itself to the new creation. It isn’t the case that the new creation was an afterthought, that once the first creation had gone so badly wrong. Human sin meant that God’s initial design had to be arrived by a long, winding, often tear-stained and blood-spattered route, the most important tears and blood being of those of God himself. Creation, says Tom Wright, is renewed from top to bottom.
Perhaps often, we forget the goodness of creation. That’s how it began, that’s where fruitfulness begins, meaningful fruits, which we just read was right at the centre of the garden of Eden and the original purpose for the work of men and women to tend the garden and to be fruitful, to multiply the fruitfulness of their kind. Being fruitful was the first command of God and they screwed it up big time, but that’s not the end of the world.
When Jesus talks in John’s Gospel about his friends being fruitful, he talks of fruit being good and positive and vibrant. As the true vine and as his friends are branches, they have to grow in the way that they have seen him in their own stead and thus be fruitful. Paul later explains such fruitfulness as being loving and joyful, peaceable and patient, kind and good and gentle and faithful and self-controlled. This is because friends of Jesus are filled with his spirit and they walk by his spirits because there’s no law that prevents them from being so.
Even today with our natural world in crisis, God is still working by his holy spirit. God is still working and God still chooses to use his people, the pinnacle of his creation to work for him or on earth. The holy spirit often works as quietly as if a seed has been planted in the ground and watered. Nobody sees the work that the soil does in growing that seed, until it pokes through the ground as a little sapling, ready to grow a stem, then leaves and ultimately, into a flower which grows into fruit. As we saw last week, the job to grow fruit is God’s job.
There are people who tend, plant and water, but ultimately, God does the growing. That’s the way it’s always been. As we look back to Eden, the ingredients for a fruitful existence were always there, land, water, trees. In spite of the ruthlessness and selfishness of humanity, the ingredients of fruitfulness are still available. In Ezekiel 47, there’s a vision that reminds God’s people who are trapped in exile in Babylon of the original states of creation. Even though there’s not a temple in Babylon for them to worship, this doesn’t mean that they can’t worship God. Ezekiel 47 – don’t often read from Ezekiel endash; says this, “The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple towards the East. The water was coming down from under the South side of the temple, South of the altar. He then brought me out through the North gate and led me round the outside to the outer gate facing East. And the water was trickling from the South side as the man went Eastward with a measuring line in his hand he measured off 100 cubits, 530 meters and then he led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another 1,000 cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another 1,000 and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another, but now that was a river that I couldn’t cross because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in. A river that no one could cross. He asked me, son of man, do you see this?
“Then he led me to the bank of the river, when I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river and he said to me, the water flows towards the Eastern region and goes down to the Arabah, where it enters the dead sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh. Where the river flows, everything will live.” It goes on.
Right at the end, it says, verse 11, “But the swamps and the marshes will not become fresh, they will be left for salt. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river.
“Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruitful fail. Every month, they will bear fruit because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve the food and their leaves for healing.” Sounds very much like Revelation 22 to me.
In Ezekiel there’s water, there’s a river, there are trees, there is fruit. Remind you of anywhere? You can be sure that Ezekiel’s vision reminded God’s people of the Garden of Eden and that God is in the business of restoration and renewal because that is where the full story of this world is headed. The world begins with a garden, Eden. In this vision, Ezekiel sees a restored, rebuilt temple and a restored city, Jerusalem. For God’s people the source of life is the temple, it’s God’s dwelling place among them. The temple is where everything else comes from, the people, the earth and everything for life and godliness, the river, the trees, the fruits in this vision all seem to scream God renewing the land in such a way as to fulfil his original purpose of creation, and central to this vision are once more the ingredients for fruitfulness for God’s people.
Is it any wonder then that when we sing such hymns as when through the woods and forests glades I wander and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees. When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze, then sings our souls, how great Thou art.
No, of course not, because we are connected. We are connected to the land and to our planets, and this is why the COP26 talks, this week and next week, are so important because earth is our home. It’s where we were created to be. We were created to be fruitful here, multiply our fruitfulness, and we have messed up, but the story does not end there.
With these two images of the original creation poem and that reminder of it next to God’s people in exile, in Babylon through Ezekiel, we finally come to our text of Revelation 22. This is the vision of John’s account of God’s renewed creation. We note that there is no longer any temple, no longer any sun or moon. This is a new earth, a new heaven. This is the culmination of God’s Kingdom purposes, God’s kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven. Actually, heaven comes to earth just as Jesus came to earth. It seems that in this moment, all God’s plans were earth-bound. What better reason to ensure that we take extra caution to look after our planet even now?
The renewed earth is where everything meets in the fullness of the kingdom of God, where God’s home will be with his people. The work of Jesus Christ comes into its fullness here, similar to that original scene in the Garden of Eden and the reminder in Ezekiel, John’s vision is a garden city and right at the centre flowing down Main Street, there’s a river. The river of the water of life. At either side of that river is the tree of life, just as it was at the centre of the Garden of Eden. This tree bears leaves and fruit. The fruit is continually proof for justice, Ezekiel tells us. Not just for harvest once a year, but once a month, those poor trees giving out all the time, continually fruitful. 12 crops a year, if we were to measure it in our present timescales.
Nowadays, fruit trees can’t do that. In God’s eternal and amazing new recreated kingdom, heaven on earth, the job of people is not to tend the garden anymore, but rather to perhaps enjoy its fruit. To worship the Creator as we were always and originally designed to do. John takes special care to talk about the leaves of this stream. He describes them as for healing of the nations. Often in the Old Testament, nations are other places, other countries, where God’s people refrain from going for fear of contaminating themselves or by being with ungodly folk. The nations then are for the Old Testament, not God’s own people, but now what happens? The leaves, not the fruit, the leaves are for the healing of the nations.
I don’t know what you know about leaves, but I can only be very grateful for my experience of sitting under a mango tree, on a particularly hot day last year in Uganda. We were staying upcountry near Nara where the maintenance worked in hospital, and before heading back to Kampala, I think we had a morning off and I remember feeling so sheltered from that baking hot sun and reading my Kindle under this mango tree. The leaves were so thick, that the sunshine didn’t penetrate, and I was able to read quite happily in peace and in cool without the fear of getting sunburned. I remember being amazed at how even sunlight, that had traveled 93 million miles, couldn’t get those last few feet to me. I was totally sheltered from the hot equatorial sun. Wow, leaves can do that. They store carbon dioxide, I think. They breathe out oxygen.
This is the role of trees and why it’s so important that our rain forests need protecting. Leaves are healing of the nations. I wonder if there’s much more about leaves that we gave them credit for? Probably. So here, right in the middle of the midst of this tree of life, either side of that river of life flowing down the main streets, there seems to be opportunities for healings, whether this is for individuals or leaders or whole countries or a wider chance for others to find God’s eternal grace and love and forgiveness, it’s not clear. But this is the recreated order after the old world order, and its sin and tears and pain had already passed away.
What does seem clear to me from Revelation 22, this bit, is that Eden is restored, and as with so many of John’s writings, there are repetitions of words, such as water and life. Life in all its fullness now. The river of the water of life running down main streets. Golly, wouldn’t that be a beautiful and yet a hugely challenging picture? As if the water of the river of life was gushing down our main street here. What would that mean for us as a church and a community who worships at the river’s edge, receiving that water of life where we are? Who’s with me to wade into it, as Ezekiel did? It’s that source of the throne of God.
On each side of that river, is the tree of life. Again, as the church building on the edge of that river of Main Street as that church on Main Street here. Is there a picture of a challenge to us and what it means to us about our fruitfulness as a fellowship? Interesting that there’s one tree on both sides. The point of all of this or how we might see it as a vision of John’s is the importance of life and abundant fruitfulness involving the river and the tree, symbols of which were right there at the beginning, were there in the tough times for God’s people in exile and remained there and yet renewed in a new way in this garden city, in this fulfilled kingdom of God.
There’s a vision of heaven on earth. God’s full and final reign, the kingdom of God in its full entirety. It involves praising God with thankfulness to Jesus for His restoring role, in connecting a then fractured world back to a renewed glory, likened to a marriage feast between God’s the bridegroom and the bride of Christ, the church. Rivers, trees, fruits, all point to life, and this is the story of Jesus. This is the story of our world. This is the story of fruitfulness and our receiving an inheritance of goodness from our father, God, who dotes upon his children, so much as to give us all good things beyond our wildest imaginations.
This is also our story, yours, and mine. It’s now and not quite yet. How much are we able to live in this amazing story in the here and now because we accept the way of Jesus? How much can we be fruitful because of the work of Jesus in us here and now? How much more will God be glorified in our new bodies, in the new creation, of which is Ezekiel and John only glimpse put apart in feeble human words? Jesus promises that he will not eat of the fruit of the vine, until he comes.
Today in sharing around the table of the king, we remembered the sacrifice of the lamb, Jesus, who gave his life for the sheep for us and we commemorate. Yes, but we also anticipate he’s coming again and celebrate the forthcoming wedding feast when he will, once again, drink of the fruit of the vine. I hope you’ll forgive me for potentially mixed things and metaphors today, such as the excitement that I have when I look forward to what God has in store for us, in a plan for recreated world.
Pure and spotless let us be, perfectly restored in the change from glory into the glory till in heaven, we take our place. Lost in wonder, love and praise, as the old hymn says. Until then, until then, let us remain faithful. Let us be ever fruitful, showing the love of God to those around us and especially on Main Street, because we have no idea what fruit will grow because of our commitment to following the words and the ways of Jesus. May God encourage us, strengthen us, and bless us with thoughts towards his long-awaited and long-anticipated restored creation this day and always.
References and sources
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Scripture quotations marked NIVUK or NIV UK on this page and in the audio are from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations marked NIV on this page and in the audio are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.