The finish-line–Revelation 22

“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17—read Revelation 22:1-21).

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, he made a garden as the home of the first man and the first woman. In that garden grew the tree of life. But when the man and the woman ate the fruit of another tree, fruit that had been forbidden to them, God removed them from the garden. He did not want them to eat the fruit of the tree of life and live forever in their sin and rebellion and separation from him. Instead, he wanted them to pass through death to everlasting life, to be restored to fellowship with him.

God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, promising them a garden-like home in the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. To reach that land, they had to travel through the wilderness. God made a covenant with his people in the wilderness, saying, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” But the Israelites doubted God’s promise; they feared the Canaanites living in the Promised Land and failed to trust God. Therefore, they remained in the wilderness forty years, and their children crossed the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land.

Like a shepherd searching for lost sheep, Jesus came into this wilderness of sin to rescue us. He battled the devil’s temptations in the wilderness, and Jesus won. When the time came to fulfill his promise of redemption, Jesus went into a garden to pray. He was seized in that garden and taken to trials and to the cross. But, after his death on the cross, he was buried in a garden, and in that garden his victory was proclaimed as Jesus rose from the dead.

Now the new creation is described as a garden. As rivers flowed from Eden to water the earth, so a river flows from the throne of God through the main street of the New Jerusalem. That river carries the water of life, the redeeming water that gives life to all God’s people. The tree of life grows on either side of that river, with twelve kinds of fruit to nourish all the people of God. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations. Because our sins have been removed, we are no longer barred from eating the fruit of the tree of life. We can live forever, because our rebellion against God has ended and all sin and evil has been removed from our lives.

One of the historic prayers of the Church mentions the devil, saying, “that he who by a tree once overcame might likewise by a tree be overcome.” The cross is that tree where the serpent’s head was crushed. It is a tree of life, even though nothing could be deader than a bare, wooden, fruitless cross, an instrument of death rather than life. We are all trees in the Lord’s orchard, meant to bear fruit for him. Yet apart from him we can do nothing. We might have green leaves, suggesting life, but we offer him no fruit. We are dead trees, fit only for the fire. Only Jesus of Nazareth bears fruit fit for the kingdom of heaven. But by going to the dead tree of the cross, Jesus gives us life. He makes us fruitful trees, worthy of his kingdom. His cross truly is the tree of life that makes us alive, watered by the river of the water of life, yielding fruit in due season (Psalm 1:3).

The last chapter of Revelation seems almost a scatter-shot of promises, echoing the previous chapters of the book as well as those of the other books of the Bible. Jesus speaks, and his messengers speak on his behalf. Even John becomes confused, worshiping an angel who speaks Christ’s promises, and being scolded by the angel for his confusion. The angel calls himself a fellow-servant of the apostle and of his brothers, the prophets; he tells John, “Worship God!” We also, as fruit-bearing trees in God’s orchard, can be fellow-servants with the apostles and prophets and angels; we also have the joyful privilege and obligation to share God’s life-giving Word, to bring forgiveness to sinners and hope to the victims of sin through the tree of life, the cross of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is coming soon. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. He is also everything in between. He is both the root and the descendant of David—David’s son and David’s Lord. He is the bright morning star, first-risen from the dead to promise all of us a resurrection like his on the Day he appears in the clouds.

Revelation 22 includes a warning not to add anything to the book of Revelation, nor to take away anything from the book. This warning applies to the entire Bible. “Until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Torah until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). But Jesus has fulfilled the promises of Moses and the prophets: he has done everything required to rescue God’s people, to defeat evil in all its forms, and to make everything new. Soon he will be seen in the clouds in glory, giving the command to raise all the dead, to announce his verdict on every life, and to welcome his people home into the new creation. Meanwhile, we live in his grace, redeemed from all our sins, reconciled to God through Christ’s sacrifice, and ready for eternal life in a new and perfect creation. As John writes, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”

Fresh fruits and vegetables (and weeds to pull)

The soil of my childhood home consisted of rich black dirt. Yellow and gray clay lay under the dirt, as I found along the banks of the creek. The topsoil was fertile, capable of supporting a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

My grandparents, my parents, and my uncle and aunt and cousins lived in three houses on three acres of land. Each household owned part of the land, and the property lines were known to all of us. All three households cultivated land in the center of the three acres. Although it looked like one garden, each household planted and tended and harvested from its own part of the land, according to the property lines.

Standing in my back yard, I would see the right side of the garden with a flower bed in front and vegetables behind the flowers. To the left were two grapevines, as old as the house. Behind the grapevines was a bed of strawberries and then some more vegetables. Further left, toward the creek, was an orchard. There were two apple trees, a pear tree, and a cherry tree. The cherries from the orchard were sour, not good for eating raw, but good for pies and jellies. The orchard also had a bed of rhubarb and some bushes which produced currants, gooseberries, and blueberries.

Late in the winter my father would start some tomato plants and pepper plants. These he would keep sheltered until after the last frost. By the time those plants were moved into the garden, rows of seeds were being planted for other vegetables. He would plant lettuce, peas, beans (green, yellow, and lima), carrots, beets, parsnips, and onions—usually one row of each vegetable. He would also plant several short rows of sweet corn, because the corn would not pollinate well if it was planted in one long row. He would plant small beds of zucchini, cucumbers, and sometimes pumpkins. The pumpkins were a particular challenge, because they would trail in various directions all over the garden, so we never knew where the actual pumpkins might ripen. There was also a bed of asparagus that renewed itself every spring.

Needless to say, weeds also thrived in our fertile soil, so pulling weeds was a task we all shared. It’s not enough to pick weeds—if you leave the roots in the soil, they will grow again, stronger than before. When pulling weeds, though, one must be careful not to harm the desired plants. Some vegetables were hardier than others; cucumbers, I remember, were one of the most fragile of garden plants. They would seem to wither if someone merely looked at them the wrong way.

I did not enjoy pulling weeds, but as my father and mother both said, “It has to be done.” When the three of us worked together on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, we would usually have a transistor radio in the garden with us, tuned to the baseball game. From experience, I learned the seasons of different fruits and vegetables: asparagus and peas in the spring, before the heat of the summer; strawberries in June; sweet corn in August; sun-ripened apples and grapes in autumn. I remember snacking on an apple and some grapes on many a weekend afternoon in the fall while I was playing in the back yard.

The benefit of a garden is, of course, fresh fruits and vegetables. The family also froze or canned fruits and vegetables for other times of the year. Nothing beats fresh vegetables from one’s own garden; I still cannot stomach canned peas. When we were to have corn on the cob for supper, my father insisted that the water must be heating to a boil on the stove before the corn was picked and the husks removed. The hottest and most humid days of August were always the days that corn was harvested for freezing. My mother would have large pots of water boiling on the stove as we husked the corn—and we had no air conditioning. All of us were dripping with sweat. The corn would be boiled briefly; then the kernels would be cut from the cobs and bagged and boxed for the freezer.

My parents were frugal, and we often continued to eat vegetables that had passed their peak of freshness. I remember stringy asparagus, tough and wrinkled lima beans, and woody parsnips. I remember my mother cutting a five pound zucchini in half, removing the seeds, and stuffing it with a meatloaf. But I particularly remember all the homemade foods: pies, jellies, tomato juice and grape juice, tomatoes left on the vine until they were red and ready to eat; and zucchini bread. I remember shelling peas so they could be warmed in a little butter and served with supper. I remember seeing tall yellow stalks of corn standing upright in the first snow at the end of autumn. J.

Christ in Genesis: In the Garden

In the first chapter of Genesis, God creates everything in the universe by the power of his Word. In the second chapter of Genesis, God gets himself dirty, interacting directly with the materials he had created. Critics have noticed this and other differences between the two chapters and have suggested that the accounts contradict each other. Conspiracy theorists have said that the two accounts developed in different parts of Israel and were stuck together by an editor long after the time of Moses. The presence of Christ in Genesis provides a more satisfying explanation for the differences between these chapters.

Chapter one describes the Creator as God (Elohim). God creates the world by speaking; creation is accomplished through his Word and for his Word. Chapter two describes the Creator as the LORD God (Yahweh Elohim). The personal name of God indicates his personal involvement in creation. When God is this personally active in the world, we can be sure that Christ is at work. While the Father speaks, the Son gets dirty fulfilling his Father’s will. This happens again in the Incarnation of Christ, when he is born and placed in a manger and spends more than thirty years among sinners, including some who reject him and execute him.

The order of creation appears to vary between the chapters. Chapter one presents a clear order of events, organized over six days. Plants were created on the third day, and land animals–including the first man and the first woman–were created on the sixth day. But in chapter two, the order of creation appears to be the man first, then plants, then animals, and finally the woman. The plants that are mentioned, though, are specifically garden plants. God created a garden after making the first man; he had already created vegetation earlier. Mention of the animals after the creation of the man but before the creation of the woman does not mean that God created in that order. The Hebrew language has only two tenses and uses them in various ways. The best translation of verse 19 is that the LORD God “had formed” the animals before making the man, and that after the man was formed and the garden planted, the LORD God brought the animals to the man.

Genesis 1:24 quotes God as saying, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures.” Christ, the Word of God, responds by forming animals from the earth, as described in Genesis 2:19. Then he formed the body of Adam. I suggested earlier that the body of Christ as experienced in Genesis is the same body that was born in Bethlehem, that walked the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea, that was beaten, crucified, and buried, that rose on the third day and later ascended to fill the universe in both space and time. If I am correct about that body, then the hands which shaped the body of Adam were already scarred from the nails that held him to the cross.

After forming Adam from the earth, God ‘breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” The same Hebrew word (ruach) can mean breath, wind, or spirit. Frequently the Bible makes use of this pun, as on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit announces his presence with the sound of a rushing wind. At the beginning of creation the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Here he is mentioned again as the instrument by which Adam receives life.

God brought every animal to Adam so that Adam would name them. To assign a name is to exercise authority. As in chapter one, authority to care for the planet and for its living beings is assigned to humanity. God had a second purpose for bringing the animals to Adam. He was preparing Adam for a special companion by first giving him the desire for a teammate with whom he could share his world and his authority.

“It is not good for the man to be alone,” God said. Does God know how it feels to be alone? Outside of space and time, God is eternally three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In a sense, then, God has never been alone–except for one occasion when the Son of God was truly alone. Hanging on the cross, atoning for the sins of the world, Jesus was forsaken by his Father. For a few hours, the Son of God was truly alone.

Jesus endured the torture of the cross, including the rejection of his Father, to redeem his people. He paid in full for the sins of the world so he could build a Church and claim a Bride. Paul wrote that every marriage is a picture of Christ and his Church. This surely must be true of the first marriage. To provide a bride for Adam, God had Adam fall into a deep sleep. To claim his Bride, Jesus fell into the sleep of death. After Jesus had died, a soldier prodded him with a spear, opening a wound in his side from which blood and water flowed. Medically this certifies that Jesus truly had died, since fluid had accumulated in his chest around his heart and lungs. In matters of faith, it also pictures the Bride of Christ, the Church, coming from the crucified Savior–water reminding us of Baptism and blood reminding us of the Lord’s Supper, both important events in the life of the Church. And both Adam’s sleep and Christ’s sleep happened on a Friday, the sixth day of the week.

Eve was taken from Adam’s side. Someone has said (It’s attributed to various people.) that she was not taken from Adam’s head to rule him, nor from his foot to be trampled by him, but from his side to be next to him, from under his arm to be protected by him, and  from near his heart to be loved by him. They were a team, both created in the image of God, both given authority over the planet and its living beings.

All this happened in a garden. The theme of gardens and wilderness runs through the Bible. Israel was promised a land flowing with milk and honey; but before they arrived in the Promised Land, they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Jesus battled temptation in the wilderness. He was arrested in a garden and forced out of the garden, as Adam and Eve were sent out of the garden after their sin. Yet when he had won the war against evil, he was buried in a garden. In that garden, the news of his resurrection was first announced. The last two chapters of the Bible (Revelation 21-22) describe the new creation which will be our home after Jesus reveals his glory and announces his judgment. That description of the new creation signifies that our home, once again, will be a garden.